19 Aug 2010
|Today was our cruise on the Prince William Sound. We arrived at our pick-up point 15 minutes before we were supposed to be there. Most of the other folks were there already. Since Chuck had stated a time 15 minutes before the shuttle was due, we all stood around for half an hour waiting. The shuttle bus was way small and only took 20 at a time. The dock was only 3 long blocks away so we were all there within 15 minutes. It turned out that the first shuttle got us to the dock 30 minutes before we were allowed on the boat. Then it was another half an hour before we left the dock.
The boat holds about 200 people and we had about 75 on board so it wasn’t too crowded. However everyone wanted an inside seat near the windows, so that was a scramble. I got us two seats in a booth next to the window on the second deck. We could see real well from there. Whenever someone sighted an animal, the captain would slow down and point it out. Then everyone would struggle outside to stand along the rails and observe. This got a little crowded at times.
We started off the trip with three middle age ladies from Italy seated facing us. They were part of a group of seven traveling together. Only one of them spoke English. Evelyn spent a lot of time sharing about places she had been in Italy. We had an interesting time but the scenery soon caused people to move around and we lost track of them.
Once we left the harbor we got out of the fog. The sun was out and the water was almost smooth. It has been raining here all month. We have been extremely fortunate to appear at places just as the weather turns nice. [We heard afterwards that it started raining again after we left town.]
We proceeded down the Valdez Arm of the sound and around to Columbia Bay. Once we got near the bay we started to see icebergs. The closer we got to the Columbia Glacier the greater the amount of floating ice in our path. The captain eventually had to sop about 3 miles short of the face of the glacier because the ice was too thick. We were close enough to see the front of the glacier very well and to get an idea of its immense size. As an added benefit the crew managed to land a piece of clear glacial ice for us to see and touch.
After sitting around the glacier for a time we turned and headed back out of the bay. While we were travelling, they fed us lunch. They served us Chicken Alfredo, fresh green beans, and a long sourdough roll on paper plates. The food was good and nourishing. They brought around individual packets of Oreos after we cleaned our plates. The crew did all the serving and cleaning up in record time.
As we were heading for Unakwik Inlet, we stopped to watch a couple of purse seiners fishing for salmon. The salmon run is petering out but we watched them pull in their nets and unload what fish they were able to catch. We also saw what I think is called the by-catch = jelly fish. The fishermen have to wear wet suits to avoid being stung. We also saw the service ship that off-loads their fish and takes them back to port so that the fishermen can keep fishing.
As we approached Mears Glacier we had another treat. We came upon a raft of otters floating peacefully in mid-channel. Most of them were lying on their back with their head and back flippers sticking out of the water. Occasionally one would flip over and dive below the surface looking for food. We didn’t see any actively eating though.
There was a lot less ice in the water around the Mears Glacier. We were able to get within a quarter of a mile of the front surface. At that point it looked very large. We cruised back and forth waiting for a calving event to occur. We saw several small bits of the front break off and fall but none of significant size. We waited around for more than half an hour but we were doomed to disappointment. The captain said that she would normally turn off the engine so that we could hear the ice fall but that it was too windy today. Still-and-all it was an awesome place to be.
We headed back out of Unakwik Inlet toward Point Bull Head. At one point we saw an eagle in a tree on shore. It was too far away for my camera to get a good picture. Near the point we came to a place with a lot of birds in the water. Among the birds were Horned Puffins and Tufted Puffins. After all these years I can honestly say that I have seen Puffins in the wild. Check off one more item on the bucket list!
At the point we saw a very populous sea lion pull-out. It was not a rookery since this was not a place for mating or calving. The animals were mostly immature but there were a few large unsuccessful bulls. These are the guys that were not able to collect a harem and were forced out of the rookery. I have no idea how many animals were on shore but they covered a large area all crowded in together.
After that it was pretty much a trip back to the dock. They fed us all a cup of delicious New England clam chowder with oyster crackers just in case we were starving. We arrived back at the dock about 7:30 PM. The shuttle bus was waiting for us. We were soon back at our rigs. It was a full day and very nice.