Please see our Facebook page for our new photos and photo albums.
There is lots to see.
Thanks for enjoying the photos of this beautiful coast.
Please see our Facebook page for our new photos and photo albums.
There is lots to see.
Thanks for enjoying the photos of this beautiful coast.
Here is one of my favourite quotes (there are many):
“As a naturalist who works in the Great Bear Rainforest, I have learned that while many may have heard of the Great Bear Rainforest, they have no idea of its global significance.”
You can read the essay here.
Learn about Maple Leaf’s safari cruises in the Great Bear Rainforest.
Maple Leaf Adventures Adds Second Ship, as Interest in Soft Adventure Travel in Canada Grows
Maple Leaf Adventures, a boutique, Canadian expedition cruise company, is proud to announce the addition of a second classic sailing ship to their fleet for the 2014 season. The new ship, a 70-foot, wooden schooner, will carry guests on 8-day expedition cruises in Haida Gwaii and the Great Bear Rainforest, on Canada’s Inside Passage. Ships anchor frequently for shore visits to monumental Haida poles at a UNESCO World Heritage Site, meadows frequented by grizzly bears, and spectacular fjords.
The expansion is Maple Leaf’s response to increasing demand – in Canada and around the world – for personalized experience of Canada’s natural and cultural wonders. It is part of a worldwide, dramatic increase in adventure travel that has occurred in the last four years.
North of Vancouver Island, much of the British Columbia and Alaska coast is a roadless world. Ocean channels flood around islands and down fjords carved by ancient glaciers. This area contains some of coast’s last great wildlife refuges (with bears on land and whales in the sea), as well as ancient cultural sites, coastal communities, and historic routes sailed by European explorers. It takes a proper little ship and expert guides to see it and appreciate it.
But the company’s flagship, the 92-foot, schooner Maple Leaf, has been sailing at capacity for years, while the booking requests kept coming. So when a second classic schooner became available, Maple Leaf’s president Kevin Smith was delighted.
“They’re almost a matched set, really, the Maple Leaf and the second ship. Both are classic wooden schooners with a 100% coastal pedigree — and great beauties, both,” he said. “It was important to us that the new ship not compromise the quality of our trips in any way — we still needed it to be comfortable, exciting, rugged and beautiful. And we needed it to accommodate just eight guests who are looking for an informative, enjoyable vacation.”
The uptick in bookings and demand that Maple Leaf is experiencing is reflected coast-wide and, indeed, around the world. According to the Adventure Travel Trade Association’s 2013 market report, the adventure travel market grew 65% per year between 2009 and 2012.
Maple Leaf’s Haida Gwaii trips have won a “Signature Experiences” designation from the Canadian Tourism Commission, and an Outside Magazine travel award. They operate in May and June.
Maple Leaf’s Great Bear Rainforest (Inside Passage) trips have won a “50 Tours of a Lifetime” designation from National Geographic Traveler. Places are available in April, May, June, September and October.
Prices start at $2995 plus GST per person all inclusive. Information is on the company’s website at www.MapleLeafAdventures.com or by telephoning +1-250-386-7245 or by sending us a message here.
For details on the ships, please visit these pages:
About Maple Leaf Adventures
Selected for Canada’s “Signature Experiences Collection” by the Canadian Tourism Commission, Maple Leaf Adventures has provided conservation travel experiences aboard a classic sailing ship since 1986. With a reputation as one of Canada’s top sustainable tour operators, its multi-day excursions give guests one-of-a-kind experiences in some of the most beautiful and rare places in the world, often in areas that were once under threat of destruction or in dire need of protection. In 2012, Maple Leaf was awarded the Parks Canada Sustainable Tourism Award, for promoting the appreciation of Canada’s natural, cultural and aesthetic heritage, while also protecting them. National Geographic Adventure has rated Maple Leaf one of the “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth”. For more information, visit www.MapleLeafAdventures.com
This lyrical, 6-minute video tells the story of a young Japanese man who had yearned to visit Gwaii Haanas, and of what happens when he gets there. Thanks to Parks Canada for sharing this.
Learn more about Maple Leaf Adventures’ trips to Gwaii Haanas and Haida Gwaii
WOW is all we could say when we saw these video clips and photos from a guest and crew on our July 7-17, 2013 Alaska adventure cruise. Enjoy!
Learn more about our Alaska Adventure cruises by small ship.
from the Sept. 3-11, 2013 trip
Eagles wait on the beach, along the rivers, and in trees. In the sea, salmon move in pulsing rhythms, waiting their turn to enter their natal streams. Upstream, they are so thick that you can believe the stories that you could walk across on their backs. This is a big run, and the perfect introduction to the Great Bear Rainforest.
