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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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Monday, July 9, 2018

Ensconced

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.
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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!

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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.

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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!

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