The sharp July wind lashes my face as Orca Song speeds out of Resurrection Bay. Behind me, the small city of Seward, Alaska, recedes quickly. I stand at the vessel’s bow, looking forward to absorbing every bit of seascape, the rugged Kenai Mountains and, most of all, the calving glaciers of Kenai Fjords National Park. Blue and clear, the Alaska sky smiles down on me and the other passengers aboard Major Marine Tour’s all-day cruise. The morning holds the promise of spotting wildlife. I would not be disappointed.
I started my Alaska getaway by flying in to Anchorage, boarded the Alaska Railroad’s Coastal Classic Train to Seward, and took Seward Windsong Lodge’s free shuttle to the lodge a few miles out of town. The next morning, the shuttle dropped me off at the tour dock in Seward’s busy little fishing port.
Once Orca Song exits Resurrection Bay, she skirts a complex maze of coves and islands as she flirts with the massive Gulf of Alaska. I hear a low bass groan and spot a colony of the sea lions sunning themselves on a rocky point, some with noses pointed to the sky, heads waving back and forth, bellowing to their neighbors. Orca Song slows down, but keeps a respectable distance, so the photographers on board can document the moment. I raise my binoculars. A massive male is holding court, surrounded by what appears to be a harem and a few juveniles.
The boat speeds up again and in a short time we round a point and enter the wide mouth of a bay, which narrows as we approach the Kenai Mountains. Sharp peaks rise above the 300-square-mile Harding Ice Field. We pass icebergs and soon approach a massive wall of ice. Even at close range, I can’t begin to estimate the height and width of the icy, blue-white wall of Aialik Glacier as it meets the sea. Our on-board guide announces that its face is as tall as a 27-story building, and it’s a mile wide. I hear a thunderous crack and a moment later a block of ice the size of an apartment house crashes into the sea; another follows a half-mile away, then another.
On our cruise back to Resurrection Bay, we snake through an archipelago on the edge of the gulf. The boat slows to a stop and the guide announces spouts at three o’clock. All heads pivot right as a pair of humpback whales surfaces about 100 yards away, spouting. I hear giant lungs exhaling like bellows, the sound carried on the wind. Then they dive out of sight.
We leave the humpbacks and, soon, the Orca Song is following a pod of orcas. Passengers let out a collective “Ahhh” as we spot a baby surfacing in their midst. They slowly ride the surface, and we follow, keeping our distance so we don’t disturb them, until they go under and vanish.
Back in Seward, lazy seals lounge on floats, gulls nod off on posts, and I disembark, knowing that I’ve had an intimate glimpse of one of the world’s wildest and most majestic places.