Author Archives

ljd

More 5/29: It’s Not Over ’til the Whales Say It’s Over

May29PM-40

We thought the fun for the day was over, but as we finished dessert, we noticed we were making another pass by the Five Finger Lighthouse: if we’re still in Frederick Sound then maybe there will be whales?  And, soon we saw one:

May29PM-3

 

And then, a humpback not far from our ship:

May29PM-31

 

May29PM-5

 

This is turning out to be quite a nice after dinner surprise.  As I was focusing on the lighthouse again, I heard a collective gasp from those on the port side of the boat:

May29PM-6

 

And that, my friends, is what it looks like when a Humpback Whale falls back into the water after a breach!  Key word here is After.  Dang, so wanted to capture that.  I did, however, get another nice photo of the lighthouse (grrrr…):

May29PM-7

 

We saw another small ship not far from us:

May29PM-8

 

That whale is really close to them (this is the Admiralty Dream); a few minutes later, there was something scraping up against their port side:

May29PM-10

 

Do you see it?

May29PM-11

 

May29PM-12

 

Can. Not. Imagine. what that must have been like.  It was exciting just seeing it from our boat.  And, we still had humpbacks in view.  Here’s another leviathan:

May29PM-13

 

They didn’t stop – we had been back out on deck for over an hour and it seemed there was something going on everywhere we turned:

May29PM-15

 

May29PM-14

 

May29PM-16

 

May29PM-17

 

Here’s a sequence of frames captured over a 2 second period – 2 seconds sounds fast, but when you watch the humpback surface, then slowly gather up as it prepares for the dive, it looks like slow motion water ballet:

We finally gave up at 8:45pm.  It was getting too dark to get decent photos, and we were in awe of what we’d just experienced (at least I know I was).  The only word I can think of to describe the evening: Magic

After a celebratory Alaskan Amber, we headed to our cabin at 10:30pm or so.  And even that turned out to be an experience.  We had just come through a narrow passage, and it was something to see:

May29PM-34

 

May29PM-18

 

May29PM-19

 

May29PM-36

Blue Magic

5/29: Saginaw Bay – Fun with Echinoderms

May29Ducks

 

If you’d like to see what Saginaw Bay looks like at 3:30am, check out these photos:

 

May29-38

We cruised during the night from Bay of Pillars to Saginaw Bay where we were anchored in Halleck Harbor.  We were scheduled to be here for the morning, so only one off boat activity was planned.  We chose, of course, the Skiff Tour.  This one will rank at the top of the list for most entertaining skiff tour.

After checking out today’s menu, getting some coffee, and visiting with the other early risers, it was time for a few more photos.

 

May29-5

 

By 5AM, the sun was making it's presence known

By 5am, the sun was making it’s presence known, although it would be cloudy and overcast all morning.

 

We spotted a ship in the distance - it was the Disney Wonder, which we had sailed on in January

We spotted a ship in the distance – it was the Disney Wonder, which we had sailed on in January

 

After breakfast, we watched a scouting party heading ashore

After breakfast, we watched a scouting party heading ashore

 

One of the groups who chose a hike gets ready to go

One of the groups who chose a hike gets ready to go

 

May29-10

Captain Danny was our driver and guide. This was great – he wasn’t afraid to take the skiff to places where others might not venture.

 

We navigated through the rocks, so Captain Danny could hop on shore

We navigated through the rocks, so Captain Danny could hop on shore

 

He brought a large Sun Star back to the skiff

He brought a large Sun Star back to the skiff

 

The jelly-like bubbles are the stomach - it can slide into cracks and crevices to get the good stuff out of things like mussels

The jelly-like bubbles are the stomach – it can slide into cracks and crevices to get the good stuff out of things like mussels and oreos.

 

The Sun Star was very active - moving it's legs and wriggling around.  This photo shows stuff it dropped from it's tentacles as we were checking it out - we interrupted breakfast.

The Sun Star was very active – moving its legs and wriggling around. This photo shows stuff it dropped from its tentacles as we were checking it out – we interrupted breakfast.

