Sunday, November 1, 2009

Our trip in high-speed reverse.

Yesterday we flew from San Diego to Naniamo with stops in San Francisco and Vancouver. The flight path took us directly up the coast and from our altitude we could see many of the spots that we have now sailed and anchored. We first passed the Channel Islands and Point Conception which marked our passage into warmers waters. The bridge at San Francisco stood out of the fog and reminded us of how much of the coast we did not see due to that nasty weather. Much of the Oregon coast was clear and portrayed its rugged nature in true form. And finally, Puget Sound, the San Juan and Gulf Islands and good-ol Cadborro bay at the southern tip of Vancouver Island where not only this trip, but also my sailing adventures all started. It was like a replay of the past 7 weeks all in fast speed reverse. It also reminded us to appreciate the combustion engine, so far, so fast. The crisp Canadian air greeted us on the Naniamo tarmac and reminded us that we actually have traveled far-far away on our tiny little boat.


Friday, October 30, 2009

Santa Catalina Island to San Diego

Today, San Diego, tomorrow Bamfield

We have arrived in San Diego. From where we are now I can literally see Mexico. We about 12 miles north of the border and I can see the Coronado islands which are in Mexican waters. This concludes the Canadian and US portion of our trip. Reflecting back after this many miles, 2397.3 to be exact (4439.7 km), we seem to have spent a lot of time going really slowly in large circles! This summer I have circumnavigated Vancouver Island twice, sailed almost as far North as we have South, and in two days we will be back in Bamfield where we left from 6 weeks ago. I’m not sure if we are doing something right or terribly wrong! Regardless I hope you enjoy this last video until we resume this voyage in the new year. I still have a bit of footage that needs to be worked up and a few ramblings about my thoughts on sailing this coast that I might post, so keep a weather-eye open and all the best.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Santa Catalina Island

October 24, 2009

N33 26.54 W118 29.49

Elation. We spent a warm night out last night crossing 65 NM through a navel exercise area and heavy shipping lane. At least here the big ships actually contact you and discuss how they are going to cross your path. We even had a tugboat that was pulling a huge barge contact us and alter his course to leave lots of passing space between us. That’s a first! This morning we dropped the hook in Isthmus Cove and were immediately welcomed by 1-2 meter bat rays circling under the keel. I can see stingrays and all kinds of fish in the crystal clear water.
I made the plunge. The waters tested and snorkeling gear donned. We swam with bat rays, swell sharks, orange garibaldi, and spiny lobsters. While it's not tropical waters, to my mind we have passed a turning point. All this time I have said and thought and hoped that life will be different on this trip once we can dive off the boat. Our little island afloat in this vast ocean will no longer need to keep us safe from the cold once those frigid waters have faded into the past wake. This playground of ours will increase in size to include below the waves.


San Francisco to Santa Barbara

Friday, October 23, 2009

Death Valley and Santa Cruz Island

October 21, 2009

A Mexican, a Korean, and a Canadian are walking through the desert. The Canadian says to the Mexican... I know, this sounds like the beginning of a bad joke! We decided to trade ocean waves for sand dunes and spend the weekend in Death Valley national park, the hottest, driest, lowest part of North America. The weather was hot, 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 C). We walked through giant sand dunes, hiked canyons, and saw the great salt flats. It was an amazing trip and we had a lot of fun, but most of all, we enjoyed the heat, and sweated all the fog and cold weather of the last couple of months away. It was also great to spend a weekend with Manuela - grand conversations, healthy exercise, and a sense of kindred connection were appreciated by all. For us, a return to the desert on a road trip was also like a return to something familiar, a place that is well within our comfort zone. We have done many trips to arid places during the last 15 years of climbing. While we were not climbing this trip, the familiar feel of the road, the desert heat, and the sense of accomplishment of a road trip was a welcome reprieve from our current trip. It was like a holiday. I know that sounds odd considering that we are currently undertaking this adventure, but we have learned on this trip that traveling this way is not easy, in fact it's a lot of work and stress. Another lesson we are learning is that a trip like this necessarily brings one out of their comfort zone. Whether it be the un-easiness of being out to sea, approaching a new anchorage with heavy shipping traffic, weather unpredictability, different marinas and rules in each port, meeting lots of people (for better or worse) or being alone together for long periods of time, you name it, at some point you are going to be uncomfortable. These necessities of travel tend to bring about an amplified sense of emotion that tends to approach the opposing extremes. That is, you tend to feel the highs and lows in a rapid succession.
Upon returning to the boat in Santa Barbara we prepared to spend a week or so out in the Channel Islands. We headed out in the early afternoon on a beautiful sunny day with 10-15 knots of wind blowing from the west. Our course was going to take us 25 NM on a beam reach across Santa Barbara channel. My mistake was not paying attention to the sailing directions, that I had read several times. The wind piped up to 25 knots gusting to 30, the waves built up rapidly and we began taking heavy spray and even a few crashing waves over the side and into the cockpit. The boat was heeled over (tilted over) such that the side rail began disappearing under the waves. While putting in a reef, I was standing on the lee rail and was occasionally thrust up to my knees in rushing water. The weather was warm and at no point were we in danger, but we were not impressed. As we approached Santa Cruz Island, we found the anchorage that cruising guide suggested was unusable as the wind and waves were blowing directly into it. We turned down wind and found another anchorage that was slightly more protected and dropped the hook. We showered all the salt water out of our hair and spent the night getting tossed around in a rolly uncomfortable anchorage. When I re-read the cruising guide I found out that you need a permit to go ashore on the island and you can only get the permit back on the mainland. We have since moved to a slightly more comfortable anchorage and are sitting amid steep cliffs in emerald green water. There are massive schools of fish that surround the boat and the water is so clear that I could see the anchor on the ground 25 feet below. Like I said, highs and lows.

Fry's Cove
N34 03.21 W119 45.26

Friday, October 16, 2009

Roasted peppers and the fruit

I can’t wait until tomorrow so we can eat again.

It’s midnight. I am sitting in a kitchen listening to the two women nattering away in a mix of Spanish and English. There is a sense of slowness to each of our thoughts and actions. It is late. I watch how the peppers are slowly roasted on a skillet, each one turned when the skin has blackened. The flour tortillas are hand-pressed and cooked on two similar skillets. A pot of beans boil. Whicha, Manuela’s sister, peels the roasted jalapeƱo and yellow peppers then adds the roasted tomatillos and mashes them all by hand. She says the peppers will burn her hand for a day. I am not eating out of hunger; I have been eating all day. The beans and fresh cheese tame the green salsa, but only a little. I am still so full, but the flavor! I eat another one. It’s just to taste the freshness. It has been so long since we have eaten for pleasure. For the last 4 years, in Calgary and even Victoria, we have been plagued with the loathed eternal question; what is for supper? How I used to envy exothermic animals. Eating is such a chore. Why do we have to do it so damn often? Surely once a week should be enough! Of course there were a few highlights, the Calgary crab and steak fests or eating over at friends and relatives in Victoria. We have re-entered a land of flavor. I have eaten 26 grapefruits in 40 hours including eating 5 in one sitting. I cannot get enough of them. My throat got a bit sore, but they were so flavorful. The box of 60 was $6.00. This flavor does not survive the transport to Canada. Unless its calm, eating on the boat is also just a chore, it ranks with swabbing the deck or washing the sails, but it’s required frequency makes it more onerous.
Yesterday we sat under a pomegranate tree with several new friends. We picked the pomegranates off the tree and placed them all in a row. Most of the new acquaintances were practitioners of various naturopathic medicines. They were specialists in spiritual healing through acupuncture, native medicines and personal energy rejuvenation, craniosacral therapy and wisdom readings to name a few. The pomegranate seeds were deep ruby red, and burst with a satisfactory crunch. I believe my questions were logical as well as sincere. I also think I conveyed my cynicism while remaining respectful. There was a point that I stopped asking questions. It was easy because the juicy flavor was so easy to enjoy, you could almost lose yourself in those luscious red seeds. It was when one lady described her belief in a raw foods diet. Apparently it’s not just composed of salads as she was going to make a vegan uncooked lasagna for dinner. Each person took turns giving us warm heart-felt hugs upon our departure, the sincerity of which affirmed that I had not offended anyone with my cynicism, or perhaps that I just kept my mouth shut enough. When we returned home, we ate spicy shredded beef boiled with peppers and onions, refried beans and brown rice with corn, all eaten with fresh cooked corn tortillas topped with either red spicy salsa or the green one that is really spicy.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Glowing Dolphins

