Well into our second summer aboard Summer Breeze, we’ve lost track of the number of Humpback Whales we’ve seen, but it’s still a thrill each time. With Humpbacks, you typically see the spout rising from the surface before you see anything else. And then there’s the long, slow movement of the body (or bodies) arching above the surface as they make their way along. We’ve yet to see them breach in the northwest waters, nor surface in a group while feeding, but we’re still watching for that!
At last writing, we were departing Rescue Cove heading south in the direction of Bella Bella. As we motored out of the bay into Mathieson Channel, a solo Humpback Whale passed right by us. As always, we took the time to capture some images of one of these incredible gentle giants.
In a short span of time I gathered quite a series of images, but the most striking is always when the whale surfaces before a deep dive. The arch of its body is greater, and it always ends with a grand display of the fluke (tail) up high and dripping with water. When they go into a deep dive they may not surface again for 15 minutes or more, and you never know exactly where that will be. (Last year two of them surprised us by resurfacing right next to our boat!)
Watch the graceful movements of Humpback Whale on the surface before a deep dive…
After our pit stop in Bella Bella (for laundry and a few supplies), we set out once again, making our way south in route to the north end of Vancouver Island. Next stop would be Pruth Bay, where we’d been once before… on our way north. From Pruth Bay you can hike a trail to the western side of Calvert Island, arguably one of the nicest beaches on Canada’s western coast.
The weather was not conducive to relaxing on the beach the last time we were there, but showed enough promise to make our way back in hopes of glorious sunshine. The journey took us down Fitz Hugh Sound, and through Ward Channel, across Hekai Passage and down Meay Inlet. We spotted another Humpback at a distance in Hekai Passage, but kept on course with visions of a sunny afternoon at the beach.
We arrived that afternoon to a bay packed full of boats at anchor. Our only safe option was to add a shore-tie off our stern to keep us from swinging toward the other boats. Unfortunately, the weather was bleak at best, so I opted to stay on board and work while John went ashore for a walk to the beach. Regardless, it’s a pretty cruise through these passageways, so it wasn’t all for nothing.
The bleak weather turned into overnight thunderstorms, but thankfully the heavy clouds started lifting as we got underway down Kwakshua Channel, and back out to Fitz Hugh Sound where we encountered some sizable swells. As my regular readers know, I’m not a fan of big swells. Things start falling down if they are not battened down, and it’s not fun diving “down below” to batten things down when the boat is rocking hard from side to side.
After a few hours of that fun we ducked out of the swells through Radar Passage, on our way to Milbrooke Cove. While in Radar Passage we spotted Sea Otters! With babies!! This was our very first Sea Otter encounter from Summer Breeze. Much to my amazement, River Otters are far more common in these waters. (Oh, but we would soon discover that Sea Otters rule the west(side)!!
There were several otters here, floating amongst a sizable kelp bed. I captured what images I could, from a comfortable distance (for them) with a huge grin on my face. In the third image below, I swear it looks like momma otter is holding up her pup. For the pup’s benefit or mine, I do not know, but it sure looks like she’s showing him off to me! So cute!
The next grouping just had to be shown in a sequence… as I viewed them… from curious smiles to snuggles. 😁
After we anchored in Milbrooke Cove I hopped on my kayak and set out for a long peddle/paddle back out to Radar Passage in hopes of getting a little more time with these adorable creatures. By the time I got there, the tide had risen enough that most of the kelp they were lounging in was under water, and the mothers and babies were gone. I cringed as I watched numerous Bald Eagles converge around the island nearby.
I did surprise one solo Otter, nestled in some kelp and so busy eating he didn’t notice my approach. He pretended to be shy for a bit, but eventually his curiosity got the best of him, and he circled back for a better view.
And it is not at all uncommon to find a curious seal following along when I’m kayaking. In this case there were two. (One a bit shyer than the other.) John and Sadie rowed out for some of the action as I was heading back in.
The next morning we weighed anchor and set out for Port Hardy. As we left Milbrooke Cove, I spotted this Bald Eagle perched along the shoreline. Bald Eagles have become a very common site to us out here. I don’t think a day goes by that we don’t see one, and more likely several, although rarely in a group. A pair, or parent and juvenile is common.
One thing I’ve been paying a bit more attention to is the birds. We pass them all the time… groups of birds bobbing along on the water. From a distance, for the most part, they look pretty much the same… little black birds. Mid-trip I started shooting (photographing) them, if for no other reason than to be able to zoom in and identify them. What I discovered was that we were cruising past numerous birds we’d never seen before. So… now we’re onto something new! Bring on Audubon!
As we traveled south through Queen Charlotte Sound I spotted a large group of Sea Lions lazing away the afternoon on a small island. A short while later, and only because the seas were so calm, I spotted Orca for the first time, and from a great distance. We’d been watching for them since we started our full-time boating adventure last summer, and finally… FINALLY… we got to observe and photograph Orca for the first time in the wild!
Following them took us out into more open (and much rougher waters) making it far more challenging to photograph them. Struggling to keep anything in the camera frame on a bouncing boat while hanging on so as to not go overboard. Even harder when the subject is moving fast. They took us a bit off course, to the southern end of Pine Island, where they seemed to be feeding, as they kept going back and forth not too far off shore.
Gruesome to think about, but the Orca may well have been feeding on Sea Lions. As we were photographing them at a distance a Sea Lion popped up right next to the boat, and I swear… if he could have, he looked like he would have hopped aboard. That happened so quickly I didn’t get the shot, but right after that I noticed a noisy group of Sea Lions along the rocky shoreline, barking loudly in the direction of the whales. Personally… if I were one of those Sea Lions… I’d have quietly slinked away from the noisy group and found a place to get out of the water.
Thankfully, we didn’t have to witness any carnage. 😳
As mentioned above, photographing these beautiful creatures from a bouncing boat in the wild is challenging. It’s difficult to predict where they will surface, especially when you’re trying to keep track of several in motion. From a sail boat, you have the added challenge of having mast, boom and sails in the way! Thus was the case when these killers celebrated with a few breaches! I was always on the wrong side of the boat! 😩 But… I did catch a few tail slaps and dorsal slaps… and all seemed to be celebratory.
After their hunt and celebration, the group of four Orca turned west and headed further out to sea. With grins on our faces, we turned back to our course for Port Hardy. All in all, this was a pretty thrilling few days on the water! Several “first sightings” for us!
In Port Hardy we would restock provisions for our trip around the northern end of Vancouver Island, and down the western coast. This part of the adventure would put us out in open water several times, in transition from one sound, inlet or bay, to the next. Rounding the notorious Cape Scott (and Nahwitti Bar), on the northwest corner of the island, is not to be taken lightly, and we were prepared to wait out bad weather, if we had to, in order to make it a safe passage.
We did suffer one tragic event while in Port Hardy, which really took the wind out of our sails. I’ll be sharing that story in my next post.
As always, I appreciate your desire to follow along on our journey. Please feel free to leave any comments, questions, or suggestions you might have in the comment section below.