Naturalist Interview: Summer on the Wild Coast
From sweeping coastal shorelines to craggy floating icebergs, glistening glacier-fed tidewaters to the lush canopies of ancient rainforest, the enthralling landscapes of BC and Alaska offer up some of the best summer vacationing in the world—featuring wildlife phenomena that always live up to expectations set by film documentaries.
Don’t just take this writer’s word for it. We interviewed seasoned naturalist Jeff Reynolds on what he loves about the summertime coast. Stung by a jellyfish at an early age, Jeff became fascinated by marine biology, in which he holds a Bachelor’s degree.
He explores the world with a camera in hand—whether he’s working on the ships, or surfing, kayaking, hiking or diving. You can view his photos on his Instagram feed.
In short, what can guests expect from summer expeditions?
Summer on the BC and Alaska coasts is a magnificent time for wildlife viewing. Humpback whales are migrating northward along the coast to feed on herring and krill, grizzly and black bears are bulking up on salmon in Alaska, and in BC they are eating grasses and berries while waiting patiently for the salmon to arrive in early fall. Migratory sea birds and sea lions take full advantage of dense bait balls of fish along the shoreline, and towering tidewater glaciers in Alaska are crashing magnificently into the sea. Our trips take full advantage of being in the right place at the right time and quietly viewing these animals in their natural habitat.
What makes these adventures different to your typical Canadian summer vacation?
These types of trips literally begin where the road ends. We venture out to remote locations along the coast that can only be accessed by boat and we do it very comfortably. The guests don’t have to think about any logistics once onboard, the crew takes it from there so they can relax. The chefs onboard create mind-blowing meals, shore landings keep everybody busy regardless of most weather, and numerous wildlife encounters are inevitable while on the water. The ships’ warm comfortable cabins provide a wonderful place to lay your head after a long day of adventuring, waking up each day with a new and wild place to explore.
What excites you most about getting back out on the coast?
I am very excited to get back out on these trips in order to disconnect from the busy world we’re all very interconnected with, and reconnect with the natural world: lying in moss beneath the canopy of an ancient temperate rainforest, listening to wind passing over leaves, hearing the giant breaths of humpback whales, and peeking at the fascinatingly busy intertidal world of invertebrates and lush seaweeds as the tides rise and fall. If I am lucky, I might even get to hear the soulful howl of a coastal wolf.
You’re working on the shipyard right now. What’s your connection like to these historic coastal boats?
Working in the shipyard on these boats isn’t the most glorious part of the job by any means, but it does give me an intimate understanding and appreciation of how these vessels are put together and what makes them so good at what they do. While sanding the ship’s side rails, I can’t help but imagine the next season’s guests who will lean against it to take a photo of a sea otter or admire a sunset with a drink in their hand. This will be my 7th year with Maple Leaf Adventures and I’ve had the privilege of working on all three of their vessels; each one provides a very unique experience for their guests.
The 118-year-old flagship schooner, Maple Leaf, is charming with its unique ability to experience sailing, provide a vast 360-degree viewing area for wildlife anywhere on deck, and create lifelong friendships within its cozy quarters. Swell is enchanting to travel on. Its rustic tugboat ancestry is still visible within its wood grains yet still very comfortable. With its cozy cabins and covered outside decks for viewing wildlife, it’s an amazing platform for adventure to unravel. The newest member of the family is Cascadia, an exceedingly luxurious catamaran, which is a treat to work on as it allows for more comfortable travel in bigger seas. Especially for those who are more susceptible to seasickness, this boat is very stable and an excellent platform to experience the wild west coast. Its shore craft are equally as inviting and stable, which make expeditions off the main vessel very comfortable and easy for guests.
Do you have any favourite memories from summer on the ships?
I will always remember one particularly magical day on a trip in southeast Alaska. The day began with a visit to a tidewater glacier, watching thousand-year-old ice crumble spectacularly into a turquoise sea. In the afternoon, we came across bubble-netting humpbacks gulping up schools of herring, listening to their ethereal feeding calls bursting from the depths through the onboard hydrophone. Afterward, we passed by a colony of Steller sea lions barking and jostling each other for space on a sinking rocky islet. Once Swell dropped her anchor for the night, and turned the engine off, I walked out on deck and could instantly hear the soothing sounds of multiple humpback whales breathing in the distance, and not another vessel in sight. When I looked up at the stars, there was a mesmerizing array of northern lights dancing in the sky above.
From sweeping coastal shorelines to craggy floating icebergs, glistening glacier-fed tidewaters to the lush canopies of ancient rainforest, the enthralling landscapes of BC and Alaska offer up some of the best summer vacationing in the world—featuring wildlife phenomena that always live up to expectations set by film documentaries. Discover for yourself what our summer coastal adventures are all about!