October 10, 2009

Three days out to sea. Pleasant weather carried us from Monterey to Santa Barbara. This time, the swell was exceedingly mild and the winds were a little too calm. However, between our light air sails and the old iron jib, we managed 212 NM in 53 hours. No records were set, but we are here. Our passage around Point Conception was unspectacular. That is, we sailed in calm seas rounding this infamous landmark at midnight with a waning half moon. We were hailed by a red light off to port, another sailing vessel heading northbound. Over the radio, SV Bugler told us he had just spent the last year in Mexico and was homeward bound. Without meeting, two ships pass in the night, as safe passage wished for both, but what a sense of camaraderie out here in the inky darkness.
At about 2 AM, during my watch, three short-beaked common-dolphins rode our bow wave and played around the boat for almost an hour. They glided in the bioluminescent water effortlessly and made our clunky sailboat look as such. It was a brilliant experience standing on the bowsprit with glowing dolphins under my feet leading us through these dark waters. We have seen many cetaceans (whales and dolphins) on this coast. I would estimate that 4/5 sailing days have brought us in viewing proximity of these animals. Not surprisingly, at every point or land prominence we have rounded, there have been whales. Due to the oceanographic phenomenon called upwelling, nutrient rich cold water is brought up from the deep offshore waters into the coastal regions. Land prominences such a Cape Mendicino or Point Conception (as well a many others), tend to be focal points of high nutrient flux and therefore tend to be exceedingly productive. Where the food is, whales can be found. Unfortunately, the big ones keep mostly too far from us to be photographed (especially with our little point-and-shoot). I did get some good footage this morning of another pod of dolphins riding our bow as we approached Santa Barbara.
We did have a funny experience with a pod of common bottlenose dolphins when we were about 40 miles from Santa Cruz. It was late afternoon and the sun was high. The deep pelagic waters that begin about 10 miles offshore are usually very nutrient-deficient compared to inshore waters and thus tend to be very clear. When the sun is high, the water reflects a brilliant green. The wind was blowing about 15-17 knots which has the effect of creating small but consistent whitecaps. In the distance, off our starboard quarter, I spotted an irregular set of splashes that did not fit the wind-derived pattern. They were so fast. Several fins would pierce a wave as they surfed the 10-foot swell and then would appear several waves ahead with dashing speed. As the light illuminated a wave train from behind, the green hue of the water reflected the off the light skin color of these skilled surfers and created the most brilliant turquoise reflectance. Turquoise torpedoes raced in a wide arc behind IO and then approached us from the port quarter. They effortlessly but cautiously approached our beam, slowed to our pace, and then keeping distance, pulled ahead. It was clear they were eager for a race. But as it was, that was all we had! Our pathetic little wind boat was already maxed out. We had no challenge to offer. Politely they waited, surging ahead and then slowing up, clearly urging and taunting our participation. We had nothing, and without satisfaction, they moved on.
We have stopped in Santa Barbara to wait out some contrary weather and to visit my step-mother Manuela before we move on to the Channel Islands and then San Diego.

Santa Barbara
N34 24.67 W119 40.73

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A few pics from around San Francisco

Whoosh and Kaboom!

We are currently in Monterey California resting and preparing for our continued voyage south to southern Californian waters. We are about 100 NM north of Point Conception, which is described as being the Cape Horn of the Pacific. This is due to several reasons: First, it marks a transition from the cold northern waters that are driven by the upwelling of the California Current into the markedly warmer waters of the Santa Barbara channel. Second, the geography of the North American continent abruptly changes from North-south trending to a nearly east west trend. Finally, these combined transitions typically result in a tumultuous area known as Wind Alley that has a reputation for being either completely calm or particularly boisterous, both of which can be experienced in an afternoon. Beyond this area lie the California Channel islands, most of which are both an ecological reserve and a Naval bombing practice area! Clever ehh? Apparently if you’re on an island they are going to bomb, they give an 1-hour notice over the radio. We heard some advice “ the channel islands are beautiful, but if you’re hiking, stay on the trails because there is allot of unexploded ordinance out there!” Right!


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bamfield South to San Francisco

Here is some footage from our trip down from Canada to San Francisco. Unfortunatly this video does not represent what the trip was really like as I did not shoot any Video during rough wet weather which was more often than not. Regardless have a look.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


I've made some quick updates to the layout and template for Mike and Hyo's Blog. I've got a few bugs to work out, but there should be a photo stream as well as a map of their trip on the side now. I hope everyone likes the changes, I've tried to make it easier to see and read.

Our compass must be broken and we are heading for the Devils Teeth

We have now sailed over 1500 NM (2700 km) due South or at least that's the way our compass tells us. So why the crud is it getting COLDER? The Temperature was actually 30 deg C warmer on the Queen Charlotte islands that it is here! Every instrument on board has indicted we have gone south and every thermoreceptor in our bodies is in complete contradiction with that data! Have we seriously done something wrong? Brutal! Still, onward and southwards we go.

We are now going to the Devils Teeth. As a biologist it's a place that I have wanted to visit. The Farallon Islands are about 25 NM West of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and are home to the largest and densest population of Great White Sharks on the North American coast. They are there hunting elephant seals, which grow to over 4000 lbs! A large horse weighs about 1800 lbs. The sharks here kill the seals by routinely biting their heads off in one attack. These sharks are often over 18 feet in length and have been measured up to 25 feet. Our boat is 30 feet. Yowzaa, we will not be getting in the dingy at all! If you're interested there is a great BBC documentary and a book called the Devils Teeth which are both about the shark research at this place.

Farallon Islands
N37 42.1 W123 00.0


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

shift work

2245. No moon out tonight. Countless stars are draped above us. In my one-piece float suit, I can pretend to be an astronaut. But gravity is felt, mostly on my buttocks. I could use more padding on this float suit. In fact, why don’t I just stuff my sleeping bag inside this suit? It’s so bloody damp and cold outside. I ponder the idea of being a cold-blooded animal. Would it be beneficial if we could switch our modes? Metabolism is a pain.

