Into The Sea Caves


Note: Paperback includes map, Kindle digital version does not, suggest getting map below.


In 2004 I was a guest lecturer in the Kenai Fjords area aboard the 100 passenger Spirit of Oceanus. One of the ladies on board was this fiesty 92 year-old named Mattie, full of energy and not wanting to miss any of the activities. She lived in a nursing home in Maine, but always wanted to come to Alaska and her children had brought her.
We woke anchored off the dramatic Chiswell Islands, with its major bird rookeries and all the passengers were eager to be off and exploring in the big Zodiac inflatable skiffs. However, the anchorage was open and exposed so the Gulf of Alaska swells made boarding the Zodiacs from the boarding platform challenging, and I suggested to Mattie that she might want to wait this particular excursion out.
Steep island & passengers “No way!” She replied, “We paid for this cruise and I want to do everything?”
So… with the help of a husky Filipino crewman on either side, she was carefully escorted down the ramp to stand on the boarding platform in eager anticipation as the crewmen waited as the inflatible rose and fell three and four feet, occasionally slamming roughly against the platform. Then their moment came, the inflatable stopped alongside and all in one motion, they lifted Mattie and deposited her albeit a bit roughly on the middle seat.
Tufted PuffinsMattie clapped excitedly and then we were off to explore the islands and the rookeries. As we approached, curious sea otters poked their heads up to see what we were up to , and one more adventurous mom, even backstroked slowly by just 10 yards away, with her pup snoozing on her belly.  But the real drama was the birds: horned and tufted puffins, common and thick-billed murres, and black-legged kittiwakes swarmed around these grassy sea stacks. We even got a glimpse of the less common rhinoceros auklet.
In one of the islands was a big sea cave, with the swell rolling in and out, throwing spray zodiac rocksfar and wide. We lay off it for a bit, rising and falling 6 or 8 feet in the big swell and oohing and aahing as the surf boomed into the cave, awed by the drama of it all.
“Joe,” Mattie piped up, “Take us into the sea cave. It looks so gorgeous!”
“Mattie,” I answered, “that would be foolish, the boat’d be smooshed by the surf, and we’d probably all drown!”
“Ah….” said she, “But that’d be so much better than just wasting away in the nursing home..”