Sunday, August 19, 2018

Aspiring Young Sailors Will Note...

..that putting paper towels down the head will not endear you with the parental units.

Just when you think a kid who lived full time on a boat from age 1 to 7 has got the basics down, Eric went and pulled that doozy.

The wad of paper towel made it past the pump, where it would have been *relatively* easy to clear, and into the exhaust hose, where it definitely was not.

Alisa, who is officially Doing More of the Engineering, was the one to pull off the hose and suffer the pressurized filial shit spray as a result.

Thanks, hon.

So, it turned into something *fun* for us to do while the gale raged outside. Alisa and I pulled the old exhaust hose on the head (NOT as easy as it sounds) and replaced it with the new hose that WE ALWAYS KEEP ON HAND. (Emphasis in the original.)

Only good side: Alisa's homemade pizza was delayed by the carrying on. So the boys got top ramen for dinner, and after the head imbroglio was over, A. and I got to sit down and enjoy both of the pizzas, in their entirety, on our very own.

(In Eric's somewhat tepid defence, the hose was clearly overdue for replacement. They get scaled up and progressively constricted over time.)


Meanwhile, the weather outside is completely filthy. No berry picking today, though there were a couple lulls when we likely could have pulled it off. We've settled into the low-vis phase of the blow now, with rain and general airborne moisture obscuring the horizon, and gusts pummeling us this way and that.

Amazing how fast a day can go when you're stuck on the boat.

This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Alaskan Fisheries in the Global Warming Present

This summer of research that we've been pursuing from Galactic was motivated by the collapse of the Pacific cod fishery in the Gulf of Alaska. Our work is aimed at understanding how young fish are faring post-collapse, and thus what the outlook is for recovery of the stock.

There's an interesting side to that stock collapse, in that we have a good scientific understanding of what caused it.

Cod in Alaska are very intensively studied and managed, so there are good data for understanding how the collapse happened in terms of the fate of different ages of fish within the population. This evidence points very clearly to the effects of the 2014-2016 North Pacific marine heatwave on younger fish, which apparently could not find enough food to meet their increased metabolic needs in the warmer waters.

An entirely separate body of research tells us that the heatwave was a result of human changes to the atmosphere, most notably our carbon dioxide output. Our best scientific understanding is that you can't get the North Pacific as warm as it was in 2016 without these human changes to the atmosphere.

So while cod populations have waxed and waned through the centuries in response to natural changes in the climate, we find ourselves in new territory, where the climate it outside the envelope of natural variability. The poor returns for many sockeye salmon populations in the Gulf this summer put us on notice that the fisheries repercussions will likely not be restricted to cod.

For as long as I've been working as a marine biologist the Alaskan marine science community has mostly dealt with human-caused changes to the climate as a pressing concern of the near future, the impacts of which would become apparent in a few decades. Suddenly we find that that future is now. For individuals and communities that were counting on income from cod or sockeye salmon the impacts of global warming are now immediate and concrete. And we have a very good scientific understanding that these are only the first shocks, and that the rate and magnitude of climate change affecting Alaskan fisheries will increase dramatically as the years go by.

This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Thoughts on Turning Fifty

One: I can give up on any notions of self improvement. What I am at this point is what I've got to work with.

Two: There could be few finer gifts on the big day than an unexpectedly fast sail along a rugged coast in diamond-sharp sunshine, getting us to our lonely anchorage with plenty of time for a leisurely birthday dinner. With the family, that best company of all.

We had two days in Kujulik Bay, using it merely as a convenient anchorage as on the outbound leg we found it to be one of the few bays that was useless for beach seining baby cod.

Two days because a big blow was forecast and Kujulik was a known and trusted anchorage. And blow it did. A shroud-vibrating, water-smoking kind of blow, for a few hours there.

Later when things had calmed down we got the ship's people ashore on an early season blueberry mission. It is heartwarming to observe the simple joy that searching for berries gives the boys. We came away with enough for two rounds of baked goods. And noted the suspicious autumnal cast to some of the maritime tundra plants.

Today...we had a ripper, honest forty knots kind of sail down the coast. Triple-reefed main and nothing else for much of the day. Waves steep due to the opposing current. Stack on the diesel cabin heater came adrift because of a mishap with the sheet when the jib was being furled. Always so easily avoided in retrospect, a mishap like that. It's already back in place, though, a few inches shorter than it used to be.

And, just like that we are back in Port Wrangell, a marvelous stone bowl of an anchorage, carved right out of the living mountainside.

Four sets for us tomorrow, plus some baited camera work. And Elias has been making noise about fishing for dollies afterwards.

This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Northwest weather

Sure sign that this is a work trip. Our willingness to anchor, for two nights no less, in a 20-knot northwest wind, in Fox Bay, which is open to the northwest with fifteen miles of fetch.

