Cold But Cool: Snorkeling in Alaska With Un-Cruise
Photo by John Roberts
As soon as I stuck my head underwater, I knew this was not going to be the standard snorkeling experience.
I actually came to that realization about 30 minutes earlier as I struggled to squeeze into my wet suit, wriggling and fighting my way into the full-body getup, complete with booties and hood and gloves. It can be humbling squeezing into an outfit that requires the help of another person.
Also humbling: These tight-fitting wet suits leave nothing to the imagination.
But for all the humiliation I felt at the start of the morning, I was damn glad to be properly outfitted when I plunged into the icy 43-degree waters of Southeast Alaska for a different kind of snorkel experience during my trip with Un-Cruise Adventures on its Wilderness Explorer ship.
No fish. No coral. No free diving. And a limited window to explore before we got too cold to carry on.
It's almost nothing like snorkeling in the Caribbean or other warm-water regions, but it's just as spectacular, especially if you are curious about the incredible diversity of underwater life. Snorkel in Alaska, and you'll get a different perspective on these worlds beneath the surface.
I joined two guides and two other passengers in the adventure. We jumped in a skiff and made our way over to a kelp-covered rock near Robert and Crow Islands and Cape Fanshaw off Stephens Passage.
We hauled ourselves overboard and braced for the rush of cold water. No need to do this gingerly, I thought. My face, being the only part of my body exposed to the elements, took the initial brunt. Then, my suit filled with chilly Alaskan waters, which I almost immediately began to feel warming and offering the insulation promised before we signed up for this extreme activity.
Now acclimated, we instantly started to relax and notice the creatures living in this environment. It was low tide, and the waters had good visibility down to about 15 feet. Floating easily in our buoyant suits, we didn't plan to kick too much or travel too far around the rock. The sights were plentiful right where we were, and we didn't want to kick up the nutrient-rich waters that are teeming with plankton and tiny jellyfish.
Amid a forest of kelp and fluffy (like cotton ball-topped) plumose anemones, we spotted dozens of sea stars, most of them sunflower sea stars with up to 14 arms. Hermit crabs, clams and sea cucumbers also were in sight all over the silty bed. Above the water line, clinging to the visible rock, were scores of anemones, left waiting until the tide rose again to be returned to their natural environment.
We also saw an eel and a trail of crushed clamshells — spread out like a graveyard — the victims of hungry sea stars that rule this part of the underworld. We actually did see one fish, a sculpin, also known as a sea scorpion for its spiny head. After 50 minutes, we began to feel the cold and it was time to get out.
While we had some trepidation about plunging into those ridiculously cold waters, I am happy for the unique experience I had snorkeling in Alaska with Un-Cruise Adventures. I'd even do it again. Now, if someone can help me get this wet suit off!
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