A steep dramatic fiord slices deep into the mainland. At its end, a tidal rapid opens into a beautiful wide lagoon. As we cruise along in our inflatable boats, we are joined by two Pacific white-sided dolphins riding our bow waves, passing from one boat to another and showing us we are not alone in the sheer joy we feel in this place.
Grizzly Bear Encounter
A mother grizzly and her two-year-old cub wander up the estuary when another bear crosses the river towards them. They take off at a gallop and the other bear pursues. Later when the danger has passed, we watch the same mother and cub busily eating as many salmon as they possibly can to prepare for the winter ahead.
Beautifully carved totems support the immense beams of the bighouse. At one end men sing and beat a huge log with sticks in a hypnotic rhythm, while figures wearing beautiful button blankets and cedar bark hats move in a circling dance. We are invited to dance with them, and in our imagination join those who have danced this way for thousands of years.
Our campfire glows in colours matching those of the setting sun. Small islets are silhouetted against the sky. As day shifts to night, stars fill the sky and the Milky Way stretches all the way to the horizon. We make our way back to the ship in waters whose bioluminescence also seems star-filled and we are completely enveloped by twinkling lights.
The high tide has many sea lions at a haul out swimming in the water. Maple Leaf floats near by and dozens of animals approach us in large groups. They snort, blow bubbles, and occasionally roar, It seems humans are not the only ones with a huge capacity for curiosity.
We put in a long day hoping to see a spirit bear. We wait. We extend the time we decided to wait. We wait some more. We extend the time again. And then it happens. The white bear emerges from the forest as we let out a collective gasp. Words can not describe how we feel. Our patience has been rewarded.
Beautiful clean hot water flows from the rocks, filling a pool, and we all soak. The water is a perfect temperature. We are relaxed. We are happy. We are clean.
How much power must it take for a humpback whale to break free of the water, and fall back with a huge splash? The whale near our boat does this time and time again. It tries different manoeuvres falling forwards and backwards. Why does it do it? Communication? Parasites? Fun? We all feel lucky to be witnesses to this mystery.
We walk across the estuary and find the bear stomp — the place where bears put their feet in the same place each time they pass through. We find bear hair in a tree. And then on the river, we watch a beautiful grizzly fishing for salmon. It seems like we have followed the clues to the prize.
We reach the beautiful sandy beach just before sunset. The wolves were here before us, as we see their tracks crossing the sand. We don’t see them and we don’t hear them, but we know they are nearby. These islands are not very big.
- Updates by naturalist Sherry Kirkvold, aboard the SV Maple Leaf
To learn more, visit the page about our Great Bear Rainforest tour.
Aug 24-26 (first 3 days of a 9-day trip)
Sent via satellite from the SV Maple Leaf Wheelhouse, Sept. 2013
Starting the Great Bear Rainforest tour, Maple Leaf Adventures
Welcome, Whales and More
Our cheery group all rendezvoused smoothly dockside of Maple Leaf at the town wharf in Port McNeil. After our welcome aboard coffees and ship orientation from Captain James and crew, we headed southeast into Johnstone Strait.
Within the hour, we had spotted our first whales — a group of Orcas traveling along the coast near Telegraph Cove. Several females and one small youngster, plus two large bulls with towering slightly wavey fins were not far away. We could hear them all calling back and forth on the hydrophone First Mate Nick deployed off the stern, and a beautiful rainbow arched behind our view.
Amazingly, the orcas were accompanied by both a small group of Dall’s porpoises as well as four or five Pacific White-sided Dolphins. This was first whales ever seen by several of the guests so we were all pretty stoked to have such great views of three species of marine mammals in the first afternoon of the trip.
Sunset, Bear and a Feast
We watched the sunset illuminate the evening mists over the water in soft shades of pink and orange and saw a black bear turning rocks on the beach next to our anchorage at west Compton Island…and we were introduced to the delightfully delicious feasts from the galley for our first evening’s dinner, prepared by Chef James M.
On our first morning aboard, we headed into the Broughton Archipelago, stopping to visit Darcy, a Kwakwaka’wakw storyteller, at his beach-side camp near White Beach Passage. After stories of the Thunderbird Kooloose and the guiding spirit world under the sea, we saw fresh pink salmon roasted by a fire on the beach and combined a shore side picnic from the ship with fresh salmon and halibut. Delicious treat!
As we munched through lunch, we watched across Blackfish Sound and saw a huge group of hundreds of Pacific White-sided Dolphins rushing en masse back and forth past Maple Leaf offshore. Back onboard, we watched several humpbacks join the feeding frenzy, lunging upwards, mouthes open and throats’ extended.
