Day 3 (Wednesday):

“Why do they call it Seal Bay?”

We awake already anchored in Seal Bay, with the weather at first socked in and threatening, with a dense moist Alaskan fog obscuring most of the inlet and a light rain on and off, but by the time we are done with Early Risers Breakfast in the lounge some sun had started to peak through.

By the time we went down to actual breakfast, the rain had stopped, and Brittany had a special announcement.

We would have a special adventuring opportunity that morning; a brief, easy walk on the rocky southwest shore of the bay, led by Erin and Kelsie. We’re still leery of what these two consider a “easy walk”, but of course we jump at the chance just the same. A good many shipmates are interested, as well, so it’s a two skiff affair getting us all over to the drop off point. We spot at least one harbor seal in the water in front of the second skiff.

The shore leads up into a salmon spawning creek, and while it’s too early for the fish to be running, we do find plenty of remnants that they had been there; loads of small salmon fry that were scattered on the rocks, unable to get back down river before it dried up. There were also a number of salmon jawbones (it’s amazing the metamorphosis a salmon jaw undergoes just prior to spawning).

Erin tells us that having salmon in the creek is actually good for, of all things, the trees. Apparently the sheer number of salmon that eagles and bears snatch from the water and subsequently drop (either intentionally or unintentionally) in the forest is enough to feed the trees with all sorts of good nutrients.

Reed ventures to the other side of the creek and discovers first a bear femur and then pelvis, picked clean over the winter; their size and mass is amazing to behold. Then it’s time for the skiffs to pick us up. We decide to take the femur back to the ship, to give everyone else a look, and promise to return it to the creek before we leave Seal Bay. We spot what we think is the same harbor seal, still checking out the skiff as we head back to the boat.

Today, We Kayak

For the afternoon adventure opportunities, the guides are offering a Kayaking 101 class - for those who have never been in a kayak before - as well as a guided kayaking tour of the bay, and an outing on a skiff. Since Margaret and I have done some kayaking on the Willamette river back home, we opt for the full kayaking tour led by Kelsie. The kayaks on board are tandem boats, stable enough, with the person in front providing a fair portion of the propulsion, and the person in the back controlling a small foot-controlled rudder for steering. The launching system onboard is also somewhat unique; designed by Uncruise’s owner, the “EZ Dock” is a large deck with slots and rollers for each kayak, that gets hydraulically lowered from the Aft 300 down to sea level whenever the kayaks are in use. You load into the kayaks basically on “dry land”, and then the deckhands push you down the rollers and the boat slips easily into the water. Then the deckhands haul you back up onto the rollers when your kayaking is finished. It makes the whole process quite a bit simpler than trying to get into the kayak directly from the fantail.

So we load up - Margaret in back, me in front - and we are pushed gracefully into Seal Bay, along with Kelsie and Bill in another kayak beside us. We quickly discover that Margaret’s rudder pedals are not properly adjusted, and we have a bit of a frustrating time steering, but we still make our way along the shore following Kelsie’s kayak, spying a great many seastars, muscles, and sea cucumbers just below the surfaces of the clear, frigid water. We notice the waves are becoming a bit more brisk, so we decide to turn around and head along the shoreline the other direction so we would be able to have an easier time drifting back to the ship. Somewhere between that decision and actually reaching the point in line with the ship, the weather had turned for the worse; we were now dealing with decent-sized waves, gusty wind, and sideways rain. Just then, the Captain raises Kelsie’s radio with a semi-dire tone: “Expedition, expedition, everyone return to the ship, now!” We turn for the ship, which is now a good 400 yards away across very choppy water, and begin paddling wildly for home. In the 10 minutes it took to get close, the rain became a deluge mix of sideways rain and hail, with the wind gusting directly into our faces. Even though we were still clad in our waterproof gear and rubber boots, we began to lose feeling in our fingers. The Kayaking 101 class was still out, struggling to get back to the EZ Dock, and obviously take priority in retrieval. Kelsie and Bill, and Margaret and I, after literally clawing our way back to the boat, wait for roller slots to open up before we can be pulled onto the boat.

We finally do make it back to the EZ Dock, and are hauled onboard, to quickly return back to our cabin and peel off our wet layers and warm up again so we can regain feeling in our fingers. By the time we are cleaned up and dry, and venture out to the lounge for some hot drinks, the weather has broken and sun is once again flooding the bay, a long, low rainbow filling the treeline. Proving that if you don’t like the weather in Alaska, just wait 5 minutes because it’ll change. The Kayak 101 class is offered the opportunity to return to the water to get a little more practice. Margaret and I decided not to re-don our water clothes, and simply watch from the lounge. Apparently it was the wrong choice, because the kayakers stayed out for over an hour-and-a-half, making their way around the entire end of the bay, and encountering several harbor seals up-close. Still, I think we were happy to just be warm and dry.

Once the kayakers were pulled back onboard, everyone collected for happy hour, to talk about the day’s adventure, and watch the crew pull up anchor. We intend to motor up the short distance to Pavlov Bay overnight. As we head down to dinner, the weather is again gusting sizable waves and clouds are covering Seal Bay.

Mid-meal, the Caption joins us in the dinning room. “Did I mention we’re on a boat?”, he jests. Forecasts are calling for heavy seas over night, and he’s recommending that we all take some Dramamine and try to get some sleep while we make the voyage to Pavlov. “Packets will be available in the lounge”. We decide to follow his advice, not that either of us is particularly prone to seasickness, but because we’re both still worn out from the kayak adventure that afternoon, and thought getting a good night’s rest would be welcome.

After a brief after-dinner get together in the lounge, we down our Dramamine, just in case, and retire to our stateroom.