ALEUTIAN BALLAD… THE DEADLIEST CATCH CRAB FISHING TOUR
If traveling northbound your first port of call will be Ketchikan. A small scenic town of 14,000 people and one of the rainiest North American cities averaging 160 inches per year. In the summer cruise season the temperature averages in the high sixties.
Today I find myself once again in Ketchikan, Alaska as I hurry down the gangway heading for one of my very favorite tours in Alaska, The Deadliest Catch Crab Fishing Tour.
The tour is given onboard the Aleutian Ballad of season two. It is probably most remembered as the boat the was hit broadside by a sixty foot rogue wave nearly capsizing the boat and throwing the crew into the frigid waters of the Bering Sea. However in it’s homeport of Ketchikan, Alaska this is not an issue as you are in the calm, protected waters just off the coast.
Captain/owner Dave Lethin and his crew of merry misfits are “old salts” and extremely knowledgeable and entertaining. One thing that I have noticed over the years I have taken this tour is that everyone is treated like family including the guests.
You will feel right at home sitting in comfortable chairs of the boats amphitheater style seating so everyone has a great view. During cold weather you are heated from above and also sheltered if you encounter any rain, after all this is Alaska. Another huge plus is that the tour is wheelchair accessible so everyone has a chance to enjoy this excursion.
The Aleutian Ballad Crab Fishing Tour is very unique and is a hands on experience. You will be able to hold live crab, shrimp and other sea creatures after listening to the crew sharing their knowledge of the ocean and it’s inhabitants.
One of my favorite highlights is traveling to nearby Annette Island. Here 40-50 American Bald Eagles swarm out of the trees like mosquitos and diving only feet from the boat feeding on fish thrown into the water by the crew.
Many times I have heard guests say “I’ve seen eagles before we have them at home” and then those same people say, “I’ve never seen anything like this, ever”. It’s truly a once in a lifetime adventure not to be missed.
They are going to tug on your heartstrings as well. You will hear stories of friends and family that have been lost at sea. One day I was in the wheelhouse and Terry Barkley one of the captains. Terry is usually a very gregarious man always with a joke on his the tip of his tongue. But on this day, at this moment he stopped short. His face grew solemn and his voice softened. He told me how his brother lost his life just a few months before working on another crab fishing vessel. After a few minutes of quiet reserve Terry once again was back to being a cheerful and telling tales of the sea he loves so well. Pushing the memory deep inside at least for now.
I talk of this, as does Terry to the guests at times as a prelude to the Aleutian Ballad Crab Fisherman’s Memorial Fund. The fund was started to assist family members and proceeds of the fund are distributed to the families of those lost in the Bering Sea.
The crew will haul a crab fishing pot from the cold depths adorned with tags having the names of loved one written on them. Anyone can and is encouraged to do so in remembrance of a friend or family member that they have lost.
I made a donation and wrote the name of my daughter-in-law, Stephanie Pannell that died the year before at the tender age of thirty-four. After the tags are tied onto the pot it is sent over the side back to Davey Jones. At the end of the season the tags are removed and sent to Oregon to be displayed on a wall at the memorial.
To join the crew of the Aleutian Ballad and experience this exciting adventure contact your ships shore excursion desk. You can also contact them directly by contacting Shauna Lee, Chief Operations Officer of the Aleutian Ballad at alaskacrabtour.com, email at email@example.com or call 888-239-3816.
If you have taken a tour on the Aleutian Ballad and would like a coffee table book of your trip or would like a more in depth look please note I have written of my experiences and photography taken while onboard. It is available through this blog site both in print and in eBook format.
Next Stop…. Juneau Bear Viewing and Fly Fishing for Salmon, Grayling and Dolly Varden
NORTH TO ALASKA… THE PROLOGUE
My Africa adventure is a time that I will never forget. Thank you again Liza, Greg and Gillian Parker for your invitation to visit you and go on safari. And thank you Emile Sprenger de Rover for your hospitality and serving as our private guide.
It is now North to Alaska and though this will be my sixth summer traveling to Alaska and the Inside Passage I still cannot wait to get there. The pristine waters, lush rain forests, mountains that glide upward from the sea and the vast numbers of diverse wildlife that inhabits the area make it just that much more special. As John Muir said… “The Mountains Are Calling… I Must Go!”
