Gone Floatabout

Sailing, Photography, Wilderness


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Alaska Reel

Here’s a short video I’ve been working on recently, of the beauty of Alaska. I picked some of my favorite footage of wildlife, scenery, and sailing from my time there aboard CELESTE. Hope you enjoy it! (I’ve embedded it from Vimeo because I kind of prefer it, although I’ve also uploaded the video to YouTube. If you’d like to watch it full screen, click the on the four little arrows just to the left of the Vimeo link in the bottom right.)

 


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A day in the life… of working from home

Inspired by the Bartleby column in last week’s issue of The Economist“Diary of a home worker: The challenges of concentrating during a lockdown” practically had me in stitches. If you subscribe to The Economist, don’t miss it!

In the spirit that imitation is the highest praise, here’s my (lightly fictionalized) “diary”:

6:10 Wake up and look at the clock. Hold inner debate about going for a run this morning. Roll over.

6:30 Reach for phone to see if running buddy has texted to cancel. She has! Breathe a sigh of relief and text back “No worries – tuckered out from our 9 miles the other day…”

6:31 Receive reply from running buddy saying she’s wiped out from home-schooling her 7th grader with his short attention span and inability to focus on Zoom classes. Text back and thus begin conversation on pros and cons of technology.

7:12 Realize been texting with running buddy for over 40 minutes! And it was all about the internet sucking up time! Oh, the irony. Text goodbye and jump out of bed.

7:15 Open cornflakes box and realize it’s running low. Panic that the store won’t have anymore. Realize with relief that there are 5 more boxes in the pantry from the last Costco run a month ago before Costco started limiting the number of customers and what they could buy. Idly wonder when official rationing will arrive.

7:20 Take coffee and cornflakes out on the porch and stare at the ocean. Happily some things never change. Like The Morning Stare. The ritual of staring at the blue horizon, coffee in hand, is the same at sea or ashore. The best part of the day.

8:00 Start to feel guilty about not sitting down to work. Compromise by looking at emails, most of which are from banks about how they are dealing with covid-19. They’re really just trying to calm us all down so we don’t withdraw all our money. Delete.

8:15 Look over spread sheet of accepted or published articles for which money is owed. Check bank statements to make sure nothing is incorrect. Email editors to remind them of money owed.

8:30 Open blank word document and stare, waiting for inspiration.

8:32 Go to the bathroom.

8:34 Glance over List of Ideas. Decide that all of them will probably be considered callous in view of the pandemic. Has to be about the pandemic.

8:45 Look up news articles about covid-19. Disappear down the rabbit hole.

10:00 Run across article about practicing mindfulness during the pandemic. Get up from computer and sit on the floor to try it out.

10:03 Stomach rumbles. Go fetch a snack. English muffin? Bananas? Go for bananas: they grow in the yard so won’t be affected by rationing or store closures.

10:17 Go back to blank word document.

10:20 Running buddy texts with idea for social coffee break over Zoom. Rush to change out of pajamas and move laundry basket out of view of the computer’s camera.

10:40 Go back to blank word document.

10:41 Look up from desk at Dad’s watercolor of childhood home in British Columbia. Sigh nostalgically for the days when crossing the US-Canada border required only a driver’s license.

10:43 Sigh nostalgically for the days, three weeks ago, when crossing borders was even allowed at all.

10:45 Wonder if will get to see friends from other countries ever again.

10:46 Wonder if will even get to see friends in the continental US ever again.

10:47 Close eyes and remember to be grateful for all the things done and seen in life. Sigh with relief and gratitude for not being sick with the virus.

10:48 Wonder if have in fact contracted covid-19. Go wash hands vigorously. Wipe down keyboard and phone.

10:50 Check email to see if editors have responded about outstanding payments. They haven’t. Start composing long overdue replies to personal emails.

11:46 Tsunami alert siren goes off. Remember that it’s the first day of the month and it’s only the regular test.

11:47 Nuclear missile alert siren goes off. It’s also a test. Or is it the world’s worst April Fool’s joke? Or is it for real?? Are the conspiracy theorists correct??!! Is that what’s next after Bio Weapon Covid-19??? Panic!!

