Map Display

Thursday, 21 August 2014

A Few Curiosities

I Colour of the water offshore in the tropics: Blue
Colour of the water offshore in temperate and cold waters: Emerald green
Reason: water in the higher latitudes is filled with krill and other microscopic organisms

II Colour of filters on our water maker in Antarctica: Pink
Colour of filters on our water maker up here: Green
Reason: The .5C degree waters of Antarctica contain a lot of krill - they're like tiny pink shrimp and form the main food of baleen (non-carnivorous) whales; Water here contains both animal and plant nutrients

III Usual colour of bird droppings needing to be cleaned off the deck: white
Colour of bird droppings in September-October in Blaine USA: purple
Reason: blackbirds and crows eat wild berries and make special trips over the marina looking for clean white decks to splatter

IV Safest place for engine flooding: Buenos Aires
Reason: This (fortunately) has only happened to us once. As the water is fresh river water (and not salty sea water) it did no permanent damage.

V Best countries for doctors: Canada (we are citizens here), Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Chile
Reasons (Canada): in Canada we have really cheap medicare; excellent doctors and open walk-in clinics
(Australia) in 2006 the cost per visit was about $50 US. I was worried about one blackhead; the doctor also examined every inch of me under magnification looking for skin cancer problems. (NZ) I needed foot surgery (2x) and this was done in a private clinic for the same cost that my friend (with her 80% Healthcare) paid in Hawaii for her 20% share
(Norway) I needed minor surgery and paid cash. The doctor cost less than the taxis to and from the Hospital
(Chile) Our sailor friend Felipe is also an orthopaedic surgeon. He treated my sore hands - injecting hyaluronic acid weekly 5x - and I had no problems for over 2 years. The cost in London for 1 treatment of cortisone was £300. Hyaluronic acid has not been approved as a treatment in North America or Mexico so my lovely doctor in Victoria injects cortisone (free).

VI Cheapest mobile phone service: Argentina; most expensive for residents: Canada; in the US: horrendously expensive for visitors

VII Where is internet easily available? Dongle worked everywhere in Norway & the UK - even in what we considered to be wilderness; wifi in marinas in Australia & UK; In the wilderness we usually have to connect with the very $$$$Satphone.

VIII Laundry facilities: Best: Argentina, Chile, Mauritius where it is cheap to get it washed for you
Most expensive: Norway; There don't seem to be any public coin laundromats - everyone has their own machines. We found the campground in Tromso that has a washer/dryer and got there by taxi. It took us 9 hours to wash 4 loads … there was no outflow valve for water distilled from the dryer
and the clothes stayed wet until we discovered the secret! In Alta our friend Rune let us use the Somby washer/dryer.

Pet Peeves: 1) Being 500nm from land and reading "Downloads are ready for your computer" When you click "Sure, go ahead" it then informs you the obvious: that it can't do it because there is no internet out there.
2) Tinned veggies and bottled hot peppers that say either: Best Before or Refrigerate after Opening
3) Frozen kumera (sweet potato) chips which say: Product must be cooked thoroughly - internal temperature needs to reach 165F as measured by a food thermometer in several spots.
Best hitchhiker: This little yellow bird (either an Arctic or a Yellow Warbler)

At 8/22/2014 02:00 (utc) our position was 54°37.45'N 133°19.52'W

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Leaving Kodiak Behind

Bosun Bird

Nick and Jenny Coghlan
Nick and Jenny on BOSUN BIRD had spent two summers around Kodiak Island and Katmai Park. They told us that typical summer weather was two or three days of easterly weather alternating with a similar period of westerly. They found their cruising plans affected somewhat by the seemingly endless easterlies that had curtailed our expected leisurely wander along the Alaska Peninsula. While our anchorages were scenic and secure, only brief intervals interrupted the ugly weather "outside".

While the winds continued contrarily from the east for a full nine days, we took advantage of a day with slightly lighter winds to reposition ourselves to Anton Larsen Bay at the eastern end of Kupreanof Strait, the channel that separates Kodiak from Afognak Islands. This narrow cleft between the two mountainous islands blocked out all memories of rough ocean waves and entertained us with the antics of numerous sea otters.

Nick and Jenny had kindly provided us with the coordinates of a safe route through the convoluted entrance into a snug landlocked pool in a corner of Anton Larsen Bay - a perfect spot to wait out the last bad weather day before our Gulf of Alaska crossing.

