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repositioning cruises to deepwater off CA

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  • Barbara Carlson
    A great way to visit deep offshore waters just beyond the shelf edge off California (and Oregon, and, more rarely, Washington) is to take one of the many
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 28, 2012
      A great way to visit deep offshore waters just beyond the shelf edge off California (and Oregon, and, more rarely, Washington) is to take one of the many "repositioning cruises"
      offered by the several cruise lines. These are direct, several-day trips from California ports to (typically) Vancouver BC, when they move their ships in spring from the winter-season cruises off Mexico, etc., to the summer-season schedule in Alaska, and vice versa in fall from Alaska
      back to the south. These runs typically take place between late April
      and mid-May and during latter September. They are very reasonably
      priced, usually costing only about $250 per person to share a room,
      with room and all food (and, jeez, is there a LOT of food!) covered (anything else is extra). The route usually is some 40-50 miles offshore, so you are mostly over deep water.  There are plenty of ships and sailing dates to choose from.
      In spring, Holland America sails multiple ships out of San Diego; the Princess line goes on several dates out of L.A. and San Francisco. One-way airfares
      from Vancouver back to CA run a bit over $200, but are only half that
      from Seattle. In fall, presumably most cruises depart from Vancouver, although some may first depart out of Seattle or Victoria. (There are certain legalities which require you to start and end a cruise in a different country, thus the use of Vancouver as one end of the journey.)

      Several important points to consider:  the boats
      move at about 20 knots, and of course they do NOT stop at night, so
      almost half the waters we'd love to bird are traversed at night; and
      most sailings leave dock in the late afternoon, so if you departed S.F.
      then you'd get very little birding time in deep CA waters during
      daylight (perhaps a little just before dark, and then for an hour after
      dawn the next morning off Del Norte County before entering Oregon
      waters), thus it would be better to leave out of San Diego or LA if you
      want a full day's birding off CA.  And of course these are HUGE ships,
      but they are very steady, so only during major storms is anyone apt to
      feel sick, and one actually uses SCOPES to see birds. Be aware that many
      of the birds are at moderate to far distances so a scope is ESSENTIAL,
      and the boat hardly slows down for them (!), so the views are not
      especially lengthy. It is easy to MISS birds that other observers are
      watching. Photo opportunities are decidedly limited. Each boat has a
      somewhat different deck plan, so the best observation sites vary from
      boat to boat and with changing wind and lighting conditions. Having multiple
      observers is helpful in spotting birds, but too large a group would be
      difficult to fit (with their tripods) at the best viewing sites.  But,
      overall, you certainly see a bunch of birds in deep water and cover a
      lot of ground for a very reasonable price! Oregonian birders have been
      taking such trips for almost a decade now, emphasizing the waters off
      their home state.

      A bunch of us took a Holland America ship out
      of San Diego from April 15-18.  April 16 found us from off s. Santa
      Barbara to off n. San Mateo Counties (though most trips start that day
      at dawn slightly farther north and end off about S.F. or southern Marin
      County), and April 17 from southern Humboldt County to central/northern
      Oregon (though most boats start off at dawn only for an hour or so in
      Del Norte waters). Off Santa Barbara we had 3 Cook's Petrels, a Laysan Albatross,
      and a Tufted Puffin. A couple observers saw 2 Horned Puffins off San
      Mateo County. The Humboldt/Del Norte waters were especially productive,
      with almost 200 Parakeet Auklets, 4 Murphy's Petrels, a Horned
      Puffin, 3 Laysans, and some 2200+ Leach's Storm-Petrels. Off Oregon we had another 6 Murphy's, a very rare Cook's Petrel for that state, another Horned Puffin, and 2 Laysans. Also, a surprisingly 'early' dozen Long-tailed Jaegers, Arctic Tern, and lots of Sabine's Gulls. I'll be taking
      another similar cruise this spring the second week in May.

      --Paul Lehman,  San Diego

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