Today’s plan is to visit Kinak Bay and Geographic Harbor, in the Katmai National Park on the Alaskan Peninsula. Home to brown bears, we hope to cruise up Kinak Bay and then pick up our Alaskan bear spotting guides for zodiac cruising around Geographic Harbor.
Kinak Bay, Katmai National Park
The day is off to an excellent start as we approach Kinak Bay around 8am. Captain has spotted three bears, a mother and two cubs, on the shoreline of a small island near the entrance of the bay. We are some distance away, however the bears can be seen with the naked eye, but benefit greatly from the use of binoculars and/or a zoom lens. Whilst I can see two bears, mother and cub judging by the far shaggier coat on one of the bears, I can’t see a third bear anywhere.
Most passengers are out on either Deck 7, 6 or on the bridge on Deck 5. Most of us hear a loud grinding sound as Le Soleal inches forward in 10-14 metres of water. The ship has hit an uncharted rock, and is stuck fast in the low tide. We are moving so slowly when we hit the rock the sound is the only impact. No-one so much as fell over.
The bears are a welcome distraction for the hour or so that it takes the Captain and officers to inspect the interior ballast tanks and the exterior of the ship. The Captain and expedition leader are quick to reassure the passengers and crew that the listing of the ship to starboard is part of rebalancing the ballast tanks and is only temporary. There is no water ingress or out, and Le Soleal refloats on the incoming tide by 10am.
Captain Le Rouzic addresses all of the passengers in the Theatre and outlines the plan for notifying the coastguard of the incident, the safety of the ship to proceed into Geographic Harbor, and the intention for two inspection dives in the afternoon.
Geographic Harbor, Katmai National Park
By 11am, Le Soleal has cruised into Geographic Harbor, and is ready to collect the 6 or so Alaskan guides who have flown in from Anchorage (about 2.5 hours away) via two Regal Air “float” or seaplanes and are waiting on the shoreline deeper into the harbour. The first group, which is mine, leaves Le Soleal at 1pm to collect a guide for some bear watching.
Geographic Harbor is spectacular, and compensated for a fruitless search for bears over two hours with a sea otter, bald headed eagle, and spectacular scenery. The groups that head out later in the afternoon have better luck, seeing a mother and cub, and a male and female bear.
Back on Le Soleal in the early evening, Captain Le Rouzic addresses the passengers again, providing the results of two inspection dives, which revealed some dents and scratches, but no significant damage. The coastguard has been notified and approved our continued sailing to our next destination, which is Holgate Glacier in Kenai National Park.
As Le Soleal is pulling out of her anchorage point in Geographic Harbor, and from what seems to be my usual wildlife spotting vantage point from the treadmill in the gym, I see a large bear on the shoreline. Happily I have brought my camera to the gym with me, as this bear sits down to lick its paw.
Just as we have lost sight of the bear, the two float planes take off and bank around the coastline for a fly past on the 2.5 hour flight back to Anchorage. It will have been a long day for the guides – 5 hours of flying and 5 hours of guiding. They were invited onto Le Soleal to see the ‘fancy French ship’, and plied with drinks and a tour of the ship. I think they will be quite happy to guide the next Ponant ship to call into Geographic Harbor. And a spectacular sunset tonight as we head to Holgate Glacier.