Sunday-- Whale Watching
The day started out overcast once again, but after a quick and hearty buffet breakfast, we boarded the Chinook once again and set out to the north. After awhile, we came close to several of the small rocky islands that emerged from the water, covered with seals, otters, seagulls and other wildlife. Along the rocky coastline, we spotted big horn sheep and other smaller lambs, picking their way around the trails and coastline.
Captain Dale described for us the plans of an entrepreneur to import exotic big game animals for this island, let them roam free, and then transport individuals to hunt them. 60 Minutes as well as the local conservation groups got wind of the plan and after a feature on the CBS News magazine, there was such an out-cry that the plan was shut down. But this was only after the game had already been released. They tried to take the animals off the island, however they were denied that also. And so the population was allowed to stabilize. And now, all that’s left is the sheep.
As I attempted to record some of this and feed the images on Facebook Live, the weak signal failed, and the entire video was lost. After we churned away from that island, the signal returned, but the video was gone. A few more attempts out on the water netted a successful recap and we shared that live.
After a while, we arrived at Roche Harbor, site of lime quarries from the 1900s to 1935. The limestone was mined, transported to the kilns and then burned to release CO2… leaving a higher grade lime used in gardening, smelting of iron, and many other uses. The lime was shipped out in barrels all over the world. However, eventually, as roads were built on the mainland, the shipping costs choked the business out, and the kilns have been left to rot.
Today, the DC electric generators still work, though the kilns lay quiet. The small harbor town is a tourist attraction on the northern end of San Juan Island. While the hotel, chapel and general store still exist and operate, we walked a half a mile to a sculpture museum field for about an hour.
We walked among the modern and ancient artwork, reading the placards and enjoying the diversity. I thought I’d record a few moments of the walk, but wound up running for 15 minutes or more! Next door was a grass airstrip and several planes came and took off just over the hedgerow.
Also nearby was the mausoleum for the family of the Lime operation kilns, however not all of us walked to see it. The memorial is laid out along Mason principles. It was to have a copper roof but was too expensive to complete, and so remains open air!
Eventually, we returned to the Chinook and sailed around the island, reaching the area where Orca whales were sighted. It was thrilling to see a pod of females swim about a quarter mile away, followed by a large male at a half mile off. Many boats gathered around to observe the mammals sound and dive, coming up once every five minutes or so.
One breached, meaning it jumped out of the water, but some of us missed it. The filming of the whales is difficult, as the deck was pitching, the sea was rolling, and you’re never quite sure where the whale will surface or for how long. But you can just about guess and hope that you’re rolling and pointed at the right area when it surfaces for a few seconds. After several tries, we drifted away from one pod and near another.
We also shot lots of video of the various whales at a distance, and discovered that several of us had reasonably good images of them surfacing, and some footage completely missed the blow and dive.
We returned the long way home, circling several more islands. I had a great conversation with Captain Dale off-the-record about his work and background and how he sees the changes wrought by global warming daily. He says anyone who works outside can see the melting glaciers, the rise in sea level, the increase in temperature and the rampant forest fires that have choked the region several times over the last several years. It was a first hand testimony to the impact of global warming on a region that boasts some of the cleanest air, the highest rainfall and pristine wildlife. I wish that I could share more of his comments, but it was off camera and off the record, so I must respect his privacy and not use his full name.
We returned to Friday Harbor (got to remember to ask how it got that name) a tired bunch of travelers, and turned in, some to sleep, some to grab a bite to eat, and some to go watch the game at local sports bars. Sports and football is big here. There are flags of number 12 everywhere, a sign of support for the quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks….and their logo is everywhere we go.
Speaking of food, we had the most interesting on-board meal today. In addition to herb roasted chicken, broccoli cole slaw salad, chunk potatoes, and biscuit bread, we had a special treat of iced crab halves. That’s right, fresh crab still in the shell, with three or four legs that had to be cracked open and extracted. Nut crackers were supplied, and after some instruction, we ate with our fingers, working to free the tender meat and avoid the shell and tendons. Some had never done this before, and most had a great time attempting to crack the shell. No matter what your skill level, nobody went away hungry. And for desert, a healthy slice of what I would call chocolate cake with swirled fudge, but is something called Tiramisu. The frozen treat really hit the spot. As I have said, nobody goes hungry on a Holiday Vacation trip.
As we rest and pack up, preparing to leave Friday Harbor tomorrow morning, we are sad to leave the islands and resume our journey toward the Cascade Mountains. But more of that tomorrow. For now, we need to sleep off our big meal!