Tour on the Sea Bird

Alaska's Southeast, Touring the Inside Passage

Tour Map
Saturday, June 23 - Seattle, Juneau

We had a big breakfast at the Sea-Tac Marriott and then headed to the airport. We met up with some of our tour guides and flew to Juneau, which is about 2 hours from Seattle. It was an easy trip - a little rough toward the end but we've had worse. When we got to Juneau our luggage was put on a truck and we were put on busses for a trip out to the Mendenhall Glacier. The glacier is still moving and is huge and beautiful. I also got my first close look at Alaska wildflowers.

After the glacier we went to the Alaska State Museum, which has exhibits of all sorts of Alaskan artifacts. There was also a beautiful exhibit of Alaskan quilts. I saw two that I like and will look them up on my quilting program when I get home.

After the museum we got back on the bus for the short ride to the ship. Here was our little ship (looking like a rather large yacht, completely dwarfed by the huge Carnival Spirit.

After we checked in and found our cabins we went to the lounge for champagne and appetizers before dinner. There the captain introduced the crew and all the guides were introduced. Among some of our instructions are: wear your binoculars at all times and keep your rubber boots beside the bed in case there is a whale sighting in the middle of the night.

After a wonderful dinner - choice of salmon or chicken - we went for a short walk along the street which is lined with tourist shops catering to the big cruise ships. The Sea Bird cast off at midnight, sailing down through Stephens Passage on our way to Tracy Arm. Since we are at 58 degrees latitude, the sky was still light, but we slept like logs.

Sunday June 24, 2001 - Tracy Arm

We were awake early - my Palm woke us at 4:44 AM to tell us it was time for Breakfast with the Arts on the East Coast. We got up about six and got some coffee in the lounge and went out on deck. We were approaching the mouth of Tracy Arm, a twenty-four mile fiord about 40 miles south of Juneau. The sky was sunny (unusual) and the scenery was beautiful. See Steven Zeff's Report.

While I'm writing this I have to keep getting up to see things. One of the first things was three black bears browsing along the starboard shore. The captain reduced throttle and aimed toward shore for a closer look. There are also different geological phenomena pointed out to us.

After breakfast the boat anchored in Tracy Arm and we went in Zodiaks up to South Sawyer Glacier. On the way the guide pointed out mountain goats way up on the mountainside. Right near where we are anchored there is an eagle's aerie - the eagle is sitting way down which means she still has eggs but it's late in the year for them. As we got closer to the glacier there were more and more big pieces of ice. Many of them had harbor seals on them. They have their pups on the ice floating in the fiord, as it is safe from predators. The pups are born around the first of June and are now swimming and by the end of June will be on their own.

As we got closer to the glacier it got colder due to the Katabatic winds - this is the wind that comes down the glacier picking up the cold temperatures from the ice. Even though the weather was beautiful and sunny we had to dress warmly. We had on tee shirts, PolarTec jackets, Gore-Tex rain jackets, and baseball caps. I also had gloves on and wished I had worn my rain pants over my jeans as my legs were cold. We could also hear the popping of ice beneath the surface - it sounded like Rice Krispies.

The glacier really appears very blue in places, as do some of the pieces of ice that have broken off. There are a lot of Artic terns and other birds flying around right at the base of the glacier - they're waiting for the glacier to calve (drop off chunks) which stirs up the water and brings food to the surface for them. After the chilly ride it was great to come back and have hot chocolate.

After lunch we donned the "dreaded rubber boots" - everyone seemed to not want to wear them but we were told they were needed and they were right. We went in the Zodiac's into Williams Cove. The first thing we did was walk through the rain forest - more trees and wildflowers to identify - and a meadow. When we came back Richard and I got into a kayak. I was worried about getting in, but no problem and the paddling wasn't hard to get accustomed to. We paddled around the cove and over to a big waterfall. Getting out of the kayak was a bit more difficult but doable. It was nice to get back and relax with a martini.

Monday, June 25, 2001 - Petersburg, Le Conte Bay & Glacier

During the early morning, the Sea Bird sailed south through Frederick Sound and Wrangell Narrows between Kupreanof and Mitkof Islands, past the village of Petersburg. We had an early breakfast this morning and then loaded into Zodiacs to hike the Harvey Lake Trail on Woewodski Island. This was really dense forest on a well maintained trail, and we saw a lot of different plants.

