This is a guest post from Kathy at Copperworks Distilling Company. Copperworks is a Seattle craft distillery and the latest addition to the Victoria Clipper duty free shop beginning May 8. They will also be joining us onboard select departures May 14 serving signature cocktails, sharing recipes and answering questions. 

Wander down the Seattle waterfront before or after your Victoria Clipper cruise, just past the Seattle Great Wheel, and you’ll come to Copperworks Distilling Company. We’re a locally owned, small-batch distillery that produces gin, vodka and whiskey, right there on the waterfront.

Copperworks Distilling Company

Copperworks tasting room and stills. The copper stills were handcrafted in Scotland tailored to Copperworks unique process. Photo courtesy of Copperworks Distilling Company

Pop into the tasting room and the first thing you’ll see is four gigantic copper stills. You can taste Copperworks award-winning gin and distinctive vodka, and we typically have a limited-edition aged gin available for tasting as well. Distillery tours are offered on weekends.

Our single malt whiskey is aging in barrels with expected release sometime in 2016. So no tasting of that yet, but you can learn how we make our whiskey and see the big wall of oak barrels where it’s aging.

At the heart of the distillery are four huge, gleaming copper stills that were hand-built by expert coppersmiths in the highlands of Scotland. While traditional in design, they were tailored specifically for our unique processes and the ingredients we’ve chosen.

Copperworks Distilling Company

Copperworks tasting room is located on Seattle’s waterfront. Photo courtesy of Copperworks Distilling Company

All Copperworks’ spirits are distilled from a high-quality craft beer, made from a base of Washington-grown malted barley. Malted barley is the most expensive ingredient to base spirits on, but we believe it produces the most flavorful, high-quality spirits.

And beer is the first love and area of expertise of our two co-owner/distillers, Jason Parker and Micah Nutt. Jason has a long history in the Seattle brewing industry, starting as the first brewer for Pike Place Brewing (now Pike Brewing Company) and ultimately working as Brewmaster for Pyramid Breweries. Micah is an experienced and creative home brewer. They now apply their knowledge and love of malted barley, and craft beer, to producing flavorful distilled spirits.

Copperworks Distilling Company

Co-owner/distillers Jason and Micah running the still. Photo courtesy of Copperworks Distilling Company

Copperworks opened its doors in late 2013 and now more than 100 restaurants and bars in the Seattle area serve craft cocktails using Copperworks spirits. And we’re excited to be joining the duty-free shelves on the Victoria Clipper.

We’re proud to be one of many distilleries in the Seattle area and across Washington State. It’s a new industry for the state, but Seattle already has more distilleries than any city in the U.S. A huge variety of clear spirits, whiskeys, brandies, liqueurs and more are produced by more than 20 distilleries located in the greater Seattle area. There are a lot of spirits tasting and distillery tours to enjoy here!

Gin-Gin Mule

The vodka-based Moscow Mule is all the rage right now. But gin also goes very nicely with ginger. This is an easy and tasty variation of the classic – and no copper mug required!

1.5 oz. Copperworks Gin
.75 oz. simple syrup
.75 oz. lime juice
2 oz. ginger beer
8 – 10 mint leaves
Garnish: sprig of mint

Gently muddle the lime juice, simple syrup, and mint in the bottom of a mixing glass. Add gin and ice, shake well. Strain into a tall glass filled with ice and top with ginger beer and a sprig of mint.

Copperworks Distilling Company

1250 Alaskan Way
Seattle, WA  98101

Happy spring! Even though we are already halfway through the month, there are still plenty of April things to do in Vancouver. Celebrate the joys of spring by taking in flowers at the Cherry Blossom Festival, going for a run, attending one of the many arts festivals around the city or cheering on the home team – the Vancouver Canucks – as they head in to the first round of playoffs for the Stanley Cup.

Cheer on the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Vancouver Canucks hockey game. Creative Commons Licensed by Mr. Leung.

Vancouver Canucks hockey game. Creative Commons Licensed by Mr. Leung

April promises to be an exciting time in Vancouver, as the Vancouver Canucks head into the first round of 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs against the Calgary Flames. The first two games of the series will be held on April 15 and April 17 at Roger’s Stadium in Vancouver, while the second two games will at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary. After missing out on the playoffs last year, the city of Vancouver is thrilled to be hosting the beginning of the playoffs and to have their team back in the action. However, the series will be close fought, as the Vancouver Canucks are ranked 5th in the NHL and are 2nd in the Pacific Division, while the Calgary Flames are ranked 6th in the NHL and are 3rd in the Pacific Division. Interestingly, the Vancouver Sun reports “every time the Canucks and Flames have met in a first-round series, the winner has advanced to the Stanley Cup Final.” We hope this is harbinger for the Canuck’s success and will be watching the next four games with baited breath, while cheering on the team.