On occasion, depending on the sea conditions, the unpleasant sensation of fear peeps its head and says hello. It’s a vile thing. Okay, miss furrowed brows, why don’t you try your Ujai breathing? Yes, my vile friend, you can disappear. Go join the stars up there.

0310. I put on my glasses and harness, munch on some dry crackers, and go back to the cockpit. Yay, Podcast time. …. Erika, thanks for this great idea. You have no idea how the quality of these shifts has changed since we’ve introduced this wonderful stimulation. Music and audio-books have their limits. But podcasts…why had I not thought of it before? Currently, I’m hooked on the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. They are a funny geeky bunch. I stand up for a while and look around. Right heading, no ships or hazards, but a bit choppier than I’d like. I look up. The big dipper has tipped over to the other side. Never have I observed that before. What's this.... they're talking about super planetary nebulae. There are so many things that I have yet to learn!

Uh oh, the battery is dying. Bummer. Back to me and my thoughts. Introspection is a drug. Go easy on it, my friend. At this hour, though, I am simply musing upon random thoughts and events. I think about family and friends. Rumination on A to Z, you name it.

0600. Ah, it’s Japanese spa time. Inspired by the hot towels given in authentic Japanese restaurants, we have made this a treat. Hot water on a face towel, ring it out, then cover the face with the steaming hot towel. In one big exhalation, the fatigue melts away. The ugly combination of sunscreen and salty dampness goes away and I’m ready for some rest. Thanks to the cushion covers made by Lorna, I stuff myself in the bunk, snug as a bug in a rug. Mike, I’ll join you in three hours. Enjoy the sunrise.

Monday, September 21, 2009


Sour, oh sourness
Electrodes in my saliva glands
Admit the defeat, the monster shall pass
Starboard or port, quick, which is safer
Innards out, my goodness, is that my liver
Crackers, my new dry friend
Kind to my second brain, a chug of ginger beer
No need to stand under a tree
Edible and readable, then life is better
Sea legs, they do exist
Shipmates, do come aboard!

Humboldt Bay Entrance

Here is a picture of the bay entrance and the nautical chart showing the entrance channels. Also a picture of the boat that guided us in and what the bar can look like.

“That’s a Roger there Coast Guard motor lifeboat, our bilges are empty, we are not taking on water and we are not on fire!"

We had a decent run down from Crescent City in 25 kts until about noon when the wind decreased to 15kts. Unfortunately the sea was still so lumpy that even with 15kts of wind our sails would manage to backwind, bang and slat with every wave. But for the most part, we had a pleasant sail and added another 60 NM of wake behind us before arriving at the Humbolt bay entrance where we were abruptly shut down from entering the bay.
The harbors along the west coast of the US are particularly dangerous places because many of them are placed in the mouth of a river. One would think that you could just simply leave the ocean with all its waves and enter the stream of the river. Unfortunately no! Each one has a “bar” in front of it, which can only be crossed at certain times in favorable conditions. Think of a typical ocean beach with waves crashing on it. As a wave enters from deep water into shallow water, it begins to interact with the ocean floor and gets pushed upward and slows down. To an observer on a beach, the wave becomes noticeably larger and the frequency of waves increases (more waves together). Now back to the river, most rivers carry much sediment and when they hit the ocean, they deposit this sediment at the mouth. This sediment deposition is what causes a shallow area, the bar, that must be crossed to enter the river. Further, to complicate matters, the flow of water out of the river is usually contrary to oncoming ocean waves. These two opposing currents further act to both increase the wave height and frequency and can result in breaking (surf like) waves that could easily capsize a boat. Therefore the safest time to enter is during the rising (flood) tide when the ocean waves and the rising tide water are traveling in the same direction, up the river. The result is usually smaller waves that are not breaking and hopefully a smoother ride in. To make things a little safer, the entrance channels are routinely dug out (dredged) to make them of consistent depth and one must follow these channels with little deviation in order to stay out of the breaking waves. Does this sound complicated yet? Well, in order to determine where the channels are, there are a series of shore-based transit lights that are only aligned when you are in the correct location.

Now unfortunately yesterday the flood tide began after dark and so we had to wait until dark to enter. Now combine these channel navigation lights with all of the city and radio tower lights in the background of the city you are entering, add a heaping of 12-foot waves and a little fog in the dark and what do you get? A call to the Coast Guard for an escort in to the harbor! We called, they came and guided us in through to entrance and into the correct channels and even right to the dock that we wanted. They even lit up the docks with a spotlight until we had moored safely. They then came aboard, did a safety check, and gave us a clean record. Overall they were a fun bunch of guys, so nice and provided such a great service. I admit, that of all the places we have been, as remote as they were, last night was potentially the most hazardous and I was sure glad for the guide in.
We are now in Eureka, California and are experiencing a heat wave. There are also more palm trees all over now. Getting closer.


Friday, September 18, 2009

The California Beating

We have limped into Crescent City, California after taking a beating last night. We had hoped to leave Coos Bay with the northwesterlies blowing 10-15 kts, which would carry us for a few days deep into sunny So-Cal. At about dusk, the weather forecast changed to gales 30-40 kts! By the time the forecast had officially changed, we had already stripped all the canvas down to a reefed staysail. The building wind waves combined with the large westerly cross-seas pounded us. Everything inside IO was being tossed about. Everything that was not inside a locker was on the floor and everything inside the lockers was trying to get out! I searched three times for whatever it was that was being flung about inside the seat locker and kept banging into my back as I tried to sleep. Finally Hyo found it during her off watch –  it was a huge jar of jam that had dislodged. Good thing it did not break. The worst weather we encountered so far was coming down from the Charlottes, but last night I think we set a few new records for IO.

Distance covered: 135 nautical miles

Max speed 14.7 kts

Moving average 6.2 kts

The haul speed of IO is 5.7 kts. That is a lot of surfing!

Of course, when we finally decided to head in to harbor, the weather abruptly turned from clear northwest winds to light foggy southeasters. We motored for 4 hours in pea-soup fog to harbor where we dropped the hook adjacent to the coastguard station in a whopping 12 feet of water. We are currently anchored in the protection of a large breakwater in a flat calm mill-pond surrounded by the very boisterous California sealions (and all their associated flies).

Today we are just tired and need a good nights sleep. We have not even gotten off the boat and are picking up wireless from our nearby benefactor!

We are also starting to form some strong and not necessarily positive opinions of how one should approach sailing here on the North American coast. But for now, to borrow Iwaasa’s words, let’s just say the fun to suck factor does not exactly tip the scale.


Good night



Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Coos Bay Hiking with Dr. Orr, Marine Biologist!

September 16, 2009

We have been in Coos Bay for a couple of days now. Interesting place, lots of cheap tuna for sale on the docks. We hitchhiked out to Cape Arago yesterday and hiked back. Oregon State Institute of Marine Biology has a field station here in Coos Bay about 3 blocks from the marina. I dropped a few credentials and we have been made welcome guests. Finally all those expensive degrees actually have some use! The weather is supposed to turn back our way tonight so we may be off again.

