Outdoors

Making a Pass

No whales, no problem

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

It took approximately two hours for one of my fellow passengers aboard a La Conner Deception Pass Cruise on the Island Explorer to realize we weren’t on a whale-watching excursion—even though I’d tried to clue her in on the fact before we set foot on the watercraft.

“I’m pretty sure the Island Adventures website said they guaranteed we’d spot an orca or three,” she’d countered when I tried to tell her we were on a wildlife-focused outing, and that the whale-watching cruises the longtime Anacortes-based tour company offers throughout the year from a variety of locales are more of an all-day affair—not the two-and-a-half hours our party had signed up for as part of a weekend-long birthday celebration for yours truly.

By the time she realized the error of her ways, however, we were all soaking up way too many spectacular sights to find much to complain about.

From the moment we left the La Conner Marina on the 85-foot-long Island Explorer, nature made itself known to the passengers who’d chosen the top, open-air berth to watch the action from. As we motored south through the Swinomish Channel and under the aptly named Rainbow Bridge, I’d already spotted soaring herons, curious seals and a couple of stately bald eagles.

As we continued through Saratoga Passage on our way to the Deception Pass bridge, our amiable (and occasionally hilarious) tour guide filled us in on the history of the area and helpfully pointed out bird and marine sightings. I’d like to say I listened carefully to everything he said, but I was too busy talking to my friends and taking pictures to retain many pertinent facts.

However, when he stopped by to ask if we had any questions and to offer the use of on-board binoculars, the bearded guide told us that he’d been with the company for 10 years, and couldn’t imagine a more fulfilling career. He got to be surrounded by nature every day at work, he noted, and each adventure was different.

Soon thereafter, the mighty Deception Pass bridge came into sight, and as we got closer I realized how different the view was from below—as opposed to when I’ve crossed the bridge in a vehicle, and have a limited amount of time to take in the oceanic expanse and tree-lined forests.

As we motored under the bridge, the water churned mightily and passengers were cautioned to sit tight or to hold onto available mooring. Then the boat picked up speed as we cruised beyond the bridge and into open waters. The previously hazy day turned sunny, and I couldn’t image anywhere else I’d rather be at the moment.

“Have you seen any whales yet?” my befuddled friend asked as she came up next to me from my vantage point at the front of the ship.

“I think I just saw a harbor porpoise,” I answered, “but I’m guessing we have to be further into the San Juan Islands in order to spot a whale.”

“I’d ask for my money back,” she said, “but I think you might be right about this wildlife tour thing.”

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