From Photography, to Fashion, to Cuisine, the Arts Reign Supreme

Pentax Camera. Creative Commons Licensed by  Martin Taylor.

Pentax Camera. Creative Commons Licensed by Martin Taylor

The Stanley Cup playoffs are a huge event, but this month the city of Vancouver is also all about the arts. In fact, this there is a festival for almost every type of art you can imagine from culinary to performing arts, and everything in between. As Vancouver has produced some of contemporary art’s best photographers, there is no better than kick off a month’s work of art-related events than with a festival dedicated to photography. Called Capture, the festival is a celebration of local and international photography and lens-based art, featuring exhibitions at art galleries around the city, public installations and a series of community-based workshops, tours and arts talks. Whether you are a photographer or simply interested in learning more art of photography, this festival is sure to please.

Canstruction design from Disney.  Creative Commons Licensed by Chakshu101.

Canstruction design from Disney. Creative Commons Licensed by Chakshu101

If you are interested in design and giving back to the community and the world, there a two fascinating events this April that will likely leave you inspired. First up is Eco Fashion Week, which focuses on creating a more sustainable fashion with zero textile waste. In addition to viewing the beautiful collections created by the participating designers, one of the best parts of Eco Fashion Week checking out special challenge assignments such as the “Thrift Chic Challenge” or “68 Pound Challenge” that require designers to create collections from thrift store finds or repurpose old clothes into new outfits. Secondly, there is Canstruction Vancouver, which challenges teams of architects, engineers and designers to construct giant sculptures made entirely out of canned food. After the structures are built, they are viewable to the public as art exhibits. Last year’s creations included incredible designs like a huge traveling gnome, a Lego spaceman, hot air balloon, oyster and more! When the contest is over, all canned food is donated to the Greater Vancouver Food Banks. Stop by either event to see what innovative designs they come up with this year.

Samosas at EAT! Vancouver. Creative Commons Licensed by Kris Krug.

Samosas at EAT! Vancouver. Creative Commons Licensed by Kris Krug

Last, but not least, at the end of April through the beginning of May foodies will have the opportunity to eat their heart out at EAT! Vancouver Food + Cooking Festival. This week-long event showcases Vancouver’s extraordinary culinary culture and is the largest food festival in Canada. At the Eat! Vancouver, you will get to experience and taste Vancouver’s vibrant cuisine as well as great food from around the world, participate in hands-on workshops, attend collaborative chef dinner with some of the top chefs in Canada and watch as some of the best chefs and bar tenders in the country faceoff in fast-paced competitions.

The abundance of sporting and arts events occurring in Vancouver this spring will provide you with a chance to explore the vibrant and diverse culture of the city. Likewise, the variety of April things to do in Vancouver is just a taste of the exciting events to come during the warmer summer months.

More April Things to Do in Vancouver

If you are looking for April things to do in Seattle, all you have to remember this month are the four “Fs” – flowers, fairs, food and, of course, fun! The early spring weather has caused flowers to bloom around the greater Seattle area, and there are several festivals happening this month to celebrate them. April also features events that allow you to sample the delicious cuisine Seattle is known for or provide a chance to get the kids out of the house to make new friends. Whatever your interests are, you are sure to find plenty of activities to keep you busy.

Stop and Smell the Flowers

Tulip Fields. Credit: Melissa Sitrin.

Skagit ValleyTulip Fields. Credit: Melissa Sitrin

The perennial favorite Skagit Valley Tulip Festival has begun! With the aforementioned early spring the area has been experiencing, the flowers are already in full bloom, the valley appearing as though it has been covered with rainbow colored blankets. Stop by the RoozenGaarde to view the beautifully landscaped display garden that features a Dutch windmill and is filled will 100+ tulip varieties as well as daffodils, hyacinths, crocus, iris and specialty flowers. Behind the display garden is an additional 25 acre field filled with tulips and a 15 acre daffodil field. If you would like to see more manicured tulip displays, visit Tulip Town, which features expansive fields, gardens filled with unusual and hybridized tulips and indoor show featuring tulip bouquets set in front of painted murals.

In addition to the paid gardens, there are also many other fields that allow you to admire the flowers without paying a fee. If you are looking to avoid the crowds, try visiting the fields mid-week if possible. The festival runs the entire month of April, but since the flowers bloomed earlier this year, the earlier in the month you come, the more color and blossoms you will see. Make sure to plan your visit soon so you don’t miss the show.

