Alaska Flotilla: Leg 3, Day 1 – Juneau to Excursion Inlet | NW Explorations


Alaska Flotilla: Leg 3, Day 1 – Juneau to Excursion Inlet

We’re off! The Mother Goose Flotilla casted off the dock lines, fenders pulled and throttles full steam away. Our destination is Skagway, AK but no hurry. Let’s wander through some of the more secluded places around Glacier Bay, such as Excursion Inlet and Dundess Bay before setting our compasses directly north. As they say, “a mariner could spend a lifetime cruising the inner passage without seeing more than 10 percent.” All the more reason to take the less beaten path, right?

Saginaw Channel, just outside of Juneau is well known for a high concentration of humpback whales, and boy, did it deliver! Less than a half hour underway, Jordan “little Jordan” Pemberton, at the helm of Deception, spotted two whale watching boats. Sure enough, with an audience of 30-some gulls soaring around, a humpback whale surfaced in between the whale watchers! A fantastic experience for the flotilla to see the humpback whales so soon!

As we continued our northwesterly direction to Excursion Inlet, we whiteness a lot of splashing next to a small haul out of stellar sea lions. Turns out, one of the sea lions had caught a big salmon and proceeded to thrash it violently on the surface of the water. Since they don’t have hands this is the only way they can either stun or kill their catch before swallowing it. The scene was fascinating as the sea lion took several big swings at the water with a large salmon between the teeth, a powerful reminder that we should be so lucky to be at the top of the food chain.

Not long before pulling into our destination, a sea otter was spotted hanging out on the surface. Assuming it was a male since no baby was present, he rested on his back with his creamy-white furry face stared back at the six boats paling through as if we were of no interest to him. He was more than likely upset that we may have awaken him during his afternoon siesta by the look on his face. Nonetheless, we are thankful for the occasion as they are very rare in Washington, especially within Puget Sound.

Our patented six-boat stern-tie maneuver was executed perfectly by swab mate, Brandon, and senior naturalist “Big J” Jordan. The view is always impressive to see so many beautiful Grand Banks tied closely together using as little space as possible in an anchorage, even if it’s not necessary in larger bays. However, we do enjoy having our neighbors close. The opportunity for a cocktail party was pressing and everyone squeezed into Deception’s salon to hear Jordan’s brief history presentation on the exploration efforts of Cpt. Vancouver of the Royal Navy, 1792-1794.

Oh, but the best part of the day required some effort and courage. Big Jordan organized a shore party to tour the mouth of the stream that fed into our anchorage at Excursion Inlet. The valley was especially wide (thank you ancient glaciers!) with tall grasses, sedges, and beautiful wild flowers. After a little wandering, poking at various flowers, and snapping panoramic views someone spotted movement by the tree line. Sure enough, a grizzly, full grown, accompanied by two cubs prowled the meadow in search of food. No doubt they knew of our presences as brown bears have an incredible sense of smell. Luckily, one half mile separated us from these gorgeous mammals of the forest but you can still sense a bit of tension in the group. The mother bear sprinted towards a small group of spruces demonstrating how fast grizzlies can move if motivated. Once they passed through the forest clearing, they meandered out of sight.

Starving of some home cooked appetizers and a happy hour waiting in the early evening, the group packed up and dinghy back to the raft. All in all, it was a very adventurous day of whales, eagles, bears, sea lions, dozens of bird species, and a little history lesson of Captain Vancouver. A good trip and a good day, I’d say!

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