After navigating most of the San Juan islands, hard work and perseverance paid off with a big show from Big Mama!!!
The clouds cast a grey shadow upon the earth as the crew began to prepare the Island Explorer 4 for her journey. With small patches of blue appearing sporadically in the sky it was unclear as to what Calypso held in store for the days voyage but the crew was not deterred. The passengers boarded the vessel and with in minutes they were sailing out of Cap Sante marina and into the unknown. As they left the marina a large regatta of sail boats was clustered just to the north, colorful sails dancing in the wind as the sun attempted to burn through the layer of clouds just over head.
The boat picked up speed and entered Guemes channel the first wildlife of the day was sighted. Above Guemes island a mature bald eagle was dueling it out, mid air, with an immature bald eagle!!! The scuffle lasted mere seconds before the immature bird retreated north. Within only a few minutes another bald eagle was spotted just off the end of Guemes island. It flew south across the channel and met up with another eagle on the Anacortes side where it circled in the air, soaring gracefully on pockets of heat. The trip was off to a good start and all on board were excited to see what was next.
Captain Scott took the Island Explorer 4 across Rosario strait toward Blakely and Pointer island. As she crossed the strait she was joined by dozens of Bonapartes gulls and rhinoceros auklets, not to mention all the cormorants out for brunch on the water.Upon reaching Pointer island another bald eagle was spotted along with a handful of harbor seals!!! As the boat rounded the north side of Pointer island the eagle took flight and was quickly lost among the thick evergreens of Blakely island. After taking in as many looks at the harbor seals as they could the Island explorer 4 sailed onward, into the San Juan islands. Passing a Washington state ferry that was bound for Anacortes, the boat turned north toward Upright head. As she passed Willow island Captain Scott spotted yet another bald eagle, and it was becoming clear that the luck onboard the ship was building.
Rounding Upright head the Island Explorer 4 pressed on through San Juan channel and down out of Cattle pass. It was here the first large animals of the day were found. Dozens of Steller sea lions were hauled out on Whale rocks, none of which batted an eye at the Island Explorer 4. It was a sight to see as many of the sea lions looked to be in the 2000lbs. range!!! Soon the winds blew lightly over the rocks carrying with them the smell of sea lion, which is in no way a stellar thing to smell. With that it was time to continue onward into the Straits of Juan de Fuca and search for something bigger. As she did she was met by slightly bigger waves, and with a nice roll she pressed on west bound for whatever lay ahead.
After searching Middle bank it became abundantly clear that the Straits of Juan de Fuca were quite baron, and that other waters must be searched. So Captain Scott again changed course and began to head north up through Mosquito pass toward Spieden island. As the Explorer 4 exited the pass a call came in, animals had been spotted north at East point headed no where fast. Seconds later the Island Explorer 4 roared to life as the twin Cat C-18’s began to pour on the horses!!! It was do or die time for the crew and they knew that if they didn’t get these animals that ride home would be twice as long as the ride out had been. Captain Scott continued north and passed carefully through Johns pass, with the possibility of glory so close, and yet the ever lingering thought of defeat following just off the stern!!!
Not long after exiting Johns pass exhalation blows rose upon the horizon, beckoning the Island Explorer 4 in. It was the moment that everyone had waited for, the big cheese, this one was for all the marbles and Captain Scott was not going to let it slip away. As the boat arrived on scene the whales took a deep dive. Raising there flukes high into the air and disappearing under the surface like ghosts. The sight of the tails was a relief to the crew and passengers onboard but it was unclear how long the whales would be down for. However, once again, luck was aboard the Island Explorer 4. One thing was for certain, it was Big Momma and she always finds a way to excite!!!!(BCY0324)
The whales were down for less than a minute before returning to the surface and blasting their misty breath high into the air. After a few breaths the whales again went on a deeper dive, bringing their tails high into the air again, this time, in front of Mount Baker!!!! It was a most extraordinary shot, all made possible by the masterful skill with which Captain Scott operates the Island Explorer 4. This time the whales stayed down for a few minutes allowing the anticipation to build before coming up on the starboard side of the boat, heading south east toward Sucia island.
At this point in the show most of the surfacing were at a distance and the whales were becoming harder and harder to read. The whales had taken another deep dive and disappeared yet again, but within seconds they were of the stern of the Island Explorer 4 and headed right towards it!!!! Surfacing after surfacing just off the stern, with what seemed to be only feet between the whales and guests, heart rates soared!!!! Inching closer and closer there was nothing to be done but to allow these magnificent animals to make their way past. Just as they reached the stern they dove deep again giving minds time to catch up with reality and hearts time to slow back to normal again!!!!
Suddenly off the starboard side a large column of bubble began to rise from the deeps. It was apparent the whales were passing by down under the water, unbother by the boat and her super excited guests. Without warning the whales rose out of the water just off the bow. Big Momma had rolled onto her side and began waving her enormous pectoral fin into the air, bringing it down up the surface with brute force!!!! With this the second humpback took multiple short dives bringing its tail just barely out of the water!!!!! It was amazing, wave after wave of the pectoral fin, which rose high above those lucky passengers on the bow of the Island Explorer 4!!!! Big Momma had heard the screams of excitement and knew that it was time for a show, and what a show she gave!!!!! Securing her rightful place as one of the most beloved humpbacks in the San Juan islands to date.
As with all beautiful things in this world, an end must come, whether we like it or not, and so we waved goodbye to the whales and began our long journey home. Along the way we came across many more eagles ending the trip with a count in the mid teens. The trips was long, yet in the end worth every mile, putting in over 90 miles, it is definitely one for the books. As the Island Explorer 4 made her way south toward Anacortes she sailed upon beautiful calm waters. Enjoying the passing glance at the occasional auklet or cormorant. Rounding the final corner to Cap Sante what had seemed and eternity had suddenly become just a fleeting glimpse and the crew and guests were ready to turn around and do it all again.
Whales, a truly wondrous creature, one which we are so fortunate to live among. Today will forever stand as proof that perseverance and belief have and always will pay off!!!! Some may say,” Was it worth it, to go so far for just two whales?” Those of you who were onboard today shall forever know the answer. No pictures I post will pay justice to the amazing day that was had onboard the IE4, no words I write will paint a good enough picture to serve as a platform for those who were not onboard. Something magic happened today, as it does everyday to those who venture forth into the wild ever-changing world of the Salish sea and as I close this report I can only smile, the sights I saw as with all trips only brought me closer to this world we live in, and what a beautiful world it is!!!!
Today will forever remain a dream among the hearts and minds of all those who were fortunate enough to capture it!!!!