Category: Wilderness Discoverer

6/1: Back to Juneau – the end of Week 2

Jun1-1One last shot from the deck outside our cabin.  We’d been un-cruising most of the night as we made our way to Juneau, where we reached the dock at 7am or so. Time to put our bags out, have one last breakfast, and say farewell to new friends before disembarking at 8:30am.

Last week, we knew we’d be getting back on the Wilderness Discoverer, but we were sad this week. We’d had such a good time, and even though we had another week to go, we weren’t sure what to expect.

It’s funny how you can get so comfortable in just two short weeks.

 

Foggy and raining lightly as we get closer to Juneau

Foggy and raining lightly as we get closer to Juneau

 

They say it always rains in Ketchikan, but we had sunshine there; not so in Juneau.  It looks much the same arriving as it did when we were here two weeks prior:

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Since we will be changing to the Wilderness Explorer, we had to pack our bags and leave them for transfer.  We did leave our laundry behind, to be delivered to the Explorer.  Here’s Beth, one of the expedition guides, helping to collect all the luggage.

Turning the ship around on Saturday is hard work. Everyone pitches in to make it happen.

 

Goodbyes, hugs, and promises to come again were made as we left the ship

Goodbyes, hugs, and promises to come again were made as we left the ship

 

Goodbye, Wilderness Discoverer and your fantastic crew!

Goodbye, Wilderness Discoverer and your fantastic crew!

 

Thoughts on Week No. 2 – Cruising the Western Coves of the Inside Passage

26May-3Scenery – B+  It’s a bit unfair to give the Alaska Scenery less than an A grade, but this is only in comparison to the stunning views of Misty Fjords and Tracy Arm which we’d experienced the previous week. It was still beautiful, and we were again fortunate to have near perfect weather and several gorgeous sunsets. The predawn hours sometimes made it look like were were in another world.

 

May28-57Wildlife – A-  We saw much more wildlife during Week  No. 2, and the otters put this over to an A for me,  but we have to leave some wiggle room for the upcoming week. I even almost saw a breaching humpback.  The otters were a highlight, but the whales were also majestic. The intertidal creatures were, well, kinda creepy (but Lou was quite fascinated by them) –  I have watched too many Alien Movies to be comfortable around strange creatures of the deep.  We did learn a lot, and it was so surprising to see such colorful creatures along the Alaskan shoreline.

 

May29-35Life Onboard – A  Even better than the first week, as we knew the routine, the crew, and had made some new friends – we also met lots of nice people who had joined the boat for Week No. 2. Chef Jo and the kitchen crew once again provided excellent meals and special treats, even if they were sometimes interrupted by humpbacks and sea lions.  We do want to give a shout out to Chief Steward, Laurie.  She and her crew made our dining experience and cabin care a seamless operation. Chris, our bartender extraordinaire, went out of his way to take care of everyone.  And, of course, Captain Danny added to the experience by doing so much more than skippering the ship.

 

26May-31Off Boat Activities – A   The tour of Klawock was a highlight for Lou. I enjoyed doing more of the shore walks, and the skiff tours were super. We had a more balanced week because we pushed ourselves to get off the boat more.  The active hikers said their bushwhacks lived up to the name, and were on the wild side this past week.  A big thanks to all of the Expedition Guides and Skiff Skippers for making the most of every activity.

 
So, again, at the risk of repeating myself – the second week of Un-Cruising was just about perfect. We were so lucky to be able to do this. We could have left Alaska at this point and felt we’d had a great trip. And yes, there was a part of us that wouldn’t have minded getting back home. We missed the dogs, and we also wanted to get things sorted in the new house. That said, it was not a hardship to start Week No. 3 on the Wilderness Explorer.

Jun1-12

5/31: Endicott Arm & Dawes Glacier

May31-11

Today we were going through Endicott Arm to Dawes Glacier.  This is often the destination of “second choice” when it is not possible to get into Tracy Arm to the Sawyer Glaciers.  Endicott Arm is wider than Tracy Arm and there is less chance of ice buildup in the passage.  It was different than the Sawyer Glaciers, but still very interesting.  We saw much more calving at Dawes, and were glad we got to see both Sawyer and Dawes Glaciers. Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier deserve more respect!

