By Barbara B. Covell
For the TODAY
Summer has been officially launched on the Oregon Coast, revealing a treasure trove of outdoor activities for locals and tourists of all ages. The pristine coastline, ideal boating and fishing opportunities are featured in every community from Astoria to Brookings.
Newport is home to the largest fishing fleet on the coast, with the 4,000-acre Yaquina Bay offering scenic views of the adjacent river, historic bridge, two lighthouses and miles of unencumbered coastline. The Pacific Ocean looms large, with a bounty of whales, sea lions, harbor porpoises, seals and countless species of marine life.
Whether you are a seasoned local or a first-time visitor to the central coast, the Sea Life Cruise hosted by Newport’s Marine Discovery Tours is a ‘must do’ on your summer bucket list.
Developed in 1994 by Don and Fran Mathews in concert with a team from the Hatfield Marine Science Center, the two-hour Sea Life Cruises feature a unique, aquarium-style program and maritime attraction aboard the 65-foot Discovery, the largest excursion boat on the Oregon Coast. Don, a former Bering Sea crabber, designed the Discovery with spacious outside decks and inside seating to accommodate all, so that passengers are covered in the event of any sudden weather changes.
“The idea from the beginning was to create a fun and inclusive experience” Fran Mathews said, “by having educated naturalist guides aboard every excursion to share stories, point out local wildlife and historical artifacts. We encourage guests to take part in onboard activities from baiting/pulling crab pots, sampling the water for types of plankton, and viewing minuscule sea life on video screens.”
The Discovery captains get into the fun as well. All highly credentialed with 1,000- to 1 600-ton licenses and 24 or more years’ experience, the captains converse easily with all age groups and even welcome guests to navigate in the wheelhouse.
Prior to boarding the Discovery at Anchor Pier, cruise guests can see firsthand how immaculately the boat is maintained, as final touches to windows and decks are completed. Captain Kevin and naturalist guide Delpha introduce themselves, welcoming their 49 guests aboard for an initial briefing in the heated cabin with tables and seating for all.
Safety is the number one topic. The crew review the coast guard safety drills, including how to put on a life vest, and the onboard rules while underway. Their dialogue is both entertaining and enthusiastic about the adventures ahead.
Ideal weather conditions prompted a quick spin through the Yaquina Bay, and the captain held a steady course under the Newport Bay Bridge, passing the jetties, and out into the mouth of the great Pacific Ocean. Brown pelicans, seagulls, murres and other marine birds lead the way as the Discovery headed south, about a mile or two from the coastline. The captain periodically adjusted trajectory to seek calmer waters, and nobody got seasick.
Excitement peaked as resident gray whales began to blow, fluke and dive, putting on a show that thrilled all ages. Captain Kevin skillfully maneuvered the 65-foot boat for the best whale watching and photo opportunities. Delpha expertly talked about the gray whale migration patterns and food sources and the resident gray population, which averages about 200 on the Central Coast.
The group also learned about Transient Orca pods, who move around in large groups together, feed on mammals and are natural predators to the grays.
Heading back to the Anchor Pier, we stopped to retrieve crab pots and learned how to hold a crab and determine its sex. It was a good day for the crustaceans, as they were all released back into the bay.
“We believe that sharing our appreciation and love for the coast and water areas will lead to awareness and stewardship by the student classes and visitors that cruise with us,” Mathews said. “We are proud to say that we are a ‘Floating Adventure’ endorsed by the Oregon Coast Aquarium.”
The Mathews have received multiple awards for excellence in a nature-based tourist attraction from the Tourism Industry Council of Oregon, Governor’s Conference on Tourism, and the Northwest Aquatic Marine Educators. They support continuing education opportunities for their staff and donate $20,000 yearly in cruise tickets for community and education fundraising events.
Marine Discovery Tours offer their Sea Life Cruises daily from March to October. Special cruises can be arranged for family gatherings, corporate reunions, anniversary parties and celebrations of life.
Rates are $42 adult, $28 children aged four to 12, and free kids aged three and under. Reservations are recommended/ Call 541-265-6200 to book a spot.