Delight in Seattle Cuisine

Beecher's Cheese, one of the many tasty samples you will find at the Arcade Lights Festival. Courtesy of Savor Seattle.

Beecher’s Cheese, one of the many tasty samples you will find at the Arcade Lights Festival. Courtesy of Savor Seattle

Another much loved favorite, Seattle Restaurant Week, returns this month. With over 165 restaurants offering 3 course meals for only $30, you have the chance to visit any of the restaurants that were on your fall list that you did not make it to or revisit old favorites. If Restaurant Week is not enough to get your mouth watering, check out the Arcade Lights Tasting Festival at Pike Place Market. During this one night extravaganza, you will get to sample artisan food (you can expect both savory and sweet bites) along with craft beer, Washington wine and other drinks from over 60 local food and drink purveyors.

If you are looking for a little adventure along with your food, Argosy Cruises resumes their Tillicum Village Cruises and Salmon Bake mid-month. This trip transports you from the Seattle waterfront to Tillicum Village on Blake Island. Upon your arrival to the Village, you will served steaming calms and nectar followed by a buffet of alder wood smoked salmon. After the meal, you will be treated to a one-of-a-kind performance by the Tillicum Village dancers. You will also have time after the show to explore, shop or take a stroll on trails and beaches before cruising back to Seattle.

Enjoy Time with Your Whole Family at Fairs and Festivals

International Fountain at Seattle Center. Creative Commons Licensed by Dimi Talen.

International Fountain at Seattle Center. Creative Commons Licensed by Dimi Talen

Spring is a great time to get kids who have been cooped up inside all winter out of the house. Take your family to the Spring Fair at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe to get outdoors. You’ll be able to see baby animals, pig races, a garden show and a demolition derby and enjoy rides and fair food.

There are also a few kid-friendly events taking place at the Seattle Center this month. The Seattle Center Whirligig! festival kicked off on April 3, and will run until April 19. This event is full of supersized inflatable rides, juggling, storytelling and live music that is sure to keep kids 12 entertained and busy for hours – an excellent way to get rid of any excess energy. Whirligig! Is closely followed by the Seattle International Children’s Friendship Festival, which celebrates the ethnic heritages of children at the festival through music, ballet and folk dance. Not only is this festival is a great way to teach children about other cultures, but it also and encourages kids to become friends with people from all backgrounds.

More April Things to Do in Seattle

The Butchart Gardens' Japanese Gardens in the spring. Credit: Brenna Ciummo.

The Butchart Gardens’ Japanese Gardens in the spring. Credit: Brenna Ciummo

Spring has definitely sprung in Victoria. The results of last month’s 39th Annual Flower Count have been tallied, and Victoria is proud report a whopping 17,257,368, 541 blooms, with the Bloomingest Community being awarded to the City of Colwood for the second straight year. Of course admiring the beautiful flowers is just one of many April things to do in Victoria. Earth Day is on April 19 this year, and there is no better way to celebrate than to get outdoors. Go for a bike ride, nature walk or hike through local forests, the options are endless!

Take Victoria by Bike

Bikes all ready to go. Photo courtesy of The Pedaler Bike Tours.

Bikes all ready to go. Photo courtesy of The Pedaler Bike Tours

Bicyclists rejoice! On April 19th, Victoria will be hosting the 5th Annual Saanich Cycling Festival. The event kicks off with the BIG Family Bike Ride at 11:00 am, which is 5 km mass participation bike ride along the Shelbourne Corridor to celebrate Earth Day 2015. To ensure younger children are also able to participate in the Earth Day ride, there is a shorter Kids Bike Ride for riders age six and under. During the festival there will also be stage entertainment, a bike rodeo, a biking skills challenge, face painting, a bouncy obstacle course and giant slide and even a treasure hunt with a bike as the prize.

If you are not able to attend the festival, there are still more biking adventures to be had in Victoria on several new cycling tours. Travel through Victoria’s historic and unique neighborhoods on the Bicycle Tour of Castles, Hoods and Legends. During the tour you will be able to take in scenic views of the Dallas waterfront, imposing mansions and the tallest totem pole in the world. You will stop at, and have the opportunity to explore, popular landmarks like Craigdarroch Castle, Chinatown, Beacon Hill and Cook Street Village.

Cyclists looking out to sea. Photo courtesy of The Pedaler Bike Tours.

