Alaska Small Ship Cruise-Day Four-Kayaking, Whales, and Sea Lions M/V Island Spirit

This morning I’m kayaking through a fjord in perfectly calm water near Red Bluff Island, so named for the iron deposits, which are unusual for the area. The fog burns off almost immediately and I’m rewarded with views of steep forested bluffs rising out of the sea. I pass within a few feet of the mouth of a waterfall that starts high on the mountain overhead. Later, I spy a brace of bald eagles as I cruise through the narrow passage, which is filled with huge jellyfish and “Sunstar fishes” the size of serving plates. A Harbor Seal, curious about my craft, pokes its head above the water before darting away. That’s a lot of wildlife for one morning, but the best is yet to come.

The Island Spirit heads into Frederick Sound, which is known to harbor hundreds of Humpbacks and Orcas. They come here to feed on the millions of herring that abound in these waters, so it’s supposed to be easy to spot them. We aren’t disappointed. Soon we’re surrounded by Humpbacks; as many as a half dozen spouts erupt around us at once. We hardly know which way to turn. In the distance a whale breeches the surface. We hear the delayed thunderclap seconds later. Closer in, we see a pod bubble-net fishing. Everywhere we look there are flukes raised in the air as the mighty beasts surface and dive back into the depths seeking to fatten up before the long winter’s trek back to Hawaii.

The area is rich in other marine life as well. We see an island full of sea lions incessantly barking their plaintive yelps and groans, and a group of Orca-like Dall’s Porpoises lead the ship toward our mooring place for the night.

Today, we ate ham and eggs for breakfast, sirloin burgers for lunch, and Yellow-Eyed Rockfish for dinner. I’d say the food’s about average on the ship, though many people are complaining about the quantity, quality, and available choices. For example, one man who was allergic to shrimp asked for something different. He was served a tuna salad instead. The tuna came straight from a can. The servers are often over-eager to clear the tables, the crew can be sarcastic, etc. To me, these are minor issues. I didn’t sign up for this cruise for the fine dining, after all, though I, too, would have appreciated more meal choices and at least an effort to entertain at night.

Perhaps my fellow passengers have higher standards because they’re so well travelled. This is a wealthy mix of older people from a tiny cross section of the general population. At 60, I’m the youngest man here. Out of 16 passengers, three couples are from Australia and three from Portland, Oregon (remarkably, none of them knew each other before the cruise). There are no single people. There is a retired dentist, a retired central banker, a retired professor, etc. The Americans tend to be politically liberal. One of them is an environmental activist. The Australians come across as more “regular folk”. But they all have seen much of the world. Name a corner of the globe, and likely this group has seen it.

For myself, I came to see wild Alaska, and in that primary mission they haven’t let me down. We’ve seen all manner of marine life, and the crew has shown great flexibility in the schedule to accommodate sightings as necessary. That’s good enough for me.

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