One Fine Evening

Erik asked me to take some coaches in town for soccer camp on a whale watch tour. There was a coach from Colorado, one from Anchorage, and two were from Central or South America somewhere. As we headed out of Auke Bay, I overheard them saying they’d already been on a whale watch trip. That was kind of a bummer, as I didn’t know if we’d see much or if what we’d see would now be old hat. I’d contacted a co-worker captain to see where the whales were today. The weather was picking up a little, so although I was headed for the west side of Shelter Island, I decided to go up the east side to keep out of the wind.

We ran about half an hour without seeing anything when I saw a puff in the distance. When we got up to the whale, it was a humpback whale lunge feeding right on the shore line. It would curve its body to herd fry (I think) in a school, and then came up under them with mouth wide open to swallow them. The whale seemed within 10 yards of shore, and was right at the surface. As it would curve it’s body to herd the fish, half of its tail would come out of the water, then there would be a swirl, and then up he’d come with his mouth wide open, and gulp. Well, they hadn’t seen this kind of action on the big whale watch boat they’d gone on earlier in the week.

We left this whale after half an hour and went around the north end of the island and headed south again. We saw another whale blow. This whale took several breaths and dove. Her big white tail told me this was Flame, a local favorite because she shows her big beautiful tail on every dive. After 20 minutes with her, we went to a buoy with several sea lions on it, and circled this a few times, before continuing south.

As we came to the south end of the island, we saw black fins coming out of the water- orcas. We came alongside the orcas at about 100 yards, and paced them for awhile. Then they went under and were gone for several minutes. As I looked to my left where they had been, the coaches in the rear yelled in surprise – the orca pod had gone under us and was now right next to the boat on the right side.  Hadn’t seen THAT on their whale watch trip, either!  We admired the orcas for another 20 minutes and then went to check our crab pots. I set them in this spot because it’s convenient, but hadn’t caught squat there in about 5 years. On our way there, we passed a couple Dall’s porpoise. Then an eagle come down to the water and grabbed a fish in its talons. We pulled up to the first crab pot, and got 3 keepers!   Next pot was 2 keepers!  The boys weren’t going home empty handed.  We took off for the dock, where their conversation was all about the whales they’d seen like they’d never imagined and the crab in the bucket. I dropped them off and headed back to the cabin for the night.

This morning I got up early to be down at the beach at 7 am. There was a -4.4 tide at 8:15 am so I wanted to reset my haul out. I screwed 4 auger anchors in a square into the ocean mud, ran a piece of garden hose through their eyes, then ran some gillnet leadline through the garden hose, and tied off the ends of the lead line. To the lead line I tied a piece of abs pipe that had 90 degree fittings on each end. Then I ran my haul out line through the pipe and back up to pulleys on the beach to form a clothes line to which I could tie the boat painter to and haul the line and boat out to deep water, which would save me from anchoring every time and rowing a punt to the beach. Since my boat was dry from the minus tide, I headed back to the cabin and read old Alaska Sportsman magazines and drank a pot of coffee over the next 2 hours while the tide came back in and floated my boat. Then it was back to town and back to work for the afternoon.

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