Bamfield South to Coos Bay

September 10, 2009

Day 1,

No Wind, no sea legs and no land in sight. Motored for the first 10 hours of the day. At least a pod of Orca came to by to send us on our way. I think that my experience with seasickness up in Bella Bella has increased my sensitivity to this malicious malady. Not actually sick mind you, just a bit off in the guts. A north wind picked up and we sailed through the night. My mind races and I think to my self, that this sailing off shore business is just not that fun. Its long, slow, kinda boring and worrying about the weather and all the gear that could fail makes me think “I wonder how much we could get for this boat and where the nearest harbor is?”

Day 2

Whatever. Long, some wind, lots of motoring. We have motored about half of the time and been making ok progress. A few interesting things along the way, a school of young Mola Mola this morning and the bioluminescence last night was unbelievable. We are currently feeling the swell from a storm that was about 500 NM north of us. It hit the Queen Charlottes and Alaska yesterday. Thankfully it was going north and not this way. Still its odd to be influenced by something so far away. The waves are 12-15 foot high and actually create their own wind as you roll up and down them. The period is long (11-14 seconds) so we just feel the rise only when you watch them coming, otherwise they are of no consequence.

Day 3

I feel better. The general malaise and woozy feelings have gone. We are getting into the 3-hour night shifts. At first I could not sleep for more than an hour. I wake up to every noise. “What was that? Did we hit something? What just broke? Is the bilge full of water? Where is my spoon?” No wonder I cannot sleep. Some good advise from our friend Steve Clark: Don’t even try to sleep, just try to rest the first few days, lay down and close your eyes and just rest, eventually in a few days, sleep will come. Well last night it did. We have both slept for every minute of our 3 hour off watch shifts. Today was sunny and warm and the night stars were brighter than ever. IO is no longer for sale.

Are you a flying insect and are at least 40 miles offshore? Do you want a ride south? Well come aboard IO, all your friends are here. We have many guests aboard, dragonflies, damselflies, wasps and bees, all clinging to the rigging and heading our way. An offshore entomologists dream!

Day 4

I think we will put in at Coos Bay this evening. Its only 40 miles away and the weather is supposed to shift against us tomorrow.

Hyo and mike are sitting in the cockpit. It’s cloudy but warm. An hour has passed without a word.

Hyo: Mike, did you fart?

Mike: No, If I did, you’d have heard it! I thought you did. It stinks!

Hyo: It was not me.

Mike: It might be a whale. Their breath stinks like that!

Hyo: Hahaha.

Mike: No seriously, whale breath smells really bad.

Hyo and Mike stand up and look windward to starboard.

Mike: Hey, there’s a Humpback!

True story.

Later: 20-knot south-easterlies are a day early and we are beating to windward. Even with a lot of work we will not make Coos Bay today. We will get there in the night, but there is a dangerous river bar to cross at the entrance, so we will have to heave-to and wait till morning to enter.

We saw an angel tonight. When we fist hove-to, a sea lion came over in the darkness and was glowing brilliantly in the bioluminescence. Her wings trailed a gown of light as she sailed under our keel just beyond our touch. When she left, she let in the wind and rain again. 25 knots from the southeast and surrounded in fish boats threatening to destroy our little vessel with there rigging here in the howling wind of the north pacific. No sleep tonight.

Day 5.

The entrance to Coos bay was incredible in the morning light. We motored through two huge jetties where enormous waves were breaking and crashing on each side of the channel. In the breaking surf the sea lions and giant pelicans were battling over the herring that fill these waters.

Safe along side the fisherman’s wharf we are having dinner with another Canadian couple aboard their catamaran tonight. There is a Palm tree at the marina office. True warmth can’t be far away now! The cruising lifestyle has begun.

358 nautical miles, 663 km

N 43 20.79 W 124 19.28


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hurry up and wait!

September 8, 2009

Hurry up and wait!

We have been stuck here in Bamfield for over a week now waiting for a decent weather window to open for our voyage south. Usually times like this I tend to go a bit crazy, mulling over the weather, wondering, waiting, planning and scheming. However this past week has been filled with wonderful time spent with old and new friends. We have had dinner with fellow professors of biology, my cohorts that are teaching here at the marine station this fall. A good dose of time was spent with our old friends Doug and Nicole who have dedicated their lives to monitoring and informing the public about safe boating practices around the whales of the region. ( It is interesting having intellectually stimulating conversations about whales and ideas about hot topics in biology and conservation and having these majestic animals all about us. Another treat that I have had the pleasure of is to write biology lectures for my upcoming course while actually observing these animals on a daily basis. This week I have been writing a lecture about the physiology of diving in marine mammals (whales, seals and sealions) and just this morning while anchored in a pristine bay in the broken islands we watched as several California sea lions preyed on the abundant schools of herring that are frequenting the coastal waters as spawning season approaches. On the way back, we sighted the now familiar spray of a humpback whale near Effingham island. We were able to share this past few days with our new friend Erika who is a documentary film-maker and lives on Helby Island near Bamfield. With such company and in this location, beautiful sights, great conversation and plenty of laughter has sped this past week away.

We are now standing on the precipice, the edge of the map, the end of North and the journey to South. The weather looks promising for the next few days. Tomorrow we will decide if we make the leap.


Monday, August 31, 2009

Bamfield August 2009

At play in Bamfield

August 31, 2009


Friends, family, and fish. Our time here has been filled with all of these. I have been writing the course I am teaching at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Station this fall and doing lots of preparation and repairs to IO. Hyo has been taking care of the community, pulling out imbedded fishhooks and driving the hospital boat up and down Bamfield Inlet. We were fortunate enough to have Jim and Steffi come and stay with us and skipper IO for the afternoon. Thanks to Steffi, IO will never be the same, that being shinier than ever. Kenny and Sara brought with them good times and good food, and helped us christen IO officially with its new name. We made our sacrifices to a safe voyage by paying tribute to the deck, haul and father Poseidon. Last but not least, my mother and sister and all her rug rats came to spend my birthday with us. A time to play on the beach, get lost in the forest, and bring general mayhem and laughter to all.

Now we are back to the waiting game, weather watching. Waiting for a window of Nor-westerlies to take us to the land of sun and away from all this fog. For those of you who are keen, I use several weather resources to determine our sail plan. is a good one for visualizing what the wind, pressure and waves will be like for any given area. The wind arrows point the direction that the wind will blow. The feathers (or barbs) on the arrows tell how much wind to expect: one barb = 10 knots, 2 bars = 20 kts, etc. The colors of the wind sectors are pretty straightforward. Green is good, red is bad.

Finally, thank you for your comments. They have been really nice to read and have given us encouragement on this journey. Please feel free to email us and tell us how you are doing.


Saturday, August 8, 2009

Bella Bella to Bamfield Video

Here is some video and some pictures of our leg from Bella Bella to Bamfield via the Queen Charlotte islands. 

Friday, August 7, 2009

Mt Yatza

We scrambled Mt Yatza above Island Bay and could see out over both Hecate straight and the open Pacific. At 700 meters it was about 685 meters higher than I have been in the past year. The top of my mast being about 15 m!

A perfect anchorage

A perfect anchorage in Island Bay, Morning calm and Io ghosting along with a barely perceptible breeze. I was in the Ion and could row faster than we were sailing but we were also using the faintest wind to move 7 tonns of gear! 

Hecate straight and Charlottes

Crossing Hecate straight as the Queen Charlottes slowly rise from the depths. Early morning sail handling and skipper. Early morning in a calm Haida Gwaii and a bath in the pools at hot spring island.