I’ve always loved the mountains ever since I was very young. I grew up with my grandfather in Merced, California in the San Joaquin Valley. It was only a stones throw from the mountains, which we spent nearly every weekend except in the dead of winter. He was part Native American and passed on his love of nature, the mountains and the wildlife that lived there.
Because of these experiences I have a deep-seated love of the mountains. After he died I moved in with the rest of the family to Laguna Beach, California, which is also a very special place for me and close to my heart. Even with that said the mountains are where I feel the most at home. My son Christian said it best when he was 12 years old… “Dad you are a Mountain Man not a Beach Boy.” And so it was to be for I have lived in Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe and the Wood River Valley in Idaho the vast majority of my adult life.
For the next couple months I will be writing and posting of my experiences in Alaska. I will be traveling as I have before working as an Acupuncturist at Sea on a cruise ship. This time my home is the Coral Princess carrying 2,300 guests and a crew of approximately 1,000 from countries all around the world.
We will be visiting the historic ports of Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway. We will also make side trips to view a number of glaciers in Glacier Bay, College Fjord and Yakutat Bay the home of my favorite glacier the Hubbard Glacier. At the end of the season we will also visit Icy Strait and Kodiak Island as we cruise to Japan, Korea, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Guam and Hawaii before heading back to Los Angeles.
Each post I will select a different tour or shore excursion that has been a favorite and give you an insiders view of what you might expect if you travel to Alaska. It may not be by cruise ship as there are various ways to get here but cruising the Inside Passage to Alaska is by far the best way to go and offers you the best scenic views, chance of wildlife sightings. All of this from a luxury cruise ship filled with a variety of activities, wonderful restaurants and where you never to cook a meal or make a bed. And one thing that I have heard from numerous guests is… “we only have to unpack once”.
So get ready and lets travel North to Alaska…
WILDLIFE OF INGWELALA PRIVATE GAME RESERVE AND KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
Lets take another break from storylines and enjoy some photographs of wildlife in South Africa. Obviously I was not able to photograph every species but I was able to capture a fair amount of wildlife.
Photographing wildlife is one of my passions and I was so fortunate to be able to have gone on safari in South Africa. It is something that I will never forget and another check off my Bucket List. None of this would have been possible with the invitation from my friend Liza Parker and her parents Greg and Gillian Parker who traveled with me on safari. Also a very special thanks to Emile Sprenger de Rover for his hospitality, friendship and volunteer game guide in the Ingwelala Private Game Reserve.
Please enjoy these photographs and the nature of South Africa as seen through my eyes. And to make this easy lets go alphabetically…
I hope you enjoyed the Ingwelala Private Game Reserve and Kruger National Park in South Africa through my eyes. If you ever get the chance to go I’m sure it will be an adventure that you will never forget as was my experience.
Next stop…. Alaska and the Inside Passage
PART TWO… KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
After spending five days on safari in Ingwelala Private Game Reserve with Emile Sprenger de Rover, Liza and Greg Parker it was time for Part Two of the adventure.
Greg and I said our goodbyes to Emile and Liza and we headed out on a two-hour drive to the Kruger National Park in South Africa. I have heard of Kruger like just about everyone and I could not believe I was finally going to go on a photo safari there.
Greg being a native of South Africa has been there numerous times and arranged our accommodations for the next five days. His favorite place in the park is Orpen Camp, which we will stay at for the first three nights.
Orpen is a small camp and consists of a handful of small cabins, a small store and guest check-in facilities. About one hundred yards away just beyond the fence that surrounds the camp is a waterhole that many times is frequented by game.
After unloading and setting up our cabin Greg and I jumped back in his car for an afternoon drive making note of the time the gate closes for the evening. Greg is very knowledgeable of the area having spent so much time there photographing its wildlife and had a few ideas where to go immediately for that time of day.
A few minutes from camp down the main paved road Greg turned onto one of the many dirt roads that winds through the reserve. We were headed to a waterhole and bush area that he knew would more then likely have wildlife.
As we grew near there was a small heard of elephants ranging from large adults to small baby elephants.
I was amazed on how comical the baby elephants appeared. They would stumble, sometimes running into the larger elephants as they walked trying to keep up tripping over their own feet.
