With Sitka only 18 miles to the north, we started our day’s journey at 10 am. We experience a sort of culture shock as we reentered civilization. Not long into our trip we began seeing more and more boats. For most of our adventure we had seen very few boats if we had seen any at all. Now, even the outskirts of a town in Southeast Alaska felt like the rat race.
We wound our way through the numerous rocks, reefs and islets which lie just south of Sitka. There were sea otters everywhere, foraging, frolicking, or just resting among the giant kelp forests. There must have been a lot of fish around because the fishermen, both commercial and recreational, were out in full force. Before long, we turned the last corner and cruised under the bridge into Sitka. We refueled the boats and filled them with water at the fuel dock before making our way to our moorage sites. Normally, we would tie up in the large harbor which sits about a mile and a half north of downtown. Today, however, we got lucky. There is a dock normally used by small cruise ships when they come into Sitka. No cruise ships were schedule to use the dock for a few days, so we were allowed to tie up here. This particular dock sits just a block or two from downtown Sitka, and provided an ideal place for us to go out and explore the town.
After tying up, explore is just what we did. Everyone went their separate ways and walked around Sitka. People shopped, visited churches and historical sites, or just enjoyed the buzz of human activity. In the evening, we all met up for one last cocktail hour and a dinner at a restaurant nearby. Afterwards, we returned for our last night on the boats before departing the next day. We had undertaken an incredible voyage that took us to a number of incredibly beautiful places, but like all things, this too had to come to an end.
The Mother Goose fleet began an exciting adventure at 8am this morning as the boats departed calm Sitka waters. The town was enveloped by many gray clouds, but that did not seem to affect everyone’s attitudes, particularly since the past two days had been very sunny. After the usual safety briefing and discussion of open water and narrow, rocky passages to come, each person left the dock with some trepidation but a lot of anticipation. Everyone produced a smile and a wave to the camera, and thus Leg 4 began.
We spent the morning weaving through tricky, rocky, Piehl Passage, as the boats felt the swells of the North Pacific Ocean beneath them. As we cruised through, we spotted sea otters relaxing by the boat, floating on their backs, while opening freshly caught shellfish for an afternoon meal. Eagles were perched on trees and were caught soaring through the air before swooping down to catch any unwary salmon that happened by. Before we knew it, we had arrived ready to anchor, in Klag Bay.
Once in the bay, everyone trekked over to the remains of an old mine on the shore. We searched through ram-shackled out buildings and old, rusted rail car tracks by the entrance to the mine. On the way, we spotted freshly chewed devils club shoots, and later the resultant pile of bear scat not far off. We left the mine with samples of mining cores in our pockets to remain as souvenirs of the day.
After a long day of exploring, the fleet ended with appetizers and laughs on Deception. We all settled down to the very gentle rocking of the boats in this quite cove and prepared to embark on yet another journey.
We awoke to the refreshing morning mist and scent of Sitka Spruce encircling the bay. As we departed Klag Bay, the fleet ventured once again into the North Pacific, feeling the rising and falling of the boats in the swells as we watched the waves crash against the shore.
On our way, we came across many more sea otters. One of the otters we passed was using its paws to crack open its prey. Emmelina provided a naturalist’s explanation of the use of tools by marine mammals. Sea otters pick a tool to use and keep it with them, held in a fold of skin, when they dive for food. We were fortunate to pass a seal lion violently slapping a salmon in its mouth to stun it, as seagulls flew above waiting for their share of morsels to be left behind. He was too busy “preparing” his meal to take notice of the boats passing close by.
The waves began to flatten and the ride became more comfortable as the boats entered Lisianksi Straight. We continued up this beautiful fjord until we reached the small town of Pelican. We all went our separate ways as some went to the famous Rosie’s Bar, some walked the length of the boardwalk surrounding the town, and others just relaxed after the long day.
Pelican is suffering the recent loss of their fish processing plant which closed two years ago. The town population is slowly shrinking now that this base of income is gone but the facilities remain and are excellent. Still, there is a sense that this is a town which needs to be visited sooner rather than later.
The night slowly came to an end as the town of Pelican rested under a luminescent rainbow, coming out from the clouds. We were treated to Pelican’s 4th of July fireworks on the 10th, because it has rained every night since the 4th preventing them from holding their celebration. The crashing fireworks came to an end and we all went to bed.