Cyclists looking out to sea. Photo courtesy of The Pedaler Bike Tours

Cycling enthusiasts who also enjoy a good brew can experience some of the best craft beer in Victoria with the Hoppy Hour by Bicycle tour. Along your bike ride through Victoria, you will stop at three distinct breweries where you can sample the taps. If you want to continue the fun after the ride and try even more delicious beers, your guides will point you in the right direction. Finally, families of all ages, but particularly those with young riders will enjoy Family Fun on Bicycles, which can be tailored to the ages and skill levels of your kids and take you to visit petting zoos, feed seals, fly kites or check out native heritage sites.

More to Explore in the Victoria Outdoors

Redwood tree. Credit: Brenna Ciummo.

Redwood tree. Credit: Brenna Ciummo

The 39th Annual Flower Count may be over, but that does not mean the flowers and the wonderful weather are, in fact this is just the beginning! To celebrate the spring and summer weather, the Capital Region District (CRD) Regional Parks have a variety of naturalist-guided walks and hikes from April through June. Rent a car or take a bus and venture 20-40 minutes outside of Victoria to discover the tall trees of Devonian Regional Park, take in the spring wildflowers of Mill Hill (while learning interesting plant lore), enjoy a forest tea party or bird watch from Island View Beach Regional Park. Most of these guided tours are free and do not require registration unless noted on the tour. There is no better time to get outside, learn something new and explore new regions of Victoria.

More April Things to Do in Victoria

We have been expanding our packages and activities to include exciting trips that will take you ziplining through the trees 150 feet above the ground; bicycling past castles, mansions and the tallest totem pole in the world; or sampling some of the best flavors of the Northwest on culinary tours. On a recent trip to Victoria, our Senior Network Administrator, Mark Reynolds IV, and his wife, Vera, were lucky enough to try out one of our newest tours, The Definitive Craft Brewery Tour. This fully-guided tour takes you to three of Victoria’s unique breweries where there is generous amounts of craft beer to sample. Check out this post by Mark to learn more about his experience.

Mark and Vera Reynolds. Credit: Vera Reynolds.

Mark and Vera Reynolds. Credit: Vera Reynolds

On our recent trip up to Victoria my wife and I had the pleasure of attending the West Coast Brewery Tour. Being sporadic beer drinkers, my wife and I knew very little of how beer was made and were excited to get a look behind the scenes. We joined the group of about seven others at the Clipper terminal, hopped in the Brew Van and were on our way.

It was a short five minute ride to our first stop, the largest and oldest craft brewery in Victoria, Phillips Brewery. We were impressed with the brewery’s facilities before we even got to taste the beer. The space was covered from floor to ceiling with beautiful and stunning modern artwork. Some pieces were for sale and had been submitted by local artists. Other pieces were simply the natural décor and calligraphy skill of Phillips’ in house art director. I’m not joking when I say the brewery matched the lively-designed beer bottles.

Beer samples during the private tour. Credit: West Coast Brewery Tours.

Beer samples during the private Victoria beer tour. Credit: West Coast Brewery Tours

We started off with a large sample of “Blue Buck” beer, which was our favorite of the day, as the Phillips guide gave us an in-depth look at the company’s history. The company was started by a 27-year-old who was fresh out of college and wanted to start a brewery. He could not get a bank to give him a loan, so to get started on his dream, he took out as many personal credit cards as he could and maxed them all. Amazingly, this plan worked and he was in business. A few years later he had employees and had moved twice, once notably due to his landlord kicking him out after a beer flood.

A behind the scenes look at the brewing process. Credit: West Coast Brewery Tours.

A behind the scenes look at the brewing process. Credit: West Coast Brewery Tours

After topping off our favorite sample, we followed the guide around the back as he showed off the huge brewing tanks, kegging, bottling and canning areas. We returned to the storefront and were introduced to the “Growler,” which is a refillable beer bottle of intimidating size, and the custom “Growlerific” automated “Growler” filler. The contraption had been a project for some local college students and allowed you to select your brew of choice and automatically dispense it.

Samples of Victoria Beer. Credit: West Coast Brewery Tours.

Samples of Victoria Beer. Credit: West Coast Brewery Tours

Next, we were on our way to 4 Mile Brewery. This is a smaller pub and brewery run out of a beautiful hundred year old building about 15 minutes away from downtown. The interior architecture and décor were tasteful and our favorite brew was the Summer Wheat Ale which we enjoyed while being shown around the premises. The other brews at 4 Mile were very strong on the hops and managed to produce some interesting facial expressions on my wife and me. This was to the great amusement of the rest of the party. We were all quite socially lubricated at this point and after this stop we were all friends. The ice had been broken and everyone was having a great time.

