Gone Floatabout

Sailing, Photography, Wilderness

Whales and Hot Springs


Diving FlukesOn the day following our hike in Thomas Bay (July 17), we’d planned to sail about 30 miles and be well on our way to our next big stop on Baranof Island. We only made it 5 miles. Almost as soon as we’d left our anchorage, we saw a whale spout, then five, then dozens. Frederick Sound was teeming with humpbacks! We motored a little closer to a big pod, then cut the engine and drifted, watching them spout lazily on the surface and dive every now and then, showing their distinctive black and white flukes.

Then we saw something we’d never seen before: bubble net feeding. The pod would emit a whole bunch of bubbles underwater and then surface together, their mouths wide open to pull in the water and the herring with it. Apparently the bubbles help concentrate the fish. It was an amazing spectacle: the big group of them all feeding together, their huge bodies so closely packed and showing their heads. And we were near enough to see their big pink tongues!

Bubble net feeding humpbacks

Over the course of the afternoon we saw them bubble net feeding several times, and we had a pair of humpbacks investigate Celeste, diving right underneath her! They didn’t seem very concerned with us, though, and swam off after a few minutes.

Ellen whale watching

Ellen watches the whales

Fortunately there was a decent anchorage close to where we’d spent the day whale watching, so we pulled into Portage Cove for the evening and set the alarm for quarter to five. Instead of breaking up our trip to Baranof Island, we decided to go the whole 50 miles in one day.

Petersburg to Elfin Cove

The wind was reasonably favorable, so we set main and jib in the drizzle and sailed down Frederick Sound and into Chatham Strait. The sun came out around midday, but the wind died a few hours later so that we had to turn on the engine for the last ten miles or so.

Nosing into an anchorage, looking out for rocks!

We came into Baranof Warm Springs around 8:30 at night, the rain back and making visibility difficult. Fortunately there was room on the dock for us (a tight squeeze between a skiff and motor yacht). The head had broken on Celeste en route, so we spent the next few hours rebuilding it. A gasket had broken and jammed in the pump, just due to it being old. Getting it apart (particularly the jam) was a real chore, but rebuilding it with new gaskets went fairly smoothly.

Warm Springs Bay quickly turned into another of our favorite stops. We rewarded ourselves for our successful repair by spending the whole day outside playing. We first hiked up to Baranof Lake, a lovely mountain lake surrounded by rugged alpine peaks, a few with patches of snow still visible. We picnicked on a rock overlooking it and learned later that the Lookout, as it’s called, is currently the favored haunt of a young grizzly. . . . We saw his prints but fortunately we didn’t see him around any of the bends in the trail. (we had our bear spray with us, of course, but the trees were pretty thick!)

Lake above Baranof Warm Springs

We spent the rest of the day soaking in the warm springs, beautiful rocky pools, smelling of sulfur and a comfortable 115 degrees. They are some of the most gorgeous hot springs I’ve seen, situated in a lovely green glen and overlooking the torrential cascades of the river that flows from Baranof Lake down to the ocean, terminating in a huge waterfall visible from the dock.

Hot springs

Perhaps another reason we so enjoyed Baranof was the other people. One of the wonderful things about sailing are all the interesting people you meet, but so far we’d either been alone in our anchorages or in a somewhat impersonal marina (Ketchikan, Petersburg). At Baranof we met the other sailors on our dock while we renewed Celeste‘s varnish every day before bathing in the hot springs. Amazingly enough, one boat among them had been traversing the South Pacific back in 2007, the same year Seth and I had! They’d also spent cyclone season in New Zealand, just as we had, and we found we have several mutual friends. Of course we couldn’t stop reminiscing with them, but we also made time to meet some Alaskan sailors, get great tips on places on our route north and west.

Baranof Waterfall

View from Celeste’s bow!

We were both really sad to have to leave Baranof, but the varnish was done and it was time to keep heading north.

2 thoughts on “Whales and Hot Springs

  1. Adore reading your blog! how scary – the whales swimming under Celeste! can’t wait for the next installment. Dorry