Friday, September 21, 2018

Harvest Time

All summer long Elias was reflecting on the orgy of potatoes that would await us on our return to Kodiak, his first attempts at growing his own doubtless (doubtless!) on their way to wild success. In spite of the fact that no one was at home to tend the garden.

Great thing about kids. The harvest was many orders of magnitude below the bounty of imagination, but Elias and Eric were overjoyed with what they got - one good meal's worth.

Luckily, it has been a completely bumper year for blueberries.

We pick and we pick, and still there are more.

And the silver salmon - Oncorhynchus kisutch. Their bounty has been all we could want, and we have  44 of the beasts safely in freezer and jars to see us through the dark months.

Carrie, Alisa's indefatigable partner in gillnetting, after another big day.

Any Alaskan resident is allowed to gillnet salmon for their personal use off the Buskin River, which is between downtown Kodiak and the airport.

So what did I do with the boys on the first weekend in a while that we didn't go gillnetting, since we finally had enough fish? Somehow I found myself talked into going to the Buskin River itself, to pursue that ridiculous enterprise of trying to catch a silver out of the river on hook and line.

We struck out. Gillnetting is so much more fun. But we did see another local who was out harvesting.

And, finally! We have our first deer in the freezer. And I got to reprise my favorite butchering photo.

This wild food is such a part of our identity as Alaskans. Why the heck else are we living here? Alisa and I ask each other time and again as we head out on some gathering mission or another. It all adds up to real work, these various efforts. But we're happy with the consolations of hard work, concrete rewards, and the promise of a long slow winter to come.

Monday, September 10, 2018

This Alaskan Life

Well, I really will get to a recap of the science side of our summer soon. We are living in very interesting times, in both the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea, those twin stars that dominate the firmament of Alaskan fisheries.

But we continue this miraculous run of good weather that has made late August and early September so outstanding on the Gulf of Alaska coast. We continue to apply ourselves to using that good weather to our harvesting advantage. And our efforts are beginning to bear fruit.

Yesterday I shot a small buck just before sunrise, way up on that mountain that is so consistently productive for deer hunting. (You know, that one.) Good news is that I can still pack a deer out a mile and down 2,000 feet to the road all by myself, as long as it is a small one.

I was home by 13:30, and by 15:00 had rebuilt my energy levels to the point where I was biking out to that spot where the blueberries are so thick this year. (You know the spot.)

After I'd just started picking I got a call from Alisa. And let's stop to consider how the world changes. When we lived in Alaska 11 years ago, berry picking and getting a phone call were mutually exclusive activities.

Alisa was out gillnetting silvers with family friends. And they had 16 of those big beautiful beasts and were heading back to the harbor.

So berry picking was put on hold to assist with fish cleaning. And we're going back again today. (The fish are in - don't tell anyone!)

Family friend Noah, Eric, and Elias on Undercover.

Carrie and Alisa at the fish cleaning station. For years a popular bumpersticker in Alaska has been the one proclaiming "Alaska girls kick ass."

Friday, September 7, 2018

Home Port

The map of what we did. Numbers indicate the number of seine sets made in each bay.

Under sail at the entrance to Kaguyak Bay.

Galactic at anchor in Rodman's Reach, with the wonderfully hospitable Lazy Bay cannery in the background.

The ship's people on the plane in Akhiok. Next stop, Kodiak, their grandmother, and a new school year.
God, how I love raising Alaskan kids.
Fox Bay
Bluff Point
The Rose 

Reefed down and sailing fast. Oh yes, and my 50th birthday.
Port Wrangell at the end of a windy windy day
Port Wrangell
High energy beach
The 40-knot blow
Picking berries, Kujulik Bay
The fruit of the land

More berry picking. Agripina Bay.
Butchering Dungeness

We got home a week ago.

Inevitably, we immediately got caught up in the swirl of town life. It's peak harvesting season here in the Gulf of Alaska. Berries need to be picked, fish caught, deer stalked. And if there's any time left before the rains return, house and boat could both use maintenance. Oh yes, and there's third and seventh grade to attend to, and the demands of careers that seem to forever need one thing or another from us.

This is a rich life, and one chapter always seems to be stepping on the toes of the one that came before. So no recap of the summer work just now. I'll get to that *soon*, along with some more about the actual biology we were doing. For now I'll just say that fitting two months of boat life into a town year seems to be a hell of a lot more work than full time boat living was, but we're all four of us ever so glad we did it.

Deer hunting up high. Elias wasn't so impressed by the number of does and fawns we saw (15) vs. the numbers of bucks (1).

Friday, August 24, 2018

Farewell the Ship's People

It was a totally familiar remote Alaska experience given new life by the boys' involvement.

They were scheduled to fly out of the village of Akhiok three days ago. Bit of an adventure getting to the airstrip. We moved the mothership around from the delightful Rodman's Reach anchorage over to Kempff Bay, and then undertook the final approach to the Akhiok airstrip in our new beach seining dinghy, Oom Jock. Big chop, water over the bows, plenty of spray, boys' duffles in garbage bags, that sort of thing.

Then we reached the airstrip, the boys alight with the excitement of it all.

And then...nothing. Fine weather in Akhiok, but Kodiak totally socked in.

This was NOT what the boys were expecting: a lesson in the total acceptance that is waiting for a small plane flight in a place with weather as predictably awful as the western Gulf of Alaska.

We ended up retreating to the Mothership after a few hours of waiting to see if the plane would make it, and then back to Rodman's Reach. But not before we had met some amazingly helpful and friendly people in Akhiok. We really really like that village.

We returned the next day to try again, although this time it was the weather in Akhiok that didn't look promising, with a low ceiling and patchy ground fog.

But then we got the call on the VHF that the plane had left Kodiak, and by the time we were beaching Oom Jock in Akhiok the plane was landing. It's always like that with a delayed flight in the Bush. You wait, and maybe wait a bit more, and then suddenly everything is a big rush when the plane appears.

Before we knew it, the boys were strapped in the plane, feeling a bit self conscious in their rain gear, and even more self conscious with all the hugs and kisses their parents were pestering them with.

And then they were away. By the time we had Oom Jock back on the deck of the Mothership the boys were being greeted in town by my Mom, who has heroically flown up from Boston to shepherd them through the start of school while we finish up the sampling.

Thanks, Mom!


The last time that Alisa and I did any sailing alone together was also on the east side of Kodiak. But it was 12 and a half years ago, when she was pregnant with Elias. All of our sailing since then has been a family affair. So it's not surprising that things are...different without the boys on board. I suppose that we're getting a tiny taste of empty nest syndrome, that experience for parents after the kids fly off to college and life beyond. But more than anything, the kids' absence is a reminder of what a delight it is to be on the boat with them, where they are so at home, and our daily life is an adventure.

We might have begun our voyaging life with the kids not quite as an afterthought, but certainly not as the main reason that we were going. We dropped everything 11 years ago and went to sea in spite of having a baby, not because we did.

But after ten years and one summer of sailing as a family, things have progressed to the point where the kids' involvement really is a big motivating factor, likely the biggest motivating factor.

There's just no kind of family life that we can imagine that compares with family life on a traveling boat - the mixture of freedom and closeness. And though it was time for us to give up the full-time sailing life and return to land life and school and all the rest, we have been very happy for the taste of that life that this last two months has given us.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.
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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.

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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!

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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.

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


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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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!

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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.