The End of The Road

Homer, a city founded on dubious means by an infamous con man, has evolved in to the self-acclaimed halibut fishing capital of the world. It’s a beautiful, laidback beach town whose charm is accentuated by its location on the end of a long spit. The spit, which serves as a narrow tract of land also conveniently, bottlenecks the tourists and keep them separate from the residents. The Homer Spit is a dreamy and idyllic blend of beach, boardwalks, fishing holes and docks.

Known as “a quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem”, Homer’s own Salty Dawg Saloon is something of a landmark in Alaska. People proudly don t-shirts depicting the pastoral yet uniquely recognizable landmark. The bar offers Homer’s own Scottish Ale (bottled in recycled Sobe bottles) as well as a delightful chance to bask in the sun’s last rays and rub shoulders with a few local fishermen and some swill seeking tourists.


Tourists that visit the town will have dozens and dozens of charters to choose from, or, as a more frugal alternative they can head down to the beach and try their luck from land.

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Synchronized Swimming

A resident pod of orcas that we hadn’t seen in a few weeks came back to visit, apparently while out to sea they were busy practicing the underappreciated art of synchronized swimming.

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A Whale of a Good Time

Scientists do not know why these massive 40 ton creatures breech clear out of the water. Some believe it is a method of communication, others a way to stir up food or catch a glimpse of life above water. However, I am partial to the theory that these leviathans do it purely for fun.

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Rough Seas

A day out in rough seas and huge swells is an incredible experience. The day starts out like any other, the harbor’s water is glassy and calm, the passengers are excited and chatty. Unfortunately, the captain knows the sea conditions and although we aggressively push preventative medications several times before we embark on our journey most people fail to heed our warnings. This is not our first time and our growing resentment towards these ignorant passengers prompts us to push Dramamine in the hopes that they will be knocked out once the medication takes effect.

The sheltered harbor provides everyone with a false sense of security. People laugh and joke around as they clumsily amble around the boat, unapologetically spilling sips of their complimentary coffee on to everything, they think they are getting their sea legs and that everything is going to be okay. The passengers are giddy, smiling, laughing and thoroughly enjoying themselves for the first hour.

The boat begins to pitch and heave immediately frightening the passengers as they grasp the railings more tightly. They clumsily run from railing to railing like monkeys swinging from branches, their laughter becomes more subdued, self-conscious and nervous. The slightest glimmer of terror begins to show in their eyes. The first casualties for the day begin to feel that empty, hollow sensation in their stomachs and they realize that are going to be sick. “Is it going to get worse?” “We’re just getting started,” I say, choking back a smile.

You can tell who is going to get sick from a mile away. Sometimes passengers look bewildered when we pick them out and encourage them outside as we hand them paper towels. Then there are those who refuse to listen to us, those who obstinately deny that anything is wrong and sometimes there is no degree of gentle cajoling or patient reasoning to make them admit otherwise. I secretly hope they puke all over themselves.

But above all my favorite are the passengers who, in between tortured retches, explain to me that they get seasick all the time, they just didn’t think it would be this bad out here in the wide open expanse of the Gulf of Alaska. I bite my tongue and hold open the next bag.

The people who have listened to us head for the stern of the boat and politely donate their breakfasts to the sea. Women, who tend to be less flamboyantly sick for some reason, quietly put their heads on the table. Pale, wane and pathetic, some of them will absolutely not admit that they are sick. I throw a puke bag on their table anyway because at this point I know they’ll need it.

It’s amazingly tedious to deal with these people day after day. The tedium is magnified by the fact that they believe they have been somehow violated, by the crew or by nature remains unclear, but they have an acute sense that they are currently undergoing a traumatic experience and they refuse to believe that we gave them ample warning.

Then the bad part really starts.

