To stand on the bow of the National Geographic Venture when the foghorn blows is to be shocked. It doesn’t matter how many times you have already heard it. It doesn’t matter how you try to prepare yourself, or to stay calm. It doesn’t help that you know it is coming. I think for a moment I might capture with my camera the reactions to these soul-penetrating blasts on the faces of guests and staff, but by the time I get over my own reaction to each thundering roar, and my shock turns to laughter. The rest of the early risers are also beyond their shock and chuckling with me.
We are entering Sergius Narrows––a pinch point in the slender path between Chichagof and Baranof Islands connecting Sitka to the Inside Passage where, although land is within a couple hundred yards, it is not within our sight. we are in the kind of fog that births legends, and it is quite a contrast to yesterday evening’s brilliant, clear skies, and bright sun. We are sailing through soup, and loud noise is the only way to ensure our presence is known to small craft without fancy instruments to expose us behind our meteorological invisibility cloak.
When a muted sun rises over the mountains, we begin scanning for wildlife and find a handful of humpback whales leisurely feeding and napping alongside the boat. A few of these gentle giant leviathans flash their broad flukes, making shallow dives in search of breakfast, while others rest, “logging” alongside the boat, sleeping one half of their brains at a time, shallow breaths made apparent by weak spouts. Following the lazy humpbacks, our excitement is piqued by a pod of orcas. They are spread across the water, two here, three there, a loner near the far shore. When one of the males erupts from the water into an excited, twisting breach, we race to that side of the boat to see another and another aerial display.
In the afternoon, we hit the trails of Lake Eva, browsing for blueberries and huckleberries while sidestepping brown bear scat. The forest floor is covered with winter chanterelle mushrooms punctuated by clusters of bright red bunchberries. When we reach the stream, bright red elderberries hang over a pool chock-full of spawning pink salmon. As colorless as the day began, it is finishing with a flurry of color, making it hard to believe it is all in the same twelve hours––a highlight reel of Alaskan magic.