 

Watch it wriggle:

 

He put the Sun Star back where he found it, and came back with a Starfish:

We cruised slowly through the rocks, getting right up next to the shore, where we could see lots of slimy creatures in the rocks:

I prefer otters, but admittedly, this was the type of thing we’d never seen before unless visiting an aquarium.  We did see both an adult and a juvenile bald eagle as we toured the area before going back to the ship.  We also saw a petroglyph on the cliff wall – we were told it had recently been “touched up” but I’m still not sure if this an authentic historical painting.

There were treats waiting for us once back on the ship:

Not beer - well, you could have one if you wanted, but it was still on the early side.  The Alaskan Brewery Beers were popular.

Not beer – well, you could have one if you wanted, but it was still on the early side. The Alaskan Brewing Co. Beers were popular.

 

Poppyseed Muffins were available - there was almost always a mid-morning snack.   Sure glad it wasn't jelly donuts, after what we'd just seen.

Poppyseed Muffins were available – there was almost always a mid-morning snack. Sure glad it wasn’t jelly donuts, after what we’d just seen.

 

Another specialty drink of the day.  Hmmmnn, perhaps it's not too early for peach schnapps - it was cold and damp outside.

Another  drink of the day. Hmmmnn, perhaps it’s not too early for a Wild Peaches Special – it was cold and damp outside.

 

Lunch was served before we started into Frederick Sound - it's Mexican today!

Lunch was served before we started into Frederick Sound – it’s Mexican today!

 

We were on our way soon after 1pm, and this was the first bad weather we encountered.  It was foggy, and raining lightly.  It wasn’t too bad, and added to the atmosphere reminding us we were in Alaska in May.  We looked for whales, but couldn’t find any – it was impossible to see their telltale blows in the mist.

Couldn't see far in these conditions

Couldn’t see far in these conditions

 

There was an open bridge policy - passengers were welcomed as long as there were no dangers or crew meetings happening

There was an open bridge policy – passengers were welcomed as long as there were no dangers or crew meetings happening (We are trusting our fate to the man who was wearing a Starfish just hours ago ?  🙂 )

 

This nice gentleman - we'll call him "John" - was so optimistic we would see Orcas.  He just knew every day would be the day ...

This nice gentleman – we’ll call him “John” – was so optimistic we would see Orcas. He just knew every day would be the day …

 

Passing by the 5 Points Lighthouse - this is featured in one of Sue Henry's Alaskan Mysteries.

Passing by the Five Finger Lighthouse – this is featured in one of Sue Henry’s Alaskan Mysteries.

 

We had a practice emergency muster drill to keep us sharp

We had a practice emergency muster drill to keep us sharp

 

At 4:30pm we were passing the lovely Steller Sea Lions – they looked rather sinister in the fog:

May29-43

 

May29-41

 

May29-42

 

Dinner was served at 6:30pm after Happy Hour and Appetizers.  Sometimes it seemed like we were eating one meal after another.  Tonight we chose the pork tenderloin and corned beef and cabbage, both served with polenta and carrots.  Both entrees were good.  As mentioned before, there was also a vegetarian option.  You could request the dishes without sauce or gravy if that was your preference.

May29-46

 

May29-45

 

It had been an eventful day, with a fun skiff tour, an afternoon of fruitless but enjoyable Whale Watching, and a good dinner. Celebrity Chief Mate Michael presented a 1929 film by Irving Johnson about the Peking, a tall ship that sailed around Cape Horn in horrific weather.  It was educational and hysterical.

Just a little disappointed we didn’t see the hoped-for whales, but there is always tomorrow.

5/28: Bay of Pillars “You Otter Been There…”

May28pano

 

May28-75

Today, we were anchored in the Bay of Pillars – this matched our anchorages last week for beauty.  And, the sunshine and warm temperatures didn’t hurt.  We were signed up for two activities today, and both of us slept in until just before breakfast time.  Happy Birthday, Lou!

The water was once again very still, and Lou took advantage to capture a photo of one of the many jellyfish floating by the boat:

May28-44

 

The view this morning was a good one, and we weren’t the only ones taking photos and soaking up the atmosphere:

May28-39

We were scheduled for the 9 o’clock shore walk with Alison (lucky Alison – she ended up being our guide for many of the first two week’s activities.  We enjoyed her enthusiasm and knowledge – she was always smiling).  On the way over to the shore for our walk, we spotted an otter.

