Saturday, September 9, 2017

You're Not A High Latitude Sailor Until...

You know the saying from the old days - "you're not a cruiser until you've towed the Pardeys into port!"

(That's just a delightful bon mot from an earlier and much more innocent era in the sailing game, and not at all a dig at the Pardeys, who, when we met them in New Zealand, were more than kind and hospitable.)

But, having heard that joke from the past recently, I was inspired to coin my own variation: "You're not a real high latitude sailor until you've had Jérôme Poncet on board for dinner!"

We Galactics were recently privileged enough to do just that.

Our mate Leiv Poncet has been operating his sailboat Peregrine out of the Kodiak this summer, and his dad, Jérôme, came to Kodiak from the Falklands for a bit of a sailing holiday with his son. Having been hanging out with Leiv every chance we got this summer, we naturally also got to hang out with his dad while he was here.

In the world of high-latitude sailing, Jérôme is just about as big a deal as there is.

Consider this: his first boat Damien, which he co-owned with Gérard Janichon, sits right next to Bernard Moitessier's Joshua in the Musée Maritime de la Rochelle. Damien was a 10-meter, cold-molded sailboat that more than once went as far or farther than any small sailboat had before. After the Damien days there were the even more groundbreaking days in Damien II with Sally and their kids, and after that the professional years in the Golden Fleece.

It's all quite a record of achievement and derring-do, more wonderful and detailed than what I can do justice to here.

The great part, though, is that all of that means nothing when you're talking with him. Jérôme comes across as a normal guy who happens to be extremely authoritative about high-latitude sailing. He was tremendously kind and interested about our boat and our infinitely more modest sailing ventures. He reminded me of a truism that we first recognized from observing commercial fishing boat captains in Alaska: the very best and most skilled mariners have no need to show off or brag about what they have done.

There was this one difference between Jérôme and commercial fishermen of our acquaintance, though - the commercial fishermen don't have anything like the irrepressible gleam that Jérôme carries around in his eye.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Gales of...August

The winds of August. Those big islands are the Kodiak archipelago, just off the Alaska Peninsula.
So...Alaska weather is a funny thing, at least as it pertains to sailing.

For much of the summer, when the days are long and the temperatures are high, the Gulf of Alaska is a complete millpond. No wind at all for weeks and weeks, a veritable ashes and sackcloth land of the damned when it comes to getting anywhere under sail.

Then there's a transition period, towards the end of summer, when the winds start to pick up, but aren't yet gales. Experience says that this period lasts for about...two days.

Then, some time in September, the bounds of polite restraint are cast off, and Kodiakers start dreaming about time shares in Arizona.

This year, the first really good blow arrived at the tail end of August - that's the forecast for today (above).

Tonight, as we listen to the rigging hum, we are reminded...while the Falklands and such places might beat us for year around winds, there are few places that can compete with Kodiak when it comes to plain old crap weather.

But the diesel heater is warm, and we're snug at the dock, and as happy to be on Galactic as we could be anywhere.

Monday, August 28, 2017

In the Tradition

Last week the Galactics went beach seining.
Pulling the seine

A beach seine is about the simplest net there is to use. You set it from the dinghy, then pull it in to the beach by hand.

Sorting the catch. Alisa still has her deep knowledge of the juvenile groundfishes of Alaska
Age-0 saffron cod
A little help from the team

The Baxter Guide to the fishes of Alaska
Back in the 90s, Alisa and I did a lot of beach seining as a part of a large study seeking to understand how climate variability limited the ability of seabird populations to recover from the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

We have great memories of those summers spent doing field work in coastal Alaska. Being outside all day every day, work that was both physically demanding and intellectually engaging, the camaraderie of fantastic people...who wouldn't remember that fondly?

It was great to be doing that kind of work again. The names of the fishes came back so easily. Kelp clingfish! Penpoint gunnel! We talked about the people we worked with, 20 years ago, and how some of them have found a lifetime's pursuit in the study of Alaskan fishes. And we remembered some of the people from prior generations whom we encountered in one way or another. It's a great tradition to be a part of, the tradition established by those rugged men and women who have pursued knowledge for knowledge's sake in the wilds of Alaska.

Writing it down
There's also a larger tradition that we were invoking - the tradition of understanding the world with repeatable measurement, careful observation, and falsifiable ideas. In this era where the wonderful intellectual inheritance of the Enlightenment is held in such low esteem, and the scientific enterprise is under such specific political attacks, it was great to be back in that tradition....doing the simple things of observing the world, and writing down what we saw.

More specifically, we were working to support a study that has been running for more than a decade, using beach seines to measure the abundance of juvenile Pacific cod, and to sample their body condition and energetics, in order to better understand the factors that regulate this population that supports an important fishery around Kodiak.

Mama said there'd be days like this

Tufted puffins

We've always thought that wrapping family life into field work would be a wonderful thing to do. And it was, mostly. Elias in particular is right there with being able to help out. He measured fish, he took notes, he pulled the net.

Eric is still a few years away from being real help, as is his right as a seven year old. Both boys did a great job with some very early mornings to catch the tides we were working, but during these four days of seining Alisa and I were also reminded of the limits of what we can ask the kids to do.

We'll keep those in mind as we cook up plans for more extensive field work in summers to come.

But for this first run, I was very satisfied to see how happy the family ended each day, and how glowing the boys' overall reviews were for the experience.