Leg six of 2016’s grand Alaskan Adventure kicked off today under bright clear skies. The boats gleamed white in the morning sun as we filed one-by-one past the concrete breakwater at Auke Bay and out into the wild blue yonder. Formed up into a loose line and steaming south past the wooded coast of Douglas Island we bid adieu to Alaska’s quaint capitol city. This leg is the shortest of the summer for the Mother Goose fleet, but the itinerary packs in some of the most incredible spots in Southeast Alaska.
There are few things lovelier in this world than a sunny day in SE Alaska, and the rare privilege of piloting from the flying bridge in shirtsleeves is not to be squandered. Captain Rich ordered up a quick set of man overboard drills, challenging everyone to retrieve a life ring heaved from Deceptions stern, which provides a good chance to practice close quarters maneuvering and a boost of confidence to anyone nervous about transiting these chilly waters.
Our course took us along the rocky shore of massive Admiralty Island, which hosts one of the densest Brown Bear populations on earth and is home to the famous Pack Creek Bear Observatory. The gillnet fleet is out fishing today, and the white floats that suspend the top of their nets play out in long strings like pearls flashing on the water’s surface. Fishing can be a boom or bust lifestyle, and after a slow Chinook fishery this year, the relief is palpable as the Sockeye run has come in larger than expected. We swing out wide to give them plenty of room to work and head on south down Stephens Passage with a light breeze on out stern and a small following sea. On the approaches to Taku Harbor and its ruined cannery we are surprised by a group of seven or eight large humpback whales feeding close to shore. We drift in idle to watch them surface and dive and a rewarded for pour patience when a great blast of vapor shoots up out of the water just off of AnamCara’s starboard beam and the great arching black back of a whale rises from the water! They parade sedately across our bows before submerging in unison to peruse their prey in the deeps, leaving us to marvel at their grace and seemingly effortless movement.
The remainder of the afternoon saw us moving steadily south, passing the diminutive Midway Islands where tens of harbor seals lay basking on the cobble beach. Twice we spotted the black spike of a large male Orca’s dorsal fin glittering in the far distance before it was lost from view. We arrived at slack water at the shallow bar that separates Tracy Arm from the main channel and we were soon across into the mirror calm waters within tinted turquoise by glacial silt and dotted here and there by massive icebergs, brilliant white against the green and grey of the steep granite mountains beyond.
Our anchors bit securely into the mud beneath No-Name Cove at the mouth of Tracy Arm and we relaxed in the warm afternoon light, heading out in dinghies and kayaks to explore the coastline and to chip cocktail ice off of the great drifting blocks of glacial ice that sail slowly past the mouth of the cove on the tide.