With its entrance well hidden, our little corner of Anton Larsen had the look of a tiny lake in cottage country. There were even a small collection of summer houses on the nearby shores. Our "idle" sunny day was much appreciated. Of course there is always work to do - I emptied, cleaned and reloaded the fridge and changed a desalinator filter while Mary Anne baked a collection of goodies to be consumed during the crossing. Oh, did I mention we were hiding from a gale? Our last night did not disappoint with 40 knots of wind moaning in the rigging and rain hammering on the deck. We were reminded once again how fine it is to be in a safe anchorage rather than at sea when serious weather is about!

Sea otter watching our departure
We departed with winds around 20 knots from the south. This strength of wind is not particularly objectionable but the left-over waves from the gale made it so. To describe the ride as "uncomfortable" would be a gross understatement. But with a much reduced wind stirring up the water, by nightfall the motion had become bearable; by midnight we were motoring through the swell with hardly any wind at all.

High pressure is building into the Gulf over the next day or two and, while it doesn't promise a lot of wind, it should give us gentle weather and a pleasant crossing. With any luck it will last us to Dixon Entrance on the BC Coast.

At 8/17/2014 13:46 (utc) our position was 58°06.02'N 149°23.08'W

Monday, 11 August 2014

Bear and Ranger Meetings

Plumose Nemone
On August 9 after two dives in Katmai National Park we moved the boat to the prime bear-viewing area … a site we'd visited with much success in 2003. August 10 was going to be 'Bear Day' … but domestic priorities intervened. Printing our dive logs and making a soup seemed more important to me and Larry cleaned and put away dive gear.

Oregon Triton with eggs
At intervals, we'd take up our binoculars and focus on the bear antics ashore. Bears seemed to be wrestling each other, splashing around in the water, chasing sea gulls, possibly catching unwary fish. Bears seemed to be digging things up and eating kelp. They were certainly unaware of the charter vessel (with 2 Guides and 6-8 passengers) about 150 feet distant and aiming enormous cannon-sized cameras at them.

However, we had a quiet confidence going here on Traversay III. We were going to eat a good lunch, dress warmly, and zoom over to within 200 feet with OUR cameras once the other visitors had departed.
We finished our work and went about the rather arduous process of getting the dinghy and motor out of the forward hold. Because of our propensity for long offshore trips in high latitudes, we keep them safely stowed. Setting them up involves a well-rehearsed and choreographed set of activities. Heavy lifting is with ropes and winches. Air into the dinghy is by means of reversing the Shop-Vac air flow. The dinghy and attached motor is then winched high up over the lifelines and carefully set in the water.
As we stood surveying the dinghy in the water we were a little saddened because while we were now the ONLY boat in the anchorage, along with the other people, the bears had also vanished. The lowest tide of the day had now passed us by. However, we took some comfort in the knowledge that when the slightly higher tide at 7pm rolled around, we would be READY! All that was needed was to hook up the fuel system and motor up near the bears.

That's when the motor refused to start and gave signs that it is dead beyond even the tender ministrations of talented mechanics. So we now have to replace the sonar transducer and the dinghy motor. Luckily, the next morning rolled around and we managed to take photos from the dinghy (Larry rowed) and from Traversay III.

And that's the source of this photo of the mother bear and cubs - they were among the 21 bears that we saw.

Mother and Cubs
We were surprised at the many changes in the Park since we were there in 2003. When we arrived, there were several helicopters buzzing around and we noticed a Ranger Hut. The rangers - Mary and Dan - came around just before our first dive. As we were having coffee we told them about our concern. Had our hull been damaged by the log we hit on our way to Katmai? We asked about changes in the Park. I learned that Katmai was designated as a National Park in 1980, there had been rangers there and the Amalik Bay hut was built in 1999. Dan and Mary were volunteers (based out of Washington State University in Pullman WA). We had not met the rangers or noticed the hut (tiny in the immense landscape) on our first visit.

We learned more about the bears. Mary and Dan had been visited (on the tiny porch of their hut) that morning by a mother and three cubs. Despite their rapping on the windows and making a lot of noise, the bears showed absolutely no awareness whatsoever. We had heard this about the penguins in Antarctica … after years of study by British observers in Port Lockroy, the many penguins have no interest in humans and ignore them as they go through their regular penguin activities.

