Alaska Fjord Charters started the summer off with a bang, with a 10 day trip to Nuka Bay (about 70 miles to the west of Seward) with dedicated kayaking clients on board. The trip was amazing, the guests were great, and the wildlife was diverse. Longer trips allow more flexibility with regards to weather, and more exploring to be done. The first two nights we were tucked up into Agnes cove due to adverse weather out in the gulf, making the boating conditions less than ideal. But with our propane heater fired up, we were able to stay warm and cozy. Just as we were about to tuck into bed on the 2nd night, 2 Fin whales were spotted and came lunging out of the water after food about 20 yards away. Pretty soon we had bait fish all jittery on the surface all around us. Very unusual to see fin whales in close to shore like that.
The next day, Monday, we woke to a beautiful sunny day and that is what it would be like for the next 6 days. Few boats venture down the coast in the westerly direction due to the direct exposure to the Gulf of Alaska, but so much amazing coastline to explore. En route to those more isolated waters, we got a glimpse of Orca’s, grey whales (kind of late for them to be heading north, but they still were), a brief visit with the Chiswell Islands home to 10’s of thousands of nesting sea birds, and calm seas allowing for a great run down to McArthur Pass. This is at the north end of the Pye Islands. There are three islands that make up the Pye Islands, Ragged at the north, Rabbit in the middle, Outter at the south. Outter Island is a sea lion designated rookery and has a 3 mile exclusion zone, so the only available pass is north of Ragged Island. Our first anchorage in the greater Nuka Bay area was in Midnight Cove. This little sliver of a cove had a waterfall at one end, and then the sun broke out and cast a beautiful rainbow right over the boat, and the reflection of the rainbow could be seen too.
Tuesday, we set out to view McCarty Glacier, some 20 miles up the McCarty Fjord, a narrow steep sided body of water. Really neat to watch plant succession at work, the closer we got to the glacier the rapid decrease in standing trees we saw. We got to the glacier at low tide, so there was this cool beach out in front with stranded ice bergs on it. We loaded the guests into their kayaks, and set them off. Autum and I took the inflatable to the shore and walked about amidst the ice berg bits. A unique perspective to view a glacier from a beach, not an experience most tour boats get to partake in.
We stopped by Delight Cabin managed by the Port Gram Corp. to check it out, a beautiful spot tucked back in the trees. The cabin is surrounded by the most fluffy moss imaginable, perfect for a short afternoon nap. But with a beautiful beach available to stretch the legs, a walk soon engulfed the guests. We spent the night anchored up in Ariadne Cove tucked behind a little island, in flat calm waters, watch the sun set over snow capped mountains at the very western edge of Kenai Fjords National Park.
The following morning, after breakfast, the guests headed off in the kayaks, Autum and I set out in the dingy to explore Surprise Bay. Up near the head of it, we saw old relics from a past gold mining operation, and hopped out to go explore. Found a big bull dozer, and other wheel trailers with mounted pumps and generators on them, there was even still a cable with an cable car attached to haul the rocks and debris from the hillside to the beach. After a good rummage around, we took the dingy into Palisades Lagoon, a narrow entrance, opened into a beautifully sheltered anchorage, with a lush valley opening up, and towering walls on two sides. One of my favorite spots I saw on the entire trip. Next time going to anchor there!
Wednesday we spent exploring the West and North Arm of Nuka Bay, checked out a 900 ft Cataract, very impressive indeed. Ended up anchoring up behind Beautiful Islands for the night, and when the tide went out, the rocks would fill up with Harbor Seals. The sunsets over the mountains were spectacular too.
The next day, we headed over to Yalik Bay, anchored and went exploring. Back in the early 20th century, there was a about 100 people living at the head of the bay. Another great beach combing spot, the guests ventured into the woods and found some old building foundations they thought. We got underway, a bit before noon and headed down the East side of Nuka island, a very desolate and rugged landscape. Spotted another Grey whale and had to slow to not impede its travel as we passed inside of Nuka Rock. We dropped the guests off in their kayaks, and they told us later they had a marvelous time exploring the shoreline. All kinds of nooks and crannies, and kelp and sea stars to look at. We spent that night, anchored off, Pete and Josephine’s Fox farm half way up the West side of Nuka Island. A super protect little cove. Not much left of the old home stead, the house remains standing, a huge bull dozer, and the remnants of the old dock.
On Friday, after a nice breakfast, once again the guest departed the cove in their kayaks, Autum and I did some chores on the boat, before heading off and convening with the intrepid kayaker’s. The guests were content to continue on, so we took the Darby over to the Mainland near some waterfalls, and found a perfect one to take a shower at. Glacier fed cascading stream makes for a quick shower, but with the sun out and warm rocks to stand on, drying off took very little time to get warm again. After getting everyone back on board in Islet Basin, we headed back towards McArthur Pass, but decided to go explore Hoof Point area. On the way down the eastern side of Ragged Island, a humpback whale was spotted close to shore. So we diverted our course, and as we were approaching, it decided to do a full breach, everyone saw it, but no one got a picture except in their minds. After a couple of good looks at the tail, we continued south, rounded Hoof Point, and found this beautiful anchorage to stop for a bit. We all piled into the inflatable and went ashore to explore.
Later that day, we steamed over to Thunder Bay, a very protected anchorage along the coast line, towering 2000 ft cliffs with over a dozen waterfalls. Just majestic. Had a humpback whale feeding further out in the bay most of the evening.
Saturday, we worked back towards the familiar waters of Harris Bay and Granite Island where we dropped our anchor in Taz Basin. A spot, I have been wanting to spend the night in and explore since first introduced to it nearly 9 years ago. Neat rock formations, a little pools with clear water tucked in and about, and dwarf weather beaten trees. Very serene and tranquil.
Sunday, turned into one of the most epic days on the water for me. We started off by catching some rock fish for dinner later. We took our time and explored the islands of the Chiswell’s, and saw Black legged Kittiwakes, Common Murres, Thick Billed Murres, Stellar Sea Lion Rookery, Tufted and Horned Puffins, Bald Eagles, Parakeet Auklets, and Oyster Catchers. Seas were mellow, so we had a good time checking it all out. About an hour later we were off Pony Point, and spotted an Orca and a Humpback. The Orca’s got the attention of our guests. So we shut the boat down and drifted in a light sprinkle but calm seas. We ended up, getting one of the most rare moments in the wild captured on film, Orca’s mating. To top it off, right under the Darby, we had front row seats to Orca Porn. The unique feature of Alaska Fjord Charters, is we don’t usually have to meet a time for transportation, and on this trip we still had another day left of exploring. So we got to drift with the Orca’s for close to 2 hours, about every 10-15 minutes they would swim past the boat. Just a surreal experience to be listening to 15-20 Orca breaths, with the occasional louder blow of a humpback. Super cool!!
We spent that night in Mary’s Bay on Rugged Island, two of our guests hiked up to the old abandoned army fort named Buckley. Clouds had moved in, and the weather was forecast-ted to turn ugly, but it remained calm all night.
What a fantastic trip! The Darby, is very efficient, comfortable, and perfect for doing extended trips around Kenai Fjords National Park and beyond. Look forward to more trips of this caliber!!