We were excited to head off to explore Kachemak Bay by sea kayak with Rick from A Seaside Adventure. This would our second sea kayaking tour in Alaska. Their base of operations/home is located across Kachemak Bay, so before kayaking you get to start with a great water taxi boat ride across the bay. We located Ashore Water Taxi on the Homer Spit & checked in 30 minutes early as we had been directed. We were told we had 30 minutes or so before departure, which left plenty of time to get breakfast as well as lunch. I'm not always on time - or early - so it was nice to have time!
While waiting to head to the water taxi, we met the other three folks going with us on our excursion - Linda, Linda and Charlie, all from Connecticut. I'm originally from Massachusetts, so it was neat spending some time with some other New Englanders - and Red Sox fans!!! The other cool thing was all three of our new friends were also serious photographers - two Nikons and another Canon. For those unfamiliar Canon and Nikon are the Coke & Pepsi of the camera world. 8am sharp - we boarded the Water Taxi and headed across Kachemak Bay to Little Tutka Bay for our kayaking adventure with A Seaside Adventure. For those of you who haven't seen a real live landing craft (ala D-Day in WWII), a water taxi in Alaska gives you a chance to experience one first hand!
Arriving at A Seaside Adventure, we were met by the owner Rick, and Jodi, a teacher from Oregon who was volunteering with Rick for two weeks. Rick's wife, Dorle, boarded the water taxi as we headed ashore. She was making her once a week trip to Homer, and would be returning the next day. Rick has lived at this remote location for over 40 years. While the soil was only three feet deep before hitting glacial bedrock, which didn't allow for regular toilets & septic systems, they did have electricity from Homer side of the bay thanks to a grant project that brought electricity across the bay to the many remote outposts on the east side of Kachemak Bay. Despite the remote location, Rick's house was beautiful, with all the modern conveniences - save for that indoor plumbing.
We put on rubber boots to head up to the house, where we put the gear we were taking into dry bags, donned our life vests, secured the stuff we weren't taking and had our initial safety briefing. We saw 5 different bald eagles flying through the end of the bay before we even made it down to the shoreline. Then we headed down to the beach and the kayaks for some practical instruction before heading out. While we had all kayaked a bit before, going over the basics was still a good refresher. Rick was a great instructor, and we quickly had learned he was a bit of a character - in the best possible way. We was extremely knowledgeable not just about kayaking but the whole area, and very humorous to boot. It made for a thoroughly enjoyable day on the water. After carrying the kayaks down to the launch spot, Bev and I headed out first, as Charlie, Linda and Linda took their turns getting in the kayaks. One of the Linda's went with Rick in his boat, and he nicknamed her "PP" for paddling partner. Like little kids, we all had a lot of fun calling her PP all day! Rick, also an avid photographer who has hosted National Geographic photographers here, was also a Canon shooter, so we Canon shooters had good fun teasing the Nikon folks once we knew that we had the numbers advantage.
We saw a sea otter right in the bay as we were waiting to head out, but I was in the wrong position to get any good photos. On our way out of the bay and towards one of the islands out into my open water we also saw a harbor seal checking us out from a distance. Timing is sometimes a matter of luck, and today fortune smiled upon us. Kachemak Bay, like much of coastal Alaska and the Cook Inlet area in particular, have major tidal fluctuations - some of the largest in the world. Fortunately, low tide hit just before lunchtime, so we were able to see a lot of tidal zone sea life that has adapted to be able to cling to life above water for a few precious hours between high tides.
About 30 minutes into the paddle, my legs had gone almost completely numb, while having a good bit of discomfort in my hips and lower back. Initially I couldn't find anything I could do to alleviate the issue, which was rapidly making the experience miserable. Photography has a great way of taking my mind off things, like on the bear viewing flight the day before. In this case, as we approached another island, we spotted an eagle high in a tree on the edge of the island. Initially I wasn't happy how these photos turned out, but then I realized I WAS shooting this bird 100+ feet above me in the tree, while in a kayak floating in the ocean – which was awesome!
A short while later, Rick had us all gather around as he began harvesting items for our shore lunch. He explained that kelp was a highly nutritious plant that would become a part of the beach stew soup that was the centerpiece for lunch. He grabbed the kelp bulb in the midst of a small kelp bed floating on the surface, picked it up, and cut some leaves off of it, gently placing it back in the water afterwards.
I made an adjustment against kayaking convention - to keep your back against the seat - and by doing so apparently restored blood flow to my legs! Within a few seconds I felt much more comfortable in the kayak, although I'm not sure it would be good for my back if I kayaked more often. All I know is it made it MUCH easier to enjoy the rest of the day! Next up - a close up view of some of those intertidal creatures. Before that though -more sea otters and eagles!
Rick picked up a few more lunch items (sea lettuce and some other kelpy, weedy things) at nature's largest and wettest grocery store as we made our way around the end another island. At the start of the island, Rick pointed out a beautiful sunflower starfish that was just below the waterline. He explained that the sunflower starfish had between 18-24 legs, and that part of its evolutionary survival mechanisms was the ability to shed a leg - some or all of them) if it needed to. After a few underwater photos, he picked up the starfish so we could all take a closer look and snap a few photos.