Mary and Dan wanted to know about underwater life. They asked about some marine life they had spotted. We showed our dive logs of Alaska from the 2002 and 2003 visits and consulted 'Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest' (written by friends Andy Lamb and Bernard P. Hanby) to find that the invertebrates they wanted to know about were Plumose Anemones and Oregon Tritons.
Sunflower Star

The rangers and visitors had been finding stray sea star arms on the beach and had heard that a type of plague has been attacking stars. Was it true? They asked about clams - were their numbers reduced? We had heard this and the causes. The stars are affected by a type of virus and the sudden proliferation of the sea otters is wrecking havoc with the shellfish population. The natural predators of sea otters are seemingly only Cruiseships (who cannot even see them let alone steer to avoid them) and Man. Whales find them an unsatisfactory source of nourishment - that enormous fur coat surrounds a tiny amount of meat.
Sunflower  Star - one many color variants
We printed extra copies of our dive logs so Dan and Mary could see the healthy-looking sea stars for themselves. We saw many beautiful sunflower stars (photos will be published here in a few weeks). The Lamb/Hanby book states that this star "is the largest star on the planet and may have up to 26 arms bearing a grand total of 15,000 tube feet!" We've never personally counted more than 17 arms, but all those we saw had healthy looking arms and one was able to move off at a great rate of knots while we took the photo!

Yesterday we moved the boat across Shelikof Strait. We're now anchored near friends we met in Opua New Zealand - Nick and Jenny aboard Bosun Bird. It was a welcome treat after our various passages to have an excellent dinner and stimulating conversation aboard their boat last night.

At 8/11/2014 18:26 (utc) our position was 57°30.73'N 153°50.01'W

Friday, 8 August 2014

Katmai National Park

Our planned series of leisurely day trips along the Alaska Peninsula turned into two over-nights because of an expected northeast [i.e. contrary] blow that would leave us in a place we didn't want to be for three or four days.

Our main reason for avoiding overnight sails in British Columbia is a well-founded concern for hitting large logs floating unseen in the dark. We were not particularly worried along the Alaska peninsula though as we had not seen any floating logs at all ... there are in fact very few trees on the shore.

Thus it was a great surprise when at 2 am on our second overnight coastal hop a very solid jolt told us we had hit something in the dark. Surprises on boats most often happen at 2 am! We were motoring in a calm at the time so quickly took the engine out of gear to protect it - our boat is so slow it takes a measurable time for anything to get from the bow to the stern. A quick damage survey yielded that the power-train and propeller were fine. Then my mind drifted toward the sonar transducer sticking down from the hull beside the forward end of the keel. Could the log have hit it? Sure enough ... a few drips of water were coming in around it.

At this point, we didn't know whether we needed an emergency haul-out as soon as possible or whether we just had the financial penalty ahead of us of having to lift the boat out of the water to reinstall the loosened transducer in a seamanlike waterproof way.

To shorten this tale of woe, the truth was half way between. A quick SCUBA dive revealed that we are in no danger and that the haul-out can be delayed until southern BC; a quick test showed that it will be a NEW transducer that will be installed. The big thump turned the present one into an inert brick, albeit one still firmly attached to our hull.

The picture shows the view to seaward from our first anchorage in Amalik Bay, part of Katmai National Park. Katmai became a National Park in 1980. In the early part of the last century, it was the site of a VERY large volcanic eruption. The following paragraph from a park brochure gives an idea of the scale of the event:

Just two eruptions in historic time - Greece's Santorini in 1500 B.C.E. and Indonesia's Mount Tambora in 1815 - displaced more volcanic matter than Novarupta [Katmai]. The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa belched out just over half as much yet killed 35,000 people. The vastly isolated Novarupta's eruption killed no one. had it occurred on New York City's Manhattan Island, Robert Griggs calculated, people in Chicago would hear it plainly. The fumes would tarnish brass in Denver. Acidic raindrops would burn your skin in Toronto. In Philadelphia the ash would be a foot and a half deep. Manhattan would have zero survivors.

While ash is clearly visible on most of the mountains above our anchorage, all that volcanic stuff is not the main claim-to-fame of the park today - it is the bears! Since arriving here we have seen nine Alaska Brown Bears including three mothers with one and two cubs. These large grizzly variants are marvelous fun to watch, particularly the pairs of babies tussling with each other and trying to wear out their mothers.

Additionally, in less than three days in the park we have seen dolphins playing around our bow, sea otters floating about on their backs and a family of sleek river otters living on an island. We even found time to SCUBA dive the same island we explored underwater in 2003.

We've declared tomorrow a bear-watching day.
Geographic Harbor

At 8/9/2014 06:55 (utc) our position was 58°05.92'N 154°35.47'W

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Return to King Cove

Only 1 sailboat amidst a crowd of fishboats
We passed by King Cove at midnight on Monday ... the wind was blowing at 40 knots directly down the channel towards us. We made our way to a wilderness anchorage reputed to be good in a nearby Bay and using a mix of motoring and sailing to combat the on/off 30+-knot winds. We anchored in Captain Harbor at 0200. It did turn out to be a quiet refuge. We made the final adjustments to the genoa (which involved a trip up the mast for Larry) and had a good rest. You can tell an anchorage is terrific when it takes energy and effort to dislodge the anchor ... the anchor finally came up covered in oozy smelly mud ... 'highly' recommended!

