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From Juneau to Petersburg

By Det Vandering

We flew into Juneau by jet. No problem, direct nonstop out of Seattle’s Sea-Tac airport. With me was my friend of many years and his eleven year-old granddaughter Ashley who he was raising since she became an orphan at the age of two. For a couple old geezers it was quite a delightful and vitalizing to be around such a bright, alert child, especially as thrilled and eager as she was to visit Alaska.

We joined the boat which had been provisioned and was ready to go. We got underway around noon and headed down Gastineau Channel under the clear, blue early July sky. My, that cool air felt fresh and good after the Southland!

Our captain was very experienced and good good-natured and quite willing to share his knowledge and stories of the area. After about an hour our boat crossed Taku Inlet and within minutes we encountered our first whale. The first sign was a puff of vapor, like a puff of steam seeming to come directly from the water off to the left and a little ahead of us - maybe 200 yards or so.

“Watch now and you’ll soon see a humpback whale” said our skipper.

Sure enough, there was soon another puff of vapor and some turbulence in the water and a glistening black hump with a short dorsal fin surfaced. “Keep you eye on that.” said our skipper.

The hump grew in until it was about size a large automobile roof before curling almost into a ball and began lifting above the water’s surface. We were awestruck! A huge glistening nearly black whale’s tale lifted majestically and gracefully several feet above the waves with water dripping off the trailing edges. Our first whale sighting! My friend’ s granddaughter was hoping all around the boat excitedly shouting, “A whale! A whale! I can’t believe I just saw a whale!”

Everyone rushed to grab their cameras, but the whale slipped quietly beneath the surface before we could get a shot. “Don’t worry,” said our captain. “You’ll see plenty more whales.”

And we did. Within minutes we saw more puffs of steam ahead, behind and to both sides. Evidently we were traveling with a group of whales slowing moving down Stephen's Passage. We had many opportunities to get photographs. So many in fact that we passed over many opportunities just to be ready for ‘that perfect shot’.

We also saw many Dall porpoises who liked to cavort just ahead of out boat’s bow and darted from side to side ahead of us and sometimes swimming completely under the boat to emerge leaping out of the water on the opposite side. It was obvious they were enjoying themselves and having a grand old time riding our bow wave.

We anchored up the first night in “No Name Cove” just inside Holkam Bay. We had the place to ourselves and watched a bear turning over rocks on the beach as we ate our evening meal on the back deck on just about the most perfect evening you could ever imagine. Curious seals swam around our boat to check us out. Later we rowed ashore to walk about a bit and let Ashley play and crawl around over a beached iceberg stranded on the nearby shore. She was thrilled and so were we.

Next day we got up bright and early and headed up Tracy Arm to Sawyer Glacier. Words simply can not describe the awesome scenery in this place - you just have to see it for yourself to believe it. Near the glaciers we threaded carefully through floating ice to approach within about a quarter mile of the face of Sawyer. Our skipper thought it prudent not to enter the closely packed ice grinding together closer than that - and I felt the same way. We were close enough. We took lot’s of photos of seals hauled out on the ice floes before turning around and heading out the fjord.

We spent another gorgeous day exploring the lower end of Stephen's Passage before heading for our anchorage just behind Cape Fanshaw for the evening. Next day we entered Frederick Sound and explored Thomas Bay up to a small fjord aptly named ‘Scenery Cove”. We later arrived in the Fishing Village of Petersburg on Mitkof Island where we tied up for the night, and where we visited with some friends of mine living there. My friends have two daughters near Ashley’s age and the three girls were soon excitedly comparing notes and becoming fast friends. When we got ready to head back to the boat Ashley begged to be left behind with her new friends. After talking with my Petersburg friends and thinking about it a little Ashley’s grandfather reluctantly agreed and we returned to the boat without Ashley.

We later discovered that visit became the supreme highlight of Ashley’s Alaska trip, and being able to spend time with girls her own age was the best thing that could happen. She got to spend several days doing new things with new friends in a strange and new place that she never would have had the opportunity to do otherwise. I understand she still keeps in touch with her Petersburg friends.

The return trip to Juneau is another tale with it’s own adventures, but for another time. After arriving back there my friend and I separated with me headed one way and him heading south again via Petersburg to pick up his granddaughter and head on home from there. Whenever we’re together since then, the Alaska trip is all he wants to talk about.

Perfect weather, good friends, good food and grand experiences. Who can ask for more?


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