Alaska Flotilla: Leg 4, Day 4 – William Henry Bay to Swanson Harbor | NW Explorations


Alaska Flotilla: Leg 4, Day 4 – William Henry Bay to Swanson Harbor

What a day for wildlife! It started with eagles, herons and otters at our anchorage.  Then we spotted groups of Marbled Murrelets.  These small, brown diving birds are extremely rare in the lower 48 states, but their populations seem to be doing well up here in Alaska.  They spend most of their lives at sea, but nest in old growth trees in the temperate rainforests along the coast.  We headed out for the day with our hopes high, and we were not disappointed.

We hadn’t been cruising for long when we spotted tall, black dorsal fins heading our way.  The blackfish had arrived!  The Haida people of SE Alaska regard these killer whales as the supernatural chiefs of the world beneath the ocean.  As the Orca swam past our boats, their powerful presence was palpable, and we understood why the Haida regard them so highly.  It was a large pod of over 20 whales, and they were widely distributed across the channel traveling and foraging for fish together.

It was a classic Northwest day with a light drizzle falling and salmon jumping.  We passed many commercial and recreational fishing boats, signaling that the fish were plentiful this year.  As we cruised close to the shoreline searching the beaches for bears, we were surprised by a hefty blow and a plume of water shooting skyward-humpbacks!  A mother and calf traveling together and in a playful mood.  We watched as the mother slapped her pectoral fins on the water, each being around 15ft. long!  Then the breaching began.  The mother breached a few times, heaving her bulk (around 30 tons of it) from the water and making it look effortless.  Then the calf took it up, and breached tirelessly for about 10 minutes.  It was a spectacular display, and we watched on in awe!

Some of the boats in the fleet had the incredible experience of Dall’s porpoise riding their bow wake.  These speedy, agile creatures look like tiny killer whales and often race towards boats to play with them and surf their wake.  It is an unforgettable experience to be traveling at 9 or 10 knots through the water and to have these graceful creatures racing around your boat and cutting through the surface of the water right below you.  These are the encounters that occur when you are on a small boat in a wild place, and it is these special moments that keep us coming back for more.

Once in Swanson Harbor, most of the boats docked on a floating dock in the bay and spent a lovely night together.  Discovery opted to anchor out for the night and enjoy a quieter evening.  We hosted a potluck on Deception for those who were docked.  We had great food and even better company, and even got to enjoy some sunshine as it burst from behind the clouds.  The party continued as each crew showed off their boat to the others.  This group has been an absolute delight to travel with.  Everyone has such a positive attitude and fun-loving spirit.  We would love to see them all back again next year!  And, of course, no party is complete without shooting off a cannon.

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