Your goal is to see whales and our goal is to show them to you. With thousands of departures over 29 years, our local knowledge of orcas and other whales is unmatched. As a result, our success rate is the best in the industry. Our whale watching tours are guaranteed to connect you with whales, or your next trip is free.
Puget Sound Express has been operating whale watching tours for 29 years, and in that time we have always endeavored to make your trip a lasting memory. Ours is a family-run business, with three generations of knowledge and caring at the ready. Continue reading “From Our Family to Yours”
Captain Pete Hanke, Jr. and the MV Red Head were the subject of a nice profile recently in the Port Townsend Jefferson County Leader, written by Jan Halliday. Jan always does a great job of connecting the dots between all of the varied and interesting maritime histories that intersect in Port Townsend, and this article is no exception.
Three huge California sea lions snooze on the deck of the bell buoy off Point Hudson, lifting their heads as Capt. Pete Hanke Jr., at the helm of his passenger boat, the Red Head, circles them. The animals’ powerful shoulder muscles allow them to heft their 1,000 pounds out of the water onto the surface to rest after their exhausting swim from the Pacific Ocean into Puget Sound.
We pick up speed and head for Protection Island, commenting on this winter’s slides that block the beach near Middle Point, and with an eye out for orcas and whatever else might be around. Pete picks up the microphone again to point out a rare pair of puffins, dozens of rhinoceros auklets and bald eagles menacing seagulls sitting on their nests. Passengers, bundled up in coats and sipping coffee on deck, peer over the rail.
We head out in the strait where a solitary minke whale surfaces briefly, its round black back sparkling in the morning sun.
Pete Jr. wasn’t always out on the water. He grew up on a farm near Yakima, where his parents, Sue and Pete Sr., grew apples and alfalfa seed. His dad, also a boat captain here, was born into farming, growing up on a cattle ranch on Salt Springs Island, Canada.
In 1965, when Pete Jr. was in grade school, his dad bought his first boat. It was not a beginner’s boat. It was the Alcyone, an 81-foot, gaff-rigged topmast schooner. Pete Sr. had taken sailing classes at the University of Washington, on Lake Washington, in boats little larger than a canoe. This boat had two masts and seven sails.
Frank Prothero, who built Alcyone in the 1950s in his backyard, taught Pete how to sail her. At that time Frank and his brother, Bob, ran their boat shop, heated with a potbellied stove, aboard an old barge anchored in Seattle’s Lake Union.
“We lived a dual life in those days,” said Pete Jr. One day he’d be sitting next to his dad driving a tractor; the next, he’d be helping his dad raise the sails on the Alcyone or sitting at the feet of Bob and Frank around the stove.
Two other boats familiar to Port Townsend residents, the historic schooners Adventuress and the Martha, were then within spittin’ distance of Alcyone, all of them moored on Dock A at Seattle’s Shilshole Bay Marina.
“The Adventuress was an old derelict then,” said Pete. “Her mast was cut off, her hull painted baby blue and her cabin buttercup yellow.”
Both the Adventuress (built in 1913) and the Martha (built in 1907) have been restored and refitted and continue to haul out here for repairs.
Today the Alcyone, the Martha, and the Redhead are often tied stem to stern at Point Hudson. The Adventuress, when she’s in port, often ties up to the dock in front of the Northwest Maritime Center.
How did these boats end up here? In 1981, Libby Palmer, an educator and administrator, and her partner, Henry Yeaton, a Rhode Island School of Design graduate, moved to town because they’d read about Port Townsend’s Wooden Boat Foundation, formed in 1978 after the first Wooden Boat Festival at Point Hudson.
They lived in their Chevy truck “for quite some time,” while Libby worked as an administrator of WBF.
“Many people had moved here and already had the madness for boats in them,” said Libby.
Libby and Henry approached Bob Prothero, Pete Hanke’s mentor, and an astute businessman as well as a genius at lofting, and together they opened the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding. It began modestly in the Boat Haven near Key City Fish and fledgling boat shops, then moved to larger quarters in the industrial park on Otto Street (where Port Townsend Foundry now makes boat hardware). Its current home is on the waterfront at Port Hadlock.
Do you see where I’m going with this? The Port Townsend you see now stems from these beginnings.
Port Townsend is not the City of Dreams, as rumored, where everything fails. It’s the City of Dreams that came to fruition and that keep growing. All that you now enjoy in Port Townsend was someone’s idea, first the scaffolding of buildings and infrastructure built in the 1870s and then, in the 1970s, a second burst of creative energy that created the maritime, retail and arts community.
Those with “the madness in them,” had already seized industrial space at the Boat Haven to work on wooden boats. Carol Hasse opened her now world-renowned Port Townsend Sails in 1978 at Point Hudson. Fabricators, electricians, prop makers, refrigeration experts, boat upholsterers added to the growing list of services.