One of the nice things about the far side of Kachemak Bay is that unlike the Homer side, which is relatively smooth, open shoreline, the Kenai Mountain side is full of spits, spurs, and islands, making not only for lots of nooks and crannies to explore, but it makes for nice, mostly calm water. We had interesting weather all day - sometimes sunny, sometimes it would cloud up and shower for a 10 or 15 minutes, then get sunny again. Through it all we had nice water to paddle in. Touring done for the moment, Rick led us to another little island and into a placid little lagoon with a pretty crescent rocky beach where we pulled up for lunch. As soon as we all made it ashore, it began spitting again. Rick quickly pointed out an eagle that was 100 yards down the beach or so high up in a tree. Dutifully, all the photographers headed down for shots before the eagle took off, or more importantly, the drizzle turned into something more. He or she waited for all of about 10 seconds after we all started firing away before heading off to a quieter neighborhood...
The object of our affection having taken flight, we turned out attention to Rick. He had told us that 4 of the key ingredients were from the ocean, but that he had four more to collect from the forested area on the little island. As he walked and explained the positive properties of some plants, and the dangerous side of some other, he also explained some of the history of the little island and the native people that had lived there for thousands of years once the glaciers had receded.
He explained how they built their homes to be nearly invisible in the forest from the water, using furs, hides and plant and tree material to create nearly undetectable settlements. He also explained how they would throw out the shells and bones into piles behind the homes, and how over time the forest had reclaimed the area, covering up the evidence. He showed us a tree that had blown over, where amidst the tangled root ball, there were sea shells imbedded everywhere within! It was really cool to have a glimpse into our own little anthropological/archeological site! I videoed this whole portion with our little waterproof camera, so I didn't get many photos, but it was really cool! Our gathering and history lesson completed, we headed back to the beach and the makeshift kitchen. I think this would be a GREAT place for a Quickfire Challenge if they ever film Top Chef: Alaska!
Knowing that time was getting short, Bev and I broke convention and tried the beach stew. Yes, the man who fishes but doesn't not eat fish tried salmon for the first time. I confirmed that I still don't like fish, but I have to admit that if it was chicken instead of salmon, I would have really enjoyed it a lot! The sea vegetables were really good! Along with the sea stew, we also had trail mix with M&Ms, sliced apples, and homemade German bread that Dorle had made for us before she left, along with an interesting combination of butter mixed with olive oil. Sadly, we never made it to our Spit Sisters sandwiches, so I can't report on them!
As we paddled our way back, we saw more wildlife, including this Black Oyster-Catcher and another Sea Otter! Along the way, Rick pointed out their local "post office", a little wooded building with a small dock, where the local resident's mail was delivered twice a week. Rick told us that last fall, a black bear had broken in and really tore up the place, so he and some of the other folks had to paddle over and repair their post office themselves! One more side note, Rick worked on the team that rescued and rehabilitated sea otters after the Exxon Valdez disaster, and he had some fascinating stories related to that during the course of the day. Before we knew it, we were back at Rick's home, saying goodbye and making our way out of the kayaks and getting ready for our unexpected adventure aboard the water taxi on our return to Homer!
While the weather had cleared up, the wind had picked up as well for our water taxi ride back to Homer. Between the blowing spray and the pounding waves, it was hard to take a conventional photo. So, I crawled to the bow, and lying on my back against the land ramp and the floor of the boat, snapped a couple of shots of our group, who were enjoying the wind in their faces, Bev most of all!
A few minutes later, Captain Dave slowed up the boat and told us that he had received a call from a local biologist about a dead sea otter on a beach further down Kachemak Bay. He said the biologist had asked if he could go and find it and bring it back for study, but he wanted to check with us to see if we would be willing to add 30-40 minutes or so to the return trip. CSI's Linda, Linda, Charlie, Bev & L.J. all readily agreed to this unexpected and unusual side trip!
So, turning right, the water taxi pounded it's way along the shoreline, looking for the otter. The adventure was made a bit more so by the issue that the boat reporting the position of the suspected body was a place that Capt. Dave had never heard of. Keen investigative team that we were, we found the dead body! Considering it was a brown body on a brown beach in 2-3 foot waves along miles of shoreline, we did pretty well I think!
Given the building seas quartering across the beach, and the rough condition of the body, Capt. Dave elected to snap a couple of photos and leave the body where it was. He said that it had probably been dead for more than a week, so it would have been a mess to bring on board. Bev, sea otter lover that she is, didn't realize the initial plan was to actually recover the body and bring it back. While she had hoped all day a sea otter would get in the boat for an up close encounter, that WASN'T the one she was dreaming of, and was happy that we didn't try to get to shore.
The boat turned around and made the long, slow plodding run back across the bay to Homer. While the rest of the group went inside, Bev & I stayed out, taking a pounding as the boat crashed through the waves, but loving every minute of it. We passed a small island, Gull Island, with a huge bird rookery on it, and thousands of birds flying all around it in the high wind. Eventually we made it back to the Small Boat Harbor in Homer. Once we entered the harbor, Pica, the Captain's sweet dog, joined us on deck, eager to get out and stretch her legs after huddling in the cabin on the ride across. With the arrival dockside, our grand all day kayaking adventure came to an end.
I can't recommend Rick and A Seaside Adventure enough. They only had a single review on Trip Advisor and not much (if anything) of note on Cruise Critic, so I took a bit of a gamble on the unknown when I booked with them. I like their website, especially the part related to photography, and Rick & Dorle were a pleasure to work with, especially when I needed to reschedule and shift a day in order to fit in the Katmai bear adventure the day before! If you're in Homer with a few days and the need to get out and explore, give them a try - and tell Rick Bev & L.J. say hi!