CANOE Brewpub Beers. Credit: West Coast Brewery Tours.

CANOE Brewpub Beers. Credit: West Coast Brewery Tours

Our final stop was at the CANOE Brewpub, which was run out of an old brick power plant building and had a huge waterfront patio. Talking with their guide was a lot of fun and it was quite amusing listening to the challenges faced by the brewpub; the greatest of which was keeping up with their patrons ability to drink. The three beers we tried were all delicious and their French fries looked amazing. When we return to Victoria we will definitely be coming back to dine.

After the tour, the guide, who had been a great host and provided wonderful commentary throughout, was kind enough to drop us off at the Royal BC Museum. The entire trip took about three hours and was a wonderful time. I highly recommend the tour, it was a great way to make some local friends and finished off our stay in Victoria.


Clipper Vacations


Clipper has big things in store for you in 2015. You may have noticed that we have a new look and a new logo, but that is not all.

The launch of this new look represents the beginning of many changes, all dedicated to enhancing the customer travel experience with a new atmosphere, refreshed style and comforts. From our new Clipper Café, to new excursions, to new decor on the boats, we are committed to making this year amazing for you.

In the next few months you will hear more of Clipper’s ongoing commitment to the community and continued customer engagement. Stay tuned for a series of announcements including the biggest events, contests and prizes in Clipper history.

Check out our video below to discover the new Clipper and get a taste of the exciting excursions we have to offer. Be sure to tell us what your favorites are in the comments!

In this second part of our two part series with Clipper naturalist Justine Buckmaster, we chat more about whales, specifically her favorite animal, orcas. Read part one here. 

Orcas. Credit: Justine Buckmaster / Clipper Vacations Naturalist.

Orcas. Credit: Justine Buckmaster / Clipper Vacations Naturalist

What is your favorite animal to study/watch?:

Orcas have been my favorite animal ever since preschool. Seeing them never gets old or boring to me. Over the years of spending summer vacations on San Juan Island as a child and later working at Clipper, I also had unforgettable experiences with other animals, too. When I was 12, harbor porpoises also stole my heart after watching hundreds of them chuff along at the surface from shore. No animal will ever be as exciting as orcas to me, but harbor porpoises come close. I love all cetaceans and enjoy watching all of them, but we all have our favorites.

Why are orcas interesting to you?:

Whales in general have always inspired me by their size and ability to live underwater despite being air-breathing mammals like us. When I first learned about whales and the food chain in preschool, I wanted to know which ones were at the top of the food chain. I was surprised to find out that orcas, though much smaller than other whales were the apex predators of the sea. I’m still impressed by their intelligence, power and their problem solving abilities.

I recently watched a documentary where orcas were referred to as “the most terrifying predator since the T. Rex” and it’s true (if you’re an orca prey item, humans have never been killed by wild orcas)! But what I find even more impressive than their highly evolved hunting skills, is their apparent curiosity for the world around them. For being such “terrifying predators” they are also very relatable to us. We see a lot of ourselves in them, especially when they appear to be just as interested in us as we are in them.

Credit: Justine Buckmaster / Clipper Vacations Naturalist.

Orca breaching. Credit: Justine Buckmaster / Clipper Vacations Naturalist

What’s the coolest experience with orcas you’ve had?:

It’s really hard to pick just one, but the first one that comes to mind is the first time I looked into a wild orca’s eye. There’s something unforgettable about being eye to eye with such an impressive animal and wondering what they think as they mirror your gaze. This happened when I was 12 years old, on the same trip as the harbor porpoise experience. My family spent many afternoons on our vacations at Lime Kiln State Park, where the orcas often swam by and would even come close to shore on occasion. This was one such occasion. Since I was a regular visitor to the park, I had a favorite rock close to the water’s edge to watch the whales from. When I heard that the orcas were headed toward the park, I climbed down to my rock and waited for them to arrive. I didn’t have to wait very long before I heard loud slaps on the water of an orca breaching in the distance. I watched excitedly as the orcas made their way north past the park. It as a super pod! All three resident orca families, J pod, K pod, and L pod were traveling together and seemed to be socializing.

I watched excitedly as nearly 90 orcas breached, spyhopped, slapped their flukes on the surface and breathed just a couple hundred yards from where I sat. After a couple dozen orcas passed things got even more exciting when one adult female turned ninety degrees right in front of where I sat and headed straight for the shore! She surfaced again in front of me, close enough to touch if I weren’t so surprised with another orca at her side. I looked at her eye, and to my surprise, she was looking right back! Her eye looked into my left eye and then my right before she sounded and swam with her partner through the kelp. Every orca that passed after that also swam close through the kelp bed, but none of the others looked at me like the first female did. After they all passed by, I was so excited, I jumped up with my hands in the air and shouted “That was the greatest moment of my life!” Since then, I’ve looked several orcas in the eye and it never gets any less thrilling.

