The captain and crew of National Geographic Venture had been keeping a close eye on the weather forecast for the last few days; a huge storm was moving steadily across the Gulf of Alaska and was due to hit our planned destination this morning. The storm must have seen us coming, and it kindly altered its course to peter out against the mountains north of us.
Clouds and drizzle greeted us as we eased our way passed the small community of Elfin Cove and into Port Althorp. We dropped anchor in placid, jellyfish-dotted waters and sipped coffee in the quiet. Just as we settled in for breakfast, a mother coastal brown bear and her three tiny cubs came out on the narrow strip of beach above the high tide. From our tables, we watched them make their way up into the bay towards a salmon spawning stream.
We waited for the bear family to slip back into the woods before we ventured ashore. From our landing beach across the bay, we watched momma bear splash through the shallows after salmon as her three cubs waited eagerly for their breakfast of fresh pink salmon. Mom caught the salmon, took a few bites, and carried it up into the bushes and tall grasses for the cubs to share. Throughout the morning, mom and cubs emerged from the brush to grab a fish and disappear back into the damp, green beach rye grass to feast in private.
Once ashore, we explored the gorgeous coastline, following in the muddy prints of brown bears, Sitka black-tailed deer, and shorebirds. We poked into the lush understory of the Tongass National Rainforest, braving boot-sucking mud and dense blueberry bushes to enjoy the silence of the rain on moss. Some guests explored the rocky coast and placid waters by kayak and Zodiac.
As the morning ended, we returned to National Geographic Venture to refuel with a fantastic lunch. As we ate, the ship hauled anchor and moved to the Inian Islands. At the northernmost entrance of the Inside Passage, the massive tidal swings create immense currents. Locals refer to the area as “The Laundry,” a nod to the washing machine effect created by the deep currents slamming into the steep islands. Wildlife gathers for the current, driving fish and food to the surface, where they are trapped in whirlpools and become easy pickings.
Steller sea lions greeted us in droves. Hundreds gathered on and around rocks and reefs and joined us in the water in curious rafts. They snorted and splashed and watched us, these strange, orange-clad, floating beasts. We must have been as entertaining to them as they were to us. We cruised around the Inians, watching sea otters doze in kelp beds and scanning trees for bald eagles, before returning to the ship to dry off, warm up, and discuss our amazing day.