Our arrival here on Thursday was in beautiful summery sunshine. We met up with our friend Bob from last year and he took us on a berry-picking and bear-watching trip. I don't bake, but was able to turn the berries into a 'Summer Pudding'. This is a trifle-like cake and involves layering a pan with sponge cake, slightly cooking the berries in a sugary sauce, pouring it into the cake-retaining walls, placing a top layer of cake and crushing the whole business under a dive weight. After 8 hours in the 'fridge, it is an excellent dessert.

Red salmon-berries and yellow 'Russian'-berries
On our first day here, the salmon-fishing season was interrupted by a closure due to the lack of rain which kept the salmon streams from flowing. This denies the spawning salmon entrance up the streams and bodes ill for the future of the fish if too few are spawning this season. All the fishermen were out catching up until the 6pm closure.

Luckily, we were sitting outside when fisherman Henry Mack walked by the boat with a beautiful 5-lb salmon he wanted to get rid of. I went over to the Harbormaster's office with a gift for Henry on Friday morning - that's when all the talk and gossip amongst the fishermen takes place. I was told that the season has been good for salmon fishers. The price of fish is high this year and those who are still in the business will do well.  It was also very good for the crab fishery after we left last year (it opened on October 15th).

Henry with gift from Hawaii
Picking berries with Bob
We asked the fishermen about safe anchorages further East along this coast as the wind has started howling once again ... so we are likely to need safe anchorages. Perhaps there will be rain, and that will be good for the salmon. We never did see any bears out with Bob, so we're heading towards Geographic Harbor - we know they are there - we saw masses of them our last visit there eleven years ago!.

Coffee hour at the harbor office

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Arrival in Alaska

We believed from previous visits that Alaska is a state of superlatives. This arrival did nothing to dispel those feelings.

As we approached the coast, the grey skies that had been with us for days cleared to reveal three skyscraping volcanic cones on Unimak Island. A quick check of the charts revealed the most distant to be 50 nautical miles away [90km] as Mary Anne had guessed. The air was so clear that they could have been painted on a nearby backdrop.

As the wind died away and we began motoring, we realized that in any direction we looked, we could see the spouts of whales. They were blowing, breaching and diving with their tail flukes high in the air. Closer to the boat where we could focus on smaller targets, puffins excitedly rushed out of our way waving their comically colored beaks this way and that.

Mindful that there was a very windy forecast for the night, I briefly considered quitting early and anchoring in Dora Harbor on the south shore of Unimak Island. I rejected this idea worried that we might not see bears on an island. We really wanted to see bears ... and how windy can it get in a few hours from this flat calm?

It turned out that it could get VERY windy in a only minutes as we rounded Ikatan Point to cross the bay of the same name. Sailing as close to the wind as possible under much reduced sail, we just managed to fetch the windward side of Deer Island on our way toward Captain Harbor. Even with land being only a few miles to windward, spray was flying everywhere as we bashed through the waves in the 35 knot gale. The motor and propeller are simply not powerful enough to drive us through such wind and waves.

Just as suddenly, the wind died away to a zephyr. That's what the motor is for! Simply adding sail would have been a big risk as the wind was going to return as we crossed Cold Bay - the next open stretch. The motor also allowed us to gain some extra ground to windward before the next big blow.

Cold Bay and the Deer Passage waters off King Cove did not disappoint in the wind department as we sailed another open 15 miles in less than two hours.

Belkofski Bay leading to Captain Harbor was mercifully quieter as it was now very black, the route was very much to windward and we couldn't imagine navigating under sail into a tiny anchorage we could only "see" on our radar. The wind came up briefly over 40 knots just AFTER we took the sails down for the arrival. The motor would barely push us into it at 3 knots even though the the waves had vanished from our proximity to shore.

The dark shore was only visible in our imaginations but stars glittered in the clear sky above and to the north, the Aurora Borealis danced overhead - the first aurora we had seen in many years.

The anchor finally went down at 1am in Captain Harbor near King Cove, Alaska at the end of a very tiring day. We were 13 1/2 days out of Makua Bay, Oahu, Hawaii.

Now it is the morning after and a beautiful blonde colored grizzly is playing in the shallows and running along the beach. Even from our anchor spot we can tell he is huge - Alaska sized!