Today was a laid-back day filled with relaxing, enjoying the beautiful atmosphere, and doing as we please. The entire fleet had a pleasurable morning to sleep in, as two of the boats departed at 10:30am, while the remaining two stayed at the local, Lisianski Café, to watch the final World Cup game.
We cruised through Lisianski Strait and through a corner of Icy Strait to reach our evening’s destination of Elfin Cove. This is a trip through classic fjords with tall, tree covered mountains on either side – covered mysteriously with clouds on this day.
By the time all the boats met up once again in Elfin Cove, the rain had faded out and the sun had burned through the clouds. Some of us stayed inside, taking advantage of the chance to sit down and talk or read, while others walked along the old boardwalk surrounding this unique little town. Massive Sitka Spruce surrounds the town, and the cute houses, meandering board walks, and friendly people create a charming ambience, forming a welcoming vibe throughout the cove.
We all prepared for the night as the darkness began to settle in and the eagles circled above. The boats rested on the still water as we drifted off, waiting for another exciting day in Elfin Cove to come tomorrow.
We all enjoyed our last day in Elfin Cove, exploring the town even more and enjoying its beautiful atmosphere. Right outside of the harbor, the Fairweather Mountains lay, making their appearance every so often when the weather’s just right. In the evenings, the massive range glows underneath the sunset as the clouds hover above, painting a picture-perfect night.
The day was spent in many ways, but some of which were, going out to fish, relaxing by the boats, or spending two hours out in a dinghy with humpback whales. The fishing trip was a crowd’s favorite, as the people who decided to go split into two boats: salmon and halibut. When they arrived back from the trip, the results were very pleasing; we had caught many halibut, rockfish, sea bass, and salmon. The next highlight was Inside Passage’s dinghy ride out into the harbor where they spent hours surrounded by humpback whales, only about 100 yards away. What a treat!
Because of the great fishing results, we spent the night feasting on all of the day’s catch, whether it was a salmon filet, or halibut fried in bread crumbs. Everyone had their own fish fries, as we found it a good way to spend quality time with the people on our boats and other boats too, and a great way to enjoy a delicious, fresh meal.
Before long, the day had come to an end and our stomachs were stuffed more than we ever thought was possible. A fun next few days in Glacier Bay had us more than excited, and we all got to bed fairly quickly, preparing to enter the 45 mile National Park in just less than 24 hours.
Flukes! As we exited Elfin Cove, almost immediately, whales surrounded the boats, spouting and diving as they fed on the sea creatures brought up by the currents in front of the cove. One mama whale was swimming along with her calf, so we took care to leave enough room between us to avoid disturbing the animals.
Also, as we cruised, it seemed like everywhere we looked, we saw sea otters. Emmelina explained that the otter population has rebounded from near extinction to around 1500 otters here in Glacier Bay alone!
After hanging around with the whales for some time, we continued to Bartlett Cove where we would stay for just a few hours. In our time there, some of us took a hike through the dense forest, others ate lunch at the lodge overlooking the vast ocean, and we all were required to watch a video about Glacier Bay National Park.
After an afternoon at Bartlett Cove, we went to Blue Mouse Cove, where we would anchor for the night. As the night approached, the sky finally cleared so we got the opportunity to see the beginning of the glorious mountains surrounding Glacier Bay.
The whole point of going to Glacier Bay is to see glaciers, and that’s exactly what we did today! We made our way from Blue Mouse Cove to the base of the Margerie and Grand Pacific Glaciers. It looked as if none of the Grand Pacific was left, but really it was just entirely covered in dirt from its terminal moraine. The Margerie Glacier on the other hand, was everything one could ask for in a glacier! It’s deep blue color and giant cracks were only two of its beautiful features. And to add on top of that, it even calved twice. Calving is when a bit of the glacier breaks off of the face with a loud bang and falls into the water. In addition, just for fun, some of the boats collected “bergi bits” from the water to enjoy in their cocktails later that evening.
After we further explored the magnificent glaciers, the fleet cruised down to the entrance of the Johns Hopkins Inlet but we couldn’t go past Jaw Point, about halfway up the arm, because it is temporarily closed to avoid disturbing newborn seal pups. At the entrance though, lay another massive glacier, sparkling in the intermittent sunshine.