To complete the circle, students graduating from the Wooden Boat School formed the Shipwright’s Co-op. And some of the boats they still refit and repair include the Southeast Alaskan fishing fleet, including longliners built by Bob and Frank Prothero from 1930-1950 on Seattle’s Lake Union.
Not satisfied with just founding a boat school, Libby Palmer and Judy D’Amore founded the Marine Science Center. Judy’s then-husband, Frank, built the fish tanks and also opened his Bread & Roses bakery which, after a hiatus, morphed into today’s Pane d’Amore, located Uptown.
I have, in my lunch bag stashed on the Red Head, a chunk of bread from Pane d’Amore, and a round of Mt. Townsend Creamery’s Seastack cheese. The cheese is made by young people also “with the madness in them,” this generation for farming and fermenting.
We are heading home after cruising the south end of San Juan Island. And this story I’m telling you is wrapping up, too.
The Red Head was sold in the 1990s to an outfitter in Valdez, and this year came back to the Hankes. Her trip home in January was a rough one, with 8- to 10-foot seas and 45 mph winds north of Icy Straits, the rails frozen and barrels of diesel fuel rumbling about in the stern. Before she was relaunched, she was refitted, repaired and painted at the Port Townsend Shipwright’s Co-op. The magnificent orca whales show up in June. Call Puget Sound Express for a half-day excursion aboard the Red Head to see them.
(Jan Halliday wants to tell you one more thing about Pete’s whale-watch boat. The boatbuilder’s wife was a redhead.)
Puget Sound Express is having a great whale and wildlife watching season so far in 2014. While we wait for the Southern Resident pod of orcas to return to our waters, we’ve been treated to some outstanding shows from transient orcas, sea lions, seals, porpoise, eagles and seabirds.
One of the most impressive displays we’ve seen so far this season was captured by customer Irving Mortensen, who trained his camera on a majestic humpback whale that was breaching near the MV Glacier Spirit. An impressive sight to be sure.
We’re currently running the following tours:
The perfect trip for visitors and travelers with a busy schedule! Departing in the morning, our fast and comfortable 40-seat M.V. Red Head seeks out orcas, minkes, humpbacks, and gray whales to give you a guaranteed whale watching experience in the San Juan Islands.
Our signature tour, this daylong cruise on the M.V. Glacier Spirit combines orca watching with an on-board naturalist, and a tour of the beautiful San Juan Islands. We visit the popular town of Friday Harbor for shopping, island cuisine, and sightseeing. This San Juan Islands trip is also the official passenger ferry route between Port Townsend and San Juan Island, and in addition to seeing killer whales, we often see minke whales, Stellar and California sea lions and Dall’s porpoises.
This post refers to a 2014 tour.
We’ve just returned from an outstanding 3-day birdwatching and wildlife cruise in the San Juan Islands. We spent the days cruising the beautiful San Juan Islands looking for orcas, sea birds, shore birds, sea lions, and much more. It was a great trip – spring is arriving in the San Juans.
We hope you enjoy these photos from that cruise (thank you to Peter Wiant for sharing these with us), and we want to remind you that seats are available for our May 7-9 cruise in the San Juans – don’t miss it!
We’ve been in the whale watching business for nearly three decades. During that time, we’ve used a variety of boats to take folks whale watching in the San Juan Islands. However, one of our favorites was a nifty boat called the RED HEAD.
After some time away from Port Townsend in Alaska, it is our great pleasure to welcome the RED HEAD back home to Puget Sound Express for the 2014 whale watching season. Seating 40 comfortably, this great boat will serve as the new primary vessel for our 4-Hour whale watching tours, which begin on May 1 – and we’re also using it for our Gray Whale tours through the end of April. It is just about as fast as the boat we have been using, the Olympus, but it is much roomier and rides much more smoothly on the water. We know you’ll love it – and it will make the already fun 4 hour trips even that much better.
Pete, Christopher, Trevor, and Ashley sailed the RED HEAD down from Alaska, and we’ve spent the springtime getting her ready for you. (That trip was an adventure – be sure to ask about it on your next cruise!)
As the weather begins to warm, one of the ocean’s most majestic creatures begins a long journey that happens to pass right by the Pacific Northwest!
Gray whales are 50-70ft long baleen whales that migrate between feeding and breeding grounds each year. In March and April they pass through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound, providing an excellent opportunity for us land lubbers to visit with and learn about these whales.
As you might guess, gray whales are…dark slate-gray in color, and their skin is often marked by scars and discolored patches caused by parasites that have fallen off the whale or are still attached. They have two blowholes on top of their head, which can create a distinctive V-shaped blow.
We’ll be starting tours on March 15, 2014. If the weather looks rough, we’ll reschedule for a nicer tday. We leave Port Townsend at 10am and travel south to Everett, WA. The trip lasts about 4 to 5 hours and the waters that we travel in are protected and usually calm. This is a guaranteed tour, if you do not see gray whales on this tour we will issue a voucher good for another tour.