Mirror Calm

Towing Ion on a mill pond or the reflection of Io while motoring on a mirror calm sea.

IO in Bella Bella

Io was moored with all the fish boats in Bella Bella

Thanks Mark

A real big thanks to Marko polo for updating our website while were are at sea. We do not have Internet while at sea but we do have the ability to send text only emails. So we have been sending mark our updates and as you can see he has been posting them on our behalf. Thanks again pal, fantastic job.

Queen charlottes sunk back into the sea

August 7, 2009


Of gales at sea and night lightning under the mast and huge oil tankers, long as a city block, threatening to run us down. And bubbling hot springs and spinning dolphins flipping out of the water during the early morning hours in a storm tossed sea. Upon those 3-meter waves, we were flung through the highs and lows. We broke some gear and had seas wash our decks many times over. But little IO, on that vast sea, stayed afloat and carried us safely home. Back in our familiar stomping grounds, returning here to Bamfield seems like a return home. Upon entering this port we can finally add a badge to IO. One full circumnavigation of Vancouver Island via the Queen Charlottes. We have been 100 miles south of Alaska and farther north than the Aleutian Islands. With over 1000 nautical miles logged on this voyage, I can safely say that sailing in here on the west coast of Canada sucks! To all my sailing friends, yes, you read that right! Here on this coast the wind is either too light or too strong and which ever it is, it is always always always going in the wrong direction! Next time I tour this coast; it’s going to be on a powerboat! To clarify, I still and will always enjoy sailing and think that it is the only way to travel long distances at sea, but our coast, powerboat all the way! Next, we look for fairer winds southward bound.



The full account: we left Ikeada bay at 9 pm with a 15 knot northwesterly, a forecast for more of the same and sailed southeast for a few hours. We could see the thunderheads looming in the distance but there was not much activity. About 2 am the lightshow started. Lightning storms on the prairies are certainly something to behold, but an electrical storm on the open ocean where you are the only thing around and standing under a 15-meter aluminum rod adds a whole new sense of stupidity to this particular endeavor. Despite what we all know about standing out in a thunderstorm, it turns out that sailboats rarely get hit by lighting, and if they do it is not often problematic for the crew. A sailboat has a mast. To hold up the mast are a series of strong wire cables attached to the top of the mast then to the sides of the sailboat. A sailboat also has a large metal keel. All one needs to do is attach the rigging from the mast to the keel or other metal fitting like the propeller and the entire sailboat becomes a perfect Faraday cage, which acts as a conductor of electricity around the crew and not through the crew. So turns out that sailboats are usually quite safe in an electrical storm. Despite this simple and logical explanation, and my repeated consolation, Hyo remained unconvinced! And since it was her watch, she was not about to sail us directly into what in her mind was utter destruction. We hove-to (used the wind to put the boat in park) for a few hours and got some sleep. The only real hazard of being hit by lightning is that it may fry most of your electronic gear. The precaution is to unhook everything and stuff all your gear into the oven, which acts a second Faraday cage, which we did.


In the morning we sailed out of Hecate straight and into the open Pacific where the wind abruptly turned off. If you look at the map, you will see that the Queen Charlottes are triangle shaped with the tip pointing down. We were sitting at the tip of the triangle with the inability to move. Wind makes waves and the waves travel in the same direction as the wind that made them. The waves were coming down Hecate straight from North to South. The waves coming in from the pacific were traveling from Northwest to Southeast. When those two wave sets meet each other they combined to make our lives nauseously interesting. Try this, take your right hand, palm down, and spread your fingers. Now take your left and do the same. Now place your thumbs side by side and continue to overlap your fingers. See how there are big holes between your fingers and other places your fingers are doubled up and in between both of those there are single fingers pointing in two directions. That was the wave pattern out there. One second there would be a great hole in the ocean 2-3 meters deep and the boat would fall into it, then a wave would hit from the left, then a double large wave that was triangular in shape would lift IO 3 meters up, then into a hole again. With no wind to steer by we were left bobbing about in stomach-churning misery for hours. To try to help the situation you can leave the main sail up to offer some resistance to stop the rolling of the boat, but then it slats and bangs and in your mind you can actually imagine each fiber straining and tearing under the repeated stress. I broke down and we motored for 2 hours just to provide some regular motion to the chaos.


Finally a fresh breeze picked up from the Northwest and we had a lumpy but decent sail southwards. The wind kept building and building and we kept reducing sail until we were down to our smallest scrap of cloth, blazing up each wave and surfing down the backs. Our boat has a haul speed of 6 knots. We hit 12 several times. If you have ever surfed a 3-meter surfboard down a wave and thought that was exhilarating, try surfing a 10-meter sailboat that weighs 7-tonns down a wave! Finally as evening drew near, and the wind was still increasing, we decided to heave-to for the night. For experience sake we tried setting the sea anchor (a 3-meter parachute, thanks Jim and Steffi) and spent the night in a storm tossed sea listening to the wind howl in the rigging and the occasional wave break close by sending its salty foam onto the windward deck. I turned the radar on every 15 minutes to look for ships. “When troubles come, they come not but single spies, but in battalions” or in our case big fricken oil tankers! We were over 30 miles out to sea, with so much space why the crap do those huge ships have to come straight for us? At 2 am you just know that the ship is on autopilot and everyone is asleep, they would not even know they hits us. Certainly that is why they would not answer our repeated calls on the radio. After a way to close a call, when the next ship approached, I fired a flare and finally got a response in the form of angry swearing over the radio. Trust me I would rather be yelled at over the radio and know I have at least been seen, than to hear nothing but silence and wait to be crushed by one of these huge ships. Needless to say I got no sleep that night but I do have a few new grey hairs!

The next morning when is was time to get underway, with the wind still blowing 30 knots I went out to retrieve the storm anchor. I was tired, and really cranky and knew that it was going to be allot of work to get the para-anchor in. On deck at the pitching bow I started to heave the line between each wave. Out in that empty sea, I began to realize that I was not alone. In the sea amidst the surf, I was surrounded by pacific white sided dolphins. They thought the chute was the biggest jelly fish that had ever seen and were playing all around it, surfing down the waves and diving under and over the anchor line, doing acrobatic flips and all sorts of dolphin tricks. There, with the wind howling and the seas crashing, and in my groggy state, I had to take a minute and realize what a precious scene I was involved in. It was beautiful.


We put in at hot springs cove and washed the cold away amidst the pools and showers of steaming water. We pulled a line from there to Barkley sound where I had to take it in because our fish hold was again full, this time packed with Coho salmon.

Our northern voyage is concluded and we now prepare to head south. Leaving from this port where we have good memories and good friends seems a fitting place for our departure.


Ikeada Bay N52 17.7 W131 9.4

Vomitous waves N51 49.8 W130 44.1

Hove-to in Full gale N49 41.2 W128 4.8

Bamfield N48 50.0 W125 8.1



Friday, July 31, 2009

Back to Bamfield

July 31st

View Aboard Io in a larger map

Leaving Queen charlotte islands July 31 3 am. N52 17.7 W131 09.4
Southeast to waypoint N52 13.2 W130 55.01
Bearing 125 Deg true to waypoint N50 46.89 W129 32.57
Bearing 129 Deg True to waypoint N48 46 .996 W125 42.51
Bearing 83 Deg true to trevor channel entrance then onto Bamfield.

