I'm not one for boasting, but I had a really terrific birth day -- one worthy of reminiscence far, far from now. My wife and I visited the provincial capital of British Columbia, Victoria. What a beautiful city. But getting there...
We left Bellingham Bay at 9:00 AM. As I sat on our moored ship waiting to disembark I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and realized this would be my first time at sea since moving to Bellingham, a little less than a year ago. Also this would be the first time I've travel south towards Canada. Though our voyage took us west more than south, Bellingham, Washington is actually farther north than Victoria, British Columbia. I love the sea; the smell of rotting fish and kelp, the salty wind blowing through my hair, the cry of gulls and yelp of seals. It is all so nostalgic. I've spent too much time in the desert of Eastern Washington and it seems I have all but forgotten my maritime youth. It was a three hour tour. No really. From Bellingham Bay into Puget Sound, through the San Juan Islands and into the Strait of Juan de Fuca before entering Canadian waters to port on Vancouver Island, in the Imperial haven of Victoria.
As usual, it was a bit overcast and threatened to rain as we steamed through Bellingham Channel pass the endless forest islands of San Juan. Comfortably planted in a molded plastic chair aft I contently gazed at all sorts of critters as we passed through their homes and feeding waters; an infinite amount of gulls, puffins and cormorants, two nested bald eagles, a few harp seals, sea otters and a sea lion; but no orcas. This was our original intention for the voyage. My wife wanted to take me on a whale watching tour. In our search, we found this cruise. Neither my wife nor I had been to Victoria. On the tour company's website they claimed whale sightings 70% of the time. On course for the Strait of Juan de Fuca I remember commenting to my wife that if we didn't see any orcas it would be fine, I was having a great time, regardless.
As we entered the strait the sky began to clear but as I looked south towards the Olympic Peninsula the clouds continued to obscuring the Olympic Mountains, my old neighborhood. Growing up, my family spent countless camping and hiking trips in these luscious mountains. Our captain pointed out an aircraft carrier in the distance steaming into Puget Sound; one of three in the area. Then, about five knots off our bow we spotted the orcas. How do you see orcas from five knots away, you ask? Up ahead in the distance we could see a grouping of a dozen or so vessels. They were the whale watching boats. Our captain piloted us to the edge of the fleet and cut the screws. We all watched as the tiny dorsal fins moved closer and closer to our craft. It was "J" Pod, one of the three orca pods in Puget Sound, consisting of 22 individuals. As they passed, it was magnificently obvious how gigantic these creatures are. It has been years since I've seen an orca and even longer since I've seen one in the wild. We were all awed by the 20 to 30 foot long dolphins as they breached simply for air or to show off for their audience. Before too long the pod passed and we continued on our cruise.
We arrived at port at noon and the sky completely cleared to blue. We briefly spoke with Canadian Customs before they turned us lose on the Victorian settlement. To say the "City of Gardens" is a tourist city is quite an understatement. Nested on the dry side of Vancouver Island, Victoria is the most southern British Columbian city. The weather is quite sunny and temperate compared to the rest of Canada. Because of this, and it's rich history and scenic atmosphere, Victoria is a world renowned tourism destination with a reputation as the most visitor-friendly city on earth.
Our stay did not allow for an abundance of sightseeing. Though our boat was scheduled to depart at 5:00 PM, we were instructed to arive at least an hour early so we could be processed by US Customs, which only left us with four hours to enjoy the city. We spent most of our time at the BC Provincial Parliament Buildings and the Crystal Gardens Conservation Centre. Walking into the Crystal Gardens was like stepping off of Vancouver Island onto Madagascar. The garden not only houses an immense amount of tropical plants, flamingos, parrots and other tropical birds, but a wide variety of lemurs, pygmy marmosets, tamarins and other small primates. Though, it is best known for its butterfly room.
We had to go through US Customs before boarding the ship home. Going through US Customs is a bitch, but what can I say, it is always like that.
I didn't think it was possible, but our return voyage was even more spectacular than in the morning. As we steamed from the Port of Victoria into the Strait of Juan de Fuca it was so clear we could see all the way back to Bellingham, or at least the snow capped pinnacle of Mount Baker looming over the Cascades. Looking south, the cloud cover still masked the Olympics, but the summit of Mount Olympus majestically pierced the hazy veil. And farther off in the distance we could actually make out Mount Rainier in its entire splendor. I've never seen Mount Rainier this far north, let alone Baker and Olympus at the same time. It was absolutely remarkable.
As we sat down to eat our salmon dinner, we ran into "J" Pod again. But this time we were all alone with them, we were the only ship. Ruffles (J-1), the only bull male in "J" Pod got near enough to impress us with his six foot tall dorsal fin. And Granny (J-2), the pod's 93-year-old matriarch, got so close we could see her beneath the water as she swam directly under our stern. Again, the pod passed and we continued our dinner and our voyage home.
My wife and I played rummy in the cabin on the way back, peering up occasionally to see Mount Baker getting closer and closer. When we arrived back in Bellingham Bay, our captain informed us of something we already suspected, that this was the best day of the season, for weather and for whales. It couldn't have been a more perfect day.
These events occurred prior to the events in my last daylog. Sorry to break the chronology.