Close Encounters

We arrived in Sitka on 28 June and our good friend, Jessie, flew up from Seattle the following day to join us for a 10-day leg to Ketchikan. After meeting some new friends (and dogs) on the dock, checking out the town, touring the raptor center, and tasting some flavors at the Baranof Brewery, it was time to head out. With the exception of a rainy, windy first day, the worst being as we were transiting Sergius Narrows entering Peril Strait, we were blessed with nice weather. After two anchorages and no wildlife sightings, however, we were starting to worry that we may not be able to deliver on the whales and bears we had strongly suggested would be a part of the tour.

We needn’t have worried. After exiting Peril Strait, we anchored for the night in Ell Cove, a splendid little cove with room enough for only one or two boats, entirely secluded and protected from any effects of Chatham Strait outside. And we had it all to ourselves. As soon as we dropped the hook, we spotted a young brown bear on shore. We watched as he walked the entire length of the shoreline before retreating to the forest. After settling in, Jessie and I hopped in the kayaks for a little exploration in the next coves over while Wags took the dinghy in search of salmon. We set out on a low tide, which revealed a wonderfully diverse area with white sand below the surface, rocky outcroppings leading up to the trees, and small coves tucked in behind the rocks. One such cove was quite inviting. It had a very narrow entrance, maybe 20 feet wide, leading to a shallow pool of crystal clear water surrounded by a rocky beach and forest. I paddled into the cove and sat silently, taking in the sounds of the ravens and eagles in the trees. As I slowly scanned the area, I heard Jessie, who was at the outside edge of the entrance canal, say in a calm but strangely nervous tone, “Paula, we need to get out of here.” Instantly, I realized there was very likely a bear in my immediate vicinity. I turned to look and, sure enough, about 40 feet above me, standing on the rocks was a young brown bear. He seemed as surprised at me being there as I was at him being there. He looked at me, then at Jessie, then back at me and sniffed the air. By this time I had turned my kayak in the direction of the exit and slowly started to retreat. I paused briefly to snap a couple of pictures, although I have to admit my increased heart rate prevented a perfect focus of the lens. We paddled out to a safer distance then watched the bear make his rounds searching for clams on the beach as the ravens squawked their disapproval. Birds, starfish, seals and a whole lot of jumping salmon (none of which were interested in Wags’ bait, unfortunately) rounded out our nature viewing that day, but nothing could compare to our close encounter with the bear.

The whales made their appearance, as well, over the next several days. For the most part, winds were calm and the seas glassy – not ideal for sailing but perfect for whale watching. As we glided through the water we spotted both humpbacks and orcas. If we were close, we would shut off the engine and silently drift, listening to the sound of their breathing all around us as they fed near the surface. In Labouchere Bay, on the west side of Prince of Wales Island, we anchored in a beautiful cove a humpback had chosen as his feeding spot. He was leaving the cove as we entered. That evening Jessie and I again explored in the kayaks, delighting in the natural beauty of the area and the antics of the sea otters, and Wags again took the dinghy to fish. As we all made our way back toward the boat a couple of hours later, the whale returned and we had a rare opportunity to watch as he surfaced along the shoreline rocks to feed right in front of us.

We pulled into Ketchikan with six cruise ships lining the docks and the hustle and bustle that goes with being in a tourist town. As we said goodbye to Jessie, we were reminded how much we love sharing our experiences with others. The close encounters from the past 10 days were even better in the company of a good friend.

— Paula

Jessie and Us

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