Written by Missy Johnston
Whales Bubble Net Feeding
Juneau is the state Capital and the largest city in Southeast with 33,000 people. It is a tourist-oriented city. Arrive and board, and start your charter to explore the Inside Passageway of southern Alaska. Cruise south through Stevens Passage. This is a feeding ground for the Humpback Whale. Watch for the telltale waterspout to identify where the whales are congregating to bubble net feed. Bubble net feeding, unique to whales, is an age old dance amongst a group of whales that will swim together forming a circle and herding small fish into the center of the circle. The whales dive under, with perhaps a flop of a tail on the surface, and start to blow out air while they head back to the surface under the trapped fish. The fish fly high into the sky on the top of the surfacing air bubbles, and fall back down into the open mouths of the waiting whales. It is a singularly unique feeling pattern to watch, and worth visiting Alaska on a vessel smaller than a cruise ship just to be up front and personal to see this dance. Overnight in “No Name Cove” at the mouth of Tracy Arm, where ice floes can be seen drifting down Tracy Arm Stephen’s Passage.
Calving Tidewater Glacier
This is glacier day, spent cruising up Tracy Arm, a Norwegian like fjord 23 miles long. On either side of the fjord are steep cliffs, where moose, mountain goats, and perhaps a brown bear or two can be seen, along with circling bald eagles. A cruise up Tracy Arm means dodging icebergs, some the size of houses that have broken off the face of the Twin Sawyer Glaciers that sit at the top of the fjord. This is the ideal place to see calving glaciers as ice breaks of the face of each glacier approximately once an hour. At the base of the glacier, making good use of the pieces of ice that have fallen, are harbor seals basking in the sun on the ice floes. Calving is prefaced by a very loud cracking sound, at which point all the harbor seals dive in the water. The face of the glacier sheds a huge chunk of ice into the sea, creating a huge splash. The seas subside, and the harbor seals return to sun on their ice floe. This is also a fun location to sea kayak. Later in the afternoon return down Tracy Arm into Frederick Sound to a quiet anchorage for the night.
Keep eyes open for whale spouts. Frederick Sound is the summer feeding ground for humpback whales that migrate up from the warmer southern waters. Also, usually orcas and dolphins can be seen, usually quite near to the yacht, if not swimming under the yacht, and in the yacht bow wake, as orcas and dolphins love to play. Spend the night in a beautiful tranquil of anchorage in a group of islands simply called The Brothers. Here in 30 feet of water, humpback whales may cruise within a few feet of our vessel in the early evening. Much of The Brothers are covered in virgin forests. This is an excellent location for hiking and one of the few locations available to hike in a true virgin forest, where your feet might sink over 6 inches into the moss covering the forest bottom. There are no bears on the island, and you will be free to roam at will. Enjoy sea kayakng in the tranquil waters of the anchorage. Don’t forget to look skyward, as this is a favorite location of bald eagles.
Cruise south watching for whales and stop to see a Steller sea lion “haul-out.” Throughout the summer hundreds of these loud and noisy but personable marine mammals sun themselves on the rocks. Jump in the tender to sit amongst the sea lions, who have no fear of man, and watch as they slip in and out of the water, feeding, sunning, and playing. Anchor for the night in Red Bluff Bay another Norwegian like fjord on Baranof Island. The river at the head of this Norwegian like fjord is in late July and August full of pink salmon returning to spawn. The sea kayaking is fabulous. Set ship pots to collect a bucket of Alaskan Spotted Shrimp. Perhaps a fishing trip can be arranged for salmon and barn door halibut.
Baby Brown Bears
Baranoff Island is home to more bald eagles and brown bears than people. Cruise up the west coast of Baranof Island, one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. Anchor for the night in one of the tranquil coves or tied up to the government float at Warm Springs Bay in front of the thundering waters of Baranof Falls. There is a great hike up to the top of Baranof Falls, to the lake feeding the falls, and bring your bathing suit, as on the way is a lovely natural rock “bathtub” filled with mineral waters fed by a hot spring. Soak in the hot springs in the forest beside the thundering waters of Baranof Falls.
Bear Salmon Fishing
Cruise up Chatham Strait, passing Peril Strait to cruise along Chichagof Island. Admiralty, Baranof and Chichagof Islands, the ABC islands have the densest concentration of Brown Bears (Grizzlies) in the world. We Stop in Pavlof harbor where the spawning salmon returning to the river attract the Brown bears fattening up for the winter. Hopefully brown bears fishing for their dinner for spawning salmon can be watched up close from the safety of the ship’s tender. Here the crab pots can be set to hopefully catch Dungeness crab; perhaps the best shellfish of all.
Return to Juneau for a seven day charter or, for an eight day charter cruise further up Chatham, watching humpback whales and hopefully spot some Orcas and Dall Porpoises. Those interested in fly fishing might want to be picked up by float plane for an afternoon at a fly fishing lodge. The lodge has it all from rods and reels to waders and boots. Join an instructor to fly fish for spawning salmon to either learn the art of fly fishing if you are a novice, or perhaps learn tips, if you are an experienced fly fisherman.
Return to Juneau for helicopter trips to the top of the Mendenhall Glacier, to “walk the glacier ice”, and experience dog sledding. At the top of the glacier, is the dog sledding facility with sledding dogs, and puppies in training. In Juneau is the Alaska State Museum, which is small, but has an impressive display of native and Russian culture. Perhaps a float plane trip from the float plane dock in Juneau to Taku Lodge in a remote part of the wilderness for a terrific fresh salmon dinner.