We continued northward into the Broughtons watching flocks of Rhinoceros Auklets, Common Murres (many with young of the year), several species of gulls and about a dozen more feeding humpbacks off the west end of Bonwick Island. More lunge feeding was observed as we drifted and we could see different whales lolling and rolling. We could see the whale barnacles and patterns which are used to by whale researchers to photo identify individuals.
We threaded our way slowly through the complex of islets and passage ways, passing islands bristling with cedar forest of a thousand colours of green, into a secure and sheltered anchorage near Tracey Island. We heard about clam gardens and the story of how coastal researchers met Kwakwaka’wakw elders to bring back knowledge of traditional use. [editor's note: The author's husband, John Harper, explored many of the coast's clam gardens and his efforts were key in bringing knowledge of these gardens to a wider audience.]
The next morning, coffee and tea pots steamed on deck as the sun peeped softly over the silhouetted trees on the point islet next to us. Conditions were perfect for a morning kayak paddle, water so still the reflections were exact mirrors of the forest and barnacle covered bedrock intertidal. Exquisite.
We left the mother ship at anchor and took the inflatables through narrow tidal channel (the water was high enough to let us pass) where we could hang over the sides to see eelgrass, several different types of sea stars and plumose tufts of anemones and burrowing sea cucumbers.
We zipped across to visit Billy Proctor’s famous museum at Echo Bay. Billy has become a local legend, having lived and fished and explored the whole Broughton area for pretty much his whole life and we all wished we could stay all day to listen to his stories.
We crossed back northwest across Queen Charlotte Sound to find a protected bay for overnight, secure against predicted weather passing through, and prepared to round Cape Caution at first light the next morning.
- update by naturalist Mary Morris aboard the SV Maple Leaf
We are just leaving a very special place in Fjordland, after watching grizzly bear mum and teenage cub foraging on gravel bar in the river.
They were surrounded by 100s of spawning chum and pink salmon. Many of the salmon were holding in the shallow water, defending their redds, and jostling for position on the riffles in the lower river. Many white and mouldy carcasses were already strewn along the estuary bank too, graphically showing the completion of the nutrient-loading salmon life cycle’s contribution to the coastal ecosystem.
We could see where bears had recently dug up roots of the meadow plants, some already starting to turn orange in fall colours.
We saw another bear by itself, up to its shoulders in the river and feeling around underwater to catch fish going by. Amazing technique!
In the past few days of our trip we have traveled from the north end of Nigei Island, round Cape Caution, and into the fjords of Dean Channel. Once round Cape Caution we were all happy to find the waters and weather calm enough to permit an easy beach landing on the arching brown sand of the bay we anchored in.
We saw several gray whales along the shore nearby and then amazingly saw a group of about half a dozen sea otters floating on the calm waters south of Calvert Island. When we checked the chart, we saw that they were near a shallow, rocky reef filled area called ‘Sea Otter Group’. How appropriate!
North of our anchorage the next day, we saw many humpbacks spouting and surfacing in Fitzhugh Sound. Some in the distance were even breeching. Waters again were calm so it was easy to spot the mists of their giant breaths at the surface.
Captain James saw a small group a ways ahead of us and after we watched tails disappear signaling they’d done a deep dive, we shut down to drift and watch where they might come up next. We were all on deck and chatting over our morning coffee break and suddenly! a huge exhale off our starboard…then another! then another! Three humpbacks had come over to check us out! They were each within touching range of each other, surfacing and diving in formation and they circled us and left us all a-mist in their pungent breaths. We certainly had the feeling that they were watching us (and loving Maple Leaf’s beautiful lines) just as much as we were appreciating them.
We spent that night at anchor next to fabulous hot springs were we all had a hot hot soak in the boulder and cemented pools there. The pipes from the spring were rigged to fill the extra soaker bathtub too but the water was *too hot* to get into until it had been cooled with several buckets full from the main pool. Ultimately we could all take turns having the best bucket showers ever to soap down and wash our hair before headed back to the mother ship.
We saw a mum black bear and two small cubs before breakfast.
We spent much of the morning before traveling into Fjordland, investigating small stream estuaries and just listening and watching quietly from the inflatables. A real treat to have the time to soak up the atmosphere. So still and quiet we could just hear ourselves holding our own breaths, morning mist dripping off the trees hanging over the water, kingfishers chattering from the branch over our heads.
The magnificent raincoast at its best.
