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Cruising Alaska: May/June 2006

Radiance of the Seas (Royal Caribbean)

Page 2: Skagway - Sitka

Vision of the Seas
    Page 1: Whitehorse - Seattle - Juneau
    Page 2: Skagway - Icy Strait - Victoria - Seattle

Radiance of the Seas
    Page 1: Vancouver - Juneau
    Page 2: Skagway - Sitka
    Page 3: Icy Strait - Hubbard Glacier
    Page 4: Seward - Whitehorse

Click on each photo to greatly enlarge it.

    Burro Creek is a private fish hatchery located just south of Skagway on Lynn Canal - it is accessible only by boat and air.

    I haven't yet found out what this new construction a mile or so south of Skagway is for - even the rangers at the Skagway NPS didn't know.

    Skagway was a laid-back day of visiting friends, doing laundry and browsing art shops.

    The Dawn Princess left Skagway shortly before we did, but was in no hurry, and we passed her a few miles down Lynn Canal. This photo was taken at 8:55 p.m.

    The Regal Princess was stopped at a Steller's sea lion haulout a few miles south of Haines on Lynn Canal. We stopped there in the Vision last week, but it was too dark to see much. This photo was taken at 9:35 p.m.

    The last rays of sun brighten up Lynn Canal at 9:46 p.m.

    A dramatic glacier-carved canyon along Lynn Canal, seen just before 10:00 p.m.

    Eldred Rock Lighthouse just after 10:00 p.m.

    Wednesday, May 31: Approaching Sitka at 07:55, with dormant volcano Mt Edgecumbe (3,200 feet) in the background.

    Our first stop was the Sitka National Historical Park ($4.00 per person admission), which offers a walk through the forest with 15 totem poles along it. We bought a guide to the totems called "Carved History" ($5.00), also available online. This was an excellent way to start the day off.

    Tommy Joseph was carving a small totem pole for a client's home - the tree was harvested on the client's property.

    Near the site of a fierce battle fought in 1804 between Russians and Tlingits was a great view of the Radiance.

    The Russian Bishop's House, one of the last surviving examples of Russian colonial architecture in North America. Built in 1843, it now houses exhibits, refurbished living quarters and the Chapel of the Annunciation. The admission charge for the totem pole park also covers the Bishop's House.

    St. Michael the Archangel Cathedral in downtown Sitka. It's only $2.00 to enter, but it was disappointing - a rather stark hall with a few icons, and no photography is allowed. The 1848 structure burned in 1966 (along with most of the downtown), and this copy was completed in 1976.

    Our main Sitka adventure was a 4-hour marine mammal and bird tour that we had booked with Davey Lubin of the Esther G Sea Taxi ($150. per person). Heading out, we passed Rockwell Light, a private lighthouse (and B&B) which marks the Rockwell Reef, 100 yards offshore.

    In what felt like just a few minutes Davey had found our first seal and pup (seen here), and several sea otters at a distance. Davey's Web site says that "Natural history and boating are not only his professions, they are his passions," and that quickly became clear - he offered commentary on a wide range of subjects, from sea otter behaviour to the best local hiking trails.

    Many people think that cold seas can't have much life. This shoreline is typical - Alaska's shores, with hardly a square inch not covered by some life form, make the Caribbean look as sterile as a bathtub in comparison.

    We came slowly around a rock jutting out from a small island, and came face-to-face with this female sea otter and her pup. The pup is hard to make out, but is covering the mother's belly, with his nose just to the right of hers. After a few seconds swimming away from us on her back, she grabbed the pup and pulled him underwater with her.

The panorama below is a group of females that we spent a few minutes with. Normally only males
can be approached fairly closely - females keep a substantial distance between themselves and boats.

    Jacob's Rock is a Steller's sea lion haulout that we spent a long time at. These animals are fascinating to watch, and there had to have been over 300 of them on this small island. In the centre of this photo is a male of average size (perhaps 1,200 pounds), while the others are 400-600 pound females.

    This female sea lion got within 20 feet of our boat, and seemed to be quite unconcerned about our presence.

    While we were watching a rather lethargic humpback whale (tired from the recently-completed trip from Hawaii?), these guys just kept on fishing.

    A visit to Saint Lazaria Island is every bird-watcher's dream. The number of birds that nest on this island is staggering - 500,000 storm petrels, 3-4,000 tufted puffins, 2,000 rhinoceros auklets, 4-5,000 common and thick-billed murres, and many uncommon species such as ancient murrelets and Cassin's auklets.

    Pelagic cormorants nesting on the cliffs of Saint Lazaria.

    Talking to a couple back on the Radiance about our incredible day, we found out that they had booked a tour on the dock at Sitka, and saw almost nothing (1 sea lion). I feel so sorry for people who get ripped off like that on what may be a once-only trip - do your research, ask questions, and book ahead.

To Page 3: Icy Strait - Hubbard Glacier