2013 was an amazing year in the waters off of the Olympic Peninsula and the San Juan Islands. Our Southern Resident pod of orcas traveled a bit more for food, which took them to some new locations. Additionally, we saw more transient orcas than we have for many years. If that wasn’t enough, humpbacks gray whales, and other large sea mammals were out in force. All in all, a terrific year of wildlife watching!
We’re excited to hit the water in 2014. We have some very exciting news to share in the coming days about a larger, comfier boat for our 4 Hour cruises (yay!). In addition, we’re expanding our 3 Day Wildlife Cruises in the San Juans, as well as our Puffin Cruises in July and August around Protection Island.
And the good news is, you can make your reservation right now for all of our tours! Follow any of the links below to instantly reserve your seat.
2014 will serve as the 29th year our family has operated whale and wildlife tours in the Pacific Northwest. We are honored that you choose to travel with us, and we hope you will have amazing experiences with us in the coming year!
2014 WHALE WATCHING CRUISES
- Gray Whale Tours (March 15 – April 30, 2014)
- 4 Hour (Morning Departure) Guaranteed Whale Watching Tour (May – October, 2014)
- 4 Hour (Afternoon Departure) Guaranteed Whale Watching Tour (June – August, 2014)
- Full Day, San Juan Islands/Friday Harbor Whale Watching Tour (May – September, 2014)
- One Way (PT to SJI) San Juan Islands/Friday Harbor Whale Watching Tour (May – September, 2014)
- One Way (SJI to PT) San Juan Islands/Friday Harbor Whale Watching Tour (May – September, 2014)
3-DAY SAN JUAN ISLAND WILDLIFE CRUISES
- May 7-9, 2014 Three-Day Wildlife Cruise in the San Juan Islands
- September 28-30, 2014 Three-Day Wildlife Cruise in the San Juan Islands
3-DAY AUDUBON SOCIETY SAN JUAN ISLAND BIRDWATCHING CRUISE
PORT TOWNSEND MARINE SCIENCE CENTER CRUISES
This holiday season, enjoy something a little out of the ordinary with Puget Sound Express.
For 3 nights only – December 14, 21 and 23, we are offering special trips from Port Townsend to downtown Seattle and Lake Washington to take part in the “Christmas Ship Parade.” This is the 16th year we’ve participated, and the Parade is a favorite with our family and customers. These tours are a fantastic holiday tradition for your family or company year-end celebration.
We pick the dates that are the most popular, so that you are sure to get a good show:
- December 14 (1pm-9pm): Lake Union/Ballard Locks/Lake Washington/Kirkland/Medina
- December 21: (1pm-8pm)Lake Union/Ballard Locks/Lake Washington/Madison Park
- December 23: (5:30pm-midnight) Grand Finale on Lake Union!
On board the Glacier Spirit, we enjoy warm soup with fresh baked bread while enjoying Christmas carols and great company. Once in Seattle, we join the Parade by the waterfront soaking up the sights and sounds of the choir singing from the ‘Christmas Ship.’
Reserve your seat online ($85/person)
*Please note that space is limited on these tours. A minimum passenger count is required for departure, and trips are weather dependent.
Join the crews from Puget Sound Express and the Port Townsend Marine Science Center at the Rose Theatre for a special screening of Blackfish
On Saturday, September 28, 2013 at 1 p.m. the new documentary Blackfish will be shown at the Rose Theatre. We are honored that Ken Balcomb, who’s featured throughout the film and is the executive director of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, will do a Q&A following the screening.
Ken Balcomb is a pioneer in photo-identification of cetaceans and is the founder of Orca Survey (1976), a study of Pacific Northwest Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcas). Not only has he participated in humpback studies across both oceans but also rare beaked whale identification throughout the world. One of his main interests is the effect of sonar on cetaceans and how that causes mass stranding. He founded the non-profit Center for Whale Research in 1985 and is its executive director. If you’ve taken a whale watching tour with
The event is co-sponsored by Puget Sound Express, the Rose Theatre and the Port Townsend Marine Science Center (PTSMC). Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and $6 for children.
Blackfish is a mesmerizing psychological thriller with a killer whale (orca) at its center. The film features the story of Tilikum, who is an Icelandic transient. Unapologetically designed to both inform and affect, this delicately lacerating documentary uses the tragic tale of a single whale and his human victims as the backbone of a hypercritical investigation into the marine-park giant Sea World Entertainment.
The events portrayed in the film that took place 40 years ago still affect the orca population in our area today. Blackfish certainly brings to our attention the impact of whale imprisonment for human amusement.
“The documentary Blackfish helps us understand the social structure of whales and provides a glimmer into their complex society,” said Janine Boire, executive director for the PTMSC. “The movie challenges our view of humans and whales and how we interact together.”