That's not anything that we would ever choose to do on a recreational trip. But we stayed here two nights with the barky bucking and snorting against the waves. All praise to our chips-down anchoring setup. Forty kilo Rocna and 80m of 3/8" G40 chain in 15m of water, good mud bottom, and we can put up with a lot.

We are watching the weather forecasts minutely on this trip. Especially now that we are retracing our steps from the outbound leg when we were choosing anchorages in consistent southeast weather. The weather has swung persistently into the west, which is a godsend for our progress back up the Peninsula, especially considering the knot and a half westward setting Alaska Coastal Current. But that switch in the wind will also change some of our anchorages into less sure bets. We were aware of the need to select sites that would be good in a variety of weather, of course, but there are precious few all-weather anchorages along this part of the coast.

The wildlife sightings continued yesterday. A peregrine, presumably the same one we saw when first entering the anchorage, came down and buzzed us yesterday morning, swooping back and forth around the stern of the Mothership. A very dark individual, and I've never in my days been buzzed by a peregrine before, that unreapproachably standoffish bird. And a porcupine on the beach when the family was dinghying in to sample, which for a wild moment was rumored to be a wolverine, the Alaskan mammal that is so famously difficult to spot and which I have never seen. There was quite a moment of fumbling with the binoculars before it was confirmed as a porkie. Lots of bear sign on the beach, including tracks of a sow with young of the year cubs, but no sightings. But, to everyone's delight, we deployed our baited underwater camera for counting age-1 cod, and came up with video of a salmon shark cruising the anchorage.

Now that was cool.

The northwest weather also gave us sunshine, which has been as rare as fresh laundry on this trip. We managed a walk. I got partway up one of the hills separating us from the open Gulf of Alaska, and the ship's people meandered on the foreshore. The glory of stretching our legs!

So sunny that Elias repeated his birthday trick of jumping in the water, twice. Eric was not to be outdone and jumped in, then scampered out and curled up in a ball on the back deck, waiting for a parent to pour warm water over him.

OK. Time to make tracks.
This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Tuesday, August 7, 2018


Well, we seem to be getting plenty of young of the year cod in these beach seines that we're setting. Though it's pretty hard to know what constitutes a lot of fish on the first year of a study like this when you don't have anything to compare with, it is very gratifying to catch the species you're after. Pacific cod have been the most common species in our seines by far.

Aside from cod, it's a pretty unvaried fish community that we're sampling. Lots of greenlings, a handful of salmon smolts, plenty of sculpins. Excitement is getting juvenile pollock in a set, as that forces us to pay careful attention to distinguish every cod from pollock. They take a little studying to tell apart when they're only 5 cm long.

Oh, and the wolf eel we got back in Port Wrangel. That was excitement.

There have been a few good natural history moments outside of the seining. Some great views of salmon sharks in our last anchorage, making hay while the chum were running up the bay. And a peregrine falcon overhead at this anchorage. That sort of thing.


We had a ripper sail today. Plenty of wind on the starboard quarter and we might have touched 8 knots at times. And, for the second day in a row, it wasn't raining. Wonders.

We've got 76 stations sampled now, and are officially turned around and heading home. We're anchored in Fox Bay, on the Peninsula, which is the first of our sites that we will re-sample. The plan is to hit every station on the way out and on the way back.

Split tides tomorrow. We'll sample the 0530 morning tide once its light enough to work, and then finish the day's work on the evening tide. First, I'll take a look at the weather to see if we're in for any surprises. And then, to bed.

This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Monday, August 6, 2018

Son, Sun

We busted out of Sand Point yesterday. Not much of a bust-out, just the 15 miles across to Balboa Bay on the mainland. But a northwest wind does funnel out of that bay and straight into the face of an entering boat, as we were warned.

But we got here, soon enough, and all the family felt the relief, as much as we liked Sand Point, at being off on our own again in some miracle of a western Alaskan bay that we had never seen before, all by ourselves.

And, in that quick dash out of town, I got yet another chance to reflect on how much I enjoy running a boat with Alisa. Whatever else we may be good for in life, the two of us can certainly get a boat from one place to another while keeping family life humming along.

We found an open spot in the field of Dungeness crab pots that covered Albatross Anchorage, where we dropped the hook.

This morning dawned, our eldest's 12th birthday. And, for the first time on a sampling day since Agripina Bay, which was quite a long time ago indeed, the sun shone.

We Galactics like to make a big deal out of birthdays. Elias had a slice of salmonberry pie for breakfast.

The tide being conveniently late in the day, Elias and I sallied forth on a fishing expedition before the day's beach seining began. We fed the biting gnats, and watched chum salmon milling about and leaping from the last salt water they would ever see, just off the mouth of the creek they would ascend to spawn and die. Just out of our reach, maddeningly to Elias.

