When taking a cruise on one of the big ships, any excursions at port stops cost extra. Sailing with Un-Cruise Adventures has a great advantage there – the ship often has activities included with the cruise provided where it stops. Often the options include skiff tours. What, people who have never sailed with Un-Cruise may wonder, is a skiff tour? Passengers board one of the inflatable boats the larger ship hauls around and this smaller boat takes them through the surrounding area to view whatever sights the area has to see. On the Wilderness Adventurer‘s Washington Coastal Cruise, this often included wildlife both above and below the water….and sometimes in the air.
Anchored in scenic Quilcene Bay between Port Townsend and Marrowstone Island, the morning’s activity choices included a hike on Marrowstone Island passing through historic Fort Flagler, Kayaking around the bay, or a skiff tour of the area. At dinner the previous night passengers signed up for either the hike or kayaking. Unsure of what weather the morning would bring, we asked if we could wait until morning to choose.
Morning brought clouds and a few sprinkles, but no rain. We initially said kayak, but then when they brought up the skiff tour option I noticed our names at the top of the list – apparently someone had put us there as we hadn’t chosen either of the other options the previous night. We were also at the end of the kayak list, but decided to go with skiff. John said he would rather paddle around deception pass the next day. Since he had to paddle on his own this trip with me just a passenger due to my inability to paddle with a broken elbow l just went kayaking once this trip, but that’s another story to tell some other day.
The skiff tour took us near the island on a wildlife spotting expedition. We passed over a sandbar where we could see to the bottom of the clear shallow water. Clam shells scattered the sand between rocks and clumps of seagrass. A Dungeness crab scuttled by. Nearby a metal tower marking a reef stood high above the water, the top crowded with cormorants. The domed tops of numerous round little heads with dark eyes poked out of the water. Now and then an entire head popped up, sometimes followed by the body, fins, and tail of a harbor seal.
We had the great fortune to be accompanied by a passenger knowledgeable about birds who could identify whatever we saw including a rhinoceros auklet. Many pigeon guillemots frolicked around the boat, their red legs standing out against their black and white bodies whenever they took off from the water. A lone blue heron slept atop a pole. Two bald eagles sat on a nearby beach. They took flight, rustling up a flock of seagulls. The flock squawked and flew circles around them until they returned with a third eagle in tow.
We took another skiff tour at Deception pass and saw raccoons on the beach. The first one ran across the beach and into the woods looking like it had just finished a swim. The second one stayed at the water’s edge, foraging in the shallow water and turning over rocks hunting for things like small crabs.
Other wildlife spotted included black oystercatchers, small shorebirds with black bodies and long red beaks. We also saw a harbor seal, seagulls, eagles, and some more of the pigeon guillemots.
The islands around Deception pass greatly resemble the San Juans, including the dry side with sparser vegetation and madrona trees and the wet side with the thicker darker forest filled with thick underbrush. In Canada they call the madrona trees arbutus, which is part of their Latin name – Arbutus Menziesii.
On the Lopez Island skiff tour we saw turkey vultures, bald eagles, a bald eagle nest, starfish, more pigeon guillemots and harbor seals, deer, lots of madrona trees, some kelp, beach pines, little coves with beaches between rock cliffs, and an old guy with an old truck at his home or cabin near the shore.
Ryan McNamee took this great video which gives a good overview of the adventures on this cruise.