Resurrection Bay Wildlife, a C-Dory Angler Tour: Sea Lions, Mountain Goats and More

sea lion roaring 2014 nWith a mighty roar this young bull sea lion bellows out that this rock in Resurrection Bay near Seward, Alaska is his rock. Nestled between snow-capped mountains and hosting an abundance of otters, porpoises, seals and sea lions, sea birds by the tens of thousands and with whales almost a given, the bay offers lots to look at. 

A morning filled with sunshine, calm seas and friends visiting from out of town were inspiration to take our C-Dory out for a lap around Resurrection Bay.

mountain goat may 2014 n

sea otter spy hopping 2014 n





Sea otters like this curious spy-hopper are abundant along the shoreline. Meanwhile, scan the mountainsides on the east side of the bay for puffy white balls; put binoculars on them and they might become mountain goats. 

A pair of juvenile sea lions were swimming in the harbor near our boat as we made ready, and almost as soon as we cleared the marina a harbor porpoise arced near our boat. Bald eagles chirped and spiraled in the blue sky overhead, terns and kittiwakes dive-bombed for small fish, and several cormorants, including a crested cormorant, were drying their wings on the remnants of a pier after a morning of fishing. horned puffins may 2014 nHorned puffins are among the tens of thousands of seabirds that nest in the rocky mountainsides surrounding Resurrection Bay.  whale tale may 2014 nNo cruise is complete without encountering the whales that call the outer parts of the bay and the nearby Alaska Gulf home. This sounding humpback appeared to be feeding on herring.  sea lions communicating nThere’s sometimes a fine line between love and aggression. At one point, the smaller sea lion appeared to have its mouth entirely inside the larger one’s. After some barking back and forth and a little more bared-teeth interplay, the larger animal slid into the ice water – perhaps to forage.

kittiwakes nesting 2014 n

Approaching Cape Resurrection by boat, you can smell the rookery well before your eyes pick out individual birds on the whitewashed cliffs. Here, thousands upon thousands of black legged kittiwakes jockey for position as they haphazardly construct precariously perched nests.

murres raft 2014 n

Dense rafts of murres rest near current seams that disorient small fish – the murres’ prey. At times, acres of herring can be seen just below the surface of Resurrection Bay’s waters.

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Thick-Billed Murres are so common it can be easy to forget what amazing birds they are. Somewhat stubby-looking on land, they can achieve flight speeds of 75 miles an hour. In water, they transform into sleek acrobats, capable of dives to over 300 feet deep – the length of a football field.  

tufted puffins may 2014 n

A pair of tufted puffins, golden sunlight illuminating their eponymous feathers, glide through the waters of Resurrection Bay in search of small fish.

Whether life takes you to coastal Alaska or some other shore, we can’t recommend a boat tour of inshore and nearshore waters highly enough. In Seward, local tour boat companies offer daily cruises captained by experienced National Park Service rangers – a not-to-be-missed experience.


A Good Day Sailing

We took advantage of beautiful weather yesterday to do some sailing on Resurrection Bay. Dall porpoises showed up around our boat as usual and several times we saw salmon leaping. Maia got her first experience at the helm of a sailboat.

Air temperatures were in the low 60’s, so a light jacket was in order, but the sun felt great. 

It’s always good to look up and see the mainsail catching wind.

These are the good old days.

The Sailing Vessel Bandon

The t’s have been crossed and the final i dotted. All 37 feet and 12 tons of the sailing vessel Tarsus is ours.

What have we gotten into?

There’s a line from the film The Shipping News that seems to fit. “Course, you don’t know nothin’ about boats, but that’s entertaining, too.” 

Four years ago when we bought our C-Dory, Gillie, I’d never piloted a power boat longer than 12 feet – my dad’s aluminum car-topper with its 5 hp engine. Barbra had even less experience with boats. All we really knew was that we wanted a fishing boat. So we did our due diligence – read books, researched on the Internet, visited dealerships, checked out boats in marinas, talked to people and attended boat shows. In the end, we came to a familiar set of conclusions, the short of which go like this: There are a lot of boats for sale, and most of ‘em float. Out of all those boats, a few makes stand out. After that, everything is a compromise. The boat we really wanted was too big to readily trailer; thus it was not the boat we really wanted. We took the plunge, bought Gillie and a year later towed her all the way to Alaska, to the Port of Valdez, which is over 3,000 miles from Sacramento. We then launched her, ran 90 miles to the Port of Cordova, and spent the next eight days and nights fishing and camping aboard our boat in Prince William Sound.

