Our 11 day cruise aboard the Alaskan Dream started on Wednesday, 7/31, at the Anchorage airport.
Our first leg was a 1-1/2 hour flight from Anchorage to Juneau, where we literally dropped into the airport. Juneau sits right at the base of a mountain range so take-off and landing make for an interesting ride. Then on to Sitka. First surprise...the airport's on an island!
(You can click on most photos to see more related pictures)
While walking along the harbor on Thursday, we spotted the Sea Otter Express tour boat. At that point we didn't know that we would be off on our own wildlife quest the next day aboard this fast, stable, comfortable craft.
The day before, a large Holland America cruise ship, the Oosterdam, pulled in to Sitka harbor. On Thursday the streets of Sitka were crowded with some of the 4,000+ passengers making navigating the town less fun than it might have been.
After living in our sub-wild home for the past year, we were amazed by how noisy a city the size of Sitka (urban population about 7,000) could be at night.
Our cruise didn't start until Friday, 8/2, so we had a day and a half to wander around town. The photo on the left is of one of the main downtown streets in Sitka. If you click on the picture it will take you to more photos of Sitka.
On Friday morning we were met at our hotel by an Alaskan Dream representative who took us on a half-day walking tour of the town.
The tour of the Bishop's House was extensive, covering some history of the Russian Orthodox church in Alaska, the buildings construction, and the living conditions of its early occupants. On the right is a photo of the Bishop's altar.
We left the Bishop's House and headed to for the Sheldon Jackson museum, a small, but interesting, collection of Tlingit artifacts including totems, tools, clothing, and household items.
Our final stop of the morning was at the Sheet'ká Ḵwáan Naa Kahídi clan house. It is a performance venue and meeting space modeled after a Tlingit clan house and has the largest hand-carved house screen in Southeast Alaska. One translation of the building's name is "The House of the Sitka People." It is built on the location of the former school for Native children in Sitka.
This is a photo of the house screen at the back of the stage. The dancers enter through doors in the bottom center of the screen. Our cruise cultural leader, Leonti, was one of the lead dancers.
Okay, he looks kind of small in this photo but we hadn't gotten up close, yet. Click on the photo to go the the wildlife gallery for more.
He had just caught a rather heavy salmon and he couldn't lift off. While it is relatively rare to witness this it is not, according to our naturalist guide, a rare occurrence. The eagle was the first of our sightings.
It was followed by the sea otters. These fellows (and gals) bob along on their backs well out of sight of land. They dive to catch fish and invertebrates and then float on their backs while eating. They spend most of their lives in the water. Eagles, bears, and orcas are their principal predators. Their pelts, for which they were hunted to near extinction, have about 1 million hairs per square inch and are incredibly soft.
We were on our way to rendezvous with the Alaskan Dream when her Captain radioed the pilot of the Sea Otter Express to say that he had spotted a pod of transient killer whales and that our pilot should not worry about making the rendezvous on time. This turned out to be a typical attitude of our captain as, over the next eleven days, he would frequently alter his schedule to accommodate interesting scenery and wildlife sightings. A major advantage to small-ship cruising over the large ships. Transient orcas, pods not native to the area, are identified by their smaller dorsal fins. In a later post we'll have some photos of a resident pod with their longer dorsal fins.
Our first stop was the Bishop's House, a national historic site which was home to Alaska's Russian Orthodox bishops from 1842 to 1969. Along the way we passed St. Peter's by the Sea Episcopal church, interesting for its circular stained-glass window with a Star of David in the center. Apparently the original window was broken in transit from Washington and was replaced with a synagog window that had the same dimensions.
Below is a view of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral. Note the ceiling; it's made from sail-cloth in recognition of the seafaring history of Sitka.
The clan house is on the harbor where the commercial fleet is moored and that is where we boarded the Sea Otter Express for a wildlife viewing trip that would eventually end up at our small cruise ship, the Alaskan Dream. During our roughly 3-1/2 hour trip we saw, up close, humpback whales, orcas, sea otters, and, believe it or not, a swimming bald eagle! Really. A bald eagle swimming.
Humpback whales came next. We saw numerous blows, dives, and soundings. The whales would surface, exhale, take a deep breath and then dive. After three or four shallow dives they would sound, that is diving deep to stay under for a longer time.
Our final sighting of the day was of the Alaskan Dream as we pulled along side for boarding (yes, we stepped off the Sea Otter Express onto the Alaskan Dream) and the official start of our eleven-day cruise.
We'll have a new post coming in the next few days, so come back to this link for the next installment. Next stop, Glacier Bay.