Joining Juneau Juggernauts

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June 22nd 2017
Published: July 11th 2017
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Not sure why this didn't get published but just saw it sitting there so time to get it done.

The good news is that Sharon found where she had stashed her driver’s license and missing credit card. She’d put it in the computer bag so that it would be safe while boarding and wouldn’t get lost (Sharon – Actually I put it in there when John was in his frantic unpacking throwing things around the room so they wouldn’t get lost 😊 ). We started in the Lido, Sharon with her waffles with chocolate chips while I did the Continental thing with breads, cheese and lunch meats and a couple of chocolate milks to wash it all down. We were going whale watching, looking for those leviathans of the deep, those impressive juggernauts of Juneau that so capture Sharon’s imagination, that there is NO WAY this could be anything but “A Good Day”. Sharon was extra cheerful today, and I think she impressed on at least three people: The guy wishing us a “Good Day” as he scanned our room card when we left the ship; The bus driver that helped us on the motor coach; and, the person sitting in front of us on the bus. I had to explain to the bus driver why it is we always must have a “Good Day” and he didn’t believe us at first, “Is your last name really Good?” “We’re going whale watching!” Sharon beamed. “What’s not GOOD about today?”

The bus driver was one of the few seasonal drivers that we’ve had on our five-week adventure, young and in school and trying to heed his parents advice, “Stay out of debt.” He was saving most of his money and sharing a basement apartment with four others to make working in Alaska a viable proposition for an out-of-stater. He pointed out the elementary school on our right; and, he pointed out that the school was surrounded by a chain-link fence. Next came the junior high; but, there was no fence surrounding this school. He told us not to jump to any conclusions that parents of tweens love their kids any less. Beyond that came the high school. He asked, “Can you guess what comes after the high school?” Someone proposed, “College.” “Nope,” he responded gleefully that somebody had taken the bate: “Juvenile Hall!”

Ours was the last boat to arrive to board the St. George, and already we could see that the interior upper deck was already full by the windows. This is where Sharon wanted to camp out, similar to what we’d done three weeks earlier; but, it was not to be. And as the queue formed to board we were just about last. We were lucky to get a seat on the second deck at all. Sharon is making a mental note to complain that those taking just the “Whale Watching” excursion should get priority boarding over those taking the “Whale Watching and Mendenthal Glacier” excursion. We were stuck on the center aisle of the cabin and we’d need to make the best of it.

We spotted the first humpback just beyond the harbor, and observed it lunge feeding. The massive whale breaks through the surface of the water with its head rising out and up at a forty-five degree angle while its mouth opens wide lying flat on the surface, filling with water and a mass of food captured as it rose to the surface. The humpback then falls back to the surface, water spraying everywhere and it closes its mouth containing enough water to fill a small swimming pool (about 15,000 gallons). The water is squeezed out between its baleen plates that act to retain the nutrient rich water containing plankton and small fish. Everything needs to fit down its grapefruit sized throat because these giants are toothless whales and its food is swallowed whole. People who were more interested in trying to take a selfie blocked Sharon from getting a picture, and eventually this playful whale; who we later learned was “Sasha” moved into the narrow navigational channel and our captain informed us that regulations prevented him from following her into the channel. Sharon is seriously considering requesting her congress-person to introduce legislation to prohibit Selfies on a whale watching boat; but, I’m not sure how successful this will be since we live and vote in Nevada.

As we headed farther from the harbor I decided to get some hot chocolate and chocolate covered donut holes from the galley. I had donned a jacket and a sweater this morning, when it looked like we might get some precipitation and it might be chilly on the water if the wind picked up. I’d already shed both in the warmth of the upper deck cabin. Sharon came in and was aghast that I hadn’t gotten her donuts and hot chocolate as well; but, I couldn’t have done this safely even if I’d wanted too… and still follow the one hand for the boat rule. I went back down and got her some donuts and hot chocolate, which she took two sips of and then handed it to me to finish. Go figure.

There was another sighting at nine o’clock, and people went running to the port side of the boat including Sharon. As she was forward I hear the ping-ping-ping as water began ricocheting off the upper-deck windows amidst darkening skies. Sharon was straining to capture images of the humpback, catching the occasional spray and trying to capture that elusive fluke.

Sharon came in again when that humpback dove deep and hadn’t resurfaced within the ten-minute window that is typical in these waters. The longest a humpback has been observed to stay submerged is about one and one-half hours. Each of its lungs are about the size of a Volkswagen bug. The crew came around and offered everyone some smoked salmon on a Ritz cracker (and I got two because Sharon pilfered one for me). I think I preferred the mix with cream cheese and sockeye that was served on the Chena riverboat; although, this was very good.