A very noisy otter - he was busy eating and ignored us; Otters can eat up to 25% of their weight in a day.

A very noisy otter – he was busy eating and ignored us; Otters can eat up to 25% of their weight in a day.

 

The drill is, you get out of the skiff (wear rubber boots if you don't want to get wet), then give your life vest back

The drill is, you get out of the skiff (wear rubber boots if you don’t want to get wet), then give your life vest back

Our assignment was to walk around and look for interesting things.  We collected “stuff” or pointed it out, and Alison would tell us about it.   All of our treasures were restored to their natural habitat after show & tell – no slimy creatures were harmed during this event.  It was surprising just how many tiny creatures and interesting plants and stuff you can find when you’re looking for it.  Lou was into this – I found it interesting, but am not that crazy about the invertebrate world or slimy things.

Here are some photos from our shore walk:

 

Lou took his eye off the beach and caught an eagle flying overhead – don’t ask what it’s carrying.  We figured out it’s another Circle-of-Life thing.  One of the photos in the gallery shows an eagle on a nest – we still didn’t have any luck spotting the eaglets, maybe it was too early in the spring for them to be out.

May28-57

 

On the way back to the ship, Bob did a few turns to see if we could find the otters again – this one popped up fairly close:

 

Some folks went for a paddle before lunch:

May28-7

 

Our next activity (if you’re keeping track, this is our second event of the day – pretty good for us) was at 2pm.  Bob was in charge of us as we set out on the afternoon Skiff Adventure.  Bless his heart, he really did search high and low for a bear, but no luck.  It turned out even better; you guessed it, more otters.

This nosy guy kept coming close to the skiff and popping up his head to look at us:

"Hey, watcha looking' at?  Get outta here, this is my place."

“Hey, watcha lookin’ at? Get outta here, this is my place.”

 

We did see more than otters as we cruised around the bay – the scenery was once again stunning:

We also saw some Canadian Geese:

It was about time to go back to the ship when we spotted another otter:

What is it holding on its belly?

What is it holding on its belly?

 

A better look, but we still can't tell for sure what it's holding

A better look, but we still can’t tell for sure what it’s holding

 

Oh my - is that the cutest thing you've ever seen? Sea Otters will carry their babies for 3-6 months.

Oh my – is that the cutest thing you’ve ever seen? Sea Otters will carry their babies for 3-6 months.

 

Oh, wow, this was a highlight for me (even Lou cracked a smile).  This was one of our favorite days from the trip – a nice walk along the shore, baby otters, and beautiful scenery.  What’s not to like?  And, Lou had a surprise when we got back – there was a bottle of wine waiting for him in our cabin, a birthday gift from some of the staff.  This was very nice, and is an advantage to doing multiple weeks with the same crew – you do get to know people better.

We topped off the day by dining with our new friends from Australia.

We topped off the day by dining with our new friends from Australia.

The day’s not over yet – this gorgeous day turned into an awesome evening and we had one of our best sunsets of the trip:

 

A fitting end to Lou's Big Day

A fitting end to Lou’s Big Day

 

More 5/27: Cruising Through Chatham Strait

We departed Klawock after lunch, and at 1pm we were passing by the local sawmill – another industry supporting those who live in Klawock:

27May-55

 

We cruised for a couple of hours, all the time keeping a lookout for whales.  They’re out there, you know…  At 3pm we had our first sighting (at least that’s the first one we saw).  Pretty far out there, but definitely a humpback whale:

27MayPM-2

 

Mid-afternoon wasn’t the greatest time for photos, especially with the water being a little choppy.  But, that didn’t stop us.  Rather than show you lots of pics with a little bit of whale, here’s a collage made up from one of them, as he was preparing to do a dive – we watched this type of action for about an hour:

May27PM-1

We were happy – we’d seen more whales.  But, wouldn’t it be nicer if they came a little closer to the boat? We did see more whales, but they kept their distance from the ship:

May27PM-4

 

May27PM-5

 

In the meantime, a bald eagle flew overhead, checking us out:

May27PM-6

 

