The Inside Passage To The Aleutians
The first week of July, less than a month after our haul-out and repairs in Port Townsend, Whale Song was powering through the Inside Passage of British Columbia to Alaska. In Tracy Arm, Alaska, we switchbacked between waterfalls roaring out of monolithic rocks and forests spitting out ribbons of glacial streams until the bow wedged into thick ice brittle, a quarter-mile short of the glacier’s snout. Across from the entrance to Glacier Bay, off Point Adolphus, feeding humpbacks breached in all directions. Dense ice barred access to McBride Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park, but our tender went in through the openings, zigzagging all the way to the snout when, with a cannon boom, a section broke off, igniting waves of colliding ice floes.
Seas in the Gulf of Alaska slumbered as Whale Song steamed north along the untamed, pyramidal skyline of Fairweather Range (15,000 feet). Lituya Bay still bears the evidence of the 1,720-foot tsunami that followed an earthquake in 1958. The aptly named Icy Bay was chocked with heavy ice, with barely a spot to anchor. The Columbia Glacier’s growling river of ice sparkled in the summer sun shining over Prince William Sound, a bulwark of turreted bergs barring access to the snout.
We were looking forward to seeing grizzlies. In Hallo Bay, across from Kodiak, several males and a sow with cubs fed on salmon that had been stranded on a beach at low tide. There is inherent safety in watching bears from the water, yet a tour boat nevertheless landed its people, who then foolishly wandered inland, blocking the bears’ retreat route. In Geographic Harbor a solitary male paid our tender no heed, too busy pawing salmon streaking by in a fast stream.
In the first days of August, Whale Song reached the Aleutians. A southerly gale blew away the summer calms. In the lee of Akutan Island, 50-knot williwaws twirled the sea into spinning whips. Despite spectacular steep mountains all around, Dutch Harbor felt too utilitarian and industrial to stay long. Westward we went on an empty sea, passing horned puffins by the dozen and sooty shearwaters by the thousands, as well as smoking volcanic cones along the starboard beam. Whale Song entered the Northwest Pacific through Tanaga Pass — our last images of Alaska were barking sea lions on Tag Island and the black mound of Gareloi volcano waving a banner of smoke.
Around the World Aboard Whale Song
Part Two: From Antarctica to the Philippines