One last whale story:

On August 23rd, 2014 I married my husband at the top of Lime Kiln Lighthouse. Just before the ceremony I was feeling a little bit nervous, pre-wedding jitters, I suppose. I looked out the window of the house we were renting and saw a familiar cluster of whale watching boats heading north toward Lime Kiln. I asked my mother to take me to the park to see the orcas and told her it would help calm me down. She agreed and dropped me off to watch the whales as she went back to the house to finish preparations for the ceremony and bring back my dress.

I watched just half a dozen orcas slowly moving north past the park in the late afternoon light about half a mile from shore. When my mom returned and told me it was time to change into my dress while she set up the chairs and decorations, we saw an orca heading for the shore just to the north of the lighthouse. To our surprise and delight she turned south, cruising along the shoreline in the kelp. She surfaced several time close to the shore and slapped her flukes right in front of the rock I stood on. It was none other than the 104 year old matriarch of J pod, J-2 “Granny.” I felt much more at ease and tore my eyes away from the whales to change in a nearby shelter away from the guests.

When the ceremony started, the other orcas that had passed the lighthouse with J-2 also came close to shore and several more foraged and lingered in the distance. The loud blows of the closest ones punctuated the music as I walked down the aisle. Then, when the music stopped, the orcas were silent. The ceremony started at the lighthouse door and then we went to the top of the tower to say our vows. As soon as the ceremony finished and my husband and I kissed for the first time as husband and wife, my mom suddenly exclaimed from below “Justine! Humpbacks!” I looked to where she pointed but didn’t see anything. Someone laughed and said “She’s pulling your leg!” However, she insisted, and sure enough, two humpback whales surfaced side by side just south of the lighthouse heading north. Everyone got up and watched with awe and excitement as they slowly passed, lifting their impressive flukes with each dive. Orcas could also still be seen in the distance. It was perhaps, the most magical moments of my life.

J-2 "Granny" right before Justine's wedding. Credit: Justine Buckmaster / Clipper Vacations Naturalist.

J-2 “Granny” right before Justine’s wedding. Credit: Justine Buckmaster / Clipper Vacations Naturalist

Justine Buckmaster

Justine Buckmaster, Clipper Vacations Naturalist, snaps a photo during a gray whale watching excursion on the Victoria Clipper III.

Whale watching season is upon us, and those of who have traveled with us have probably noticed the naturalists on our boats who have the fun job of searching for and identifying wildlife while we are out on the water. To find out more about this awesome job, I chatted with Clipper’s very own naturalist, Justine Buckmaster, who has been with the company for five years and she filled me in on what naturalists do, how she became interested in becoming one and some of her experiences with wildlife. In fact, Justine as so many great stories that we are splitting them into two posts. Make sure to check back in for more exciting whale tales.

What do naturalists do?:

Naturalists are educators and guides. We present information and interesting facts about natural history and wildlife. I find that most naturalists, myself included, love engaging with people and answering questions. Being very passionate about the subjects we talk about is also important. When the passengers see or hear you get really excited about something, they get excited too, and that helps spark a deeper appreciation for nature and may inspire them to take what the learned and saw home with them, inspiring even more people! That’s the most satisfying part of the job for me.

What made you want to become a naturalist?:

I saw my first orca when I was about 5 years old. His name was Keiko, the star of Free Willy. Being a fan of his movie, my parents took me to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, where Keiko was being rehabilitated for his release back into the wild. His story inspired me, and I really wanted to see what orcas in the wild were like. My parents found out about the Resident Orcas of the San Juan Islands and booked our first trip to Friday Harbor the same year. If seeing Keiko was special, seeing J pod on that first whale watch was like my birthday, Christmas and Independence Day all in one hour! From then on out, I knew I wanted to learn everything I could about orcas and to see them again as many times as I could. This later led to a desire to share everything I had learned with others.

Orcas. Credit: Justine Buckmaster.

Orcas. Credit: Justine Buckmaster / Clipper Vacations Naturalist

What is the best thing that has happened to you while at Clipper?