The boat slams in to the water with a metallic, crashing ka-thunk. “Please remain in your seats for the next 20 minutes” announces the captain. The stern is filled with people, shoulder to shoulder, in various stages of misery. The deckhands rush around armed with vomit bags, gloves, rags, Simple Green and trash bags. The fear and tension is palpable, eyes nervously dart around and lips tightly purse together into something that can only be called a grimace. Passengers can no longer lie with their heads on the table because the gravity of the boat will slam their skulls into the veneer. If you look to the bow all you will see is sky, water, sky, water in rapid succession. The horizon skews and tilts.

We round the Cape and head toward calmer waters. The all-you-can-eat buffet is served. I guess puking must really work up an appetite because the same people who were just too sick to drink the ginger ale you brought them are coming up for their third fatty slab of prime rib. The mood quickly elevates and smiles begin to sprout on people’s faces. There is an air of triumph at having overcome such an ordeal, and just as quickly as it was jolted out of them that delusive sense of security returns.

They’ve all seen our route maps, but I guess denial and willful ignorance supersede reason because they all know we go back the same way to get home. Like I said, we are just getting started.

 

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Happy Birthday, America!

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Killer Whales!

I was told that these are the offshore species of killer whales (which are actually part of the dolphin family). There are three types of orca the resident, transient and offshore. The residents are the large pods that hang out in the area and eat fish primarily. The transient orca eat marine mammals, including other orca and are the most gangster of the three. The offshore are rare and not a lot is known about them, scientists believe that they mostly eat sharks.

It is pretty amazing to watch them breech clear out of the water.

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The Alaska SeaLife Center

The Alaska SeaLife Center located at the end of the road in Downtown Seward is a must visit. They have a rehabilitation center for injured animals, a beautiful aquarium, an informative museum and state-of-the-art research facility.

“The Alaska SeaLife Center is dedicated to understanding and maintaining the integrity of the marine ecosystem of Alaska through research, rehabilitation and public education. Rescued and rehabilitated animals provide insight to the biology and ecology of their species. Through educational programs, we increase public knowledge of the marine environment and public awareness of its importance to our ecosystem. The primary objective of the Rehabilitation Program is to return all rehabilitated animals back to their natural habitat as healthy animals.”

They are intensively researching the dwindling population of Steller sea lions in order to learn what is causing such low numbers. They have set up cameras at the rookery and popular haul out areas around Seward. For 20 hours a day scientists and researchers watch these cameras and collect data on the sea lions. One of the women we met said that she can identify over 700 sea lions based on their fins and fur patterns. They have also pioneered programs studying eiders, harbor seals, sea otters, fur seals and other species experiencing population declines in Alaska.

They have a variety of native fish, birds and mammals on display that allow you to get incredibly close to an array of fantastic wildlife.

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Whale’s Your Head At?

This humpback, affectionately named Morgan La Fey, almost ran straight into the boat, I could have touched him. The captain had to cut the engines to spare hitting him. Then Morgan decided to put on an incredible show.

For perspective, here’s an accidentally surreal photo of people on the bow of the boat in the foreground and Morgan’s tail in the background (taken from the ship’s bar as I was, you know, working).

 

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The (Un)Common Murre

These adorable little birds live very interesting lives. Not a birder by any means, these small penguin-like sea birds have managed to capture my attention. They live the majority of their lives on the water, only coming on land to lay eggs. They do not build a nest, instead they find a safe enclave on the rocky cliff sides and incubate the egg between their feet.

They are able to fly with some agility, but diving is where these birds excel. They look like graceful slim line torpedoes in the water and they have been recorded plummeting to depths of more than 600 feet. Often times they can be spotted in huge groups on the water (rafts). There can be more than 2,000 murres floating in the middle of the ocean. It’s a pretty amazing sight to watch hundreds of murres dive under the water simultaneously.

These little birds are pretty bad ass.

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The Boats

Star of the Northwest or The Snooze – our slowest and most boring tour, perfect for the elderly and families with small children

Kenai Star – our longest tour, offers employees and passengers alike a wonderful place to relax and unwind

Glacier Express or The Vomit Comet – our fast paced catamaran that rolls around and loves getting people violently ill

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