The captain pulled alongside a buoy and several sea lions had secured sun bathing rights on the flat part of the buoy at the base where the tower reaches a dozen or so feet above the water and serves as a channel marker. Other sea lions were trying to join them; but, the three on the buoy weren’t making it easy for the smaller sea lions. The captain said that this setup is akin to having a couch right next to your fridge; because, should the sea lions get hungry all they need to do is take a dive in these fish-rich waters.

Another humpback appeared close to the port side stern. The skies were now clearing and blue was beginning to peak through. Many people were snapping pictures. The window between our cabin had been slid open and we could hear what was being said on the bridge directly in front of us. The squelch cackled as an approaching captain alerted, “Coming up on your six.” “Roger that,” our captain replied. “Did you see the action leaving the harbor?” “No, this will be my starter whale.” I looked to the rear and saw the whale watching craft drifting slowly towards us, and towards the whale that seemed content to parallel us, and spouting every so often.

We had a young naturalist on board, studying marine-biology at Fairbanks, who was asked if all these whale watchers have an impact on the whales. She said, “That’s a very good question, and one of her classmates was doing research on just that topic. There is a stress hormone in humpbacks that is found in the blubber and it can be used to determine how stressed out whales are in “whale watching areas” verses “wide open waters”. The research speeds up to these monsters in a tiny Zodiac, shoots the whale with a dart gun, and collects a sliver of blubber for this effort. She assured us that this wasn’t even as bothersome as a mosquito bite is to us. So far, the research has shown that there is either no effect on the whales, that is they are not bothered by the whale watchers; or, if they are bothered they just move on somewhere else.

Another humpback was sighted. The captain was maneuvering the boat using its outside starboard-side controls. We all got a close-up view of its entire fluke and the crew informed us that this was a well-known and popular whale: Flame. Flame gave us one last look at her tail and the captain said that she was waving good-bye. It was time to return to the pier.

Our naturalist said, “These whales can live to be 80 to 100 years old. This is determined by earwax, which forms rings much as trees have rings. The wax forms a lighter color when the whale is in the clearer waters of Hawaii, and a darker color when in the murkier waters of Alaska, and thus the wax builds up over a lifetime. We hung out for a bit outside the marina looking for a return of that first whale; but, that effort proved fruitless.

Our bus driver offered some advice for potential hikers headed for Ketchikan. He emphasized that this is bear country, and you don’t want to go hiking in the woods alone. He said, “You will find people offering you bear repellants such as whistles, bells or pepper spray. Use them if you like, they all work about equally as well. You need to be aware of your surroundings, and you need to read the signs. Bears will mark their territory. If you see scratch marks on a tree eight feet high, those are from a black bear. If you see scratch marks that are twelve feet high, they are from a grizzly bear. And you should watch for bear scat. With black bears you’ll see grasses, berries and it will look like the worst salad you ever saw. With black bears you’ll see whistles, bells and it will smell like pepper.”

We passed the Red Dog Saloon and our driver told us that they still have sawdust on the floor. The reason for the sawdust go back to the Gold Rush days when a drink would often be paid with a pinch of gold. Drunken miners might reach into their pouch for a pinch of gold for another drink, and some might fall on the floor. The saloon keeper would collect all of the sawdust at the end of the week and soak it in water, letting the gold fall to the bottle.

Sharon got back in time to go to mass. I met her when it was done; but, she’d forgotten to mention to me that it had moved from the Hudson Room to the Wajang Theatre. Still, I found it. She in fact had had the same problem. We went on to dinner; where, she finally had to mess up her perfect streak and chose the grilled chicken from the daily menu. I had the shrimp appetizer in mustard sauce (which Sharon ordered for me), buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes in balsamic vinegar, and beer cheese soup. For my entrée, I had the shrimp and scallops in red curry.

We were fifteen minutes late getting to The Mix for the 7PM “Where on Earth” that had five groups of five questions each for people to ponder (based on a BBC series). We might have gotten 40% of these questions (on a good day), but it was all done in good fun, and everyone graded their own papers (so nobody could take it way too seriously).

Sharon convinced me to put some money into Bob’s pocket, and he was only too happy to take it. I didn’t get any jackpots. Sharon always seems to get a jackpot. And the one time I got BONUS on three different wheels, she said it didn’t count because it needed to be in the center of the third wheel. I really don’t get what Sharon sees in Bob!


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