We visited the spot where a brown bear had dug so powerfully into the gravel just above high tide line, and I picked up a matted ball of the bear's fur. What had it been digging for?

We fed the biting gnats. We pursued dollies in the creek. With some gentle urging from me, we got back to the Mothership for Alisa's promised birthday brunch. Nothing eases memories of gnats that bit and fish that didn't like the smell of bacon and pancakes wafting over saltwater.

The seining went swimmingly, after a shaky start essayed by too much eelgrass and a net rolled in on itself until it had the fish catching ability of a rope.

We could actually see the mountains above us for a change. Eric and I went the day without rain jackets, braving the world in only our waders, thermals and lifejackets. Elias, enjoying a special birthday dispensation, brought along a fishing rod to cast for dollies while Alisa and I worked up the seine catches.

Though he was refused permission to take the dinghy on "short" fishing trips while Alisa and I worked.
This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Sand Point

Sand Point
We are about to leave the town of Sand Point, that historical cod port in the Shumagin Islands. One more new bay for us to sample on the Alaska Peninsula, and then we will start retracing our track back to Kodiak.

We love Sand Point! What a friendly place, what a fantastic location, what a great harbor. The salmon season was a big disappointment here, but the salmon berries have been out of this world, and the boys have done their best to make a dent in them.
We've been in the Shumagins for a week now, sampling three bays and taking advantage of the internet to submit both a National Science Foundation proposal and a journal paper. Oh, and hiding out from some generally ick weather. We are loathe to even mention the idea of poor weather, lest someone think we are complaining. But, when the fishermen start bringing up the bad weather in conversation, as they have, I suppose it's ok to note that it has generally been...atrocious.

But, we've been getting the work done. And now, the wind is in the west, and it's time for us to make tracks.
The team, set to beach seine Sand Point

Cannery and slough
Chasing the salmon berries

Here and below - the taste of summer

Eternal Alaska

Eternal Alaska
There's a lot that's crazy about this undertaking of doing research from our own boat.

There really isn't enough time in the year for us to keep a boat and a house going. And the demands of my other science life - the papers and proposals and reviews and thousand and one demanding tasks that characterize the life of a scientist - all that doesn't go away just because I'm out in the field for a couple months.

And our days with the family revolve around, well, work. The boys are very used to hearing that no, there isn't time to do this or that fun thing in the fabulous places we are visiting because we have to sample on the tide, or we have to make it to the next bay.

But, for all that, there is a huge joy in this summer of muddy boots and shared enterprise that the family is embarked on. We're roughly half way through the job, and about to turn around to head back towards Kodiak. And as is the case with any worthwhile voyage, I find that time has stretched out. The first bays we visited seem a lifetime ago, and it feels (comfortably) like this trip will never end.

S'mores on the beach
Fifth of July fireworks. We were traveling on the Fourth.
He put on his dad's waders by mistake
At the very southern end of Kodiak
High-energy beach

Crossing the Shelikof
The dolly varden fishing of his dreams 
Fin whale blow
IDing salmon smolts
Each boy is working on a project for the summer. Eric's: an algae collection.
Swim-by from the locals

National Public Radio reports...

...that I am wiry and have a thick beard.

Seriously, though, it's gratifying to see interest in our work.

The reporter tells me the story will likely air on NPR this weekend.

That's Alisa in the photo with me.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

What We're Doing

So, in case you're trying to get up to date with the plot for this season:

The Pacific cod stock in the Gulf of Alaska, which had previously supported a very important fishery, suddenly crashed last year. Available data point to the effects of the 2014-2016 marine heatwave in the North Pacific. This heatwave, in turn, was, according to our best scientific understanding, partly the result of human-caused changes to the atmosphere. The evidence is that you just can't get the North Pacific as warm as it was under the pre-industrial climate.

Remember those good old days when global warming impacts were the concern of the future?

I have been working as an adjunct research professor at the Fisheries Department, College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska, for a year now.

Yes, it is as glamorous as it sounds. :)

Basically, my job is to identify meaningful research questions having to do with Alaskan ecosystems and fisheries, and then to secure outside funding to support that research.

After the cod collapse there has been tremendous interest in getting a handle on whether the stock will recover. That entails better understanding of the factors affecting survival in the youngest cod - the ones less than a year old.

So that's where we come in. Alisa and I are both biologists with a background in nearshore ecosystems in the Gulf of Alaska. Alisa in particular is a real expert in the sometimes hard to identify juvenile fishes that live in the nearshore, including juvenile cod and their various cousins.

So we secured funding to conduct a pilot study of those less-than-a-year-old cod in the western Gulf of Alaska this year, from Galactic.

Our sailboat is slower than a commercial fishing boat or private research vessel that might typically be chartered for this kind of work. But we are also waaay cheaper. So we're able, for a reasonable cost, to spend a couple months traveling out west along the coasts of Kodiak and the Alaska Peninsula, and then back again, sampling the cod population in every little bay we stop in.

