Monday, 6:30 am – 2:00 pm
September weather: Average temps of 59°/47°F. Average precip of 13.78″.
Typical weather? Cold and damp. There will be three cruise ships in port on the day we’re there.
Morning came early. We’d set the alarm for 06:00 in hopes we’d have time to wander around a bit before going to the meeting place for Southeast Sea Kayaking. We ran into Linda and Carl and had breakfast with them (no lox this morning) before heading out.
We were the northern most of the 4 cruise ship berths–and our meeting place was outside the Ketchikan Visitor Center at the south end. We followed the boardwalk and looked at the boardwalk sales of fleeces and other jackets–all half price because this is the end of the season here.
The Beginning of our Adventure
Andre was standing outside holding a kayak paddle (also known as an ‘engine’). We were the first ones there, but two other couples followed almost immediately and he led the six of us to the first of our boats to get ready. We ended up going from boat to boat to boat to kayak and then boat, boat, boat again.
The first step was to get us properly clothed–and properly clothed meant rain pants over our jeans and coats over our layers. On their advice, we all removed our outer rain layer and hung them to dry (yes, it was one of the hundreds of rainy days in Ketchikan). But there is no bad weather–only bad clothes and bad attitudes. I needed the largest size of rain pants they had :-(, but those did fit. We decided not to even use a dry bag–I brought my waterproof binoculars and Stan brought the Canon camera in its waterproof case, and we left everything else behind. Once all six of us were in pants, jackets, and life jackets, we headed into the second boat.
Yup–the second boat. Gabe (also known now as “Captain Him”) sped us through the Tongass Narrows into Nichols Channel so we could meet up with Sea Spree (also known as “The Mother Ship”). Gabe gave us a safety briefing including where to find the life jackets. Since we were all already wearing life jackets that was probably less useful than learning where the first aid kit was and how to reach the Coast Guard if he fell overboard and was eaten by orcas. We transferred over to the Sea Spree by climbing up, sitting on the rail and then swinging one leg and then the other over. I was glad to be wearing waterproof pants since the rail was wet!
I thought we were all geared up–but learned that I was wrong. There was one more step–our kayaking skirt. I knew how pants and jackets and personal floation devices worked, but kayaking skirts were new to me. We took off our PFDs, pulled the skirts over our heads (harder than it sounds because of the suspender straps which got tangled).
Finally, it was time to get into our kayaks. Andre picked his first ‘victims’ (his term, not mine)–and that was Stan and me. He asked which one of us was going to steer and when I said ‘him’, Andrew said, well, then Beth is my first victim. It was another transfer. This time was butt-leg-leg and I managed to get into the front of the kayak and then wiggled to get as far back in the seat as I could. We were told to angle our knees out and put out feet on the pegs. Stan found the kayak cramped, but I could either bend my knees out or reach the pegs–but not both.
Stan and I got the hang of the kayak really quickly–we’ve both paddled enough that it was pretty easy to get the kayak to go where we wanted it to. I can’t relate the turns and twists we made–with my horrible sense of direction I didn’t know what direction we were going. I was just glad that the mist turned into no rain at all–just clouds.
What I wanted more than anything was to see a bald eagle in the wild. I never had–and eagles fascinate me, and seeing animals in the wild is thrilling to me. We hadn’t been paddling long when someone pointed out an eagle. After others pointed it out, I saw it perched in a tree. I pulled out my binoculars and thanks to Stan’s lessons yesterday, and a little focal adjustment since I was wearing a contact lens, I was able to zero in on the eagle and drink in the wonder of seeing an eagle perched in a tree. Everything else on the trip was gravy–I got to see an eagle in the wild.
Although the eagle was an incredibly highlight for me, I also just absorbed the wonder of the trees and rocks and water. The rocks were covered with lichen and we saw a bulb <what> that looked like a bullwhip or even a hose. Our guide joked that we could harvest one for 50 Shades of Kayaking; We passed. He also said that they could get to 200 feet long. The trees and calm waters were surreal; we really were in the middle of nowhere–there were just the seven of us and the tall trees.
The first eagle wasn’t the only one. We saw one fly low across the water and then up and disappeared. Andre spotted a few others, but they were behind me–and you can’t turn around easily when you’re in a kayak–and you certainly can’t look behind you! A salmon jumped right next to us. Andre said it was a silver salmon and was a female, jumping to loosen her eggs. Stan spotted a harbor seal and with his help, all the rest of us saw it, too. It followed us as we went into a cove–it appeared to be pacing us–it swam along side us for quite a while.
Stan spotted several jellyfish. I only saw the large one, but he saw several small ones as well. He usually sees wildlife before I do and then points it out, but I saw the starfish first and got to point them out to him.
