2023 Alaska Flotilla – Leg 1, Day 1 – Bellingham, WA to Sidney B.C. | NW Explorations


2023 Alaska Flotilla – Leg 1, Day 1 – Bellingham, WA to Sidney B.C.

With the soon to be summer sun breaking through the spring clouds, coffee is poured, PFDs are buckled, and engines are readied as the 2023 Mother Goose Alaska Flotilla officially pushes off. Our Bellingham crew at NW Explorations lines the docks and waves goodbye to the fleet, watching the fruits of their labor head into Bellingham Bay prepped, primed, and prettied for their four-month trip through the inside passage north to Alaska and west to Haida Gwaii for the first time since 2016.

From across the country to all the way across the globe, the crew aboard our vessels are prepared for this first leg of our trip. Everyone here is well traveled and ready to venture our 21-day route, cruising a total of 754 nautical miles into Ketchikan, Alaska.

Out into Bellingham Bay we keep our eyes peeled for the return of our early summertime visitors like grey and humpback whales, migrating sea birds, and boisterous sea lions that can line the entire circumference of offshore rocks during a low tide. Initiating our annual Alaska flotilla during the transition of spring to summer makes for a great way to see the way our biodiversity and ecosystems can shift with the presence of large marine mammals who are often traveling thousands of miles for our nutrient rich waters.

Weaving through the serene San Juan Islands we start training our eyes to spot the quick black fins of our common Harbor Porpoise fishing through the ocean eddies and watch for the activity of the sea birds gathering in flocks in hopes to find even larger marine mammals beneath the surface collecting their fish from the same spot. As we cruised past Orcas Island, we chatted about how this island harbors the oldest rock in the San Juans at its Turtle Back Mountain Preserve, a series of hilly peaks that resembles the profile of a turtle when viewed from a southern waterway below West Sound. Throttling back and preparing our fleet for Pole Pass, our narrowest and shallowest passage in today’s crossing, we all line up and make it through at a perfect slack tide enjoying the calm water, controlled thrill, and clearing blue skies.

Making our way further north and getting closer to our final destination, Sidney, we spot our first Stellar Sea Lion. These animals are incredible fishers and time their hunt to the rise and fall of tides, eating around 6% of their body weight a day and surprisingly, mostly at night! These animals do not experience a seasonal migration but rather will disperse quite widely for their breeding season with males claiming territory and establishing rookeries for an annual pupping, there are a few spots in the San Juans you can often count on an encounter with a group of noisy Stellar Sea Lions!

With timing on our side, we slow down at the west coast of Spieden Island for quite an exotic wildlife viewing. Sometimes known as the Jurassic Park of the San Juans, this now privately owned island used to be the grounds of a trophy hunting operation ran by two taxidermist brothers in the 1960’s. At the time, a variety of non-native birds and land mammals were imported to the island from around the world and used to bring in a market for a once in a lifetime experience taking a trophy kill home. Although most of the animals were unable to survive after the business ended a handful of years after its opening, you can still spot Mouflon sheep from Corsica, Fallow deer from Europe, and Sitka deer from Japan still around the island they now call home.

Pulling into Sidney B.C. we clear customs and one by one tie up to our slips and cozy in for the evening. We gratefully spent time at our NW Explorations Sidney office and shared drinks with our crew from across the border, enjoyed snacks, and mingled with our new flotilla family and prepared to gather our last provisions before making our long crossing into Pender Harbor the next morning.

After sharing a meal with our crews, stowing goods, and winding down into the first night aboard our 2023 Mother Goose Flotilla we watch the sun set alongside the marina and tuck in early, ensuring we are all charged up for an early start tomorrow. Checking our float plans and waving a goodnight to our neighbors, we all share just how excited we are to making our way into Pender Harbor tomorrow with the weather predictions we are seeing, expecting a gorgeous 72 nautical mile crossing.

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