So far we've visited ten bays and sampled 56 sites with our little net that we set from the skiff and haul into the beach by hand. Tomorrow we set sail for the storied cod port of Sand Point, in the Shumagin Islands. We hope to sample two or three more bays in the Shumagins before we turn around and start heading home, re-sampling our sites on the return trip.

What our days look like in the actuality is, either, me in the cockpit in the rain, conning the barky to the next bay, while Alisa works in the galley at keeping everyone's morale up, or enters data on the computer, or reads to the boys, who otherwise mostly lounge around reading comic books, OR, the whole family, at some deserted anchorage, all of us in neoprene waders and rain jackets and life jackets and lots of warm clothes, driving the skiff up to a beach, hallooing for bears and keeping an eye out for net-snagging rocks.

We have completely given up on having much in terms of decent weather for this summer. But otherwise we're having the time of our lives.

This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Weather Day

We're tough and all, but there comes a limit. No one here is in that high-tolerance 15-45 age bracket, after all.

Today in Mitrofania Bay, Alaska Peninsula, The Great Land, Planet Earth, it rained. Sideways. It blew southeast, that crappiest direction of all in the Gulf of Alaska. When it was tired doing anything else, it misted and fogged.

The low tide was in the afternoon today, so we had plenty of opportunity to sit inside next to the diesel heater and contemplate the damp and chilly things that were going on on the other side of the perspex portlights before we could go out and sample.

Cooler heads prevailed, and I am glad they did. We decided to put off the sampling until tomorrow, which by the simple law of averages stands to be less harrowing than today.

Elias fished from deck, brave lad. The rest of us ventured out not at all. Eric executed an admirable set of Lord of the Rings drawings from memories that must go back to the last time we read the trilogy, at least two years ago. Alisa read long chapters from the series that she and the boys are enjoying so much. Something about mice with swords. And I got the simple joy of simply working on a couple of science papers all the day long.

It's a funny sort of delight, a weather day. By the end of it you inevitably feel a little pasty and overdone. But what a straightforward delight, this time spent with just the four of us, all day long, sharing the saloon of the Mothership, our cozy floating home. I stepped outside the moment and marveled - look! Elias at 11, and Eric at 8! How sweet they were, how uncomplicated and delightful! I felt myself stomping on time's arrow and savoring this simple day in their lives, and my life that becomes more and more about them, just as their life will become less and less about me.
This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Thursday, July 19, 2018


You haven't worked up a beach seine set FAST until you've done one while simultaneously: 1) the tide is rising and threatening to inundate the little scrap of beach you're working on; and 2) a sow brown bear and her two cubs are foraging on the tidal flats about 400 meters away.


We're now in our third anchorage on the Alaska Peninsula, Kujulik Bay. We had a ripper run down from Port Wrangell this morning, making 63 miles in ten hours, which while not remarkable under sail, is very good for us under power.

The Peninsula has shown us some new patterns in the fish communities, including sets that are strongly dominated by juvenile Pacific cod and - news flash - hundreds and hundreds of juvenile pollock in some instances, which we don't normally associate with the very nearshore.

Elias also found a clump of bear fur on some salmonberry thorns while we were hiking, we continue to feast on dolly varden, and we saw our first purely continental mammals today - ground squirrels. The lessons of island biogeography, and the paucity of species on Kodiak, are brought home to the boys.

Oh, yes, and fin whales. Lots and lots of fin whales, at least by a modern perspective.

This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Monday, July 16, 2018

With an Indifferent Forecast

It all sounds very romantic and devil-may-care. Leaving safe harbor with an indifferent forecast, striking out on a crossing, making tracks where others might dither.

That is, until you are actually in the process of pulling the anchor in that safe harbor, and it's raining sideways, and your three different forecasts are saying three very different things and you find yourself wondering just what you're up to.

That was us in Rodman's Reach just yesterday. As we slooowly steamed out of the anchorage I found myself on the edge of telling Alisa that we should just bag it and let the weather calm down before setting off. We were looking at making the 70 mile crossing to the Alaska Peninsula and it just wasn't feeling like the time to do it.

Luckily, cooler heads did not prevail. We carried on, and found ourselves riding the winds on top of a passing low, just as we had so many times in the Southern Hemisphere. Beautiful northeast winds to begin with, followed all too soon by north and then northwest, which was more or less in our face.

But after beating back and forth for half the night and then motoring the final stretch after the winds died, we found ourselves in stunning Agripina Bay, tucked beneath grand mountains and around the corner from an honest to goodness glacier. The sun was shining, and we weren't still sitting in the final anchorage in Kodiak, staring morosely at a forecast for a week of westerlies.