And, some of us entertained ourselves by playing a new version of “Capture the Flag.”  The goal was to get a shot of the Un-Cruise banner with all the letters showing:

May27PM-7

 

And then, we had some whales venture a little closer:

May27PM-19

 

While they weren’t right next to the boat, it was possible to get a good photograph with a zoom lens, or a good view with the binoculars.  Here’s a series taken of the same whale as he/she does a dive:

May27PM-10

 

May27PM-11

 

May27PM-12

 

May27PM-13

 

May27PM-14

********************************************************************************************************************************************************

Warning – this next section may only be of interest to photographers.  So, how close were we?  I have no idea, and didn’t think to ask the guides.  It might be possible to calculate the approximate distance, given the size of a whale fluke, the focal length of the lens, and the resolution of the camera sensor, but that seems like a lot of work.  All I cared about was getting a decent photo, even if I had to crop it in Lightroom after the fact.

To illustrate this point, here is one of the shots I showed in the first collage – when the whale was really, really far away:

May27PM-30

You can definitely see that it is a whale, and the photo doesn’t look too bad in the mini-collage.  But, it lacks sharpness and detail, and there’s not much you can do with it.  The screenshot below shows the photo in Lightroom, and gives the context of just how small an area was cropped out to produce the final photo:

whalecrop

Here is a similar shot when the whales were closer to the ship:

May27PM-40

Still not perfect, but it’s much easier to do something with this shot than the first one.  The crop rectangle for this pic is much larger than the one above.  Here’s a Lightroom view which shows what it looked like before cropping, and how much of the whale it would show if cropped to about the same dimensions as the far-away tail:

LargerWhaleSS

Confused yet?  It really doesn’t matter – just wanted to give an idea of what we meant by “closer to the ship.”  (These were all shot with a Canon 5DMIII using a 100-400mm zoom lens at 375mm).

Semi-Technical Discussion Over – we won’t go through this again.  There will be more whales coming up in future posts (yay!), and I’ll just comment if they were really really far away, far away, or pretty close …

*******************************************************************************************************************************************************

We watched the whales until Happy Hour, then I took a break before Lou signed me up for Whale Watcher’s Anonymous.  Lou chose the duck for dinner and said it was some of the best he’d had. Around 8pm, I was back on deck, planning to try for sunset shots:

At 8:15pm, the water had calmed down, and a little color was building in the sky

At 8:15pm, the water had calmed down, and a little color was building in the sky

 

A different view before 8:30pm - some color, and some interesting clouds, but it was still very light outside.

A different view before 8:30pm – some color, and some interesting clouds, but it was still very light outside.

 

May27PM-17

Watch Out !!! You never know what danger lurks around the corner …

 

Couldn't really get a good sunset photo, even though the colors and clouds were strong.  So, I did what any Instagram user does, and applied a filter to turn it into art (or not!)

Couldn’t really get a good sunset photo, even though the colors and clouds were strong. So, I did what any Instagram user does, and applied a filter to turn it into art (or not!)

5/27: Klawock & Tlingit Culture

27May-56Our destination today is Klawock – a town of about 850 residents and a major center of the Tlingit Culture. Fishing and tourism are two of the major ways the people in Klawock support themselves. The tourism industry revolves around people who come in for fishing and hiking trips. Commercial tourism built around the cultural aspects of the area is not currently a big business – our tour was arranged by the Un-Cruise folks. In fact, we didn’t even see a single souvenir shop our our walks. Klawock is 56 air miles from Ketchikan.

 

We had been cruising all night, and were still in motion as the sun was coming out behind the trees:

27May-1

 

The sun isn’t the only thing up and about at 5am – a hardworking crew member washes down the bow:

27May-3

 

A cup of coffee and a quick check of the menu was next on the agenda:

27May-4

 

It was too nice a morning to lounge around inside, so back outside to check out another surreal Alaskan morning:

27May-7

 

Slipping back to the cabin to make sure Lou was awake for breakfast, I had to maneuver my way through early morning Yoga Class – they were in full crouching tiger mode.  We had a new Wellness Instructor this week – Shannon (who had the most delightful Georgia accent).  She also held stretching classes in the afternoon, and it’s amazing how much just 20-30 minutes of stretching helped tired muscles.