Gretchen and Karen showed us banana slugs, which are giants up to eight inches long, and which exude a thick mucous when handled. I'm glad we don't have those at home to eat the basil, etc.

There were Red Alders and Mountain Hemlocks in addition to the prevalent Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock. The evergreens are covered with moss (Epiphytes), which looks like Spanish moss but is not related.

At the lake, we found shore pines, which are related to pole pines. A Loon was heard in the distance. We also saw Rusty Menziesia, which is also called false azalea. There is a cabin at the lake that can be rented. On the way back from the lake I was looking at a mosquito bite and fell off the wood walkway into the mud - didn't get too muddy though. The tide had gone out, so we had to walk to a different place to get into the Zodiacs and it was very muddy - we really do need the "dreaded rubber boots".

When we got back into the Zodiac there was a bit of problem getting off because it was so shallow. One little girl got stuck in the deep mud on shore and then people who helped her fell in like dominoes and there was one last boat of very muddy people. We had to scrub our boots when we got back to the boat and the muddy ones had to be hosed off with cold water. I'm glad I wasn't that muddy.

After lunch we went back through Wrangell Narrows where we saw a lot of eagles. At one point there was a whole flock of them, probably flocked together because there was a good food source there. We saw Sitka deer, which are much smaller than our white tailed deer. We went through "Christmas Tree Alley" so named because it has so many navigational aids.

After lunch we tied up in Petersburg, a tiny village founded by Norwegian immigrants. Someone said we were three minutes from this end of downtown and five minutes more from the other end of town. We toured a fish cannery on Noseeum St., where we saw salmon being graded and cleaned. A guide wearing a Valkyrie helmet made from real metal led the tour. We walked through the downtown, stopping at a store where we bought some smoked salmon.

The next excursion was in a floatplane, where we flew over Le Conte Glacier - breathtaking. We saw the glacier calving from the air and flew back and forth over it. It was fun to see one from the air upstream from the face after getting up close to one in the Zodiac. We also saw mountain goats in the hills, and the ice floes below the glacier were strewn with seals.

Before dinner, Becky Knight came and told us about the fisherman's life. She and her husband, with the help of their three sons, have two fishing boats and earn their living fishing. She was very knowledgeable and interesting.

After dinner we went out on deck and watched the beautiful sunset. We have been blessed with sun. Usually there is a lot of rain and we only saw rain while we were listening to Becky Knight. Here is Gretchen's report

Tuesday, June 26, 2001 - Frederick Sound and Chatham Strait

This morning at 5:30 AM Steve's voice woke us up to tell us there were humpbacked whales outside. After fifteen minutes I managed to get up and dressed, although Richard went out right away in his warmups. They normally put out coffee and homemade muffins at 6:30, but this morning they put the coffee out right away. When breakfast time arrived we were all ready for it as we had been up so long.

After breakfast we went into a cove where some people took a long hike to Lake Eva on Catherine Island. The rest of us took a short hike so we would have time for some kayaking. The forest is so beautiful and always interesting. Eagles are everywhere. We also saw a Merganser duck and her ducklings. Bear paw prints and scat were everywhere. Only brown bears live on this island. While kayaking we could look down and see starfish in the clear water - we saw a Vermillion starfish among others. We also saw seals and lot of eagles. It was so peaceful as there was no wind and you could just drift if you wanted to.

When we got back to the boat they announced a picnic on the sundeck as the day had become warm and sunny. We had grilled hamburgers or hot dogs, salads etc. After lunch we went to the foredeck where there was a make-your-own sundae bar. By then the wind had come up, so it was chilly sitting there eating ice cream, but it tasted good. By the time everyone had made theirs the chocolate sauce had blown everywhere as people tried to ladle it onto their ice cream.

After lunch almost everyone took a brief nap since we had all been up early to watch whales. Later in the afternoon we loaded into the Zodiacs for a trip around Basket Bay. It is a beautiful area and the Zodiacs went into a wonderful grotto - way back in - it was very narrow with high cliffs on either side. There were flowers growing out of crevices - columbine for one - and a lot of hummingbirds.