Once Galactic was tidied up from the overnighter we put out in our wonderful new dinghy to see what we might see. Quite quickly we saw our fifth bear of the trip. And then, while Alisa and Eric went looking for a large lake promised by the chart, Elias and I went up the Agripina River with the dinghy and finally found the glorious fishing that I have been wanting him to find here in Alaska. Four monster dolly varden - a close cousin to the Pacific salmon - came boiling out of the river on the end of our lines in about 10 minutes. Elias remains completely bonkers about fishing, and we have had some very slow outings on this trip so far, so his joy at finally finding the dream fishing of Alaskan legends was well earned.

And then we had a fire on the beach and cooked the dollies in the coals and there was no one else in this miraculous place but our family, with our floating home waiting patiently for us in the anchorage below the mountains.

This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Saturday, July 14, 2018

South End

Just a note to say that we are at the south end of Kodiak, where we seem to have stepped back into an older Alaska.

We're anchored in Rodman's Reach, about halfway between petroglyphs left behind by ancient whale hunters on the open coast, and the Alitak Cannery, which has stood in Lazy Bay for a hundred and one years.

The sockeye salmon aren't showing up in any numbers here this year, as is the case in many places in the Gulf of Alaska. The drumbeat of climate change apparently beats louder.

We were met at the cannery yesterday by Woody Knebel, the cannery manager and friend to some good friends of ours back in town. He completely threw out the red carpet for us - dinner followed by an all-corners tour of the huge cannery. Woody knows a lot about a lot of things having to do with this part of Alaska, and his enthusiasm for the place is obvious and inspiring.

In addition to Woody's friendly welcome, fishermen wave to us from wheel houses and back decks, and a float plane pilot even gave us a big dumb wave as he flew by below masthead height.

It all feels like an older, more honest version of Alaska out here, away from the big smoke of Kodiak City.

We'll do six sets here on the morning tide tomorrow, and that will be it for our Kodiak sites. Weather permitting, we'll hightail it to the Alaska Peninsula immediately following.

Meanwhile, my hands have gone back to what has become their native state after ten years afloat. A little salt water and a few lines to handle and I can feel the sailor's palms of horn magically reappearing after a soft winter of doing little more than bothering my laptop keyboard.

It feels good.

This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Monday, July 9, 2018


Alisa says that it counted as full-on field mode.

We wanted to go beach seining on the afternoon tide. But first she had to fix the self tailer on the main halyard winch, which we also use for hoisting the dinghy and seine on and off the boat. And the field computer had to be jollied into working again. And she had lunch and dinner to make. And meanwhile I was working on a paper and then diving on the boat in my tropical-weight wetsuit (!) to change out some zincs that were rattling around on their studs when we were under way.

Do seiner captains on the east side of Kodiak dive on their vessels? Somehow I think not.

We did all that before noon, and then got in our seven seines. The juvenile cod that we found appear to be skinny and few, at least in that one place, Shearwater Bay.

The barky was ensconsed in a wonderful little anchorage, with land on three sides and a deep, narrow entrance on the fourth, and enough room inside for eight or ten boats to swing at anchor. Elias caught us a meal of saffron cod from off the side of the boat. And we saw not a soul during our two days in the place, just a fox on the beach, and a few deer on the hill, and the bear that we missed taking a dump below the high tide line some time during the day we arrived. Kodiak isn't capital-W Wilderness - there are cabins in many of the bays, and seiners are out on the water this time of year. But this is a place where you are unsurprised to have a gem of an anchorage all to yourself.

By the end of the day, the wind was starting to come up from the south. We got up at 0400 this morning and motored into mist and wind to get through Sitkalidik Pass, where we saw a deer swimming bravely for the other side, and all the way to Kaiugnak Bay. The weather appears to be closing in for a long spell of strong southwesterlies, so we may have to get used to the idea of being around here for a while.
This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Friday, July 6, 2018

A Year To The Day After They Arrived, They Moved Back Onboard

That's right - on July 1st the family moved back aboard Galactic.

This time around we're not setting off to cross any oceans. Our focus is on home waters - the east side of Kodiak Island and the Alaska Peninsula, as far as the community of Sand Point, in the Shumagin Islands.

Sand Point was a major port for the Pacific Cod fishery a century ago, and it's the Pacific cod who are the reason for our trip as well. Alisa and I are conducting the first year of a study of juvenile cod in this area, which is the core of the commercially-important population in the Gulf of Alaska. The population has crashed following the 2014-2016 North Pacific marine heatwave event, which according to the best scientific understanding was partly caused by human changes to the atmosphere. Our study will improve understanding of the factors controlling the critical early life stages of cod, and will also give the scientists who assess the state of the stock a better idea of incoming year class strength.


It was, as ever, a pain to get out of town. In addition to the normal demands of getting the barky ready for sea, we also had to get the house ready for renters and house-sitters, as well as getting a scientific paper submitted for publication and a National Science Foundation research proposal to a shape where it was ready to share with colleagues.

