Didn't we miss Petropavlovsk?
We didn’t have far to go to get to our expedition boat that morning. It was all beautifully organised and another of those purpose-built viewing boats was waiting adjacent to Mariner.
No sooner had we set out than the weather came in…as did the bald eagles!
The commentary on board was good with useful pointers to a few landmarks, including Mount Edgecumbe over there in the clouds - one of the local (extinct) volcanoes.
One of the local specialities is kelp - the sea otters tuck themselves into it to anchor themselves so they don’t drift away, but the kelp is harvested as a food product too. These being glacial islands with steep sides, we could get quite close in the boat to see what’s what - and unsurprisingly, the other native species we spotted here were the Sitka spruce trees.
A nearby island has a collection of crosses on top, markers and memorials to fishermen lost in these waters.
We were looking for wildlife. Having already seen the sea otters, we’re on the lookout for something bigger when someone called “One o’clock!” and we caught sight of a splash. I think it was an orca.
This is how it was. If we happened to be standing on the right side of the boat when the splash happened, if we had our camera switched on and pointing in the right direction and the autofocus was aimed at the right place - bingo!
But all too often, one of those key boxes wasn’t ticked and I expect most people, like me, have a collection of photographs of the sea.
More often than not, we’d see the spray spout and nothing of the body of the whale at all - in this case, a humpback - though occasionally, we could spot something of a shape just there beneath the surface. The light wasn’t easy, the boat was rocking and I found myself wondering just how long the professional wildlife photographers wait and how many shots they take to get the one that we see and remember in the magazines.
Another orca here, I think - a lucky shot. Actually, we were surrounded by both orcas and humpbacks and simply bobbed about for a while with the water sprays popping up from time to time here and there. I am sure that quite a few of the more serious photographers got some pretty stunning shots, perhaps almost as good as the ones in my head!
A couple of hours is enough for such activity though. It’s pretty chilly out there and on that morning, the boat was rocking about a bit which isn’t so comfortable for some.
We returned to the harbour, spotting a potential (summer) holiday home as we went.
See how quickly the light changes as we approach the town pier and catch sight of the modern John O’Connell bridge which enabled an alternative air connection to Sitka where previously the town had been accessible only by ferry.
Rather than return to the cruise ship harbour, the expedition boats returned to the town pier, from where a shuttle bus would take us back when we were ready.
So we paid our respects to Alexander Baranov, participant in the battle of 1804 and manager of the Russia-America company, sitting on the stone here and we wandered into town.
We caught sight of what we were looking for above the Wells Fargo Drive-thru Bank and headed straight inside to take a look at St Michael’s Orthodox Cathedral.
Well, that was a surprise! A touch of the old country inside with a lavish iconostasis and a beautiful interior.
I liked the cases around the walls which contained some treasures, including these wedding crowns.
But also some little collections on glass shelves which created interesting layered “collages” when viewed from above.
We looked around to the soundtrack of some Russian Orthodox chant and could have been in a different world from that of this morning.
Until we stepped outside and into any of a number of rather more likely buildings in this popular tourist spot. needing none of those bits and pieces (can’t spell tchotchkes) we returned to the ship, where a few familiar faces were enjoying some local flavours on the pier.
I’m not quite sure that everyone was having an equally good time though.
Can you imagine being asked to paint something the size of Mariner with a 12” paint roller?