- update from naturalist Mary Morris, in the Maple Leaf‘s wheelhouse
Today the legacy pole is raised at Windy Bay, Gwaii Haanas, in Haida Gwaii!
– A 5-minute video from the Haida Nation and Parks Canada about the pole:
This beautiful pole, carved over the last year by Jaalen Edenshaw, commemorates the 20th anniversary of the creation of the Gwaii Haanas agreement, between the Haida Nation and Parks Canada, part of the creation of Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site.
Gwaii Haanas was created after a long campaign in the 1980s by environmentally aware citizens, including the Haida Nation and some of Maple Leaf’s long-time naturalists, to stop the clearcut logging of the “south Moresby” area’s 138 islands – now Gwaii Haanas.
Windy Bay itself was a key location in this campaign. It was the site of a 1985 Haida blockade of a logging road, which was one of the important events that brought about the area’s protection.
Even before the protected area was created, people were drawn to visit this beautiful region of southern Haida Gwaii (off the coast of British Columbia, Canada). Also known as the Canadian Galapagos, these islands are rich in marine life, including wildlife, and some species exhibit evolutionary differences from their mainland counterparts.
It’s an important moment, to see a new pole raised in Gwaii Haanas, which is also known for its Haida village sites containing spectacular, still-standing, hundreds-of-years-old monumental poles.
The Haida have lived in this archipelago for at least 14,000 years and probably longer. Although there are presently no modern Haida towns in Gwaii Haanas, the village sites that we visit here are incredible. We often visit Windy Bay on our Maple Leaf expedition cruises, and we look forward to sharing this pole with our guests. This spring, our guests were able to see the pole as it was being carved in Skidegate, at the Haida Heritage Centre.
In addition to the ethical and environmental reasons to protect Gwaii Haanas – these are the most important reasons – Gwaii Haanas’ protection has been very important to maintaining the high quality and great experience of the trips we have offered in the area since the 1980s. Its co-management between Parks Canada and the Haida Nation is an example to other jurisdictions.
Fun fact: Prior to establishment of Gwaii Haanas, Maple Leaf Adventures and our fellow ecotourism operators at the Gwaii Haanas Tour Operators Association, created a Code of Conduct for this very special place in order to protect its cultural sites and wildlife. This Code of Conduct is still in use today.
Click for more information about our Gwaii Haanas tours (9-day cruises aboard the classic schooner Maple Leaf).
Discoveries from aboard the SV Maple Leaf in the Great Bear Rainforest.
We’ve just departed the lovely Schooner Retreat, our anchorage in the Penrose Islands – a fitting place to keep a schooner for the night. We’ve hauled up the foresail and we’re heading south toward Cape Caution. The sun is shining through the morning fog, creating a pearly-silver world with no hard edges.
Here are a few updates from our Whales & Wild Isles trip to date.
We departed the port of Prince Rupert under sunny skies and have had amazingly stable, good weather the entire trip so far (24 hours to go). We’ve cruised to the outside edges of the Great Bear Rainforest, walking white sand beaches, observing thousands and thousands of rhinoceros auklets, gulls, murres, and murrelets feasting on the abundant fish in this coastal sea. All along our way, salmon have been jumping beside us as they pulse by the millions under and around us into coastal bays.
We’ve shared curiosity with a band of playful sea lions and had a humpback whale swim under us. Just outside the village of Klemtu, we spent an amazing time with one whale executing textbook bubble-net feeding techniques. In the calm green sea, its circular “net” of white bubbles were easy to spot. Small fish leapt from the water as the whale shot to the surface through the net, mouth open, capturing fish it had caught.
At Klemtu, George shared his culture and his community’s beautiful big house with us. Inside the huge house, he sang a song, demonstrating the proper drumming technique, which we all joined him in, on the huge cedar log drum at the foot of two monumental house poles. Outside, along the village road and beach, ravens trilled and croaked, gurgled and shouted, and we enjoyed the company of several other residents.
In addition to the outer islands of the Great Bear, we’ve explored the inner inlets and river estuaries. Here, firs and cedars infuse the air with their sharp scent. In one, a black bear chewed sedges as it waited for the salmon to enter the river. In another, eagles, gulls and seals had congregated, also awaiting the salmon.
The abundance of fish, seabirds, and marine mammals here is apparent every day and every place we travel.
All species seem to enjoy this abundance — including the human species! We’ve feasted well aboard the good ship Maple Leaf. In addition to chef Rafe’s superb fare (pumpkin muffins, glazed lemon cake, the best halibut cakes ever…), there has been some wild foraging. Huckleberries, blueberries, and thimbleberries; labrador tea and northern rice root.