But, grizzled veterans of departure that we are, we put our heads down and stayed with our schedule, more or less.

A beautiful stanza of weather made preparations easier. You have no idea what a blessing blue skies are after a winter of Kodiak drek.

The few seiners still in the harbor were crawling with the tatted-up twenty-somethings who magically appear each summer to crew for salmon.

A forecast for 25-knot winds in our face on July 3rd gave us the easy excuse for putting off the all day trip around Narrow Cape to our first anchorage in Ugak Bay. Instead we made the 5-mile pasage out to Long Island, that island paradise that has been our first anchorage for any voyage of note, including that 10-year Odyssey that saw us come back with a new son, and a new boat, and new selves.

We were joined by the Toni, crewed by Jay and Steph, who also anchored with us there when we were on board Pelagic with a ten month old Elias and a pile of gear still to be stowed. And we were joined by the indomitable and bulb-keeled Hawk, crew Joe and Debra. The three boats rafted for the night and our friends got ample opportunity to observe how tired we looked.

Yesterday we set out around the cape, our shiny new hard-bottom seining dinghy and outboard lashed into perfect place. We dodged among grey whales as we drove into Ugak, and we all got to marvel at what an incredible island we live on. How very nice to leave the town behind for a while and to see the bigger picture of Kodiak.

Eric keeps bumping his head on places in the boat he comfortably walked beneath a year ago. Elias wants to know if we can sail to the tropics next summer.
This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Cod Are In

Age-0 Pacific cod

My first thought: we should notify the Kodiak Daily Mirror.

Alisa and Elias and I were out at our study site out at Long Island, five miles from Kodiak City, just yesterday.

It was our shakedown trip for our summer sampling, our chance to get the mothership away from the dock and to put all of our new sampling gear through its paces.

We did a test set with the beach seine...and came up with hundreds of juvenile cod, just settled out from the ichthyoplankton.

Alisa, measuring fish on the beach
It felt like life, it felt like renewal, it felt like summer. It even felt like a breath of hope for this fishing town that has been a little short of good news lately.

And now that the cod are in, we're greenlighted to launch on our summer work.

Beach seine and barky
Not incidentally, we all loved being afloat again. The boys were touchingly happy to be sleeping in their bunks.

And I re-discovered that while the true peace of god begins at a thousand miles from sea, a truly good night's sleep begins on your own little ship in a snug anchorage.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Should Have Burned It

Into the dumpster, ignomiously.
We bought a new jib in South Africa. Raised it to the masthead and gave it a try, but then found to our horror that we somehow chafed a hole into the sun protection on the leech.

So the old jib came out of the forward head an saw us, with a few fairly major sewing sessions, all the way back home to Alaska.

This morning, in the midst of prep for our biology work on the boat, and irked at the idea of moving the new jib from one place to another as we re-organized down below, we once again bent the new sail.

This time we're committed. The old jib went into the dumpster.

We put 50,000 miles on the thing.

"Damn," Alisa said. "We should have burned the thing. Had a proper bier. Showed some respect, instead of just putting it in the dumpster."

Elias on the old jib, when it was down for repairs between Panama and Hawai'i.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Barky move

Our planned two months afloat are coming fast upon us. In less than a month, we plan to be ready to cast off.

Less seasoned salts might faint at the prospect of having Galactic ready to go, after she spent a listless winter at the dock and we spent a far-from-listless winter, doing everything except boat maintenance.

Well, in some of my less seasoned moments, I have come close to fainting at the idea of having everything ready. But then I reminded Alisa that the dang boat just sailed safely from Hawai'i, for crying out loud, so how could she not be ready for a little jaunt around Alaska?

And then, with the happy excuse in hand of a visit from our good friend Mary Anne from Tasmania and her new-to-us beau Stu, we executed our long-adivsed plan for anyone finding themselves overwhelmed by insurmountable problems of boat maintenance.

We went for a sail.

It was great. We had a cracker of a day, and all us Galactics felt some of the old magic of being under way. Stu, who is a sailmaker and a racer, kindly kept all opinions concerning sail trim to himself unless he was presented with a direct question.

So now, though the job list is just as long, it feels less weighty.

And, point of order - I did sweat to get a new set of injectors into the engine just before we went on this daysail. Worked a treat for the great billowing clouds of smoke that had previously attended any use of the donk.

Summer awaits.

Good sailing writing should make you do what?

Wet your pants with laughter, that's what.

At least, that was the reaction that both A. and I had when we read this reflection on a dream well lived, written by our good friend Melissa Beit.

Extra credit: explain why these kinds of shenanigans, in the company of children, are a fine idea.