At 7/29/2014 11:36 (utc) our position was 55°10.12'N 162°04.89'W

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Head to Wind

'Head to Wind' is the least favoured point of sail ... and after a brief reprieve of two days when we were able to make repairs, we're BACK ... only we've switched from being on Starboard tack (wind on the left) to Port tack. Those of our friends who have been aboard will recognize that we're now finding it marginally more easy to cook safely (galley angle downwards towards the sea) whereas it's impossible to drain the shower. Of course, it would be extremely hazardous to attempt a shower - we would be bruised all over (that is - more than we already are)

Our two days of calm were quite lovely. I don't know if you can tell from Larry's sunset photo that the ocean felt and appeared as smooth as oil. We seemed to pass through a 'portal'. On one side, we wore shorts and bare feet and drank ice water. Here on this side I'm wearing full woolies, my Norwegian sweater and a toque (the Canadian equivalent of a navy cap). Several events flowed into each other ... we lost the trade winds, the temperature made a large diminuendo down to 11 degrees C, and we stopped seeing flying fish. As the waters calmed we started noticing 'By - the - wind Sailors' looking much like bubbles escaped from plastic packaging. We recognized them from our earlier trips through these waters - they're a type of jellyfish - the formal name is Vilella Vilella. A blue-coloured oval-shaped mantle clings to the sea protecting the important bits (hydroids complete with gonads) underneath. This arrangement is topped by a triangular-shaped 'sail' which allows it to move pelagically (that is - carried by the waves) over the sea. They will sting if you get one attached to your skin, and they leave a purple circular imprint if they dry on the deck. On one of our trips through these waters they started coming in exponentially greater crowds until they covered the sea as far as we could see. According to our book 'Pacific Coast Pelagic Invertebrates' they're "usually less than 6 cm long" so that is a lot of stinging cells! They started to diminish, and just as suddenly as they'd appeared, they were gone. Where to? It's another mystery.

You may wonder why I'm reading about our little neighbours here at sea instead of the usual mysteries, spy fiction and women's books. Well ... my Kindle reader died this morning. This is unfortunate since I'd purchased numbers of new books especially for this trip.

I do have a number of print books I recommend: several about Hawaii and Alaska ... Buddy gave me 'The True Story of Kaluaikoolau' by Piilani ... it's a sad tale ... as is 'A Divided Forest (by Doris Chapin Bailey) about Alaskan native people. 'Libby ... the Alaskan Diaries and Letters of Libby Beaman, 1879-80' tells about the first white woman to live up there. 'The Orchardist' by Amanda Coplin is a reconstruction of what life might have been like in 19thC Washington State fruit-farming territory. 'Measuring America' by Andro linklater describes the surveying of land to prepare legal title. It highlights the seedy business of illegal land-grabbing and how enormous fortunes were made by stealing from the native tribes and parcelling off the land. My respect for John Marshall (Chief Justice for 35 years and biographer of George Washington) vanished when I found that he sided in favor of people like Phillip Morris (tobacco) when the land-grabbing was disputed in court. If you're interested in Darwin, overwhelming proof that evolution is still underway is provided in Jonathan Weiner's book 'The Beak of the Finch'. Prepare yourself ... there's more sad news for our species as you near the end of the book. Good news in 'Wild Trees' by Richard Preston ... more species are still being discovered up in the crowns of lofty redwoods. We both enjoyed re-reading 'Two Years Before the Mast' (Richard Henry Dana Jr) having travelled along the California coast. It's a great book for sailors or for those who want to know more about the sea and the by-gone traditions of sailing vessels.

Speaking of failures, one of our halyards failed while we were labouring under the heavy seas on Starboard tack. Gratifyingly, it 'failed to fail' in the usual manner of failures at sea (which is invariably at the worst possible time). The genoa sail halyard (used to pull the sail up) wore through near the top and we didn't notice until a short bit of rope showed itself by flopping down next to the mast. Much of it was left uselessly but safely encased in a few rolls of the sail. We had to wait for calm, and then take the whole large sail out of its track in the roller furler. Larry attached a different rope to it and I fed the sail back into the furler while he winched the new rope back down inside the mast. The sail was then furled in readiness for the winds' return.

I made black bean soup yesterday to combat the cold. Fortunately the Kindle still worked as my recipe in 'Pressure Cooking for Dummies' is now lost.

Today it's Larry's turn to cook and he always makes gratifyingly wonderful meals under difficult conditions. I hope that your summer is not too cold, and not too hot ... just perfect!

The going is rough - you would laugh to see my posture as I attempt to write this.

At 7/26/2014 01:48 (utc) our position was 48°04.60'N 163°28.82'W