Most spectacular of all, a school of opalescent squid entered a bay we were moored in yesterday and while most of us enjoyed a beach and rainforest hike, Capt. Kevin and Mate Brandon caught squid. Back aboard, as we cruised Fitzhugh Sound surrounded by diving humpback whales, Chef Rafe cooked the squid. On deck, where glasses of wine glinted in the late sunshine, we presented the calamari to our guests. So delicious was this freshest-calamari-ever, that everyone zoomed in on the platter, forks in hands, and in ten minutes, it was devoured. Maureen, standing in the middle and holding the platter, said she felt like a school of herring with rhinoceros auklets diving at it. It was hands-down, one of the busiest feeding frenzies of the trip! And a great way to participate in the abundance we have witnessed each day. Afterward, the sky changed to pink and red and purple, and the sea, glossy and calm, reflected it back. Kevin and Brandon threaded the ship between small islands to our anchorage as the spruce and cedars darkened to silhouettes against a pink reflecting sea.
We head now to the waters of Queen Charlotte Strait, Johnstone Strait, and Blackfish Sound. More adventures to come….
Updates contributed by Maureen Gordon of Maple Leaf Adventures.
Click to learn more about this Whales & Wild Isles trip in Canada’s inside passage.
Trip updates from our 92-foot schooner, the Maple Leaf, on an Alaska Adventure .
After leaving Petersburg on Friday afternoon, we sailed to Thomas Bay enjoying our first hours aboard the Maple Leaf. Baird Glacier spills from the northern reaches of the Stikine Ice field on the mainland of Alaska and marks the entrance to the Bay. Our first full day of the voyage began with a forest walk where we learned about the ecology of the temperate rainforest of coastal southeast Alaska.
Our afternoon was spent out on the deck of the Maple Leaf looking for whales. We spotted many humpback whales in Frederick Sound, some even came so close that we could smell their breath and see their entire length below the water’s surface. For Teresa, one of our guests, it was her first encounter with whales in the wild and to sum it up in one word she says it was ‘magnificent’.
Before dinner Captain Greg took us for a small boat cruise of the inter tidal environment and a walk along an island covered in the white crushed shells of barnacles and clams. A sea otter was spotted lounging in the kelp beds and bald eagles in the tops of the western hemlock and sitka spruce trees. Our evening anchorage was shared with the infamous crab fishing vessel ‘Time Bandit’ from the television show Deadliest Catch.
On Sunday, we transited west through Frederick Sound where we encountered more humpback whales. We took to the tender to explore a small group of islands along the way encountering many sea otters and a humpback whale.
In the late afternoon we arrived at the entrance to Red Bluff Bay and made our way through the narrow turns of the coastal fjord on Baranof Island. As we dropped anchor for the evening we spotted a brown bear in the estuary at the head of the fjord. Seizing this opportunity we went ashore and watched as this bear made its way into the forest while another bear walked along the river towards the beach.
Kayaking and estuarine exploration occupied our morning on Monday. Brown bears were spotted near the river. On shore we followed bear tracks across the exposed low tide mud, measuring their imprints against the size of our hands.
After leaving the beautiful estuary we sailed towards Yasha Island hoping to catch a glimpse of more sea otters and sea lions. The island did not disappoint! As we approached the island we were greeted by large groups of gregarious Steller sea lions that appeared just as curious about us as we were about them. Face-to-face with the sea lions, we watched them cavort and cartwheel around us in the small boats.
We returned to the Maple Leaf and made our way to Warm Springs Bay where we hiked to a beautiful sub alpine lake and then were treated to a soak in the hot springs right next to a rushing river.
When we left Warm Springs Bay early in the morning the air was still and a soft drizzle blanketed the sea surface. We enjoyed a leisurely morning with lots of coffee and tea as we made our way around the southern tip of Admiralty Island. The clouds parted in the early afternoon in time for lunch on deck while we watched foraging and resting humpback whales as far as we could see across Frederick Sound.
After lunch we went ashore to the historic Five Fingers Lighthouse where we climbed the four flights of stairs to a 360 degree view. A short walk along the trail brought us under a bald eagles nest and to a viewpoint where we spotted a lone male orca that swam through the shallow waters below us. A circumnavigation of Fingers Island by small boat permitted sightings of many shorebirds and a humpback whale.
We end our day at Wood Spit where we anchor for the night and prepare for another fantastic day tomorrow.
- Report by Jill Harvey, naturalist aboard the SV Maple Leaf
Some updates from our Alaska Adventure small ship cruises this summer, 2013, sent via sattelite from the 92-foot schooner Maple Leaf, our “cruise ship”.