11:49 Breathe deeply. Console self with knowledge that that brief spurt of covid-19 panic buying will also provide food for weeks in the fall-out shelter. What fall-out shelter? There aren’t any. Shrug. Go back to emails.

NOON Reach the emails from Francophone friends which must be replied to in French. Re-read them all. Decide just don’t have the energy.

12:03 Open the fridge and stare, wondering what to make for lunch. Salad on the grounds the lettuce is the most perishable? Grilled cheese sandwiches because vaguely depressed and comfort food sounds really good right now? Decide on salad since didn’t go for that run this morning.

12:40 Finish salad and eat a piece of bread and cheese anyway.

12:47 Eat a square of chocolate. Eat a second.

12:55 Go back to blank word document.

13:00 Go out for a walk before that rain cloud that’s hovering to the south gets any closer.

13:10 Happen upon neighbor also out for walk. Feel awkward and embarrassed about standing 6 feet apart to converse.

13:20 Decide that intended short walk will be much longer. Feels so good to be out of the house.

14:08 Starts to rain.

15:00 Return from 7-mile walk, drenched from the rain. It was worth it. So much healthier than sitting in front of the computer.

15:02 Take a hot shower, put on dry clothes, and make a cup of tea and a piece of toast and jam. Start to read The Economist.

16:15 Realize been reading The Economist for an hour. Quickly wash up tea things.

16:17 Remember haven’t returned call from friend on the East Coast. Realize it’s too late again now with the time change.

16:18 Go back to blank word document.

16:19 An idea comes! It’s both sailing and pandemic related!

19:30 Stomach rumbles. Just want to finish this paragraph….

19:35 Can’t ignore stomach any longer. Go make dinner.

19:50 Stir the curry around again in the pot. That’ll make it cook faster.

19:51 Do the same to the rice.

20:05 Finally sit down to dinner.

20:30 Wash up dishes. Hold inner debate about going to bed immediately after eating. Tell self once again that earlier dinner would really be healthier.

20:40 Sit down to read. What to choose? The Tao Te Ching to try and get mindful? Ayn Rand to get riled up about the end of civil liberties around the world? On the Beach for some end-of-the-world prophecy? More covid-19 in The Economist? James Michener’s big ol’ tome Hawaii that’s been on the reading list since moving to the overseas territory (ahem, state)?

20:41 Pick up a murder mystery.

21:30 Bed time!


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Lightning…

…is, for me, one of the most fearful things at sea. Your boat’s mast essentially acts as a lightning rod, being the tallest thing for hundreds of miles. Not much fun to contemplate in an electrical storm.

squalls in the ITCZ

Squalls in the Intertropical Convergence Zone (around the equator)

Of course, all prudent sailors ground their masts so that any potential strike will go down the mast and safely out into the ocean, typically via the keel. If you don’t ground your mast, that electrical current will find the fastest way to water, which can be through the hull at waterline…. You can figure out what happens next. Even with a grounded mast, though, lightning strikes are still terrifying. A friend of my family had her boat struck twice – fortunately at anchor with no one aboard – and the damage was significant, especially to the electronic equipment, all of which was destroyed.

Ominous, leaden sky before lightning storm

Ominous, leaden sky heralding the worst lightning storm I’ve ever encountered

As a child, I kind of enjoyed thunderstorms – seen from a safe distance and from behind the windows of a snug house. As soon as I started sailing offshore, though, I started hating thunderstorms. I’ve been lucky so far, but a couple close calls have given me a healthy fear of anvil clouds and the lightning they bring. My next installment (online here) in my “Toughest Passages” series for Ocean Navigator magazine recounts these episodes.

 


Celebrating offshore sailing: CCA awards

Here is a great article about this year’s Cruising Club of America awards.

Home

I already mentioned Jean-Luc Van Den Heede‘s incredible achievements in an earlier post, but I thought my readers would also enjoy hearing about the other awardees. The French solo sailor Guirec Soudée is the winner of this year’s Young Voyager Award, and the Rod Stephens Seamanship Trophy this year is being awarded to another young sailor, the 32-year-old Irish singlehander Gregor McGuckin, Van Den Heede’s fellow competitor in the 2018 Golden Globe Race. You can read all about these amazing sailors in the article I linked to above. They’re soon to converge on New York for the awards dinner – I wish I could be there too this year to honor all of them! Congratulations! 🙂


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Whales!