27May-9

 

More photos from this unbelievable morning as we cruised into Klawock:

We were able to dock at the pier, and were introduced to our guides for the day. Victor had lived in Klawock all of his life and is currently one of the city officials. He told us about the history of Klawock, and also shared many stories about Tlingit Culture. He brought two young people with him, his niece Sidney and James, who had recently graduated from high school.

As we got off the boat, the water was amazingly clear, and Lou took these photos of sea creatures from the dock (which would be the logical place, as it’s unlikely he would dive into the water… ):

27May-16

 

27May-17

 

This is a salmon cannery that is no longer in operation. Klawock was the sight of the first salmon cannery in Alaska – built in 1878. As Victor said, “when was the last time any of you bought canned salmon?” As in other parts of the country, newer methods for preserving fish have made many canneries obsolete (we still prefer tuna in a can, but that may be habit and nostalgia).

May27-61-2

Our first stop was to see a beautiful canoe, a gift which was made by a man in Seattle to honor his wife’s parents. (In return, Klawock gifted a totem Honor Pole, which is displayed at the Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle – an important part of the Tlingit culture is maintaining “Balance.”)

27May-23

 

27May-21

 

Some of us sat out part of the lecture – it was very interesting, but it was also such a gorgeous day to just sit and soak in the sunshine:

27May-20

 

Hannah & Beth posing as we wait for the next part of the tour.  A word about our expedition guides – they were all enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their subject.  Many had backgrounds in natural science, and all had an obvious love of the outdoors, especially the natural wonders found in Alaska.

27May-22

 

After learning about the gift of the canoe, we split into two groups. Our group walked to the Totem Park – this park has 21 totem poles.  All of these are Mortuary Totems, so they each tell the story of the person who is being honored, and there is a place for ashes to be placed in the pole.

27May-34

From the City’s Webpage:

Klawock’s Totem Park has the largest collection of authentic totem poles in Alaska. The park displays original and replica totems from the old village of Tuxekan. The City, assisted by the village corporation’s donation of whole logs, recently built a carving shed to house many of the totem poles during restoration. Visitors are welcome to drop by to see the carvers at work. It is located across the street from the mall.

Lou took most of the photos of the totem poles shown below, and of the carvings we’ll see in a minute.  He was intrigued by these, and it’s also the type of stuff he likes to photograph.  I took a break from the camera for a while, just to enjoy the day.

 

After looking at all of the totem poles, we walked about a mile to the Carving Shed that is built as a replica of a Tlingit Long House – a communal living space.

27May-37

 

27May-39

Sidney and James told us about the carving shed and some of the history of totem poles.  One of the problems the Tlingit  are trying to rectify is the issue of losing their language – many of the people Victor’s age aren’t able to speak the language, because they were never taught.  There is a concentrated effort to teach young people, and Victor was quite proud of Sidney’s ability to speak Tlingit.  The tour of Klawock was informal, and we were encouraged to ask questions.  Here, Sidney and James share a laugh with fellow passengers:

27May-40

 

Photos from our tour of the Carving Shed and Long House follow – these are the older totems to be restored.

 

We learned how the story of the totems belongs to the person who commissions the carving, so James said he couldn’t tell us much about the new totems being carved.

May27-60

 

Taking time to admire the flowers and weeds as we walked back to the boat:

We returned to the Wilderness Discoverer in time to have lunch as we started the next leg of today’s journey.  Visiting Klawock was exactly the type of experience we’d hope to have when we signed up for small ship un-cruising, and we’re happy to say it lived up to expectations.

27May-54

5/26: El Capitan Cave & Week 2 Itinerary

3dolphins

We continued our journey back to Juneau, but we wouldn’t be retracing our steps.  This trip will cover the Western Coves of the Inside Passage.  Here’s a map that shows our route for Week 2 (although we went to Endicott Arm, not Tracy Arm, on Day 7):

26May-37

In the photos we received for Week 2, they included a chart of where we went each day – a nice touch and something I wish we had for Weeks 1 & 3.  Our journey would take us around Prince of Wales (POW) Island, through El Capitan Passage, and to an anchorage near El Capitan Cave.  This is the largest cave in Southeast Alaska, and those brave enough to climb over 300 steps would be able to take a tour of the cave later today.