If you can't, you're likely a Dock Queen, or a landlubber, or are simply cursed with more good sense than our favorite sorts of people seem to be.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Snow Cave #1

Winter ecstasy
This week is spring break for Kodiak schools.

Waaaay back in the 20th Century, spring break trips to the mountains were a big part of my time as a student at the University of Alaska.

This year, Elias and I revived that tradition of spring break trips to the mountains and made our long-planned foray to Cope Mountain to spend the night in a snow cave.

In Kodiak, the way to find winter is to walk uphill. We made it up to about 500 m to get to decent winter-ish conditions. Still, the ceiling of the cave started to turn to slush while we were cooking, and the water that I left in our cook pot didn't freeze overnight. Those are two signs of warmth that I never experienced in all my snowcaving in the Alaska Range.

It was great to be reminded of all the old things - the smell of sunscreen on your face while covering ground in a snowy landscape, and the way that light scintillates off the crystals of ice kicked up by your skis. The sound of each sushing slide of a ski forward, step after step, against the profound quiet of the hills.

It was a great trip for finding out that Elias is able to carry a very light pack in the hills (basically just his sleeping bag and spare clothes), and I am still able to carry a light-ish pack (basically, everything else). My knees still feel it, a few days after the trip was over, but for me backpacking in the mountains of Alaska is exquisitely worth it.

Elias was giddy throughout our night in the cave, and the long process of melting snow and drying out our gear with hot water bottles. (I'm occasionally astonished to see people attempting to cook outdoors while winter camping. In Alaska at least, winter camping means cooking inside your shelter, be it snow cave or tent.) And Elias was, well, pretty tough. Few complaints, and he saw the joy of the thing quite easily.

He was particularly enamored of the realization that his mom has never slept in a snow cave, and that he now has one up on her in terms of camping experiences.

Here and below: the view outside the cave.

In the morning, Elias tried to collapse the cave. But it was plenty strong to hold his weight.

I found 7000 Chilean pesos in my parka pocket - about $11.50 US.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Winter Calm

Last week we finally got out on the water to start our pilot study of juvenile Pacific cod winter ecology.

It was a little nerve-racking to use someone else's boat (the University's skiff). We're pretty used to knowing the gear we rely on.

But everything went just fine. We had a cracker day, as you can see.

And as for that part that I have now spoken to more reporters about the project than we've actually seen cod? Well, that speaks to how important the cod collapse is to Kodiak, and also the nature of a pilot study.

Among other things, we're figuring out winter habitat associations for juvenile Pacific cod, about which very little is known. So we go out, and try different things (Friday is our next day out), and over time new knowledge will be created.

It's not always that calm...


In our ten years away had forgotten a few key details about the seasonal progression through an Alaskan winter.

Kodiak City is a pretty equatorial place, in Alaskan terms. We're at 57°47' N. That's the same latitude as northern Scotland. So not really that Arctic.

But there is still this period - up here we call it "January" - when the daily light regimen seems to fall below the biological threshold for the viability of hope.

On the flip side, when the light starts to comes back, it's amazing how much vitality it brings with it. Suddenly, it's noticeably light before we set off for school/work, and broad daylight when we return at the end of the day. The glories of spring and summer are clearly drawing nigh, and I fill my pulse quicken at the thought of analogs tasks to perform. Digging snow caves! Building a cold smoker! Gill netting reds!

Boat maintenance...

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Fleet Management

Unexpected invitations to own a skiff are dancing lessons from the Alaskan coastal gods.

Our neighbors down the street are moving to Anchorage. Alisa and the boys stopped by one day after school to ask if they might be selling their gillnet.

Turns out they were selling a net. And a boat. And two Dungeness crab pots.

In short order the boat was parked in front of our house, and the net and pots were in our garage.

Summer fun awaits.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Walking to Winter

This continues to be a veeerrry warm winter in Kodiak. Snow at sea level has been a more or less complete wipe out.

Still, we have managed to sniff out a few low-altitude ski outings for ourselves. The boys had a four-day school weekend this week, and the whole family managed to get out for cross-country jaunts on both Friday and Sunday. The snow was just good enough on both days, but still good enough to be lots of fun, if you follow me.

It's been so much fun to see how quickly the boys have figured out the basics of skiing. This is a totally informal, grass-roots kind of skiing that we have introduced them to this winter, and they have both seen the joy immediately. Any offer to go skiing by us is met by unanimous acclaim on the part of the fo'c'sle hands.

Elias and I have also continued our occasional efforts to walk up Cope Mountain to get to more or less decent Alaskan winter conditions.

This trek is still too much for Eric. It was about all that Elias could do this weekend to make it up the hill with the unaccustomed weight of a pack and skis on his back.

But he is keen to try again soon, with the addition of a sleeping bag and snow shovel in his pack, so that we can spend the night in a snow cave up on top of the hill.

