One of the activities I had most been looking forward to during our time in the Pacific Northwest was going on a whale watching cruise. Our San Juan Cruises whale watching tour did not disappoint!
Our deluxe whale watching tour left from the sleepy port of Bellingham, about 20 minutes drive from our RV park. We could watch a playful seal cavorting during our wait to board. Our boat was maybe half booked, leaving plenty of room to sit and move around on board as we set out through the San Juan Islands.
As a boater, one thing that was interesting were the strong and squirrely currents running in and around all of the islands. We saw a channel buoy listing at 45 degrees from the strong current as well as areas where the currents intersect and swirl around like a whirlpool. You would certainly need to understand the tidal flows and local current patterns to go boating here!
Our first stop was Port Friday, on San Juan Island. We disembarked for an hour or so to wander the scenic port town, full of shops and restaurants. I had been looking for a lined windbreaker type jacket, and found one at a great sale price. A small farmer’s market was being held that day, displaying island wares and local seafood and produce. We had time for a quick beer at the local pub, then it was back on board the boat for the whale watching part of our tour.
The cruise company advertises that you are guaranteed to see whales or get half off your next cruse. They are in touch with local spotters, so can get a bead on where the resident orcas are hanging out that day. While heading out in the direction of the ocean, we were served a delicious buffet of local salmon, BBQ chicken, cole slaw, biscuits with honey butter, grapes and chocolate brownies. Yum! Just about the time we finished up, the first whale was sighted!
Orca whales swim in a pattern of three or four surface appearances, then a deeper dive of several minutes. Once you spot them, you’ve got a few chances to get your photos before they disappear again! Regulations require the boat to stay back at certain distance, so we couldn’t get TOO close up, but we were close enough to have a great view. We spotted and idled along several different groupings (pods) of whales. One pod was quite active, doing a lot of tail slapping and even breaching a couple of times. Such a cool sight – but I couldn’t get my camera in position quick enough to catch that!
We hung around the whales for a little over an hour, then it was time for the long trek back to the dock. The weather was perfect, the whales were incredible – what a great day!