Expected duration, 3-4 days.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Island Bay

July 28 2009

N52 22.56 W131 22.97

View Aboard Io in a larger map

Upon our arrival in Haida Gwaii we headed directly for Hot Springs Island and had a good long soak in the ocean side hot pools taking in the view and washing off the salt from our Hecate strait crossing. We spent 2 nights in the Matheson inlet where we were alone with the seals and pigmy dear that roam the islands. Day two, we hiked up and un-named creek towards an un-named lake. It was a good old standard issue Orr bushwhack. We did not make the lake as the bush finally became too dense but we did find some beautiful pools to bath in and fill some water jugs. We have not filled our tanks since port hardy, but seems that we have been frugal enough because our starboard tank is still full. We left in the morning bound for Island Bay and the famous Burnaby narrows which boasts the highest biomass in the islands. We anchored in a comfortable 30 feet and put together our little sailing dinghy "Ion" and sailed the last 3 km over to the narrows. It was interesting, but being a much-publicized local, there were 3 charter-boats and heaps of kayaks roaming about. One of the charter captains was so impressed that we had sailed our little dinghy over that he offered to give us a ride back. Why not? We don't often get to cruise in a 1 million-dollar 71-foot ketch. Back aboard Io, we took showers in cockpit in the warm wind. At first it seemed a bit odd to shower with my sunglasses on, but at least I got to wash the salt and sunscreen off of them. We are planning on heading down island to Rose harbor and Anthony Island, which is a world heritage site filled with totem poles that were left by a fierce and war-like tribe. If you ask me the names are bit misguiding. I have my doubts that "Anthony" or "Rose" were traditional Haida warrior names! We are also planning our next long passage. We are going to reprovision at our old stomping grounds Barkley Sound at Bamfield before heading south. Heading south, that sounds great. We have been beating to weather for so long that we barely know how to make our boat run down wind! From here to Bamfield is 340 nautical miles (630 km). If the winds are fair, a boat our size should be able to tick off 100-120 knots/day (noon to noon). That makes this a 3-day passage if all goes well. Unfortunately we are now entering Faugust, the month of light winds and lots of fog. For now the weather forecast is good so we will find out soon enough.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hecate Strait

July 25, 2009

Hecate Strait

Oh fraptious day, cahloo cahlahy. We have chased our jabberwocky out of the sea, over and through each wave and beyond the horizon. We have made it to the Queen Charlotte Islands, Haida Gwaii. I admit my apprehension; Hecate Strait is Canada's Cape horn. Many a sailor have come to grief or worse here in these waters. And having heard these tales of woe, I have my respect. 146km due west, 80 nautical miles from this side to the other. And in that there is no horizon save where blue meets blue. Once land has dropped below view, sunk back to the depths, you are left with nothing but the countless stars. Wind in our sails and a star to steer by are no longer the stories of others. The countless vast of the Milky Way, scarring our southern sky, make way for Polaris our northern guide. I tip my touque to you, never have you been so high. After twenty hours and two, beating our way to windward, decks awash with salty spray, a herald met us with open fins, welcoming us to his bay. I have now fulfilled another quest, I have seen the great Mola Mola. The most derived fish in the sea, a sunfish you see. And what a beast, thick as a tree with a great black spot on its side and a fin span wider than me. I kid you not, I have a witness, Hyo standing here with me. Finally at last I have laid eyes on this great fish here in this great and wicked Canadian sea.


Friday, July 24, 2009


July 24, 2009

Fog has washed us clean

This morning we pulled anchor in the fog and drizzle. During low tide, we motored out past dozens of rocks and small islets. There is life all around, salmon jumping, pigmy deer on the banks and the thousands of invertebrates and algae that cover the intertidal zone. On a distant shore, near a small beach I see a figure standing. Most likely another traveler like us, his boat tucked away, hidden in some small nook behind one of these enumerable coves. He raises his arm in a friendly wave, a signal, a gesture that among all this life, this diversity of fauna, we still seek the camaraderie of another human soul who understands this grandeur, and seeks to share a still moment here in the fog with a perfect stranger.

With GPS and radar to guide our way through the rock and crag strewn archipelago, we motored with caution. There is no wind. The ocean is mirror calm. We begin to feel a slight swell from the open ocean to the south as we enter clear water. Sitting at the bow has a memorizing affect in these conditions. The fog is thick, visibility is only a few hundred meters and the water so featureless that ones perceptions is of movement is completely lost. Your eyes constantly search and peer and cling to any feature that gives information about distance, movement or relative speed. A stick in the water tells you speed and direction. A jellyfish the size of my fingernail gives a fleeting chance of depth perception. Or is that jelly Cyanea, which can grow up to a meter across, and my perception of depth remains uncalibrated. Here, the only way to tell if you are moving is to look down under the bow to see the wake.
In a few hours we make a decision, do we find a cove to rest for the night, or hang a left and head out to sea? The great Hecate Strait awaits, wide, rough, nasty. Our test of mettle truly begins in those waters.


The paradisical prizion

July 23, 2009

Away from Bella Bella we go, northward ever northward. When visiting new ports, they say you should stay long enough to make new friends and enjoy what it has to offer, but leave before it looses its charm. We came, we worked, we packed our cooler full of fish, we caught up on our sleep and a little "so you think you can dance".
Now, today, we are landlocked in a paradisiacal prison! After a beautiful sail in 15 kts of wind and blue skies we have come to a hard to reach cove nestled between two treacherous passages. Higgens passage bears a scar, a little blue paint on one of the rocks that encumber that narrow channel.
The tide rises (floods) and lowers (ebbs). In some places the range the tide ebbs and floods is smaller or larger. The tide is controlled by the gravity of the moon and the moons stage controls how high the tide will flow. Where we are, and because of the new moon last night, we are going to experience what is called a spring tide, which means the tidal range is going to be very large. The passage we have come through is only passable at the highest of tides. We timed our entrance for low slack (the change between ebb and flood) water because in these channels the currents are so strong entering the channel that we could not even motor against it when the tide is running. You'd think by now I would know that when the depth sounder reads 0.0, that's not going to be good! When that is the reading, you just clench your teeth and wait for the sound of grinding as your keel comes to rest on something its not supposed to. We had to wait an hour for the tide to rise enough to get us off and the current to push us into deep water. The crux still lays ahead, even shallower water. The tide was so low this morning that I walked the path we have to get our boat through this afternoon. But the moon and the tide are with us today. There is going to be a 17 foot tidal flux today, meaning that where I walked on dry ground today should be under about 14-16 feet of water in a few hours, then we will attempt to get our boat out of this land locked lagoon.
This trip of ours has not been all fun and sunshine. Like I have said before, living on a sailboat is not convenient. Its small and cramped, there is no place to store what you want and everything is a compromise. I cant stretch out in bed and its even worse in the intermittent shower! Everything you own must be packed in so that it can take earthquake force shaking for hours or days at a time. You live with diesel engine in your living room and have a storage tank for your feces that is under your couch! Which today is the cause of my wrinkled brow. What is that smell and where is it coming from? Instead of enjoying this beautiful lagoon we have pulled everything out from under the sink in the head (bathroom) and have been scrubbing the bilge looking for what I fear may be a leak in the worst place on earth! I would rather have a hole in the bottom of the boat than have to deal with raw sewage again. My one consolation is that at least is my shit and not the last owners crap that I have to deal with this time!
And finally, we are supposed to be out to sea, why are there so many dam horse flies?