It really was a laugh watching them and we found ourselves lowering our cameras just to watch the show. Other times they seemed to be resting in the shade of the other elephants to get out of the hot mid-day sun.
Greg and I watched the herd slowly moving through the groves of trees and bamboo eating their fill. Many times we were only ten to fifteen feet away from these magnificent creatures as our cameras clicked away in unison. To be fair Greg would generously position the vehicle or lean back so that I might get the better angle for the best shot.
There was more then one time a mother elephant seemed a little upset that we were so close intruding in what she deemed to be “her space” and would stating advancing towards the car. Greg would laugh at me when I would calmly say “don’t worry mama we are just taking pictures, we are not going to hurt your baby with the camera clicking away”. After which he remarked that he did not know of another “first timer” that was so calm during a false charge from these huge animals.
I attribute this to my days with my grandfather that was part Native American. He showed me how to read the wildlife and how to read the warning signs they will portray. You must remember at all times these are wild animals, they will attack and kill you if threatened, especially here in Africa. You are in their backyard they are not in yours.
Day two started at dawn when the gates opened. It was a gray day, with dark clouds and spilling rain over the grasslands and bush. It had been a very dry season causing a drought so the rain was much appreciated. It made photography more challenging with the changes in the light and contrast often being very flat or having to use much slower shutter speeds then we would have preferred when shooting wildlife. After all they are living creatures and on the move much of the time.
Our quest this day was to photograph lions that thus far had eluded us and we were not to be disappointed. After driving for about an hour came across a pride of two males, three females and three cubs. They were in the grass and under a couple of low trees. We watched and photographed the pride under the dark and rainy skies for about two hours. The lion cubs mock attacked each other learning skills that will help them later in life.
The females roamed the area looking for game or huddled with one of the males.
We then left this pride and decided to look in a couple other areas where we heard of other lion sightings. Following another dirt road we came across a small pride of three males lions sleeping. Every now and then one would stretch and roll over revealing it huge belly that was stuffed with a previous kill.
There was also one lone female with this group that was injured. She would get up and walk limping unable to put any weight on her right front leg. Greg remarked that if this did not heal there was a very good chance that she would be left behind by the males and eventually die.
We did spot one more small pride of lions as we continued down the dirt road, stopped to take a couple photographs and continued our drive.
As it was getting late Greg decided that we should travel to the waterhole to see if any wildlife had returned to cool off from the days heat. A large male lion was drinking at the waterhole. Greg assured me this was a great chance to get an unusual shot, as it is not something witnessed very often.
The following events that transpired left us awestruck in disbelief. First it was what we were witnessing and second as serious photographers what we were able to capture and record.
To read the entire story of the day and the heartbreaking events that occurred please look at the blog post from April 21, 2018. “Death of a King”.
The next day we decided to return to the area that we had previously photographed the first pride of lions. The day had a bright blue sky with a few scattered clouds the lighting was much better and would make it much easier to get a quality photograph.
We arrived but the pride of lions was gone. We continued down the road in hopes of locating them. Instead we were rewarded by finding a couple cheetahs that were close enough to the road to reach with our lenses. We were able to get a handful of shots before they became bored with us and disappeared into the bush.
We decided to make a day trip and long drive to an area that we had heard that rhinoceros had been spotted. It was a long drive to the southern edge of the park. We decided to make an adventure of it traveling the back roads in hopes of photographing other game along the way. Unfortunately it was fairly bleak and not much was seen or photographed.
Arriving near where the rhinos had been spotted we drove slowly both of us scanning the bush for any sign. Then Greg called out “rhino!” Just a few yards away there were two rhinoceros rambling through the bush only stopping to grasp young leaves off a tree or to eat grass here and there.
Greg kept driving as I kept trying to keep track of the two rhinos that were darting in and out of the bush. We would stop when we could with Greg positioning the car so that I might get a shot. Luckily we both were able to get a few photographs before they turned and ran deep into the bush out of view.
Day Four and Day Five were on our way to another camp, Skukuza for two nights. Skukuza was a much larger camp then Orpen but not so large to be uninviting. Greg and his family have spent many days there on safari and another favorite he enjoyed. There are many different accommodations from small cabins to large homes, a restaurant, large gift shop and sits right on the banks of a large river.