July 7 to 9 – Prince Rupert to Prince of Wales Island
from the wheelhouse of Maple Leaf, north end of Prince of Wales Island, southeast Alaska Trip 1.
Whales – humpback and orca
We’re just preparing to spend our third night about MV Maple Leaf, after another day full of experiences including low tide ogling, calm-water cruising and marine mammal viewing. On our first afternoon departing from Prince Rupert, within an hour or two of Captain James saying ‘no guarantees’ for seeing wildlife, we had spotting 6 or 8 humpback whales while crossing Chatham Sound, headed to our first overnight anchorage at north Dundas Island. Spectacular sunset and twilight, looking off towards Green Island lighthouse.
We were underway on Day 2 near first light, which is pretty early these summer days, so we would have time to clear customs in Ketchikan, our first landfall in Alaska. Flat calm, we could hear three species of thrushes singing from the shoreline: varied, swainson’s and hermit thrushes. Off ahead, really close to shore, First Mate Greg spotted the for-sure shape of the tall black dorsal of a male killer whale, headed north parallel to our course. We watched with binoculars as we approached and spotted at least three more whales, two middle sized females and one had a wee small youngster alongside. So calm, we could hear and sense each exhalation, we watched as the whales pushed up the surface of the water in glassy dome over their head before they took a breath. And all this before breakfast!
Captain James executed a perfect parallel parking job alongside City Dock, right next to Front Street, downtown Ketchikan. Although we were not the biggest ship in the harbour by a long shot (there were four ginormous cruise ships in port) we were the most beautiful. Many cruise ship guests waved to us and took pictures of Maple Leaf from the street level above the dock.
Everyone enjoyed their walking tours of Ketchikan, from the boardwalk and heritage buildings along Creek Street, to the loop around the upper town by the fish ladders. The Totem Heritage Center, the little museum and Ray Troll’s shop were highlights. Several of us bought great maps at the fabulous bookstore so we can keep track of our route for the rest of our trip.
Tongass Narrows, Wild Islands, Beaches
We cruised north through Tongass Narrows and saw amazing double brilliant rainbows to wrap up the day, finding a quiet anchorage amid the Tatoosh Islets.
Low tide in the morning gave us the first taste of exploring the intertidal from the zodiacs. We watched minks foraging along the edge of water, clams squirting all around on the tidal flats. We also went ashore to investigate what looked like a huge anchor windlass, left over from what must have been a large wooden ship, only the giant metal winch and bollards left.
We circumnavigated one of the islands in the group, going ashore to see the forest and beach on the west side of the island and spotting a bald eagle that had landed right onto the water maybe trying to pickup a fish off the surface. Calm and still water looking into Behm Canal.
South Etolin Wilderness
In Clarence Strait, we planned an excursion by zodiacs and as we were pulling into south Etolin Island, suddenly we’d attracted a speeding group of Dall’s porpoise zipping around, across and under the bow…back and forth and staying with us for what felt like ages. Many of us had the time to make lots of video, punctuated by enthusiastic squeaking and grinning from us all hanging over the gunwales.
Zodiac exploration was during high tide, watching a humpback cruise across the bay and dozens of pairs of marbled murrelets peeping and diving. At one point, the heavens opened above us and torrential downpours had us seriously testing the quality of our raingear before the squall passed and we had watery sun to bring us back to the mother ship. We snuck through the gentle current draining the passage between the western islets to see two groups of deer feeding in the salt marsh there.
Back on board, snug as can be with wet gear steaming dry in the heat of the engine room, we settled into a feast of seared tuna, spinach salad and polished off generous helpings of Chef Rafe’s honey cheesecake. We settled in for the night at sheltered anchorage next to Shrubby and Bushy Islands (really, that’s what they’re called on the chart) near the northeast corner of Prince of Wales Island.
July 10-11, Prince of Wales Island to Kake (Frederick Sound)
Checking in from SV Maple Leaf wheelhouse, southeast Alaska trip
Wrangell Narrows and Petersburg
Early on the morning of Day 4, July 10, we pulled anchor in the quiet cove near the north end of prince of Wales Island in time to catch the tide to transit through Wrangell Narrows. En route across upper Snow Passage we spotted the spouts of about five or six humpback whales, as the morning sun broke through the clouds. The light on the misty hills of north Zarembo Island was telephoto-worthy.
