You should see Brian’s face light up when he smells the sea.
He was born near the sea, and even though he has lived in three countries, on three continents, he’s always lived near a coastline. Water seems to call his name. No matter how wild or cold, he seems happiest when he’s out in the open water.
There was no way I could take him all the way over to see the Pacific Ocean for the first time and not get him out on a boat at least once, so we hopped in the car and drove about two hours north of Seattle to Anacortes for a couple of days to find a whale watching cruise. We didn’t have a reservation, and we arrived about a week before the ‘official’ season began so we weren’t sure of what we would find. Our intention originally was to take a ferry over to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island and pick up a cruise over there. With all my internet digging, it seemed that nearly all the tours left from there.
But as we checked in to our hotel in Anacortes we found a flyer for a cruise with Mystic Sea Charters that left from the marina just a mile away from where we were staying. We would not only save the money we would have spent on a ferry over to San Juan, but we’d save hours of commute time too. We also saved another $5 a piece with the coupon we picked up from the hotel lobby.
Why yes, I am the penny pincher of the team, why do you ask?
We quickly booked a ride on the next morning’s cruise and showed up at the marina in the freezing early morning gloom and boarded the 100 ft Mystic Sea with about forty other passengers. We all made a bee-line for the coffee to warm up.
The day started out very grey with a good chance of rain, and quite cold. The heated cabin on the boat may have saved my ears, but we were both too happy to be outside watching the scenery and waves to spend much time inside.
More coffee. That’s the answer.
We were docked right next to a larger boat from a different cruise company which left the marina just minutes ahead of us. At first I was a little jealous of their seemingly more luxurious vessel, but as the day went on and our smaller boat was able to pass into the more narrow channels to see more wildlife I was more than happy with our choice.
See? Happy. Frozen cheeks and all.
Mystic Sea has a whale guarantee. They will cruise around to find the best spots and not head back in until you see at least one type of whale. Running at a good speed, we headed out for about ninety minutes or more before we slowed down to start scouting out wildlife. It was ffffreezing cold on the bow of the ship, but the islands in these channels were so beautiful we just couldn’t bring ourselves to go back inside for more than two or three minutes at a time to warm up.
I never got a clear shot of one, but several times we had porpoises popping out of the water on either side of the boat. I was hoping they would come in closer and ‘play’ with us, but they kept their distance. I would guess we saw about ten different ones over the course of the day.
Our first up-close sighting was a harbor seal, who seemed to be warming himself up on the first weak rays of sunshine that started to come through as the clouds lifted.
We circled his little island slowly, then headed out into more open waters. So far we had seen the porpoises, the harbor seal, and hundreds of birds. Next we had this California Sea Lion who watched us float by, not sixty feet away. That is a three hundred pound animal. I wonder how hard it is to heave himself up on the buoy? I would have loved to see it, and I imagine he probably just gracefully pops right up out of the water and slides right in to place.
Seals and sea lions have the cutest faces, and they seem to have so much personality. They were my favorite sightings of the day.
The most common sighting of the day was definitely the birds. Thousands of them.
The sun got brighter and brighter as we got farther from land, and soon we had clear blue skies and could see for miles. We slowed down to trolling speed as we reached an area that our captain pointed out as a really good feeding ground for the whales. With bright sunshine and no wind it was a perfect day to be out on the deck watching all the wildlife. We spotted a few more porpoises, loads more birds, and quite a few harbor seals popping their heads out of the water, but no whales.
We knew we were a little early in the season, and it was possible we wouldn’t see any orcas (the most coveted of all the whales to spot) but our crew assured us we would keep trying. We circled, we floated, we moved a bit, all of us out on deck with eyes everywhere.
And then there she was!
About 25 feet long, these whales are the second smallest of the baleens. Their coloring is similar to an orca, but not quite as dramatic. They’re a sort of dark purplish grey on their backs, and white underneath.
We watched them for about an hour, and saw what was probably three or four different ones.
We still kept our eyes out for orcas, but none of the tour boats out that day reported seeing any. That was a bit disappointing, but we had such a perfect trip otherwise it was hard to complain.
And then it was time to head back. The boat turned around, picked up some speed, and that cold wind chilled us to the bone again. This time we stayed in the cabin a little bit longer and enjoyed a bowl of chili while our fingers thawed out.
On the return trip, our big sea lion buddy had found a friend. They both kept tipping their heads at us like curious puppies as we slowed to cruise by. So cute.
So maybe we didn’t see any of the famous killer whales, but we most definitely had an amazing trip.
If you ever come up to Anacortes take the chance to go our on a whale watching cruise. It was fantastic, and well worth the time and money.
Just make sure to bring a good jacket, hat and gloves, and if you share my tendency for motion sickness bring the dramamine! It was a bumpy ride, but I felt great because I was prepared. A few of our fellow passengers didn’t do so well. Also leave yourself plenty of time. The whale guarantee means that you will stay out on that boat for quite a while until you spot some whales. We were out on the water for nearly six hours.
And when you get back in to town and need a place to have a meal? The Anacortes bowling alley serves up a pretty good dinner. Seriously.
On the map: Click here to see this location on our Google Map.