Above: Jagged rocks and islands create a maze leading from Resurrection Bay out into the Gulf of Alaska. Top photo: Massive Blackstone Glacier towers above its namesake bay near Whittier, Alaska.

Time and tide kept me from sailing, but I honestly can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t want to sail. It’s always been there. Landlocked in western Pennsylvania, my family would take summer vacations to the coast – up to Cape Cod, down to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, west to Oregon – where we’d spend a week frenetically touring museums and historical sites, dining out in restaurants, perusing art galleries and shopping. For my part, I could have spent all day every day on those vacations doing nothing more elaborate than fishing the first tide of the day, combing the beaches, and walking the marina docks. The boats, particularly the sailboats, were magical. Mesmerizing. I’d see their owners emerging from below deck, or topside working on this or that, or just relaxing and looking off in the distance and I wanted to be those people. I had so many questions for them, but I never worked up the courage to break free from my family, approach one of them and ask. Questions like, How does it work? How do you steer it? Do you live on it? What does its name mean? Where have you been on it? Where will you go next?

Tarsus’ former owners were podiatrists. Although we haven’t completed a formal name change yet, on each piece of paper associated with the sale (for a boat this size, there’s nearly as much paperwork as in a home sale) we have penned in Bandon where the vessel’s name appears.

Sea otters are a common, always welcome sight along Alaska’s southeast and central coasts. 

There’s a small town on the southern Oregon coast where a river with runs of salmon, steelhead and striped bass joins the Pacific. Bandon. For a long time, Barbra and I looked at land on the Coquille River upstream from Bandon. In addition to the fish, the area has deer, turkeys, game birds and elk as well as good mushrooming and abundant wild berries. It’s a quiet part of the world, not overly far from wine country. We talked about a piece of land with trees, a spot for a garden, raising chickens there and cutting our own firewood for a wood burning stove in a cozy house where we would homestead.

Bandon is that. But it’s more. This time, it’s not the boat that represents the compromise. It’s the lifestyle. Choosing to become sailors means, at least for now, not becoming homesteaders. It means not driving our camper all over North America, or having a cabin on the shores of a lake full of walleyes, or collecting wine, or, in Barbra’s case, getting a pilot’s license.

Bandon will be docked in the Marina at Seward, pictured here in early July.

To borrow from Robert Frost, Bandon is the road we’ve taken. She’s got a sound hull, every amenity and comfort we need and then some, and sails to take us over any sea. It is dreams come true for us, and in some of those dreams there is a placid lake full of walleyes, and endless summer days touring North America in our camper, a herd of elk feeding on windfalls beneath our apple trees, a salmon fresh from our river for Thanksgiving dinner, a wood burning stove and a freshly made blackberry pie.

Resurrection Bay, where Seward is located, has one of the largest summertime concentrations of Coho salmon in North America. There is an abundant, varied and rich ecosystem in the bay, making it a premier locale for everything from watching sea birds and otters to seeing whales, dolphins and porpoises. The surrounding mountains are spectacular and help ensure for predictable winds, making Resurrection Bay a great place to sail. For more information about the sailing vessel Bandon, click on the word Tarsus.

To Sea “from whence we came”

During our sailing class last summer, we took one of the sailboats out to this cove on Resurrection Bay where we anchored and then took the dinghy ashore to look around. Barbra caught me gazing wistfully across the water, contemplating the day we might have our own blue water cruising vessel. “We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came.” John F. Kennedy

This past week we made an offer on a sailboat. She was docked in Seward, where we took sailing lessons and were camping most of the summer. We went onboard to look her over a couple of times, and then, just before we left Seward, we saw her hauled out for a new coat of bottom paint. She’s a lovely vessel, neither too large nor too small by our sights, sea  worthy and sea kindly enough to take us to any destination we have the guts and gumption to chart a course for, well-appointed enough to allow us to live in comfort once we arrive.

For the past seven months we’ve been kicking it around, researching other vessels, researching blue water sailboats in general, running numbers and scenarios and…

And we finally came to the realize that this – sailing – is like most other things in life that are worth doing: at some point there is nothing left to do but make a decision, push your chips forward, and go all in.

Today we received word that our offer was accepted. So we’re all in. Guess we’re going to learn something about boats and sailing!