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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.

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

Monday, 21 July 2014

Halfway

During today's early hours, our distance from land topped out at about 1000 nautical miles [1800 kilometers]. Rather than seeing ourselves moving daily further from the Hawaiian Islands, we can now think of it as moving steadily closer to King Cove, Alaska.

We are well to the west of previous Hawaii-mainland routes we have followed with the California and Oregon coasts never closer than 1700 miles [3000 kilometers]. Motion since Hawaii has been boisterous, to say the least, in winds up to 25 knots and seas over 2 meters. Waves frequently wash the length of the deck and soak either of us if we are inattentive enough to be caught out in the open.

As we approach 40 north latitude, we will have a little break from all the movement as we cross the semi-stationary "Pacific High" with its light winds and more gentle seas. We will use that opportunity to make a few small repairs. North of the high, our pace will slow a bit in the more benign but less sailorly conditions.


At 7/22/2014 03:11 (utc) our position was 39°04.08'N 161°46.89'W

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Northbound for Alaska

Our departure from Makua Bay on the west coast of Oahu was a leisurely affair. The gentle breezes eddying around the Waianae mountain range would only deign to move us along at 3 or 4 knots.

Tourist experiences of gentle waves lapping Hawaiian shores stem from the location of most resorts on the lee shores where the climate is drier and the beaches are safe for swimming. Offshore seas in the tropics, absent any island to break the waves, are NOT gentle. They are typically driven by 20 knot trade winds stirring up the surface of the water over thousands of miles.

Thus our initial relaxed pace lasted only an hour or so before we emerged from the shelter of Kaena point at the northwest tip of Oahu into the full force of the trades. Traversay III immediately acquired a very enthusiastic motion and began galloping forward at seven to eight knots even with her mains'l shortened to the second reef and a much reduced headsail. Tarrying on the exposed deck or on any open part of the cockpit would, in a short time, lead to a thorough drenching from all the flying spray.

Now, two days later, we are some 350 miles north of the islands. The sea temperature has only dropped a single degree to 26C [79F]. With ventilation a bit constrained to keep spray out of the boat, interior daytime temperatures are a bit oppressive. Outside, on the other hand, is very pleasant day or night no matter how little is worn. The sun shines down through scattered clouds onto a sea of a blue almost impossible to believe real. Of course we know it WILL get colder and the sun WILL hide itself behind clouds and fog a week north of here.

Weather in this part of the world is dominated by a large stable high pressure area to the north of Hawaii. South of this high, the "trade winds" blow out of the east with great regularity, the high being located somewhat further north in the summer and further south in the winter. Thus these strong beam winds will move us rapidly along until we reach about 40 degrees of latitude in perhaps five days time.

North of the high, weather systems come and go and accurate forecasts are of shorter duration. In all likelihood though, the winds will come from some westerly direction and continue to move us towards our goal.

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At 7/17/2014 18:01 (utc) our position was 26°58.30'N 159°08.34'W

Monday, 14 July 2014

Leaving Hawaii

Summer is short!  And since our summer is planned to include Alaska, it is all too soon time to leave these enchanted islands.

Mama Nalauai'i
Betty, Buddy and Mary Anne
On Friday evening, we enjoyed a delightful home-cooked dinner with Buddy, David, Betty and Buddy’s mother, 100 year old “Mama” Nalaui’i.  These are all good friends we first met on previous sails to Hawaii.

An unexpected highlight of our Honolulu visit was an invitation for Mary Anne to play Chopin’s “Harp Etude” in front of a large crowd at Kawaihao Church, the Hawaiian Royal Family’s cathedral.  The church’s Bosendorfer concert grand added a beautiful sound to Mary Anne’s memorable performance!

Mary Anne and Bosendorfer
And now it is time to sail away.  We have left Honolulu and sailed around to a remote anchorage on the quiet west shore of Oahu for a final night rest at anchor before the 2000 nautical mile reach north to Alaska.

As the sky turns golden in our last Hawaiian sunset, no land blocks our view of the western horizon.
Green Valley at Makua


Last Hawaiian Sunset

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Re-connecting

Hoholulu

Sing-along - Valerie at Left
We're here visiting our beloved friends from both the trip in 1993 and 2001. I'd been involved in music (mostly piano-playing) in 1993. In 2001, when I was care-taking the boat in Hawaii over the winter (an awful job but someone had to do it ...)

Turtle at Honolua Bay
Valerie and M.A. today
Coral garden
I started  a "singalong" night on the boat. One of my main accomplices was Valerie Ossipof ... a wonderful alto who auditioned and gained a place in the Honolulu Symphony Choir.



She has continued her singing activities, and has been most welcoming and has been treating us to wine and cheese on her deck. Note its spectacular view on Diamond Head and the city.