The test is done, the passage made. The depth sounder barely fell below 8 feet, it may as well have been a mile. We are now nestled in a cozy corner with 40 feet of water with a mud bottom, good holding ground for our hook. While I was walking the dry passage this morning, my face down, boots up to the max in mud and fingers wrestling a wriggling beastie, I was surprised to hear a voice say "there is a man over there". I looked up to find another dingy filled with two people and a dog. The usual pleasantries exchanged and conversation on how to cross this bar ensued. I asked if they liked halibut and told them of our abundance of fish and rapidly decreasing supply of ice. Her eyes perked up and she merrily replied: do you like pork chops? Four whopping marinated spicy Thai chops, a bag of ice and a dinner invitation seems like a fair exchange to me! While halibut is a pleasant fish, 3 days in a row and the threat of 4 more looming over me before that fish is consumed can takes its toll on ones appetite. While Hyo has a good supply of spices, I think a more general diversity will be appreciated. As they say: "diversity is the spice of life".


Friday, July 17, 2009

Monday, July 13, 2009

bella bella ghosts

another night shift at bella bella hospital.... the care aide has gone to lay down for a break. great, i'm probably the only person awake in this town. sitting at the nurse's station with lights dimmed, i become slightly nervous, thinking, will i hear the same noises down that hallway again? an answer given immediately! what's that?! i hear something similar to a bag being crushed. down that hallway, there is a copy room, a staff bathroom, the storage room, then around the corner, the kitchen. noooo, i'm not about to go check it out. the same crumple-crumple is repeated, with a suffocating pause every few minutes. 
i was told of the spirits that reside in this thirty-year-old building. the care aides, mostly natives from here, have told me about call bells ringing from an empty room, hearing shuffling feet, and seeing people on the black-and-white screen from cameras placed in four hallways in the middle of the night. it's not just tricks played on travel nurses. last night, the care aide told me that she does not get scared. taking her advice, i whimper, "leave me alone, i'm working". nope, it does not work. the noises continue. i stand flushed against the wall and peak down the hallway. nothing. my stomach starts to ache from fear. so i walk up and down the hall where patients are sleeping. i'll do this until the care aide comes back. then, similar noises pull my interest down a different hallway that is connected by a smaller junction to the problem hallway. i get closer to the noise, which now seems to come from a room. well! it's an elderly resident who is rummaging through her bedside garbage bag! and she's eating a marshmallow candy that was under her pillow! OH, big mama-bear, i give her a big hug around her soft, pudgy tummy, and smile with relief. she seems more startled than her usual confused state. 
close to 5am, a couple of hours after i've joked about the incident with the care aide, i'm alone again. huh? another noise.... a different kind. is it mrs.sweet tooth (no, she's sound asleep), or the janitor, or is it the spirits that are laughing out of their minds?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Johnstone strait

June 1, 2009

Hi friends,

While we officially began this voyage a couple of weeks ago, after endless delays, today was the day that it seems this dream of sailing off into the sunset has finally come true. We passed into the Johnstone strait this morning under blue skies and calm seas. This crystal green rift, at times over 700 feet deep, separates Vancouver Island from the mainland and is rimmed with glacier-capped mountains and filled with uncountable jellyfish and ctenophores. As the day passed and the tempurature climbed, a fresh breeze picked up dead astern and Dalls porpoise became commonplace. A Humpback whale surfaced abeam, chasing the schools of Herring that abound. After nearly a year of hard work and sacrifice, today is the day it seems we have finally began this journey as we had imagined. As we neared our anchorage, I dropped a line in 120’ of water and thought I had snagged the bottom, but after the due struggle, a 78 cm Ling Cod was aboard and ready for the BBQ. Hyo had never seen one so large, and as it turns out, we managed to consume a full half of it for supper. Fish for breakfast and lunch tomorrow!

 N 50 34.03 W126 16.182


queen charlotte strait

June 23, 2009

Leaving Gods Pocket is where we can be found, onwards and northwards chasing after Queen Charolette far into her Sound. Today the box is warning a gale, 3 meter swell and wind wave to boot, big rollers from Japan just over there, a little past the horizon. But today nothing but a pleasant tail wind at 15 knots and 0.9 meters of wave to push us along. Bahh that Weatherman, he spins his lies here too. Cautiously we round Cape Caution to starboard, 5 miles or so is a wide enough berth to leave room for the shallows.

Two weeks ago I left my beloved and ran a race around the familiar waters of Vancouver Island. In the end, after 10 legs and 1000 km of ocean wake, 3rd was my place along with my mates. Now back in IO we pass humpback whales breeching and salmon slapping, if only the latter would take my lure. Today is our first day of rain, at least the weatherman was right about that. We have come 60 nautical miles and tonight have found a little hidey-hole to rest, Goldstream Harbour be good to us and hold our hook tight.

Gods Pocket: N50 49.8 W127 37.5

Cape Caution: N51 09 48.3 W127 47 12.9

Goldstream Harbour: N51 43 38.9 W128 00 16.4

the west coast slouch

June 24, 2009 : N52 03 30.7 W128 03 10.9

Rain storms come and go. Sailing is a bit like going nowhere fast or going somewhere really slow. There is also a lot of standing out in the rain for hours at a time, not doing anything except that west coast slouch. However, tucked snuggly away alone in a secluded anchorage is pretty nice. The fresh rock sole and greenling we ate were nice as well.

We are in a small bay with a large stream running into it at the head so the water around the boat is all fresh. That means plenty of fresh water for showers and dishes tonight! 

Van Isle 360 & Bella Bella

June 29, 2009

Hi All,

I hope you are well. Hyo and I are in Bella Bella (N52 9.48 W128 8.66), which is a little island on the central coast of B.C. We will be here for several weeks as Hyo is working at the hospital  and I am putting together a course for Bamfield this fall. So far our trip has been amazing with lots of wildlife (whales etc.) and lots of tasty fish. Currently there are 5-8 bald eagles sitting in the tree outside. They are don't seem to have any reservation about swooping past you to land on a tree 20 meters away. I have often seen the yellows of there eyes and the classic picture of one carrying a fish in its claws. 