After we left our morning’s glacier adventure, we didn’t realize the next adventure we’d be in for! The boats came into Reid Inlet where we would anchor for the night right in front of Reid Glacier. Emmelina suggested a walk on the Reid Glacier. As Navigator pulled out their dinghy to head towards the shore, their engine stopped and they were stranded in the middle of the bay with the current pushing them steadily away from the anchored boats. Luckily, Deceptions’ dinghy was coming by and we had to save them! At first the two boats were connected by just hands we spun in circles in the current, but after instructions from Brian, the two dinghies made it back to the big boats by traveling in idle with Deception’s dinghy dragging Navigator’s by their bow line, everyone laughing and singing.
After our peaceful walk through waterfalls and the glacier ice, our magnificent glacier adventures for the day had come to an end. We fell asleep to a rare clear sky, as the mountains surrounding the glacier stood clear, making for a beautiful night.
We began the beautiful day with a trip to the whale carcass we had seen the day before only a short way from Reid Inlet. We cruised to the carcass and we saw a bear munching on the blubber. A great way to start the morning! Inside Passage was even luckier and saw a wolf approach the carcass. But, it didn’t take long for the wolf to head the other direction because as soon as he spotted the bear, he realized the whale carcass might not be the place to be at that moment!
After the fun trip to the carcass, the fleet headed across the bay to Tidal Inlet. But, the trip there was no ordinary trip through the ocean. On the way, we saw one brown bear after the next, either lying on shore, running, or even pooping. Also, as we approached the face of a mountain, we were lucky enough to spot many mountain goats both sitting and walking around.
Our final destination for the day was North Sandy Cove, and just after the boats anchored for the night, harbor porpoises were seen happily swimming past. After a great up-close look at those marine mammals, Emmelina led a walk on the long shore surrounding the cove.
Just as we prepared for the night and we thought the day couldn’t get any better, a black bear going for a late night swim in the harbor swam directly in front of deception’s dinghy. We all prepared for the next day, sad that the trip has almost come to an end.
The first half of the day was spent traveling from North Sandy Cove to Swanson Harbor, a fun trip enriched with a lot of great wildlife! On the way not only were more whales and sea otters spotted but we went past South Marble Island, an island filled with more wildlife than one could ever imagine! The island was a sea lion haul-out, so hundreds of sea lions lay sprawled along the rocks, jumping into the water, and just sitting in the sun. Also on the island, many species of nesting birds sat waiting for their young. Surrounding the island were puffins, an unusual bird with a bright orange beak and feet.
Shortly after we arrived at Swanson Harbor, Emmelina led a fun nature walk on shore. We walked to the point and got to see a beautiful view of the surrounding area, as we walked on many kinds of flowers, lichen, and other flora. Although on our way back, the rain started to fall and the tide began to rise. The water came up to our boots and we were all so wet, it felt as though we had just gotten out of a shower! We were so beyond wet at that point. We laughed and joked until we got into the soaking dinghy, then our boots filled with water to the brim.
Since this was the last full day of the trip, the traditional Last Supper was held which includes a dinner in which everyone contributes their leftover food, a talent show, and a slideshow of pictures taken throughout the leg. And for a special treat, two eagles sat outside our boat for hours, watching the commotion from outside. After we were all stuffed, each boat did something different and great to demonstrate their talents! By the end of the night, everyone had laughed so much, our bellies hurt!
Today was officially the last day of a trip we’ll never forget. We departed Swanson Harbor to go to Juneau, our final destination. We were astonished by what we saw on the way- a breaching whale. The large whale spun into the air, water rocketing off its sides, displaying its speckled black and white underside. Right after that, another whale playfully slapped its long pectoral fin, putting on a show for us. We believed the whale breached just for us and our last day together to always remember the phenomenal trip and wildlife we encountered.
We all reminisced on all the wonderful aspects of the trip- glaciers, eagles. whales, small fishing towns, bears, socializing together, sea otters, sea lions, nature walks, vast mountain ranges, and the list goes on. We’ll always hold on to the experiences we had together, and the memories of Mother Goose Leg 4 2010 will never be forgotten.