It would probably be the time, about three years ago, when a group of about 7 transient orcas surprised us on our northbound trip to Friday Harbor. I was talking to some passengers when the boat suddenly stopped. I excused myself and went up to the wheelhouse to see what was going on. When I asked why we stopped the captain (Kit Carr) simply pointed out the front windows and said “Take a look!” and moments after several black fins broke the surface right in our path. I ran downstairs excitedly and announced our lucky find to the passengers.

The passengers happily set out to the outer decks as we let the orcas pass and then followed them at a safe distance. I noticed after a few minutes of apparently resting and slowly falling behind us, the orcas suddenly picked up speed. Then, they rode alongside us, but at a distance, now matching our pace and making a point to parallel us. I realized and announced that something had woken them up, likely a hapless seal or porpoise and now they were hunting. But I never saw the prey animal that caught their attention surface, so I joked that it was hiding under the boat and using the sound of the engines to try and escape.

The orcas continued to parallel the boat as we made our way to Possession Point, and then the orcas suddenly slowed and began spreading out in a long line and we slowed too, to watch. The long line turned into a semi-circle and I talked about how this line up looked very similar to the fish corralling technique of resident orcas. However, I knew that they were mammal eaters and that I’d never seen transients use this technique. We had spent a good forty minutes with the orcas at this point and the captain announced that it was time to leave so that we wouldn’t be late to Friday Harbor, but just as he tried to start the engines all the orcas surfaced in a perfect circle around the boat. Each adult surrounded us on all sides about eighty yards away, as the juvenile began slapping his/her flukes on the surface. I narrated as it became obvious that we couldn’t leave without endangering the orcas. I again hypothesized that these orcas were after something hiding under the boat. I turned off the mic and watched, waiting for the next sign from the orcas as they all logged (floated) at the surface around us.

I stood on the bow when right below my feet there was a little “KUFF!” I looked down to see a speckled, silvery harbor seal staring up at me! I turned the mic back on and announced “It appears a harbor seal, the preferred prey of the transient orcas has just surfaced a few feet from the bow. This small species of seal is very common in these waters and can-EEEP!” I gasped, then quickly muted the mic as a huge, black and white mass suddenly appeared from the depths and took the seal under with a mighty “KWOOF!” as he exhaled-so close the water droplets sprayed up by his breath soaked my face. The orca’s tall dorsal fin was close enough I could have touched it as he lingered just below the surface while the family appeared below to share the prize. The orcas took the seal away about fifty yards before feeding and then “celebrating” with several spyhops and cartwheels.

Gray whale. Credit: Justine Buckmaster.

Gray whale. Credit: Justine Buckmaster / Clipper Vacations Naturalist

What is your favorite trip, package or activity out of the products we offer (i.e. which would you recommend people try)?:

The Gray Whale excursions and the Whale and Sea Life Search or Seattle to San Juan Islands Whale Watching & Sealife Search Day Trips are definitely at the top of my list, for obvious reasons. I feel like both options are excellent for different reasons. The gray whale excursions really appeal to families with younger children and older folks because it’s a shorter trip, but still includes the thrill of watching whales and visiting a new town. The San Juan day trip is a much more in-depth tour that shows not just whales and other wildlife, but beautiful historic landmarks like the Deception Pass bridge and the vast variety of natural habitats and unique geology of the Salish Sea. It’s the perfect trip for those that want to experience everything this beautiful and unique region has to offer.

Gray whale. Credit: Justine Buckmaster / Clipper Vacations Naturalist

Gray whale. Credit: Justine Buckmaster / Clipper Vacations Naturalist

The gray whales have arrived in Puget Sound! Last week, whales “Saratoga” #723 and #21 were spotted feeding around Whidbey Island. These marine mammals are pretty amazing, as they travel thousands of miles from Alaska to Mexico twice a year. In addition, a few whales even return to feed in the same spot every year. However, these magnificent animals are only here for a short time, so make sure to take a ride on the Clipper III for a gray whale watching tour in order to catch a glimpse of them while they are in town. Onboard, trained naturalists will help spot whales and educate you more about them. Until then, here are a few facts about gray whales to get you started.

1. The most coastal of the baleen whales, gray whales get their name from their mottled gray skin.

2. The orange and white patches often seen on gray whales are caused by parasitic whale lice. The heads of the whales often have areas that are encrusted by barnacles.

3. Gray whales reach up to 50 feet in length and weigh up to 35 tons. As such, gray whales can weigh as much as five adult male African elephants.

4. The whales have no dorsal fin and show their tales when diving.

5. Gray whales have two blowholes that produce a spout that resembles a heart shape.

Heart shaped spout. Credit: Justine Buckmaster.