There has been a problem with the hot water heater, although we've been able to take showers. We've been asked to conserve - we all take Navy showers anyway since our boat isn't docking often. A Navy shower means you turn on the shower, get wet, turn off the shower and soap up and then turn on the water and rinse. They expect to pick up the element they need when we dock at Glacier Bay. I think it' will be brought in by floatplane.

Wednesday, June 27, 2001 - Glacier Bay

This morning Richard and I heard the boat docking at 5:30 at the Glacier Bay dock to pick up a park ranger. This is a National Park, and is regulated very strictly. Only two large tour boats, five small ones like ours, and several private craft are allowed into the park each day. The tour boats have to pick up a park ranger, which is a good idea, as he knows the area so well and provides much of the commentary.

The wildlife has been incredible. We saw a lot of puffins floating in the water near the boat, humpback whales in front of the boat. We also saw brown bears. One we watched for quite a while - the captain stops the boat when there is something interesting to see.

We saw a whole pack of sea lions hauled out and lying all over each other like Claudius and Clio do. There were the faint dots of mountain goats high on a mountain. The naturalists on board - there are five - continually scan the area with binoculars to spot all these things.

The Fairweather Range, only visible in "fair weather" was clearly visible. A sailboat passed us going the other way.

After lunch we made our way to the Margerie and Grand Pacific Glaciers, which are adjacent to each other, but have separate sources. The Margerie is the more active one. We saw it calve a really large iceberg with the attendant booming.

We also saw the Ocean Princess cruise ship, which looks so huge compared to our little boat. They don't stop for anything they just cruise on by. On our return, we entered more coves and saw several other glaciers. Richard spent some time on the bridge admiring the navigational skills of the pilot.

I thought I would tell you a little bit about our home here. We have a double bed with about 18" on each side - there is a bedside table on each side of the bed. At the foot of the bed under a window is a table attached to the wall and two chairs with a shelf under the window. There is a little closet with space for hanging some clothes and shelves for others. There are also drawers under the bed so there is plenty of room for a week's worth of clothes, including the rubber boots. There is a lounge in the forward part of the ship down a level and the dining room is also there. We meet in the lounge each evening for cocktails and recap. There is a large space on the bow and a slightly smaller one on the stern to stand and look at the sights.

We're glad we brought the clothes we did. Today we started out by putting on a short-sleeved tee shirt, then a Polartec jacket, then a cap and a rain jacket - zipped all the way up. It's been sunny but the wind chill makes it necessary to bundle up. The rubber boots really are necessary as we have waded through streams, crossed boggy areas, landed on muddy beaches and had to disembark from the Zodiacs in calf-high water. Before we had put them on for the first time and everyone was complaining about them, the captain was wearing a cap that said, "Just wear the damn boots."

This evening we disembarked at Glacier Bay National Park dock and took a walk through the woods. This was a dry trail with walkways where it was wet so we could wear hiking boots and no rubber boots. We saw this interesting tree carving.

Thursday, June 28, 2001 - Point Adolphus and Chichagof Island

We saw our first sea otters this morning near Point Adolphus. They were drifting along on their backs with their flippers in the air looking like their feet. They really are cute and all the women were oohing and aahing over them

This morning we went into Idaho Inlet at Chichahof Island and went ashore. We went for a walk in the woods. I can't get over how beautiful the woods are, with moss covering the floor of the forest (and all the dead trees that are down) and then the ferns growing in the moss. It is so beautiful. We came out into a meadow and found a well used bear trail.

After the walk we went kayaking. All this was done in the rain - our first rain but we have rain jackets and rain pants so we stayed dry until the water in the bottom of the kayak went up Richard's rain pants and a wave went up my sleeve - my fault, as I hadn't tightened it with the Velcro.

This afternoon we rested some but kept going out on deck when they announced whale sightings, etc. We came back to rest and get warmed up when they announced that there was hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps on the front deck. Of course we couldn't miss that. All in all it was a tiring, cold and wet day but thoroughly enjoyable.

Friday, June 29, 2001 - Kelp Bay, Peril Strait

It was another beautiful sunny day. We were so tired yesterday, but went to bed early so were up about 6:30 this morning.