The transit through Wrangell Narrows, headed north towards Petersburg took us four hours, partly because it’s 35-km long and we were going against a couple knots of current to keep our course steering most effective. Navigation markers bristled red and green towers the whole way, some sections marked with huge orange range finder markers. A few places had wide soft mud flats, incised with meandering drainage channels for side streams from the marshes lining the passage. We saw dozens and dozens of bald eagles, scavenging along the water line on the low tide. Festoons of kelp hung around the range marker towers and most of those seemed to have one or two eagles perched beside the light on top too.
As we passed by the busy waterfront of Peterburg, there were flocks of gulls around the fish plants and fish boats at the docks. Just north of Petersburg, we saw our first iceberg (!) and crossed the turquoise-green water of south Frederick Sound to anchor near Cascade Creek mouth.
Cascade Creek, Rainforest, Waterfalls
The well-maintained boardwalk on the first part of the trail took us to alongside the tumbling, rumbling creek. Just upstream, a view spot led to a ‘maid of the mist’ experience of the shimmering sheets of fine, drenching spray blowing across the mossy hillside, along with an incredible roar of the creek. Delighted to spot a pair of american dippers, happily streamside in the deafening tumult near a trail bridge crossing the upper canyon.
Kupreanof Is., Frederick Sound
We anchored for the night just in time to watch the sunset after dinner, perfect pink reflections on the mirror of the bay on north Krupreanof Island.
Next morning, we headed west and stopped to do a little (successful!) jigging. We spotted several sea otters, likely mums with youngsters riding hugged to their chests, near the reefs where we were fishing. A delightful and unexpected sighting! as previous trips had not seen sea otters in many sea otters in Frederick Sound. Harbour seals watched us go by too, shiny heads poking up from the kelp bed.
The tiny village of Kake lived up to its reputation as ‘the sweetest little town in Alaska’. Word traveled fast that the lovely Maple Leaf was at the dock. Locals stopped to chat and advised us to walk over to the stream to see the run of chum salmon, and look for bears…which we did. From the safety of the road bridge, we watched a yearling black bear casually pull a big chum salmon from the creek and carry it off, still flapping, into the trees. Dozens of bald eagles were along the stream too, wrestling and shoving to get the best bits of fish carcasses left along the bank. We all walked up the hill, to pose by the worlds tallest totem pole, which looks out over the strait. The lower pole has a carved half man – half halibut. Thanks to everyone in Kake for the friendly conversations and warm welcome you gave us.
July 12, Baranof Island to Admiralty Island
Warm Springs & the Dock Community (Human and Non-human)
Friday morning: We were all very pleasantly surprised to find a big space at the dock at the Baranof Warm Springs for late arrival last night. Bio-luminescence was amazing with swirling fish around the dock. Several seiner crews were there to help catch lines and shine flashlights on the dock rail as Captain James executed a perfect parallel park. We started off the day with a walk up the boardwalk to the hot pools for a soak before breakfast. Big natural pools are hot and hotter and pour down into the rushing tumble of the creek. Back at the dock for breakfast, we watched a family of river otters under and over the dock, chasing a huge school of herring and hissing at us from under the dock. We were eye-to-eye through the cracks between the decking. First mate Greg got images with the underwater video of one otter coming right up to bite the camera!
We met other people at the dock, including a whale researcher working there at Baranoff on humpback feeding behaviour. Certainly lots of research subjects for him right at hand. And, we met an author of a great cruising guide Glaciers, Bears and Totems which we added an autographed copy of to the on-board library.
Sea Lion Sensation
We crossed Chatham Strait back towards south Admiralty Island and spotted sea lions diving and feeding in the shallows near Point Gardner.The sea lions were cavorting around the surface, and we were amazed to see several tossing salmon casually over their heads and eating them in two bites. We anchored the mother ship for taking the zodiacs out to watch up close.
In the kelp beds streaming in the current near the offshore island, several groups of curious sea lions came up to check us out as we drifted by. Both skiffs had go-pro cameras to hold underwater and we got amazing images of the huge graceful sea lions whizzing by. Those guys can turn on a dime! so maneuverable…A couple of groups of sea lions seemed to be following first one boat then the other, taking turns coming up close, eyes wide and whiskers twitching, all looking over at us humans looking back at them. The sea lions were really checking us out, zooming by close and under the bow. Great to watch from blue boat as the sea lions were inspecting the red boat. We all got great photos and videos and used up all our batteries. The best sea lion watching! ‘oh my God! oh my God! what a trip!’ one member of the party was heard to exclaim.
We got good looks at a bunch of sea otters too, at the edges of the kelp beds. They’re almost as big a head as small sea lions. Great to have had a close look with river otters earlier too so now we can really tell the difference in shape and habit of the two different kinds of otters.