Our hopes this day was to photograph a leopard, the only one of the Big Five that had eluded us. Greg said he knew of an area that once had a leopard that was near to camp. The drove down the main road as we scanned the grasslands and the bush. Circling back when Greg suddenly stopped the car. My heart raced in hopes that we found the elusive cat.
Instead what Greg spotted was a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl. As an avid birder Greg was very excited and said in the bird world this was just as an important sighting as a leopard. It was very regal as it sat perched on the limb of a tree watching as Greg and I raised the cameras and clicked away.
At one stop at a blind overlooking a large body of water we were able to photograph a number of hippopotamuses including a baby hippopotamus.
At the same location there was a very large Nile crocodile sunning itself in the mid-day sun.
While overhead in a large tree a fish eagle scanned the water.
At one point a large monitor lizard crept out of the bush flicking its tongue until located a beetle here and there.
Close to sunset a waterbok slowly quenched its thirst unaware that only feet away lay a Nile crocodile.
While in South Africa on safari we photographed a number of elephants, cape buffalo, baboons and wild dogs. We also saw a number of the antelope family including impala, waterbok, bushbuck, duiker, klipspringer, kudu, sharp’s grysbok and steenbok. We were also able to capture wildebeests, zebra and giraffe. Unfortunately yet again the leopard had eluded us but it was not for lack of trying.
Please visit an upcoming post for additional photographs of the wildlife that I was able to witness and the images I was able capture while on safari in South Africa for you to enjoy.
Lets take a break from the storyline and enjoy some photography. Over the years as a nature photographer I have really become interested in photographing birdlife throughout the world. South Africa was no different and offered and abundance of different birds that I had never seen before. I diverse variety of species, size and color was truly amazing. This is just a sample of what South Africa has to offer the avid birder.
white fronted bee-eater
lilac breasted roller
white crowned shrike
southern yellow-billed hornbill
verreaux eagle owl
PART ONE…. INGWELALA PRIVATE GAME RESERVE
It is funny how things work out. When I first entered ‘Photo Safari in South Africa’ on my Bucket List I had no idea how this was going to happen… and then it did.
In 2015 I was working as an Acupuncturist at Sea on the cruise ship Island Princess where I met Liza Parker and we quickly became friends. Liza was the spa manager on the ship and my boss.
Like virtually all of the spa staff she was in her twenty’s and beginning her career and her life. Everyone but me that is, I’m in my sixties and closer to the end of my career then I am the beginning.
During the summer of 2015 we were making weekly cruises to Alaska and the Inside Passage. At one point Liza told me her parents were coming on board and fulfilling one of there bucket list items of cruising to Alaska.
When they arrived Liza introduced me and I quickly became friends with her parents Greg and Gillian. Greg and I clicked immediately as he was also an avid photographer. Before leaving Greg invited me to come to his home in South Africa and vowed to take me on a photo safari.
It took some time due to unforeseen circumstances. I contacted Greg in 2018 at the beginning of the year and said, “I’m coming and will be there in April.” Greg began the task of planning our trip. Over the next couple months Greg and I traded emails deciding where we were going to go. To be fair Greg did all the work and I just agreed.
I arrived in Durban, South Africa in early March just days after my contract ended on the Ruby Princess. I stayed in Durban for a week visiting one of my shipmates, Jillian Sunker. I enjoyed Durban with Jill as my guide, introducing me to local dishes and she worked hard to make me feel at home.
Durban Beach, South Africa
There are two things that I find truly rewarding working on cruise ships. One is you are able to see the world and in eight years I have been to seventy-two countries and hundreds of ports, many multiple times. The other reason is the many friends you make, some of which will become life long friends like Jill and Liza.
After leaving Durban I flew in Johannesburg and was met at the airport by Greg and Liza. We drove to Pretoria where they have been long term residents and dropped me off at the apartment I rented for a week before we were to leave on our safari. View from my apartment Pretoria, South Africa
The week flew by and Greg, Gill and Liza took me on several day trips around Pretoria, taking me to dinner and showing me many of the landmarks. One of the evenings I was invited to a braai, what we Americans call a barbeque at their home.
