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.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Abyss of Time

Tufted puffin - the baddest seabird of the North Pacific
Idyll underway. If the kids are safely tucked away in a book, all is well with our world.
The miraculous Pacific halibut - they're nearly all meat.
The pics above are from our recent biological sampling trip around Kodiak.

It was...great. A detailed report soon, as soon as I get enough free time from science to tell the story.

But for now, I want to consider two other pictures.

The first image is from Long Island - our very first-ever anchorage after we left Kodiak. That's our Pelagic in the background, and of course cabin boy #1 Elias on my back.

And we were just back in Long Island on this last jaunt of ours, ten years and two months after the picture above was taken.

That's Galactic in the background below. Elias has been promoted to AB, but he's still on my back. And cabin boy #2 is very much in the picture, both actually and metaphorically.

As any parent of young children will tell you - the days are endless, and the years go so fast. As I view the progression that is captured by these pics, I am reminded to drink up every minute of time that I have with these two pre-adolescent sons of ours. Nothing could be sweeter than what we have, right now, as a family.

And...it's reassuring to see that Long Island has gotten sunnier over the last 10 years!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

From this first step...

...we hope that great things might come!

So, now that we have sailed back to Alaska, what's the status of our sailing life?

Well, we're back to the dreaming stage.

As a part of our move back to Alaska, I've taken a research faculty job at the University of Alaska, based in Kodiak.

One of the things that I hope to do in this new job is field research from the decks of Galactic. For years and years, Alisa and I have shared a daydream that goes something like, "We're two marine biologists who operate their own boat. Surely there's some niche of useful research that we would be poised to fill?"

Well, I'm happy to note that we have taken our first tentative step in that direction. We have four days of sampling scheduled from Galactic over this week and next, supporting a study of the dynamics affecting juvenile cod survival.

It's a funny place to be back in, dreaming about our next sailing step, rather than living it. So I'm very happy that we have a little biology work from the boat so soon after we returned.

Details to follow!

A beach seine, used for sampling the rich nearshore piscifauna. It should fit nicely on Galactic!

You Know - Alaska!

Well, you may have noticed that our country is going through Interesting Times. (Open question: will an American president who is proud of the fact that he cannot make the moral distinction between Nazis and anti-Nazis be abandoned by his party? Stay tuned and find out!)

But while this painful transition to whatever comes next is underway, our family has been enjoying a completely idyllic summer in Alaska.

Long-time readers may remember that one of the reasons we decided to forgo the Northwest Passage is that that route would have gotten us to Kodiak in September, after the summer was officially a memory. Following our couple of glorious seasons in the global South, we had reached a point in our sailing lives where, rather than another high-latitude adventure, we would prefer to just spend a summer getting in touch with the island that is our once and future home.
Dreaming the beautiful dream
And that's what we've been doing. We're rediscovering Kodiak through the eyes of our boys, which is so much fun I could literally cry at times.

We're in this great timeless-feeling period between our arrival from Hawai'i and the Start of School, which will mark a big transition to Structured Time for the whole family.

And even though the signs of autumn are beginning to announce themselves, we remain in that timeless state. Day after day, we have...fun.
The Kodiak waterfront

Alpine joy

Fishing. In Alaska, Team Galactic spends a lot of time fishing. This can have consequences...

...both bad (that's Alisa de-hooking Elias)...

...and good (Eric with a dolly varden at Mayflower Beach).

More soon.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Best Help That Money Can't Buy

Now, I know that plenty of people raise well-adjusted children ashore.

And we only have the two examples of Galactic's own AB and Cabin Boy to go on, so our inference will suffer from some pretty severe sample size problems.

But with those caveats in mind, I have to say that if you want to raise kids who, if nothing else, are generally game to lend a hand when there is work to be done, raising them on a traveling boat is the way to go.

For example, consider these shots from our recent haulout.

We have been through every stage of out of the water maintenance with a young family. In the early days this entailed Alisa looking after the kids while I humped it like a convict in the boatyard.

Occasionally in more recent years it has involved Alisa getting a babysitter to look after the kids while she helped me paint, and then feeling afterwards like it made no sense to pay someone twenty dollars, or whatever, just so she could sprint over to the yard to slap on paint for a couple hours.

But now, our kids are suddenly old enough that not only do they not need constant minding, they are actually clamoring to get in the yard and help, too.

Elias begged insistently enough that we let him suit up and paint a bit on this last haulout. And these pictures show just how proud he was to be lending a hand.

And the wattage of those smiles also reminds me of how much joy kids can make out of tasks that adults see as drudgery, and just how easy it can be to salvage a moment or two of fun when the right kid is around.  

Friday, August 4, 2017

Speck 'dat

Did you read Barbarian Days? You really should. "Speck 'dat" is my memory of William Finnegan's rendering of Hawai'i slang of the sixties for "check that out!"

Admission: I read very very few sailing blogs. I suppose that if I'm doing it myself full time, I don't feel the need to go online to read about someone else's experience afloat.

But though I don't read them in quantity, I have tremendously enjoyed a few blogs over the years, mostly written by erudite friends of ours. (Shout-out to you, Enki!)

So check this out: the sailing blog of Pandion. This is the real-time memoir of some great friends of ours, from our own barbarian days in Iluka. These people are switched on, in the Australian parlance, and though they are only just getting going, I reckon they'll be well worth following over time. So get in on the ground floor!

Alisa and part of team Pandion on board Galactic, back in the day.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

57,000 Miles

We just bought a used car, sight unseen, from Anchorage. That's what people do in Kodiak.

As a part of our due diligence, I had an independent mechanic take a look at the car. 

"No problem," he reported. "That car has tons of life in it - only 57,000 miles."

And how's that for a difference from the sailing world. As I've reported before on this blog, when we bought Galactic we installed a new GPS in the cockpit and left the meter running. As of just now, we have about 51,600 sea miles on the clock.

That feels like a lot. On a traveling sailboat, fifty-odd thousand miles will carry you through several lifetimes worth of memories. And for all the questions we get in port, from general landlubber and dock queen alike, about any "really bad storms" that we might have encountered at sea, our experience is that fifty thousand miles of sailing will bring you moments transcendent and terrible in a ratio of about 100:1.

I'm sure that I'm not embellishing my memories here.

News flash: fifty thousand plus miles is nothing for a car, even though it's well more than twice the circumference of the earth. And you don't look for too many moments of transcendence along the way.

Anyway! Great to get a car, as a step towards setting ourselves up in this new life. I won't quite say "land life". Perhaps what we hope to be doing is setting ourselves up with a home port.

There's just one more difference that I'll note. Sailors tend to count miles as they apply to people, rather than to boats. When someone wants to demonstrate how totally salty they are, they drop numbers like "a hundred thousand sea miles". I've often thought that these self-reported numbers tend to be bollocks and as dependable as sailors' reports of wind speed ("it was blowing sixty!"). But it's another interesting difference between the lives of sea and dirt. Hard to imagine someone bragging that they've driven a half million miles.

Alisa had the great insight that it would actually be cheaper for her and the boys to fly to Anchorage and bring the new car back to Kodiak on the ferry than it would be to ship the car over on the barge. So they got a visit to Anchorage out of the deal. Here they are, with the car safely strapped down and about to leave port.
Leaving Whittier on the ferry. Whittier is the town where I had my first job in Alaska, working on a cannery dock. 
Here and below - driving the new beastie off the ferry in Kodiak.