Windham Bay Alaska
Day three: In September of 2010, we went on a wilderness adventure with American Safari Cruises, testing the itinerary for InnerSea Discoveries, which begins its inaugural season in 2011. We began the third day of our journey, which is actually the second day of the cruise, in Windham Bay, Alaska. After a tasty buffet breakfast, the crew handed out rubber boots to all the guests.
“These are Alaskan tennis shoes,” they said. We heard that again from locals we met all through our Alaskan adventure.
These boots are soft and flexible and very comfy. Much nicer than the barn boots I have at home. Great to wear anywhere Alaskans go, on boats, hiking in the woods, I even saw people wear them in town when we stopped in Wrangle.
The energetic (translation: young) group set out for a 5 mile paddle up to the head of the inlet. The not so energetic went for a skiff ride in an inflatable boat. We decided to try out a kayak on our own and did neither. I had never used a kayak before, but I did win some rowboat races growing up. We paddled down the shoreline a bit, past a stream where many seagulls feasting on post-spawning salmon dotted the landscape in white. We headed for a point of land that always looked just a short distance away, yet never seemed to get any closer.
We gave up trying to reach it and stopped. We dropped a line with a 3 ½ oz green pearl Point Wilson Dart. No matter where we are, or what swims beneath the surface, John loves to go fishing. Minutes later the rod tip dipped down. I got out my camera while John reeled in the line. Closer and closer to the boat it came, revealing a small rockfish, which we let go. After catching and releasing a couple more rockfish we paddled across the bay toward a tiny island covered in evergreen trees.
Four furry brown heads popped up from the water whuffing loudly in an angry sounding way.
Sea lion #1: “What is that?”
Sea lion #2 “Let’s go see.”
John (rather smugly) “They’re coming right over to where we are.”
Me (having never before been in the vicinity of large beasts in such a small boat) “Can they tip us over?”
Sea lion #3 (Heading toward the kayak) “Do you think it’s hungry?”
Sea lion #4 “I wonder what it eats?”
Sea lion #1 “US!”
Four brown heads popped back out of the water, noisily snorting and puffing. They dived back under and zipped off, resurfacing in the distance.
Unlike the sea lions, a group of seals on a rock nearby completely ignored us. They seemed intent only on basking in the rare southeast Alaskan sun.
We stopped and dropped a line down to the bottom, using the same dart fishing lure as before.
Cluster of rock fish near the bottom:”What is that?”
“It sure looks tasty.”
“Mine, mine, mine, mine,” (ala the seagulls in Finding Nemo.)
“Oh, yeah, it’s mine……..Yiiieeeeee”
“Hey where did Fred go?”
“He got that thing and took off in a big hurry.”
“He never shares.”
Back at the surface, Fred Rockfish blinks at his first sighting of sun and sky. Once removed from the hook, he races to the bottom, debating over whether to warn the others or wait for them to bite the hook so he can have a good laugh.
Being the fastest sinking jig on the market, the candlefish dart reached the bottom before Fred did. Still looking for Fred, the other rockfish missed it and a small unknown stickleback sneaked in, grabbing the hook for its own quick ride to the surface. Point Wilson Darts catch everything.
Over at the seal rock, the fast rising tide quickly immersed their sunning area. The bright red kayak stealthily approached in hopes of photos. Too late, nothing left above the surface but heads. We should have come sooner before the water covered their rock. An eagle flew overhead and the seals spooked, splashing off into deeper water while the eagle’s shadow passed over their submerged rock. Like many furry spotted ping-pong balls, they bounced back to the rock as quickly as the eagle faded into the distance.
We paddled back to the Safari Quest, the silence of the watery wilderness broken only by the occasional call of a bird or voice from the ship carrying across the glassy bay. As much as it felt like it took forever paddling out, it seemed like no time at all on the way back. We hitched the kayak to the stern and climbed on the yacht, marveling at the weather. Michelle said it has never rained when she visits Alaska. So perhaps it was her last minute addition to our group that changed the weather rather than my lack of a sun hat.
We joined a group for a skiff ride to the beach and a hike on Marce’s trail. Marce herself, captain of the Wilderness Discoverer came along with the group. The odor of decaying fish invaded our nostrils, ever stronger the closer we came to shore. We walked along a beach populated only by seabirds and the occasional pink salmon swimming near the shoreline in search of its spawning stream. Dead and rotting salmon littered the banks of the stream. A few live ones still swam in the creek. Nature in action, nutrients for the ecosystem as well as scavenging birds and animals. All along the banks of the stream, we had to be careful not to step on slippery slimy spawned out salmon. How do they get so far from the water? How squishy that rock feels under my foot. Oops, not a rock. Thank goodness for those Alaskan tennis shoes!
We followed a game trail where we could find one and bushwhacked where we couldn’t, always on the lookout for bears (which we did not find) and boot-sucking mud (which we did.) I found I could avoid the boot-sucking mud by walking mainly on roots, or at least green mossy areas tested for solidity with a poke of my walking stick. A rainforest is a very wet place even in the sun. We took a true wilderness hike with no man-made trails. Often we had to double back and seek a different path, always climbing over, ducking under, or squeezing through trees and brush. We came across some bushes dripping with sweet ripe blueberries.
“Release your inner bear,” Marce advised, munching happily.
Back on the beach as we awaited the skiff for the return trip, Nitakuwa, first mate of
the Safari Quest, told us everything we never wanted to know about the life cycle of barnacles. Starting with the fact that they are hermaphrodites. They possess the longest male organs proportionally to their size of anything in the animal kingdom. As they sit there on that rock, they can invade a neighbor some distance away. The larvae swim with the plankton, easily recognizable by their fan of legs. Barnacles are a crustacean, related to lobsters (though no doubt not nearly as tasty.) The larvae have a cement gland on their heads and swim with one chance of finding a good rock to stick it to where they will spend the rest of their life standing on their head. Perhaps that is why some prefer the bottom of a boat or whale. Those that appear upside down are actually rightside up. Such is the random life of a barnacle.
We returned to the ship to the delicious aroma of cooking food and a tasty lunch of pasta and brownies. As the boat got underway, we slipped into the steamy hot tub, the warmth enveloping our bodies as the jets massaged our feet and backs. What a view from the top deck of the ship. We could see the distance clearly, but not anything close to the ship from down inside the hot tub. Whales will poke their heads up now and then to look around, which is called spy hopping. From the hot tub,we did the same, looking over the side for whales while we cruised through Frederick Sound where humpbacks often hang out. Once we spotted whales, our inner photographers just didn’t let us stay there and watch. We all had to jump out dripping all over and grab our cameras. I had a bit of lens envy as all those folks with long lenses clicked away and I looked sadly at my little point-and-shoot while no whales came within its range. There’s a lot of photos on this cruise, but all do-it-yourself shots rather than the posed photos they take to try and sell you on the large cruise ships.
A mother humpback dived deep below the surface, leaving her calf above on its own. The (not so) little one popped its head out as if in a spy hop, then thunderously slapped the surface. It repeated this behavior the whole time it was alone. The calf splashed and jumped about joyfully when mama whale returned with a blow of her spout.
The day ended with a dinner of prawns and berry tart and anchorage in Thomas Bay.
InnerSea Discoveries and American Safari Cruises combined and are now known as Un-Cruise Adventures.