This is where I met a family friend Emile Sprenger de Rover and his wife Jane. Emile in the recent past was a manager at the Ingwelala Private Game Reserve, an honorary game warden and has a small cabin there. He was kind enough to be our host, guide and driver at Ingwelala and allowed us to stay at his cabin.
A couple days later we left Pretoria just after sunrise to make the 6-hour drive to Ingwelala. During the journey we traveled through the city of Pretoria, the outskirts and into the countryside. Then the climb began as we wound our way through the mountain passes only to stop at a roadside stand to get a drink and admire the handmade items.
Roadside stand mountains along the way to Ingwelala
Upon arriving the four of us Emile, Liza, Greg and myself began to set up camp. It took only a short time after which we grabbed our cameras and climbed onboard Emile’s game vehicle and headed into the bush for an afternoon drive that extended well into the evening.
Entrance gate Ingwelala Private Game Reserve
We bounced along the maze of dirt roads and through dry riverbeds. I was amazed how Emile kept track of where we were, literally every road looked the same with only slight variations. Greg, Liza and I did our best to scan the grass fields, look under and in every tree and bush for game and birdlife.
When I was young I went hunting almost every weekend with my grandfather who raised me. He was part Native American and had a reverence for the outdoors and all that lived there. He taught me much about how to find sign and spot game. I have used those skills in my adult life in hunting wildlife with a camera instead of a rifle. However I have to admit Liza has the eye of an eagle that far surpassed mine. I rationalized this thinking “well this is her backyard”.
During the drive we came across herds of impalas with young and old alike. It seemed almost everywhere you turned you would find anywhere from a couple to small herds of maybe 30 – 40 of these graceful antelopes.
It is the goal when on safari to sight the African Big Five. This consists of cape buffalo, elephants, lions, leopards and rhinoceros. I personally believe there should be a Big Six as cheetahs should be included. Over the ten days were photographed five of the six only lacking the leopard. We did come close one night but by the time we arrived the only thing left was the antelope the leopard carried into the tree only to return some time later that night.
Continuing our drive we also came across our first member of the Big Five, a cape buffalo. We rounded a bend in the road and there were two of these magnificent animals. They were only about twenty feet away as they stood staring at us. As with all game in the bush you must be on you guard. Cape buffalo has poor eyesight and known to charge without warning.
On the way back to camp that night we made a run to the dirt airstrip that had been cleared leaving foot high brush. When we arrived Emile took out two handheld spotlights and we scanned the airstrip. As we drove we pointed the lights into trees hoping to spot a leopard that was said to be in the area to no avail. We did notice dozens of red eyes staring in our direction and Emile remarked out they were blue wildebeest. Which are very strange looking animals during the day let alone at night on lit by the handheld spotlights.
Wildebeest at night
Back at camp that later that evening we relaxed and talked about the days adventure. This was old hat for the three of them but completely different from anything I have done in the past.
Later that night while eating dinner we look over our shoulder and there stood a spotted hyena on its hind legs licking the grill. All animals in the reserve are wild and so was this hyena. With a few shouts and waving of our arms he decided to back off.
Spotted hyena visiting camp
This is one reason you do not walk around camp at night. There were hyenas and even a leopard spotted within the camp while we were there. All of have attacked and killed those that did not give them the respect they deserve.
There were many highlights at Ingwelala and one of my favorites was photographing a lone hippopotamus. Hippopotamus are highly irritable animals and very protective of their home turf. They are known to have killed many people that ventured too close and feared. We were in a blind and a safe distance watching with cameras clicking away.
Then the hippo decided to give us a show. All of a sudden while swimming in its private waterhole the hippo slowly did a summersault stopping briefly with all four legs dangling in the air out of the water. It was quite a sight.
Hippopotamus on the roll
While in Ingwelala we photographed many different animals and birdlife. Even in camp we were visited by hyenas, dwarf mongoose, warthogs and nyala.
The Ingwelala River where we stopped for a lunch under a shade tree and admired the view.
Ingwelala River for a lunch break
During our five days at Ingwelala were well spent and something I will never forget. If you ever have the chance to go on safari do yourself a favor and go.
Greg Parker, Liza Parker and Emile Sprenger de Rover at Emile’s Cabin