Exploring the Alaskan Wilderness From the Deck of a Luxurious…Tugboat?

Inside Passage

Cruising Alaska has been a popular activity for decades, arguably since 1899, when wealthy railroad magnate Edward H. Harriman hired a steamboat and brought along a group of scientists and ecologists like John Muir up Alaska’s famed Inside Passage, before heading further north toward the Arctic Circle.

Because of the Swell’s relatively small size, we were able to both reach areas the larger cruise ships couldn’t access, as well as be much more flexible in our itinerary. If we saw whales in the distance, we could almost instantly change course. If we wanted to watch brown bears from the relative safety of kayaks, we could.

At night, small groups would either congregate in the hot tub or elsewhere on deck, watching the sun finally disappear behind the Coast mountains, casting the sky in deep purple, then black. On sleepless nights, I’d walk out on the deck to stare at the impossibly bright Milky Way and stars.

A subadult bear exited the woods and ambled across the rocky coastline, overturning the occasional rock looking for food. She seemed nonplussed by our presence, so we followed from a safe and respectful distance, but were still able to hear the sounds of her long claws scraping against the smooth beach stones.

We stood on the bow of the ship, scanning the cloudy horizon for a speck of black. Suddenly, a shout of “whale!” pierced the silence. A spout of water shot into the sky, signifying a humpback purging the salty Pacific seawater from its blowhole. Captain Matt Whelan steered the boat toward the massive mammals as we prepared our cameras.

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