26May-36

 

Once again, I was outside by 4am.  We were still cruising towards El Capitan.  The first thing I noticed was the spooky calmness of the water, except for our wake.  It looks like velvet in the photographs.  It only looked like this for a few minutes; as it got lighter, the surface of the water lost it’s velvety texture.

26May-3

 

The full moon was still out in the sky, and the pre-dawn lighting was strange – starting out pink, going to a golden yellow:

26May-7

 

The mountains in the distance began to take on the morning glow:

26May-10

 

26May-13

 

I’d been taking photos for about an hour, when Lou caught me taking a photo of my camera – he laughed and told me I was crazy:

26May-11

 

I played around for another hour or so, and never got any real winners, but it was fun.  I’ll count this early morning session as one of my activities for the day.

26May-38

 

26May-15

 

Just after 7am, there was a mad scramble to the aft section of the boat – Orcas !!!  Oops, they weren’t Orcas, but were Dall’s Porpoises.  Much smaller, and quicker.  I was still glad to see them, because they are very fast and we didn’t get any photos of them last week (and, I’m sure you’ll figure it out, but the header photo for this post is 3 of this guy stitched together. I won’t do any Photoshop replacing of skies, wildlife, or people, unless it’s really obvious or I mention it).

26May-16

 

Just a few minutes later, we saw whales in the distance – that would be the really far distance:

26May-17

 

We didn’t hang around for long – these whales must have been related to Ernie, because they didn’t seem too interested in taking deep dives.  Several of us tried to get some photos of them, and I’ll show a few more, but these had to be cropped significantly to be able to see the whales.  Plus, the reflections make it hard to see.  That’s why Lou yells at me when I don’t use a polarizing filter …

We watched these humpbacks for about 20 minutes before moving on.  We continued to see some humpbacks in the distance – here’s one with a scenic backdrop, and he’s doing a good job of imitating a log:

26May-26

 

We saw some beautiful scenery as we cruised – strange, but beautiful
26May-28

 

We also saw quite a few bald eagles flying around, even sitting on small islands in the water.  They were squawking up a storm, so something must have upset them:

26May-30

 

8w9c0290

 

We arrived at the cove by El Capitan Cave after breakfast. There were a couple of groups going out to hike up to the Cave. Since there were over 350 steps to climb to get to the cave, we decided to pass. Here are a couple of photos of the hikers from the Un-Cruise photos shared with all of us:

26May-40

Source: UnCruise

 

26May-41

Source: UnCruise

 

We had an afternoon Skiff Tour, and this one turned out to be a good one:

26May-31

Our driver/guide was Mike – the Chief Mate on the Discoverer. Another very interesting guy – he was involved with the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, working with the boats and stunts. That was impressive, but then Lou told me Chief Mate Michael had a few parts in some X-Files episodes – he is now the Celebrity Chief Mate – although you never know which of these stories from the crew you can believe *smile*.  He was also a good Skiff Driver and Guide.

Not long after going out, we saw a sea otter. He just kept popping up and looking at us – so cute.

26May-33

 

And, as we edged along the shore, we saw more bald eagles.

26May-32

 

We saw a few more otters and watched them play – getting photos from the bouncing skiff was tough.  We returned to the boat, to see some folks getting ready to test their kayaking skills.

26May-34

 

Lou skipped the afternoon Skiff Tour; I thought he was resting, but turns out he was spying on some unsuspecting kayakers with the Big Lens.  This is how it’s done:

Thanks for being such good sports!

Thanks for being such good sports!

 

Dinner was a choice between pork loin and airline chicken, and it was good. Laurie gave a presentation on Southeast Alaska, and it was almost 9pm, when we had another wildlife sighting.  Even though it was getting too dark to get a decent photo, we tried anyway:

26May-35

We were all quite happy to have topped off our day with a black bear. No complaints today about wildlife – we saw Dall’s Porpoise, Humpback Whales, Bald Eagles, Sea Otters AND a Bear. That may have been more than we saw during all of Week 1 !!! So far we are off to a smashing start.