We have had fair winds and decent weather most of the way. When there have been storms we have been safely tucked away in sheltered anchorages, which of course is the general game plan (2 days ago there was 4 meter waves and 45 knot winds hitting a place we crossed). However, we have been playing a bit of a game with the weather and, for the most part, we have been winning. In the summer, the winds typically come from the northwest along with the fair weather. This is because a high pressure system sits more or less stationary about 500 miles off shore and sets up regular northwesterlies. This is great for sunshine and stable weather, but unfortunately when you are trying to travel in a general northwesterly direction the wind is in your face. Any sailing progress to windward becomes a lot of work, basically meaning you zig-zag your way toward the place you are heading, sailing many miles to go a short distance. While beating to windward, as it's called, picture the boat heeled over 20 degrees pounding into each wave causing spray to fly up covering you and the boat, for hours and hours. Also the dishes and everything else in the boat gets rattled, bashed, and threatens to fly across the boat with each tack (change of direction). Somehow it does not seem very warm and sunny with 35 kph apparent wind in your face filled with 12 degree saltwater. So the game is to wait for the occasional low-pressure system to roll in. With the low pressure comes unstable weather (rain) and southeasterly winds, which is great because they push us directly to where we are heading. The only catch is that, the center of the low pressure is usually gale or storm-force winds which kicks up a real fuss on the ocean causing big waves and general adverse conditions. So the trick is to try to head out before the storm hits, get as far as you can before the big winds and waves hit and hope the path of the low does not change direction before you can get tucked into shelter for the worst of it. Necessarily, we spend a lot of time listening to the weatherman on the radio. Environment Canada puts out marine weather forecasts 4 times a day, we listen to each one and then usually cuss at their lies. So for now we will play this game until the end of summer when we get to turn around and head South. Then we get to change the rules of the game and get to actually wait for nice fair weather and the norwesterlies to carry us downwind in the sunshine. 

A few weeks ago, I also crewed on a very cool race boat for a 2-week long international yacht race around Vancouver Island. We sailed well over 1,000 km against some very good sailors in some expensive boats. A few of the boats even had professionally-paid sailing crews. The boat I was on came in third over all. It was a great experience. You can view a video online. The footage is of our offshore legs, which happened to have very little wind and therefore was not very dramatic. However, this meant that we had up the large light wind sails. When flying these sails it takes at least 5 people to keep them in control. We did loose control over them 3 times in the race. Basically the 38-foot boat tips over and starts dragging through the water sideways until you can get the flogging sail down and regain steerage. Very exciting. Unfortunately, we did not get that on video because, as you might imagine, we were too busy. The sail that we take down in the video had a dimension of 1750 square feet. Our condo in Calgary was 1250! It was fun! We did see some cool wildlife including several brown albatross, many whales, and a fairly large shark looking up at us over the transom.

 All the best


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Halibut cheeks

July 8, 2009

Last week I was recruited to work as a deckhand on a 40-foot commercial Halibut long liner. I spent 5 days out in Hecate Strait catching fish that were bigger than I am using fishing lines that are 3 km long. We fished in water 60-100 fathoms deep (400-600 ft) not including the 2-3 meter high waves. I learned a lot about deep-sea fish. I also puked. We landed 2,300 lbs of halibut (~50 fish of which 8 weighed more than me), 500 lbs of snapper, a few other species, and my prize... one black cod. I can honestly say that I have never done anything where I have been so utterly filthy in my life. Perhaps the only thing dirtier was the colorful skipper's stories about all his ex-girlfriends!

Picture this: two men, covered from head to toe in full rubber rain gear on an unstable deck that is often awash with 12-degree sea water and covered in fish slime, blood, machinery, and thousands of fishhooks. There was a few times that I thought to myself, 'This is insane'. The first day the fishhooks were pre-baited with rotting fish heads and octopus bits. What smell! Like I said, I blew chunks, but only once the first day - enough times to empty the bran flakes. It was the combination of that rotting fish juice, the diesel engine stink, and the big choppy sea.

Long lining basically works like this: I am at the back of the boat at the baiting tray loading hooks and controlling the drum where all the line is stored. We put out 4-600 feet of float line with two huge floats attached to it. Then the long line is attached to the float line and an anchor is attached and dropped. As soon as the anchor is on the line and descending, I start clipping massive (as big as my hand) fishhooks to the line. Now this is the really dangerous part because the line is going out really fast as you attach each hook. If the hook were to snag you, which could easily happen, you would get sucked out from the back of the boat and dragged down with the anchor! Apparently this happens once and a while. Sound insane yet? We do this for 3 km of line placing a hook about every three meters. That’s certainly numerous hooks! Then another float line is attached. It takes about 2 hours to set a line and we set two lines. The lines soak for about 4 hours then we go bring them up. The line is retrieved with a hydraulic winch and all the hooks are taken off and replaced in a rack. When a sea monster is attached, the line starts to shake and you can feel it pull the boat this way and that. The skipper yells “fish on” and I grab a gaff (meat hook), bend over the rail, and wait for fish to surface and open its mouth. Then WHAM! I ram to hook into its jaw and the skipper and I struggle to pull the fish aboard. I then cut one of the gills and let it bleed out on the deck. Pretty brutal really, but admittedly, it was a bit of a rush. That is until I almost fell over once. The idea of falling into the cold water near a huge angry fish with steel hooks sticking out of it has a steadying effect on my balance.

The fish are kept in the hold covered in ice. After the fish are gutted on deck (which is more akin to gutting a deer than say, cleaning a trout), each one is handed down to the rookie (obviously, there are only two of us aboard!) who gets to crawl around in knee-deep crushed ice and pack handfuls of ice into the core of each fish. The hold is only 4 feet high and the opening is 2x3ft. So the when the big fish come in, they basically cover the entire opening and have to slide past me. When I say filthy, I mean I have had a 200-pound fish pin me to a wall and slide all 5 feet of its slimy length across my face! My hat was turned on its side and my hair was all matted to my ear! Gross! Apparently that reminded the skipper of an ex-girlfriend who used to cover her self in oil and … well another colorful story. Try to imagine what slime covered rubber feels like to live in for 5 days! There is a shower if you want, it pumps high pressure sea water through a hose on deck. Take as long as you want! I managed to warm some water each night and at least wash my hands and face before I slept. It was not all big seas and hard work. I did see some beautiful places even though I was told “in this place the sun does not shine”. It did not shine... which is great because on this boat there is no toilet, “ya get to hang it over”. I’ll remind you that we did not go ashore for 5 days. When you finally got to drop a deuce, you get to hang your boys out over the side in the 20 kph wind. With a cross-swell rolling in to the anchorage, one has to brace on something, and that cold steel bar across the back of the thighs sure can send a mighty chill up the spine.

In the end, I learned a lot about the biology of these deep-sea fish and some anatomy as well. We also have a freezer full of our own fish, almost more than we can handle. Tonight we ate halibut cheeks (the best part of the fish) that I cut off one of the big ones. They were bigger than 12 oz steaks. I kept two of the small halibut (30 lbs each), a couple of snappers, a lingcod, and my black cod (which is the best fish I have ever tasted and is the most expensive fish in North America). Overall, it was a pretty amazing experience and I may do another run next week. The pay is good, too, 15% of the catch at market.

As for the tree huggers reading this, I am not condoning our current fishing policies and was not stoked about contributing to the current the state of our fisheries. However, I did learn a lot about such issues from the fisherman's point of view. I also just wanted to see it for myself. Further, ground long-lining is a very selective fishery which maximizes target species and minimizes bycatch (not to be confused with the very destructive pelagic long-lining that kills everything including mammals). We did snag three sharks and a dozen or so rays, most of which were returned relatively unharmed. Compare this to any drag fishery and the numbers speak for themselves.

As for our sailing trip, we have a couple more weeks here in Bella Bella. Then we hope to spend some time cruising around here before we head south in September. We cannot leave earlier because of all of the hurricanes crossing our intended path. Those should clear up by the end of September.

Take care,


P.S. sorry about all the metric switching. Sailors are caught in an odd world of different measures.