So here are a few photos from 2001 and now ... plus a few photos from our second dive at Honalua on Maui.
Diamond Head from Valerie's deck

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Hawaii

Here we are in fabulous Hawaii … we would have loved to share with you earlier but we haven’t had hi-speed internet since we got here – also not during the 2 ½ week trip from Mexico. That’s about 4 weeks.

Hawaiian children learn to paddle outriggers
Since I’m in a complaining mood, I’ll also mention that the motion out here at anchor is unbelievable … you would NOT like it. We are rolling back and forth. I’ve been trying to edit some photos we’ve taken so I can integrate them into the blog once we have hi-speed … I’m wondering if it’s worth continuing.

This spasm of complaint would be incomplete without my apologies for letters we’ve not responded to … Matt wrote us weeks ago … since we don’t have gmail, we also don’t have the old messages or his address (or many others). So … sorry to those friends who have persisted in writing us. We do enjoy hearing from you and finding out how you are and how the summer is going. We can’t access your letters to check that we remember what you told us, and we often cannot even locate your address. So if it helps – just know that we are getting a bit ‘’dotty’’ trying to keep track of everything.

Kilauea Volcano caldera
Arriving in Hilo on a Saturday, the 2014 Customs agent we encountered by phone told us to ‘’go ahead ashore – see me on Monday’’.  In 1993 the Customs agent came to the boat with a bag of papaya – I had never had the fruit in its fresh form and actually bought a few cookbooks. I told Customs (2014) about it on Monday – he laughed and said – ‘’papaya comes self-contained, even in its own container. Just get rid of the seeds and start eating!’’

We didn’t take time to relax after our long offshore trip. On Sunday the 30th we rented a car and went to visit Volcanoes National Park and took a few of these photos. In January 2002 when we ascended Mauna Loa it took 4 days to accomplish. We encountered some snow and also experienced some psychedelic altitude-fuelled dreams. The new soles on Larry’s boots fell off on Day 1. He dug channels in the soles and implanted our spare laces to keep the sharp lava from cutting the laces and ruining his surgery.

Returning to Hilo reminds me of the weeks I spent there on my own in October 2001 … I received a visit from my good friend and colleague Patricia Jorgensen. Patricia was a fellow piano teacher and my black-belt mentor when I started karate in Bellingham at the mature age of 45. Her husband Jim is a retired High School teacher who fulfilled a dream to set aside a bird sanctuary in Blaine WA. Every year many bird watchers now come to see the flocks of birds on their migratory path.

Ponds Restaurant
We went for the customary meal at Pond’s. Larry was here in 1985 with his mother, Lily, niece Michelle and nephew Stephen and we enjoyed it both in 1993 and in 2001. The restaurant hovers on the edge of a freshwater lake and features huge koi fish swimming beneath its windows in a secluded pool. From the road bridge and the gates around, enterprising local youngsters dive into its waters and all this entertainment is included in the price of the reasonable drinks and meals.

We spent time comparing prices at various grocery stores until we discovered that simply by giving our Victoria phone number we could be part of the Ohana (family) and get Hawaiian prices. Fresh fruit and ahi poke (delicious Hawaiian-style raw fish) and other treats were purchased and we replenished our low stock of supplies.

Cleaning the stainless took a few hours. Although covered in heavy wax in the last stage of the process, yesterday after crossing the famously rough Alenuihaha Channel I looked and found it was re-coated with a heavy layer of salt. The sun will again wreck its worst on my gleaming steel rails.

On Tuesday the 1st (Canada Day) early in the morning we left Hilo, sailed along the north shore of Hawaii and anchored at Nishimura Bay on the NW corner. We managed to anchor securely in the sand. We dived on Wednesday … and noted that the state of the coral and the type/number of fish we saw were much as they had been in 2001 when we made several dives and took photos. The area had already been devastated of its coral by the crown-of-thorns sea star at that time. It takes a LONG time for coral to re-grow judging by what we saw this time.

Yesterday we again left early, crossed the Channel to Maui and tried to anchor at Olowalu but the sea was choppy. Olawalu has channels of coral and channels of sand. We were worried we couldn’t judge and plant the anchor properly. So now we’re on our way to Honalua on the NW tip of Maui and are hoping to have better success in the anchoring and diving departments.
Snowflake Eel

Later (July 5)… we’ve now been here at Honolua for 24 hours … when we first got here, we saw surfers against the far shore … also a great many tourists snorkelling and diving off the 3 huge catamarans anchored here. We anchored securely in sand … Larry checked the anchor and we waited until 3pm when everyone had left. We then dived and saw a large number of beautiful marine life including a turtle and this snowflake eel. We’ll wait here again and plan to go diving again later today.