During the night, the Sea Bird had sailed back through through Chatham Strait to where it meets Peril Strait. We anchored in Kelp Bay on Baranof Island for the morning and went ashore. We went on a hike through the most beautiful wildflower meadow. There were Wild Iris (blue Flag), Cranesbill (Wild Geranium), Lupines (some call them Texas Bluebonnets), Buttercups, Indian paintbrush, Unalaska Paintbrush (a yellow version of paintbrush) Chocolate Lily (Fritllaria), Shooting Star (hot pink instead of white like ours), and Salmonberry and on the beach we saw a Yellow Monkey flower.

After hiking we went kayaking across the bay where there were several waterfalls coming down from the top of the mountain, fed by melting snow. They were very narrow and so beautiful. It was hard coming back across the bay because of the wind and the tide going out. We were tired again but will try to take it a bit easier this afternoon.

Friday, Saturday, June 29 & 30 - Peril Straits, enroute to Sitka

We are now passing through the Peril Straits at dusk. During tidal changes, the current at Sergius Narrows can get to be eight knots, fast enough to suck the navigation bouys under water. Tonight, the current is a calmer three knots.

It's our last day. I can't believe how fast the trip has gone and how wonderful it has been. I was so afraid I would be disappointed since I looked forward to it so much. It has been even better than I expected.

The food on this voyage has been outstanding! They have coffee and hot water (for tea and hot chocolate) out all day on the bar in the lounge. At 6:30 AM they put juice, fresh cut up fruit, and muffins hot from the oven.

At 7:30 AM we're called to a breakfast buffet. There was always fresh cut up fruit, juice, muffins (a different kind every day), bacon, sausage, plain scrambled eggs, fancy scrambled eggs, and then either pancakes (chocolate chip or blueberry) or French toast (once it was chocolate cherry bread).

During the morning they put out some sort of snack food. We would usually go in and have some hot chocolate and whatever the snack was. They had some really good trail mixes, pistachios etc.

Lunch always started with a crock of homemade soup on the table and freshly made bread. Then there would be some sort of main dish - lasagna, salmon salad, tuna salad. Dessert was usually freshly made cookies - we often smelled them baking when we came back from an excursion.

We would meet for drinks in the lounge about 6 or 6:30 and they would always have an interesting appetizer - clams, hummus, guacamole, and quesadillas. We also had a recap of the day by the naturalists at this time.

We signed up for our dinner choice after breakfast. There were two meat choices and one vegetarian choice and we could change our mind before dinner. There was a choice of fish (salmon, halibut etc.), meat or poultry and a vegetarian choice. After spending the afternoon in Petersburg we had all the Dungeness crab we could eat! The last night prime rib was also offered. There was always a first course of salad or soup - crab bisque one night. Dessert wasn't to be skipped - mud pie, chocolate decadence cake, etc.

After breakfast this morning we called Nico to wish him Happy Birthday - his birthday was yesterday, but we were in the wilderness where cell phones don't work. He's seven years old and has his teeth now.

Saturday, June 30, 2001 - Sitka

After breakfast we disembarked in Sitka (the native name is Shee Atika), which is a beautiful little town. They only have about thirty sunny days a year here but only about 3" of snow. We went past the cottage that James Michener lived in for two years while he wrote "Alaska".

We got on a local tour bus and went to the raptor center and saw the eagles that are being readied for release or are staying there for the rest of their lives because they can't fend for themselves. Birds, especially eagles come from all over the country to this center.

We went to the Sheldon Jackson Museum which has a lot of displays of native Alaskan artifacts. It was a fascinating place with some interesting displays of native and settlers artifacts.

Our next stop was St. Michaels Orthodox Cathedral. It was the first church in the Alaska area and is a Russian Orthodox Church. The original church burned in 1966 and the people of Sitka formed a human chain and saved almost all the icons and religious articles. Luckily the plans for the church had been sent to the Smithsonian shortly before the fire so they could rebuild an exact replica.

We finished our Sitka tour with a stop at the native community center where we watched native dancers and singers. The dancers were wonderful to watch - there was one very cute four year old boy who just bobbed his head in time to the music. Afterwards we had a picnic lunch outside and then were taken to our hotel, the airport or wherever. We are staying in Sitka tonight and are appreciating being on our own and getting a rest from people. This is the view of the harbor from our hotel Room. Tomorrow we leave here at six AM and take three flights to get to Fairbanks.