On a Slow Boat South: Luxury Cruise Along North America’s Rugged West Coast

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We were having morning coffee on the large balcony of our suite when my wife jumped on the railing screaming that we were under attack. Indeed, more than 40 dolphins glided along the side wake of the Scenic Eclipse and leaped through the waves like torpedoes. We were sailing south from San Francisco to Santa Barbara when the playful sea creatures decided to follow our route, entertaining passengers on both sides of the ship for over an hour.

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Only the day before, as I sat in the ship’s beautiful and expansive saloon, enjoying a glass of his equally extensive single malt selection, did Captain Erwan Le Rouzic announce over the intercom that a number of whales humpbacks frolicked along the port side of the ship. As passengers rushed to watch the spectacle, I was grateful for the ship’s high-tech, oversized stabilizers. Whales, sea lions, seals and seabirds highlighted our journey along the rugged west coast, with our impressive discovery yacht seeming to pique the interest of wildlife and passers-by.

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The wild ports of call on the west coast

My wife and I had boarded the Scenic Eclipse in Vancouver, on what was essentially a repositioning trip, as the Polar Class 6 vessel sailed slowly south from Arctic waters to Antarctic waters, where it would be put tested in more demanding expedition routes. . Our journey would be more relaxing, but certainly spectacular and engaging in its own way. We would visit Vancouver Island, before sailing south along the west coast of the United States, encountering wildlife and charming seaside towns along the way.

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A number of tour options are available at each port visited by Scenic Eclipse.  In Victoria, BC we go whale watching in search of the massive and entertaining humpback whales.  Photo by James Ross
A number of tour options are available at each port visited by Scenic Eclipse. In Victoria, BC we go whale watching in search of the massive and entertaining humpback whales. Photo by James Ross .jpg

Our ports of call included Victoria and a whale watching trip where we were entertained by a number of performing humpback whales. After returning to port and with the afternoon free, we decided to take a few e-bikes from the ship for a tour of charming downtown Victoria. We stopped at Fisherman’s Wharf and watched the tiny tug boat taxis flit around the harbor like water bugs. Then we cycled past an impressive collection of First Nations totem poles near the inner harbour, the majestic Fairmont Empress, and along the streets of downtown Victoria with their very British vibe.

In Seattle, we ventured into the Space Needle and visited the incredible Chihuly Glass Museum and bustling Pike’s Place Market. Aboard the Scenic Eclipse are two state-of-the-art Airbus H 130-T2 helicopters designed for in-flight excursions, and I took the opportunity to get a birds-eye view of Seattle and the San Juan Islands, landing on the yacht as it went to sea.

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Astoria, Oregon introduced us to the story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and their Fort Clatsop, built near the mouth of the Columbia River after they trek across the country. In Eureka, Northern California, we hiked part of the Coastal Trail in heavy morning fog common to this section of the West Coast. When the fog lifted mid-morning and the sun peaked, we were treated to a splendid view of the rugged cliffs along the coast and dozens of seals playing in the bays. There was also the option to venture onto the Redwood Skywalk, a treetop suspended walkway that gives a whole new appreciation for these mighty trees.

Alcatraz Island sits hauntingly in the middle of San Francisco Bay.  You can take a ferry to the Rock to visit its famous prison.  Photo by James Ross
Alcatraz Island sits hauntingly in the middle of San Francisco Bay. You can take a ferry to the Rock to visit its famous prison. Photo by James Ross .jpg

Passengers rose early to arrive in San Francisco, as the Scenic Eclipse sailed majestically under the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and past the eerie and rugged rocky island of Alcatraz. After two nights in this eclectic and laid-back metropolis, we visited the notorious Alcatraz prison, then escaped to walk along the city’s bustling waterfront to Fisherman’s Wharf, the bustling seaside market where we been entertained by buskers, vendors and sea lions. sunbathing on the dock. We explored the streets of San Francisco aboard its famous cable cars, passing bustling Victorian homes on the city’s steep hills. Before leaving town, Scenic Eclipse passengers were treated to a private tour of the De Young Museum and its magnificent Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs exhibit.

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San Francisco's steep streets are best explored hanging from its famous cable cars.  Photo by James Ross
San Francisco’s steep streets are best explored hanging from its famous cable cars. Photo by James Ross .jpg

September’s fine weather turned even warmer as the eclipse continued south along the cliffs and beaches of Southern California, to Santa Barbara and its scenic setting with the Santa Ynez Mountains creating a backdrop stunning background. Spanish-influenced colonial constructions give this “American Riviera” a Mediterranean air. Here we took kayaks around the protected harbor and the town’s famous pier, getting up close to northern fur seals huddled on the signal buoys, brown pelicans and California cormorants resting on the pilings. In this port we shuttled to shore in tenders, while the Eclipse waited outside the protected bay. Its innovative GPS positioning system keeps the vessel in position, eliminating the need to drop anchor, thus protecting the sensitive seabed.

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Each port offered multiple tour options, from craft beer tastings to wine tasting in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, from ziplining to colorful gardens, energetic hikes and bike tours to educational museum tours. One can also choose to stay on board and enjoy all the amenities there.

One of 10 restaurants on the luxury yacht Scenic Eclipse.
One of 10 restaurants on the luxury yacht Scenic Eclipse. PNG

The Scenic Eclipse is the star of our adventure

The thought of Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours is that scientific discovery and luxury are not mutually exclusive. Their 168m Scenic Eclipse, which was launched in 2019, attempts to marry the two, and it’s small ship cruising at its finest, the yacht carries 228 guests in 114 suites (less than 200 on its polar itineraries) . The yacht has 10 restaurants, a cooking class room, a cinema for movies and lectures, and the 5,920 square foot Senses Spa. Besides its helicopters, the state-of-the-art boat includes a six-seater Neptune submarine, a fleet of zodiacs, tandem kayaks and paddle boards and, depending on the location of the yacht, snowshoes or snorkels.

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Leaving a very small footprint

The deck of the Scenic Eclipse also practices an open door policy. Passengers are permitted to visit at any time to observe its operation and learn about the ship’s state-of-the-art technology and environmentally sustainable systems. The yacht visits many wonderful and unique regions while leaving as small a footprint as possible. In addition to the GPS dynamic positioning system to protect the seabed, the Eclipse features an advanced wastewater treatment system, highly efficient engines that reduce emissions, noise and vibration, and oversized stabilizers that offer greater stability and less turbulence when navigating sensitive shorelines or when disembarking. for shore excursions on zodiacs.

As the Scenic Eclipse docked in San Diego, our wonderful, iconic 10-day West Coast itinerary had all too quickly come to an end. I wondered only where I could hide – to resurface once we reached the vast Antarctic. The next time!

Scenic introduced the Scenic Eclipse in 2019 and plans to deliver a second yacht, Scenic Eclipse II, in 2023.

For a list of Scenic Eclipse routes, visit www.scenic.ca.

A luxury veranda suite aboard the yacht Scenic Eclipse.
A luxury veranda suite aboard the yacht Scenic Eclipse. PNG

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Elisha A. Tilghman