Sitting by the window of the Oceanview restaurant finishing our second cup of coffee of the morning the ship slows and we begin its approach into Juneau the state capital and, strangely for America, only accessible by sea and air. Along the shoreline are isolated homes and posts sticking out of the low tide mud which turn out to be the remains of old docks and landings, some from the gold rush days. As today’s excursion is to encounter the marine wildlife it is appropriate that it is raining again, but this time it’s not the fine drizzly stuff, but proper chuck it down rain. The sort of rain that proclaims that it is challenging Ketchikan for the title and, by the way, are you sure that that fancy jacket of yours will be good enough to cope? Thank goodness for Gortex!
Once ashore there is no time to explore, it’s straight onto the bus and head direct to a small dock 5 minutes away to clamber aboard our expedition boat and seek out the best seats. All loaded we cast off and chug serenely out of the harbour to comply with local regulations, and once clear it’s peddle to the metal as we seek out our prey. And the rain keeps falling.
After 15-20 minutes we slow and are pointed towards some dark lumps in the water which we are told are some Humpback whales going about their business, but those local rules mean that this is as close as we, and a number of other boats full of intrepid snappers, can get. This is the first mass exodus of the telephotos to the top deck to try and get the best possible photos given the conditions. Not sure if there are 2 or 3 whales in the vicinity as they dive and surface all over the place slowly moving away up the channel, leaving just a flock of low flying birds to draw the curtain across the scene giving our Captain the cue to head off to pastures new and allows us snappers to get back inside and take the chance to drip-dry a little.
After 10 minutes or so bouncing along on the crest of a wave we slow down as we close to a green Buoy with a seal tucked inside the frame taking a rest which looked most uncomfortable, but as they say “any port in a storm”. A few minutes snapping and we’re off again on the hunt for new prey, and the rain keeps falling. By now I have lost all idea of which direction we are heading, and give up keeping track of the time as all the inlets look the same when bouncing along in the rainy mist.
We slow to a stop and rock slowly on the swell as more dark lumps that resemble Whales can be seen, a little closer to the boat this time so the telephoto exodus to the rain soaked top deck resumes and we manage to get some pictures of some nifty tail flook displays as they dive looking for their dinner. Unfortunately all too soon, the whales seem to have other commitments and dive for the last time, never to return. So its fire up the engines, seek the comfort of the cabin and off we go, but this time though, heading back to the quay.
A sudden stop brings us to some seals in the water quite close to us for a change, and we soon find the reason why they are together, another buoy larger this time and green with a red top and base, and what looks like a lamp in the centre. Packed onto the red base curled around the light, are two or three seals having a rest probably soaking up what residual heat was left from the lamp’s previous illumination. They complain loudly as they repel attempts by other seals in the water to grab a piece of the action and get some warmth, survival of the fittest, or the first, in action.
Time is up and we head back to the quay passing some whale tail flooks in the distance seemingly waving us farewell, or mocking us depending on your frame of mind at the time. Still dripping we arrive back and trudge up the aluminium dock to board our bus for the return to the ship and a welcome hot coffee. Once back on board we take stock and discover at least the coats have done their job well we are dry on the inside at least. So it is now Gortex 2 – Alaska 0.