Ending the kayaking adventure
When we got back to the Mother Ship, I was the first one out of the kayak back standing up. It was great to lose the life jacket, then the kayaking skirt, and then even the jacket. The captain of the Sea Spree had prepared a picnic for us, and since I was starving, I was willing to dive in–crackers, cream cheese–and smoked salmon. It was fully cooked, had no flavoring but its brine, and was absolutely delicious.
So, we’d gone kayak then boat, so it was time to go to the next boat–somehow or another we managed to name the captain as Captain Him They. (He said his name is really Gabe, unless we didn’t like him, in which case his name is Mike.)
When we got back to the final ship, we gathered up our things and said our good-byes. It was an amazing experience. It was wonderful to spend our first day in Alaska in real Alaskan wilderness.
We didn’t manage to get directly there, but we did make it to Creek Street. We detoured for two reasons–we made a wrong term and second, because someone directed us up the creek (away from Creek Street) to see a school of salmon. There were dead salmon along the edges of the creek–ones that didn’t make it upstream or did and then died. Apparently, 40% of the world’s supply of salmon comes from Ketchikan.
We also stopped at a little mart and bought a couple of very expensive protein bars. My blood sugar has been totally wonky this week and I don’t want to risk being caught on an excursion without something to eat if I start to get the shakes.
When we got to the Creek Street boardwalk, I looked at, but didn’t buy, Ulu knives. I’d like a bigger one than the one I have now. The one I have now has a loose handle and I will definitely get another one while we’re here. I did pick up a two totem pole magnets for my magentic wall.
Back on the ship
After getting lunch, we were lucky enough to get a window seat within the covered area of the deck. We stayed there until the naturalist started her program–which was broadcast across that whole area of the ship–very loudly. It was louder than we could handle so Stan went to take a nap and I decided a nap wasn’t for me, so I’m currently sitting at a table in one of the bars at a window seat, watching the water and landscape while typing.
I had a little trouble with my drink order–I thought I had ordered a chocolate drink but it was coffee. Oops–but then the server brought me a chocolate drink. Now I’ve got a diet coke, great scenery, and a relaxing place to sit.
On the Water
Our Plan: We’re going to go kayaking with Southeast Sea Kayaks. There’s a 4 hour Orcas Cove kayak trip that sounds wonderful. I’d love to see orcas, but it doesn’t sound as if that’s likely. What is likely is seeing eagles, marine wildlife, and immersing ourselves in the “feel” of Alaska.
From CruiseCritic: The folks at Southeast Sea Kayaks told me that Orcas Cove is indeed a made up name. The actual location is on the “Blank Islands” at the mouth of “Blank Inlet” which is off the northern end of the Nichols Channel. To get there, they take you southeast from Ketchikan through the Tongass Narrows (on the southwest side of Pennock Island), then turn southwest into the Nichols Channel. (you can find the “Blank Islands”, “Bland Inlet”, and “Nichols Channel” on Google Maps.)
Other things to do in Ketchikan
We aren’t planning on doing any flightseeing. I know that’s the best way to see Misty Fjords, so I guess that means we’re skipping it.
One of the things I really want to do in Alaska is view wildlife. There is something awe-inspiring to me about seeing animals in their natural habitat. I don’t deny that I visit zoos–and love them, but that’s really a substitute for seeing the animals where they really belong.
There are bear tours, places to view salmon, places to look for eagles.
Creek Street is a shopping area on a boardwalk. There are shops–and Dolly’s House, which is a brothel museum. (This is a great link with pictures and anecdotes!) There are also totem poles around town–the walking tour map mentioned below points them out.
Southeast Alaska Discover Center (SEAK), 50 Main Street. Open 8:00 am – 4:00 pm, Admission $5. Displays of the natural and cultural history of the Tongass National Forest. Free with National Park pass.
I like the idea of seeing totem poles–they always fascinated me as a child. Totem Bight State Park can be reached by a $1 bus ride (Silverline North). (There’s a $2 all day rate, if you want to make other stops.) I don’t know yet if we’ll be able to fit it in with a kayaking trip, which is something we’re considering.
Potlatch Park is a re-created Native Alaskan village 10 miles north of Ketchikan. There is also an Antique Car Museum. It doesn’t sound as if there are a lot of cars, as they only call our two–but Stan is always interested in old cars. The website doesn’t give directions for getting there from Ketchikan, but someone on TripAdvisor said it was right next to Totem Bight.
There are apparently totem poles within the town as well, so I’m hoping that we’ll have time to see some of them after our kayaking trip.
- Population: 8,050
- Area: 5.9 square miles (4.4 Land, 1.5 water)
- Economy based on tourism, fishing, government