Heart shaped spout. Credit: Justine Buckmaster / Clipper Vacations Naturalist

6. Gray whales have a thick layer of insulated blubber, which is about 10 inches thick, to help keep them warm in cold waters.

7. According to NOAA, “gray whales used to be known as ‘devilfish’ because they fiercely defend themselves and their calves against whalers” and have been known to do the same against orcas, but they also can be friendly and will swim alongside boats to people watch.

8. In October, the gray whales leave their feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi Seas near Alaska to head south to calve (which usually takes place in December or January) in Mexican waters. During this time they seldom eat, but live off the energy stores in their layer of blubber.

9. In February and March, the first whales leave the lagoons in Baja and begin traveling north to Alaska, followed by mother whales with calves. The whales arrive in Washington in late March to early April.

Gray whale spyhopping. Credit: Justine Buckmaster.

Gray whale spyhopping. Credit: Justine Buckmaster / Clipper Vacations Naturalist

10. About 22,000 gray whales make the annual migration from California to Alaska each year.

11. On average, this migratory 10,000 mile trip takes the gray whales 2-3 months to complete.

12. To feed, the whales fill their large mouths with mud from the sea bottom and filter it through their baleen (a structure similar to the bristles on a push broom growing from the roof of their month) to find and consume benthic crustaceans, such as shrimp and worms. Gray whales are the only type of whales to feed in this manner.

13. According to Orca Network out of the entire gray whale population, only a handful of whales (about 10) are aware of the high ghost shrimp population at the south end of Camano and Whidbey Islands, and visit to feed every spring during their northbound migration.

14. A male gray whale nicknamed “Little Patch,” and identified with the number 53, has been the first gray whale to arrive in the Puget Sound the past two years. He has visited the sound for 23 years.

Whale tail. Credit: Justine Buckmaster.

Whale tail. Credit: Justine Buckmaster / Clipper Vacations Naturalist

For a sneak peek at Gray Whale Watching from Seattle with Stop in Coupeville or Langley on Whidbey Island with Clipper Vacations, watch this video:

One of the many advantages to taking a Gray Whale watching excursion with Clipper Vacations is the two-hour stop in either Langley or Coupeville. These quaint, historic towns offer an incredible variety of things to see, try and explore!


Selected goods at edit, a store in Langley, WA

edit. is a shop in Langley, WA selling a select few items handpicked by the owner.

If you love wine, cheese and bread, you can’t go wrong at bayleaf in Coupeville. They offer an incredible selection of artisan cheeses, and their helpful staff can help you select the perfect wine pairing.

If you’re interested in rustic and handmade items, swing by edit. in Langley. The shop offers a handful of items that are thoughtfully curated by owner David Price, which are selected for their usefulness and thoughtful design.

On sunny days, there’s no better place to be than Kapaw’s Iskreme in Coupeville. Tons of delicious flavors and generous scoop sizes; what could be better?


If spotting Gray Whales has left you famished, both Langley and Coupeville offer some fantastic places to eat! Front Street Grill in Coupeville offers a great menu, fresh mussels and an incredible view of Penn Cove.

Prima Bistro in Langley features French-inspired Northwest cuisine, fresh Penn Cove mussels and rooftop seating if weather permits.


In need of a caffeine fix? Useless Bay Coffee Co. roasts all of their coffee in small batches on site an offers a variety of roasts, from the light House Breakfast Blend to the dark Smokey Saratoga.

In Coupeville, Coupeville Coffee & Bistro Coupeville Coffee & Bistro serves renowned Portland-based coffee roaster Stumptown Coffee and offers a variety of light lunch options.

Points of Interest

Callahan's Firehouse glass-blowing studio

Once the Langley firehouse, this building is now home to a glass-blowing studio. Photo by Melissa Sitrin

One of the more unique spots in Langley is Callahan’s Firehouse. Originally built to be Langley’s firehouse in 1939, the building has recently been converted into a glass-blowing studio for renowned local artist Callahan Campbell McVay. In addition to using the space to create his own art, McVay also offers glass-blowing experiences by appointment. While you likely won’t have time to make your own glass creation before the boat leaves, be sure to stop in to watch his art being made, and maybe even bring a piece home for yourself!

If you’re in Coupeville, make sure to check out the historic Coupeville Wharf. Originally built to house grain and other goods, it now houses a number of shops and restaurants. The wharf also features several exhibits about local marine life, including a Gray whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling!

With so many things to do in both Langley and Coupeville, watching the whales is only half the fun!

For a sneak peek at Gray Whale Watching from Seattle with Stop in Coupeville or Langley on Whidbey Island with Clipper Vacations, watch this video:

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