As soon as we get a few details of our kit worked out, and the luxury of a couple good weather days more or less over a weekend, I think we'll be giving it a try.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Game On?

Well, many a slip 'twixt cup and lip, and we really believe in research funding once the money has been conveyed. But with those somewhat superstitious nods to false hope in place, it appears that we have been funded to conduct some start-up juvenile Pacific cod research over this coming year, including a summer survey of Kodiak and the Alaska Peninsula (above).

We're very excited at the prospect of doing marine biology from Galactic, and I'm particularly excited that the work will hopefully provide better information for assessing the strength of incoming cohorts to the population, which should be a real help for managers and the fishing industry as they try to figure out what's going on.

More soon.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Kodiak Maritime Museum slide show

Join us!

What's In a Name?

Two good boat names
We are officially done with boat swaps. We've done it once, with an infant and a four-year-old, and we're not doing it again. Galactic is a fine boat for us, able to do most anything we'd care to do under sail.

But...maybe there's always a future boat in a sailor's imagination. Some idealized craft that can take you from the careworn reality of actual ownership of an actual boat. Or (forbid!), some daydream to assuage a sailor who has found himself on the beach, without a vessel to call his own.

When Alisa and I daydream about a boat, it's something a bit smaller than Galactic that might carry us away from land life after our two cabin boys are launched on their own life voyages and are no longer following us to every port.

We don't get into the details of what another boat might look like. As I noted, we're very happy with Galactic.

The kind of idle daydreaming we do occasionally indulge in is to think of possible names for a future boat. Naming a boat is a serious undertaking when you are confronted with a blank space on the hull, waiting to be emblazoned with your choice moniker. But it's harmless fun when you're just playing what-if.

To whit, here are our leading choices for that boat-to-be-someday:

Small Axe - You know, as in the Bob Marley song. This one goes with the idealized smallish unpainted aluminum French cruising boat that A. and I see ourselves in as we while away our golden years.

Tall Cotton - I had a rock climbing partner from the American South who used to shout up at me when I was on lead, "Just make that one more move, Mike, and you'll be in tall cotton!". Always seemed like a perfect name for a sailboat to me. You know, the image of towering white sails, billowing over the water and all. Alisa has never been convinced.

Ramble - This one is a recent favorite of mine. Reminds me of Bill Tilman's famous Mischief. Nice play-in with Alisa's nickname from decades ago, the Arab Rose, and her time, also decades ago, as a Deadhead. You know, "Ramblin' Rose"? I guess dubious hippy music plays into our choices.

Titanic - My absolute favorite. Reason 1, we would be guaranteed to be the only Titanic in the world. And reason 2, it would be an absolute declaration of liberation from maritime superstition. Poor Alisa - she's pretty sure I'm joking about this one, but can't quite be sure. After all these years together, she still can't tell.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Bitchin' slide shows

If you're in Kodiak, please join us for two upcoming presentations. We'll be giving a talk at the Kodiak Audubon Society meeting next month on the Southern Ocean (above). And we will also be giving a talk this Friday, Feb. 2, at the Kodiak Maritime Museum Annual Meeting. That one is also at the College, I'll add the time here when I have it.

See you there.

Monday, January 29, 2018

This Alaskan Life

Hang tough, sailing friends. The Galactics will put to sea again this boreal summer, everything going more or less to plan. We're waiting to hear the fate of a proposal that we wrote to work from the boat this summer before we decide on a destination, but I think the consensus is strong that: 1) we would all very much like to go sailing for a few months this summer; and 2) we can probably make some coin renting out the house while we're off, which sweetens the deal a bit.

After a November and December of endless rain, we've finally gotten some winter weather
Meanwhile, we're happily going about the business of being Alaskan.

We have two cords of wood stacked and waiting to go for the rest of the winter. Alisa and I just spent the week in Anchorage for the Alaska Marine Science Symposium, and we took the opportunity to go skiing there every chance we got, which was a lot. And we were greeted by snow when we returned to Kodiak, and have just clocked a two-days-of-skiing weekend, that sweet spot which is rarely experienced at the intersection of undependable low-altitude Kodiak snow and the boys' five-on, two-off schedule.

Oh yes. There was that tsunami warning as well. We were awoken by the earthquake in our hotel in Anchorage, but it was Alisa's aunt, who was watching the boys while we were away, who had to deal with the situation on the ground. The earthquake was around 1230, and the tsunami warning was for around 0145. The sirens went off and people started driving out of our neighborhood and Aunt Noe had to figure out where to go in a hurry.

There was a nice Alaskan answer to that question, in the form of our neighbor whom Alisa was able to get on the phone just as she was evacuating, and who stopped by our house to scoop up the kids and Noe to take them to a friend's house on higher ground.

Thanks, Mary. Thanks, Noe.

The boys have graduated to skiing with poles.
Please...don't need braces.