Steller’s Sea Lions(Eumatopias jubatus) are commonly seen in Prince William Sound, but are not usually a main goal of sightseeing tours. Tour boats out of Valdez have visited the sea lion haulout at Glacier Island’s Bull Head for many years. Besides that well-known haulout, sea lions can also be found scattered throughout the Sound at less well known locations.
Here is where I’ve seen Steller’s sea lions hauled out in Prince William Sound over the years. Beginning with Esther Rock off the south end of Esther Island, the haulouts are listed as they occur traveling in a clockwise direction.
The 2000 season was a major turning point that finally brought these recurring rattle problems to a head. I had discovered a hairline crack in the transom (the stern end of the boat) the prior summer, and had closed it off with marine sealant. The crack was just beneath the bottom of the outboard support pod, but I had not considered the possibility that the crack might extend past the bottom of the pod, from where it could allow any water inside the pod to drain into the boat’s bilge.
An inescapable part of life is that sometimes things don’t happen as planned. Using knowledge and experience, one may plan for the future, but sooner or later unexpected twists will thwart those plans. Such was the case that began in early August 1995, when I signed the contract with a small Alaskan boat-building company.
Thomas (not his real name) got his start building aluminum boats with Grayling Marine, a longtime Anchorage boat builder, but had been on his own for a couple of years. I saw his boats on the Sound and liked their clean, functional lines. I visited the Anchorage boat show that spring, and I was glad to see that Thomas was there with one of his boats. I talked to him about my dream of upgrading to a bigger boat from the four-passenger Lavro Sea Dory I was using. When I mentioned that the boat needed to be beachable and wheelchair-accessible, his eyes lit up with interest. The clincher for me that Thomas was to build Sound Eco Adventures’ (business name) new boat was that its cost would be quite a bit less than the figure Grayling Marine had quoted me.
Dee, with hubby Verne, was the first wheel-chaired tourist aboard the Sound Access. Jesse Owens and Challenge Alaska volunteer Julie re-board the Sound Access after a short demo trip after the boat was first launched.
By the end of my forth summer doing the water taxi thing in 1990, it was clear that the 21-foot Lavro Sea Dory I was using was not making a go of it business-wise. My Coast Guard “Motorboat Operator” license allowed carrying up to six passengers, but the boat’s carrying capacity usually limited the payload to four people and their gear. It was clear that a bigger boat was needed, but its details were quite unclear. Fortuitously, other things began happening that would influence the details of any boat that I might consider as a replacement.
I had been asked that summer by Challenge Alaska — an outdoor recreation organization for the handicapped in Girdwood — if one of their board members could ride along on my next trip to one of the two Chugach National Forest accessible public-use cabins in the Sound. Challenge was exploring adding sea kayaking to their offerings, and they wanted to visit an accessible cabin to see if it could fit their plans. I saw the chance for some positive publicity for my still-budding business, so I jumped at the chance. Plus, I remembered well my own mother’s trials of being in and out of a wheelchair the last ten years of her life, so I was glad to do this small thing for Challenge. Continue reading →
Foreword: This installment updates an earlier post (A Real-Life Spiritual Experience), and adds examples of Al’s intervention when the boat’s bow deck was under water.
My first experience of being vividly aware of being protected by an “unseen force” happened while transporting four hunters back to Whittier from Naked Island, where I had dropped them off a week earlier. Naked lies 40 miles from Whittier, about in the geographic center of the Sound. The morning weather forecast on the day of the pickup called for a small craft advisory, with northeasterly winds. I left Whittier mid morning, traveling close to land along the north side of Wells Passage as much as possible, which afforded some protection from the wind. Once past the protection of Axle Lind Island, the seas were running four to five feet in height, and were fairly far apart, so they were not especially steep. The seas came directly from the northeast as the forecast had predicted, putting them on the boat’s port beam, or left side. It was a fairly tolerable ride as the boat rose up over the crest of a swell, and then descended into the trough between the crests.
I have a guardian angel I named Al. I haven’t always been aware of Al, but he has definitely been there for me when I needed him the most. The name comes from my middle name “Albert,” after my Uncle Al, my Mom’s number two brother. I believe that Al has always been with me, but it was only after experiencing close calls while boating in big seas in Prince William Sound that I became more aware of him. With my being an adventurous sort, there have no doubt been times from childhood on when Al intervened on my behalf that I was totally unaware of. However, there were also times when I miraculously evaded calamity that I remember all too well. Continue reading →
Part of my adventurous second career operating a water taxi and tour business in Prince William Sound was running deer hunter transport charters out of Whittier in the fall. With challenging, potentially-dangerous fall weather always a threat, no two trips were alike. “Weather rules in Alaska,” as the saying goes, and hunters had to accept the possibility of being weathered in or weathered out. The shorter daylight hours of fall often complicated things as well. More often than not, this forced unplanned changes to the schedule. Most of my hunter clients were weather-savvy Alaskans, so that was rarely a problem. Thanksgiving weekend in 1997 proved to be a “good” example of how that scenario can play out. Continue reading →
As I have grown older, I have become increasingly aware that my interest in nature is a big part of who I am. At age 81, I’m inspired to continue writing, including finishing projects that I planned for and started years ago, culminating for now with this blog. A big advantage in writing at this age is that I’ve been able to slow down enough to get a clearer view of how the different events and phases of my life have played out. It’s easier to see how they all reinforced and rounded out who I am now. Continue reading →
Here’s another breaching whale to pique your curiosity — and to hint at more to come. But this one is special, because it’s the very last breaching whale shot I captured on a Sound Eco Adventures trip, on August 28, 2013. The boat and business were sold the following April.
I had been especially looking forward to this wildlife photography trip, which had been booked the prior January by two couples from Sweden. Continue reading →
Genesis 1:21 (NIV) So God created the great creatures of the sea . . . And God saw that it was good.
I see whales as gifts from their Creator from a couple different perspectives. First is the fact that they exist — they are alive on earth. Similar, but on a deeper level, is the capacity of some people to appreciate them for the magnificent creatures that they are. Just seeing whales in the wild can inspire peoples’ feelings of happiness, excitement, thankfulness, and even awe. An up-close encounter with a creature half again as long as the 30-foot boat one is watching from is an unforgettable experience, likely to turn many people into instant whale fans and conservationists. Continue reading →