We went on to stretch our legs on a small estuary beach near Pybus Bay and saw lovely salt marsh with a meadow of sea asparagus. We found some bear tracks on the beach and saw where they had been bedded down and foraging in the meadow.
Several of the fishing folks dropped at line while at anchor and amazingly immediately were successful including one catch of a big staghorn sculpin and a true cod at once! Two fish on one hook! How amazing is that?!
We had dinner underway northwards on east Admiralty to be ready to awaken tomorrow morning at Pack Creek for what we hope to be some great brown bear viewing. En route, we watched humpbacks rising and blowing as the sun went down.
July 13, Admiralty Island and Stephens Passage to Wood Spit
Hello team Maple Leaf at HQ — True story: blogger Mary Morris got up an extra half hour early to get caught up on the report to you for the past spectacular few days and before I could even get the email addresses into the header (0530 ADST) Maple Leaf was slowing to make a gentle turn to observe the back-lit vaporous breaths of three humpback whales bubble net feeding!! Naturalist mm took over and went down to the main cabin with wakeup call: Bubble feeding whales! Okay to come up in your pajamas! bring cameras!….more on that experience later!!! (we did see the lunging whales, feeding with mouths wide) – the captain, July 14
It’s actually taken us all a few days to kinda absorb our experience watching the brown bears at Pack Creek on Admiralty Island. We arrived right on schedule for our appointment with the wardens at the reserve near the northeast corner of Admiralty Island. The low tide flats of the creek delta were glowing golden yellow of the rockweed mat as we came in from the ship in both zodiacs.
As we watched from the spit near the beach marking the boundary of the bear viewing area, we could see two small bear cubs pelting up across the beach headed for the treeline, and running across behind the other two wardens who’re one their way to the main viewing spot further along by the main stream. We watched the cubs’ mother coming up the beach clearing concerned about the whearabouts of her twins, and staring hard at the two wardens who were maintaining their position, and doing their best to look non-threatening to the mother bear.
After just a few long moments, the mother bear seemed to hear the babies answer her and she disappeared from our view, around the corner after the cubs. Meanwhile, we could see about a dozen more brown bears, on the lower river across the flats from where we were. Lots of bald eagles were clustered around the delta too. The chum salmon were running and the bears and eagles were gathered to feast. What a spectacle!
We made our way over to the viewing area along the bare upper beach, staying together as a group, and met the other two wardens there, Aaron and intern helper Justin. A few bears were downstream splashing and playing in a deep part of the stream. It wasn’t long until we saw the mum with the two small cubs make their way back down the flats, splashing down the creek and having to swim across the deeper parts. Suddenly, two sub-adult bears were chasing each other across the upper meadow to our left and they ran full tilt right towards us, through the flats next to the viewing area. Those of us who could raise their cameras in time got amazing pictures of the pair, water and fur flying, the second bear in hot pursuit of the first, tearing off over the beach and down to the creek flats. They started to wrestle with each other again, this time in the creek.
We honestly thought that it wouldn’t get much better than that until the same pair of nearly-grown bears strolled back across towards us again and, once up onto the meadow right next to the safe viewing area, they started playing again, standing on hind legs and boxing, pulling on ears and pushing each other over and down, rolling across the dune grass and cow parsnip.
We were simply and truly awestruck, and our guides did not need to remind us to be still and quiet as I am pretty sure we all held our breaths. The only sounds that come from us humans was the mad clicking of camera shutters.
The guides explained that these two bears where a three-year-old male and four-year-old female that had spent the last year together as close buddies, as the male was spending his last year with his own mum. The two young bears seemed to have become best friends and where notorious for spending a lot of time playing and wrestling together.
The guides also said that while they do see this type of behaviour sometimes, they are there with the bears all the time and we were really lucky to be there to see that within a few minutes of being there. Some members of our group were heard to say “Oh my God! Oh my God! Wow!!!!”
After lunch back at the ship, we returned to the viewing area and had a sunny afternoon watching more bears, this time through the spotting scopes and binoculars mainly. With so many bears together, sharing the salmon (we watched one chase one salmon right out of the stream onto the bank before picking it up in its jaws), how amazing to be able to have the time to just observe how the different ages and sizes of the bears interact with each other.
Later that afternoon, we headed south again in the calm calm water of Seymour Canal, watching humpbacks blowing and diving. One whale made a bubble curtain so clearly off the bow sprit that we could observe the technique as we drifted, listening.
Anchorage near Wood Spit for the night, ready to head into Endicott Arm the next morning to visit Dawes Glacier.
Days 14-17 to come…
For more information about our trips or taking one yourself, please visit the page for our Alaska small ship adventure cruises.