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Alaska Cruise:
Amsterdam (7 night Seattle return)

by Murray Lundberg

    Page 1: Whitehorse - Seattle - at sea
    Page 2: Juneau
    Page 3: Glacier Bay
    Page 5: Ketchikan
    Page 6: Victoria - Seattle - Whitehorse

Click on each photo to greatly enlarge it.

    Tuesday, July 24: Sitka is a tender port, and by 6:30 our tenders were being readied. After a wonderful tour with Captain Davey Lubin last year, we set up a custom all-day tour on his Esther G II this year, and he had no problem filling the other 4 places on it. We were to meet him on the dock at 9:00, allowing lots of time for a leisurely breakfast overlooking the magnificent harbor.

    The 28-foot Esther G II has a comfortable heated cabin with large windows for running, but the open deck is where we wanted to be when the boat was stopped or going slow.

    Sitka Sound is incredibly rich and has a remarkable variety of life. Our first look at this was a huge mass of jellyfish floating just below the surface - Davey had noticed a sheen on the water and detoured to show us this sight. These jellyfish appeared to be about 6-8 inches in diameter. They are beautiful to watch individually, and the number of them at this spot, probably tens of thousands, was amazing.

    Humpback whales are the primary target for most boat tours in Southeast Alaska, and we were soon with an active whale. Humpbacks can reach about 55 feet in length, but this one was likely in the 40-foot range. Individual whales can be identified by the white markings under the tail, which are as unique as a human fingerprint.

    On any nature-viewing trip, little things can make a big difference. Being able to see on a fishfinder the mass of krill that the humpback was feeding on, for example, helps greatly in understanding what you're seeing.

    The first rock we came to had a group of Pelagic cormorants (Phalacrocorax pelagicus) on it. We got close enough for some good photos of the birds, but I like this one that shows the whole scene.

    A small boat allows you to get up close and personal to Mother Nature. The power of the surf on this rugged coast is overwhelming when you're right on the edge of it.

    Just east of Saint Lazaria Island, we encountered large numbers of Rhinoceros auklets (Cerorhinca monocerata) and were able to drift fairly close.

    Sitka Sound, and Saint Lazaria Island specifically, lure birders from around the world. Being able to get within good viewing distance of birds such as the small Ancient murrelet (Synthlibormaphus antiquus) in the foreground is a serious birder's dream.

    Many Tufted puffins (Fratercula cirrhata) were seen.

    As well as being a superb bird watching location, Saint Lazaria Island is an important bird research station. The gulls didn't appear to be very pleased about the researcher's presence - her rain gear wasn't for protection from rain but from the other stuff falling from the sky! The researchers are all women, partly because their smaller hands make it possible to check burrowing birds' nests without damaging them.

    Alaska is one of the richest regions in the world for sea stars or starfish (Echinoderms). Two of the 100+ species known in Alaska are seen here.

    The mix of shapes, textures, patterns and colours on Saint Lazaria is stunning, and if I had unlimited time I probably woud have been content to spend at least an entire day there.

    Captain Davey explains the nesting habits of some of the seabirds to Eileen. Davey's passion for this country seems to be contagious, judging by the response of the people on both of our trips with him (I hope his knowledge is at least partially contagious!).

    Here are the birds Davey was pointing out in the photo above.

    Pelagic cormorants are among the birds which nest on the shelves provided by the basalt cliffs. Although the black birds themselves are difficult to spot, the "white-washing" below the nests certainly isn't.

    Leaving Saint Lazaria, we ran across a few miles of fairly calm open water to Jacob's Rock, a Steller's sea lion haulout. There were perhaps 200 sea lions on the rock, mostly 400-600 pound females (cows), with a few 1,000-1,200-pound bulls.

    Although sea lions appear quite ungainly on land, they're obviously very agile to be able to get onto rocks such as this.

    A short distance from Jacobs Rock, we pulled into a sheltered, kelp-filled area among several islets for a gourmet lunch. The bottle of good Italian Pinot Grigio that I brought from Seattle added the perfect touch to excellent food and company in a superb location.

    Our final stop was Goddard Hot Springs, where two bathhouses have been built in the wilderness just above the beach of Hot Springs Bay. The hot springs themselves were a disappointment, as one tub was much too cold to get into and the other was much too hot. If we had an hour we could have evened out the temperatures of both, but we were just about out of time. As if to compensate, Mother Nature parted the clouds and we had sunshine for the final few minutes there and for most of the run back to Sitka.

    After a whole day of having the world pretty much to ourselves, the scene back at the Sitka small boat harbor was rather chaotic, with excursion boats rushing back to get their clients on the last tenders. From the time we left the dock until we said goodbye to Davey, 6½ hours had passed - during that time I took 285 photos, about 2/3 of them of various types of wildlife. The photos on this page give you a little glimpse at what is now the best excursion Cathy and I have ever been on anywhere in the world.

    During the departure from Sitka, Cathy and I talked not only about the day, but about our return trip for the Sitka Summer Music Festival next year. Only extremely high house prices halted discussions about spending a lot more than a week in this very special place.

To Page 5: Ketchikan