Sun shining, free from responsibilities for the afternoon, my camera and I, and just over a dozen others, headed down the dock to board the Gold Wing. Guides, Captain Jeff and Captain Chris gave us a warm welcome. I tucked myself into a middle seat and smiled, I was prepared for something decidedly more run-about. Instead, I found myself comfortably positioned on a cushioned bench seat aboard a pristine new vessel, complete with a laminated map tucked in the back of the seat ahead of me and a full view out the sides. Captain Chris had pointed out a viewing deck that I walked across as we boarded, and I was looking forward to spending some time with my camera back there. As we slowly left the harbour, we received a full safety overview of the boat (two lifeboats, and pfds for everyone, and yes, they have kid sizes too) an offering of sunscreen, sunglasses, and binoculars, and an overview of how incredibly experienced our guides were, Jeff in particular, who boasts 5500 tours and is a Marine Biologist. Calm blue sea stretched out all around us. I shrugged off the float jacket I’d picked up on the dock, checked my phone one last time, and nearly tossed it back into my camera’s dry bag as we picked up speed. We were now out of the harbour, and I felt like I’d landed inside a vacation.
It’s a peculiar aspect of human nature how when you live in a place you don’t always take advantage of all that it has to offer. Victoria has been my home-base for four years now, and I have lived on the coast my entire life. I couldn’t believe that this was the first time I’d done this. From Fisherman’s Wharf I was now, nearly instantly, transported into that idyllic coastal experience of clear waters and virtually untouched coastline.
First stop was off Witty’s Lagoon where Jeff gave us a little history of the area’s military use, then we pulled in close to a rocky bluff to see if we could catch a glimpse of a bear that had been sighted there recently. Race Rock Lighthouse was a highlight; we cruised among the surrounding rocks and swirling waters for a time, spotting Elephant Seals, Harbour Seals, California Sea Lions, and a number of birds, our guides giving us plenty of opportunity to gawk, snap, and ask questions. It was apparent that Chris and Jeff clearly love what they do. We then cruised in to an emerald green bay with clear water where we could see salmon fry swimming below us. It’s here too that we viewed an eagle eating in her nest. The surrounding bluffs were rich with a variety of spring blossoms and foliage.
Jeff and Chris were eager for us to see Orcas. Typically J and L pods are around now, but, so far, none of the tour companies had spotted them. We headed as far north as Otter Point in quest of these resident pods but they remained elusive, though remarkably, no one on board seemed terribly disappointed. We’d had a rich experience so far and we were now heading back along the U.S. coast to see a humpback that Jeff and Chris were quite certain we’d be able to find.
Arriving in the vicinity of where the whale was last sighted we learned that he was a sneaky one and had managed to get away from the other operators. They had lost sight of him. We drifted along, marveling at the spectacular view of Mount Baker, when Jeff’s experience was put into play. Off in the distance, beyond where any of us on board could see, Jeff spotted activity, and within moments we were alongside the whale as it crested and dove. We followed the young male along for some time while we all snapped and ogled. At one point we thought maybe we’d lost him again, but we all sucked in air as he crested just 100 meters from the boat. The viewing deck was a real perk as it provided a nearly panoramic view from which to see and take pictures.
Nearly four hours later, after passing for a close view of the cruise ships, we arrived back at the James Bay dock, to the array of cruisers, sailboats, and multi-coloured houseboats moored there in the evening sun, and the delicious smell of fish and chips tempting us.
(Full disclosure, Eagle Wing Tours provided my tour.)
You can follow Michelle on twitter, @michisle, or check out her blog, michellebuchanan.ca
Take a whale watching tour with Eagle Wing Tours!