We are finally getting some spring-like weather here in the PNW. With sunshine and warmer temperatures we’ve been wanting to get out and about a bit more. I had gotten an e-mail with a discount coupon for whale watching out of Anacortes. We had taken a tour with the company several years ago, and decided that we would take advantage of the coupon and head out with Island Adventures once again.
Our tour was scheduled to depart at 11:30. We decided to head into Anacortes early and grab a good breakfast at Calico Cupboard. This worked out quite well, and the large breakfast meant that we wouldn’t have to eat lunch on the boat. We found the Island Adventures location, checked in, then headed over to the marina.
The last time we went out with Island Adventures was seven years ago, back in 2011. Back then we cruised on the Island Explorer 3 and saw a lot of very active orcas. Now they have a new, larger boat, the Island Explorer 5, and we were hoping to see gray whales. We admired it as we wandered along the Cap Sante Marina.
At the end of the marina is a memorial to mariners from Anacortes lost at sea. Names from 1916 through present day are listed. One unique feature is a set of sailor’s knots hanging from the edges of the memorial.
Just out from that is a beautiful sculpture entitled the “Lady of the Sea.” The sculpture depicts a woman and her child awaiting the safe return of the sailors.
We headed back down to the dock and got in line to board. Captain Scott and the crew addressed us, we posed for a selfie in front of the boat, then sought our seats. We decided to try the second level at the front of the boat.
We got underway, heading out of the marina and past Cap Sante. Lots of folks were up on the overlook, taking advantage of the nice weather. From there we headed up Guemes Channel.
As we continued down the channel we picked up speed and very quickly the front of the boat became unbearable with the wind. We found more comfortable accommodations inside and toward the back of the boat. At least from back there we had views of Mount Baker.
Our route took us up through the Rosario Strait along the eastern edge of Orcas Island. We paused a couple of times to view birds and eagles, but no whales. We had spectacular views of the Canadian Coastal Range, including the split peaks of Golden Eagle.
On our 2011 trip we headed past this point and on up into Canadian waters out from Vancouver. Naturally, we were quite surprised when the boat turned around and headed back south without seeing any whales. We were wondering if we would be able to cash in on the “whale guarantee.” The guarantee says that if you don’t see whales you can come back on another tour for free. I like boat rides like this, whales or not, so part of me was hoping that we could do another trip. I bet many tourists from out of town couldn’t take advantage of the guarantee.
As it turned out, Captain Scott had been in touch with a tug captain that had spotted orcas further south, and that’s where we were headed.
Just off the west side of Guemes Island we spotted the whales. A Washington State Ferry passed on the other side of them.
We watched a pod of five orcas as they hunted between Guemes and Fidalgo. As we watched other tour boats from Victoria joined us. Looking at them I was glad we were on the boat we were on.
I moved up to the upper deck to get shots of the whales. Laura joined me for a bit, but up that high you could really feel the movement of the waves and she decided to go back down. I stayed to take more photos. The captain tried to align the boat for the perfect Washington State shot with Mount Baker, a ferry, and a whale all together.
With my long lens I couldn’t get all three in one frame. Laura had more success with her phone. I had to settle for Photoshopping a whale into my shot. That Photoshopped image is at the top of this post. I stayed on the top deck about five minutes too long and had to join Laura down below. Fortunately, we took action in time and neither of us got sick.
Actually, the view was better from down below. We were closer to the whales seeing them from straight on rather than from above. I took more shots from down there. I also took photos of the Burrows Bay Light House. I had kayaked out to the light house in 2010.
Since we were so close to Anacortes and our home base, our captain decided to let us see some other things. We rode over to a set of rocks where seals and sea lions were enjoying the sunshine and staying out of the way of the orcas.
But we weren’t done. Our next stop was one place I’ve been wanting to explore a long, long time. The tides were right, so our captain took us through Deception Pass and under the bridge.
On the other side of the pass we could see the strong currents whipping around the rocks. One hot shot on a fishing boat must have thought he was in a rodeo as he stood on the bow of his boat as it zipped through the currents.
We pulled around toward Canoe Pass and for a moment I thought we might be going back that way. However, it was just a detour so that we could see the opening to an old mine high up in the cliff.
We came back through the main pass and headed back to where we saw the whales. I switched from my 200-500mm lens to my 18-300mm lens. It would still give me decent telephoto range but would also allow wider shots.
The whales were hanging at out Williamson Rocks, just south of Allan Island and west of Fidalgo Island. I had also kayaked out to these rocks in 2010. The orcas were definitely hunting out here. Finally one of them breached, and the captain treated that as a finale for our outing.
The trip back didn’t take long. It was a great trip, but really wish that we had seen larger whales than orcas. I’m sure that we’ll do another one of these, or at the least another ferry trip in the coming months.
Here’s the route for our trip.
One final note. Captain Scott Jacobson did an excellent job finding the whales and trying to line up the perfect shots for us. Tyler Reed was our naturalist and he did a great job…as long as he was talking about whales and wildlife. It was clear that he was a biologist, and not a geologist. He described Mount Baker as an “active” volcano instead of dormant. Active means that it’s currently erupting. He also pronounced “Gneiss” as “niece” with a long “e” rather than a long “i”. Oh well. Tyler did write up a blog post on the Island Adventures website that does a better job of describing what we saw. It was a great tour, and I highly recommend this group. They can be pricey, but it’s worth it.