At 7:30am we were getting ready to approach Dawes Glacier

At 7:30am we were getting ready to approach Dawes Glacier

 

May31A-16

The low fog hung over the mountains along the sides of Endicott Arm

 

It was overcast and raining off and on throughout the day - no sunshine today!

It was overcast and raining off and on throughout the day – no sunshine today!

 

The crew gets the skiffs ready for our adventure

The crew gets the skiffs ready for our adventure

 

Explorers ready to go on one of the early skiff tours

Happy explorers ready to go on one of the early skiff tours

 

We had the 9am tour with Bob driving and Alison guiding

We had the 9am tour with Bob driving and Alison guiding

 

It wasn't long before we started hearing the thunder of the glacier movement and were able to see lots of calving action

It wasn’t long before we started hearing the thunder of the glacier movement and were able to see lots of calving action

 

The waves from the ice falling into the water rocked the small skiff

The waves from the ice falling into the water rocked the small skiff

 

Alison snagged a piece of floating ice, and made us all take turns kissing it

Alison snagged a piece of floating ice, and made us all take turns kissing it

 

We scoped out the glacier face, then went along the sides of the cliffs, before circling back to the ship

We scoped out the glacier face, then went along the sides of the cliffs, before circling back to the ship.  We were anchored about half a mile from the glacier.

More photos from the morning:

One of the few ice bergs floating in the water - the people in the small boat are on a different tour - looks like they are too close!

One of the few ice bergs floating in the water – the people in the small boat are on a different tour – looks like they are too close!

 

One of our skiffs going out to the glacier

One of our skiffs going out to the glacier

 

Dawes Glacier

Dawes Glacier – a view of the whole face

 

Calving in action, observed once we were back onboard the Wilderness Discoverer

Calving in action, observed once we were back onboard the Wilderness Discoverer

 

It looks like steam

It looks like steam

 

A very short calving video:

 

Today was Polar Plunge Day - the water was 38 degrees F, and the plungers had to avoid the floating ice!

Today was Polar Plunge Day – the water was 38 degrees F, and the plungers had to avoid the floating ice!

 

 

And, even more photos from the day:

 

We enjoyed the Captain's Dinner with friends we made during the past two weeks - we hope to keep in touch!

We enjoyed the Captain’s Dinner with some of the friends we’d made during the past two weeks – we hope to keep in touch!

We finished the evening with a slideshow of photos taken by our guides during the week, and a few passengers shared some photos as well.  I was surprised when Lou shared a short presentation of our photos from the previous two weeks.  Folks settled up their bar tabs for the week, and we had a good time visiting before calling it a night.

Dall’s Porpoise in the Dark:

5/30: Port Houghton – What’s a Salt Chuck?

May30-19Yesterday marked the half way point in our Un-Cruise Ultra Adventure.  When I commented to Lou about all the wildlife we’d seen this week, he responded with “Aren’t you glad I booked all three weeks …”  I usually hate it when he’s right, but was happy to agree.  Today we were in a secluded anchorage in Port Houghton, and we had the opportunity to sign up for two outings.  Lou decided to take a rest day; not only is this allowed, it’s encouraged.  Too many people suffer from FOMO syndrome when on these trips, and the crew reminds us to take some relaxing time ( FOMO = Fear of Missing Out).  This wasn’t a problem for us.

