I barely remembered the underwater camera before dashing down the gangplank to stand under the shelter until we were allowed to board the bus. Figuring we were going to get wet anyway, I didn't bother with an umbrella or a jacket, just wearing jeans and a sweatshirt over my swimsuit. Forgetting a jacket was mistake #2.
Eighteen hearty souls (or mindless nitwits) boarded the bus to go snorkeling. In the ocean. In Alaska!
In wet suits, of course.
One of our guides, a gal named Allix, spent the bus trip giving us a brief tutorial on how to don a wet suit, but nothing could really prepare me for the experience of inserting a bulky body into a latex glove. And no, there are NO pictures of that, thank goodness!
At the small office, they separated us by gender and asked us our heights and weights, choosing wetsuits they thought might fit. First you fold the top half down, so you can put your legs in the proper holes. Then, while you can still bend over (Allix's words, not mine), you must put on your snug-fitting boots. Frankly, I think they should have provided barrels of olive oil for dipping body parts. The suits are stretchy, but on my short stature, they rippled. I couldn't get the boots on, so Allix helped me.
Once the boots were on, we focused on putting our arms into the sleeves and getting the hoods on before zipping up over the hood flaps to secure them. I put my hood on and promptly ripped it back off. I am severely claustrophobic and that was just too much. One of the guides brought me a larger one. Still too much. So she suggested I wait until the last minute before going into the water to put it on.
Then we carried our flippers and re-boarded the bus to ride down to the area set up for us. Once there, we were given masks and the options of wearing weights and led down a steep, rocky slippery path to the water's edge. The tide changes so quickly, a marker must be left so we know where to return. I opted not to wear weights, as I don't swim well and thought it might make it harder. Mistake #3.
Since I still couldn't bear to wear the hood, Matt told me I shouldn't put my head under water, as it was too cold, and we all know we lose body heat through our heads. However, the wetsuit provides so much buoyancy, I rolled around like some huge beachball and it wasn't long before my head was wet and some of the water was seeping down the collar. There were 3 of us who either couldn't swim or had back problems and had difficulty in the water, so we held onto lengths of foam floats and were towed to the sites. Matt grabbed my underwater camera and took this perfectly horrible picture of me:
Do I not resemble some fat, alien Superfly?
Anyway, because it had rained for 2 weeks, the waters were murky. By putting my face down as I was towed, I could see a little, but not much, and neither could most folks, unless they were wearing weights and could make it down to the bottom. So the guides brought things up for us to see.
This was a sea cucumber. They are normally long and flat, but when feeling threatened, they contract all their muscles and become short, round and hard--just like the vegetable.
This one was starting to relax a bit and become a little floppy.
A little farther out, one of the guides brought up a starfish for us. This one had lost a leg, and instead of regrowing it, had started growing a new one underneath the old one.
Did I mention that 2 of our guides were diving instructors, and that the other two, including Alex, were DiveMasters as well as marine biologists? They decided they'd need to try and mark this guy somehow to monitor that leg growth.
They also brought up something that looked like a burgundy kush ball, the insides of which are used in some sort of rare sushi. It costs about $10,000 dollars to get a license to hunt them, and hunting season is Oct. through Dec., which are the worst months for storms up there, but because of their rarity, a licensee can make around $60,000 in that time. I couldn't stay upright long enough to get a picture of this one. (If you click on the link above, you'll see lots more pictures, including the "kush balls")
By this time we'd been out there about 45 minutes, and I was getting exhausted and nauseated, probably because I had taken my diabetic meds the night before, as usual, but hadn't eaten breakfast. I told Allix I was done, so she towed me back to shore. I must have looked a little green, because she and another guide kept asking if I was okay. Allix helped me pull off my flippers and unzipped the back of my wet suit and poured some water down it. This is supposed to help, but I'm sure my lips were starting to turn a little blue. I was kicking myself for not finishing the excursion, but in reality, there was only one area I didn't go to, and within 5 minutes of my reaching the shore, the whole group was swimming back in. Besides, how many people can say they've had a marine biologist pull off their flippers? Or for that matter, have been snorkeling in Alaska?
We made the long, slippery treacherous journey back up to the van, where "coolers" of hot water awaited us. We took the scoops and poured the hot water inside our wetsuits to warm up. Ahhhh. It was almost as good as a hot tub! Back at the office, we peeled the suits off and redressed. Cups of coffee, hot chocolate or hot water for tea were waiting for us, and I felt infinitely better once I got a little sugar in my system. (Warmer, too, as my hair was starting to dry.)
Allix and the guys saw us back onto the bus, and we were taken back to the ship--and a hot shower.
We sailed out of Ketchikan by 1pm, so I didn't get a chance to get back to town. The rest of the day was spent reading, wandering around the ship, and another eye-rolling dinner with my brother and his wife at the Asian restaurant on board.
We were headed back down the coastline to Victoria, British Columbia.
(Next: Last day.)