 

I chose the morning Photo Walk on shore, and a late afternoon Skiff Tour.  But first, a few photos from our anchorage – these were taken just before breakfast at 7:30am:

One of the gals decided to try paddle boarding – it was a windy for a first timer, but she did well:

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May30-5

My shore walk left at 9:30am, and this is where we were headed

 

Wave goodbye to the safety of the Wilderness Discoverer

Wave goodbye to the safety of the Wilderness Discoverer

 

Our landing was easy on the rocky beach, and we were able to step right out onto shore

Our landing was easy on the rocky beach, and we were able to step right out onto shore

 

Today's plan was to just take in the sights and get a little exercise.  Hannah was with us to tell us about creatures and plants

Today’s plan was to just take in the sights and get a little exercise. Hannah was with us to tell us about creatures and plants

 

One of the first thing we saw were lots of mussel shells, many covered with barnacles

One of the first thing we saw were lots of mussel shells, many covered with barnacles

 

We were next to where the Salt Chuck enters the river and we were at relatively low tide

We were next to where the Salt Chuck enters the river and we were at relatively low tide.

 

We saw a log which appeared to be a condo for some animals - it was filled with broken shells and scat

We saw a log which appeared to be a condo for some animals – it was filled with broken shells and scat

More photos from our walk:

We were out for more than an hour when it was time to go back to the Wilderness Discoverer.

We're not Under Siege, it's Tucker come to pick us up and return us to the ship

We’re not Under Siege, it’s Tucker come to pick us up and return us to the ship

 

Lunch hit the spot - tasty chicken club sandwiches and a peanut butter cookie

Lunch hit the spot – tasty chicken club sandwiches and a peanut butter cookie

 

Time for a nice rest after lunch, but at 4pm it was time to go explore the Salt Chuck.  What’s a Salt Chuck?  It’s where sea water runs into a river or a lake.  Here’s what I found in a forest service publication:

Port Houghton Salt Chuck Description: A large and complex salt chuck-estuary system with a lake-fed river and multiple streams, the Port Houghton salt chuck is one of only two salt chucks on the mainland in Southeast Alaska. The Rusty River is the backbone of fish production in this VCU, and is a substantial contributor to commercial fishing in the region. The Rusty is notable for producing all five varieties of pacific salmon and a substantial steelhead run. 

The salmon weren’t running this time of year, but we had bigger creatures in our sights – isn’t it time we saw a bear?

Oh Good, Bob's driving the skiff - he's always willing to look for bears

Oh Good, Bob’s driving the skiff – he’s always willing to look for bears

 

Oops, we aren't the only one looking for bears.  These hunting guides were not happy to see us in "their" territory on the last day of their hunting season.

Oops, we aren’t the only one looking for bears. These hunting guides were not happy to see us in “their” territory on the last day of their hunting season.

 

They took off in a bit of a huff, after letting us know they weren't happy.  Laurie answered them calmly and professionally, explaining we had permits and forest service permission to be here.  Who knows how much was posturing for the client, who may have paid up to $1,500 for his day?

They took off in a bit of a huff, after letting us know they weren’t happy. Laurie answered them calmly and professionally, explaining we had permits and forest service permission to be here. Who knows how much was posturing for the client, who may have paid up to $1,500 for his day?

 

We didn't see any bears, and apparently the hunters didn't either, as they came barreling by us later in the afternoon.  We saw this bald eagle, another nesting one.

We didn’t see any bears, and apparently the hunters didn’t either, as they came barreling by us later in the afternoon. We saw this bald eagle, another nesting one.

The Salt Chuck Skiff Tour didn’t lead to any big wildlife sightings, but I imagine it’s a great place to see both salmon and bears at the right time of year.

Next on the agenda was dinner.  This was a special one, as the crew recognized all those with celebrations on Thursday evenings.  Since they hadn’t done it the previous week, I was included in this one as well – and, we got ice cream as an extra treat with our German Chocolate Cake. Scampi and Cornish Game hen were the entree options.

A special treat - ice cream & cake, AND dinner with friends

A special treat – ice cream & cake, AND dinner with friends (and a photobombing Zak)

 
We did see a few more humpbacks that evening as we cruised back through Frederick Sound on our way to Endicott Arm.  It was 8:30pm, misty and starting to rain, so we didn’t  try for too many photos; we just enjoyed the show:

It had been another good day.  More of a relaxing pace for us, and that was needed.  Tomorrow will be our last full day of un-cruising on the Wilderness Discoverer, and there is a glacier waiting for us.

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

 

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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?

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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

 

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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