Since everyone seems to have a different date for World Whale Day, I figured today was as good a day as any to share some whale photos 🙂

The humpback whales are here in Hawaii for the winter – saw five just the other day, including a baby! Seeing whales from a little outrigger canoe is possibly even more exciting than seeing them from CELESTE – one is so much closer to the water and very aware that the whale is a 40-ton creature and the canoe is a very tippy 40-pounds (she’s made of carbon fiber, hence why she’s so lightweight – and fast and fun!). Didn’t get any photos of the whales from the canoe (didn’t bring the camera), but here are some from back up in Alaska:

Breaching whale

Humpback whale seen from CELESTE in Southeast Alaska, 2014.

This is probably my favorite. I love how well it captures coastal Alaska – the rocky shoreline, the steep forest climbing up and up in background, the wispy clouds, the cool, overcast weather, and, of course, the star of the show, the breaching whale. Do you see the two black specks above him? Those are bald eagles… gives you a sense of how immense this landscape is….

Bubble-net-feeding whales

Humpbacks bubble-net feeding in Southeast Alaska, 2017.

Here’s another image I love. These whales are bubble-net feeding in the deep water right off the shore. Bubble-net feeding is a clever and cooperative technique that humpback whales use to corral small fish and krill into balls, whereupon the whales burst up through the center of the fish ball, mouths open wide, to enjoy their feast! There is incredible footage of this in the new BBC documentary Seven Worlds, One Planet – Antarctica. Highly recommended!

Gray whale tail

Grey whale diving off Mexico, 2018.

Here’s a grey whale in Bahia Magdalena, Baja, Mexico. Grey whales make the longest migration of any mammal, more than 6000 miles each way between the Arctic and tropical waters. It was pretty exciting to see these grey whales in Mexico after having seen them in the Arctic. Just like it’s wonderful to see the humpbacks here in Hawaii after having seen so many up in Alaska!

Spinner dolphins

Spinner dolphins, Hawaii, 2019.

Obviously these aren’t whales, but as I don’t have any pictures of whales from Hawaii, I thought I’d throw in spinner dolphins instead. I love spinner dolphins – they’re so playful and they often show up around the outrigger canoe. It’s always so much fun to jump in the water with them. Though this photo was actually taken while scuba diving – this was a wonderful dive!

 


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Congratulations, Jean-Luc! 2019 Blue Water Medal goes to French offshore racer Jean-Luc Van Den Heede

I thought my readers might enjoy the press release about the remarkable sailing achievements of Jean-Luc Van Den Heede, this year’s recipient of the Cruising Club of America’s highest honor, the Blue Water Medal. (I ghost-wrote the release 😉)


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2020…

I’m not sure I’m ready for a new decade… so here are some of my favorite photos from the last one – I’ve chosen one photo from each year, though narrowing it down like that wasn’t easy!

Dawn Landfall, St Helena

Landfall on St Helena Island, South Atlantic, 2010

I love this photo of landfall on the British island of St Helena in the South Atlantic. For me it captures the wonder of sighting land after days at sea – the dawn light, the mountainous island, and the lonely ocean all around. St Helena is still one of the world’s most remote islands, but was even more remote in 2010 when access was still solely by sea.

Ellen trekking in the Alps

Trekking in the Alps, 2011

I love the mountains as much as the sea, and this image reminds me of some of my favorite treks, walking for days high up above treeline in the Alps. I love the silence of it, and the fresh cold air, and the immense vistas of the peaks crowned in ice.

Ski-touring in the Alps

Backcountry skiing in the Alps, 2012

I had a tough time picking out just one from 2012, one of the best snow years we had while living in Switzerland, but settled on this one of me on one of our biggest backcountry ski trips of year. Backcountry skiing essentially means hiking up mountains and skiing down them in wilderness areas away from resorts/infrastructure, etc. Like winter generally, a person either loves it or hates it. I love it, which made it fun to gain the skills and knowledge necessary for it (the danger of avalanches and rockfalls is very real). When this photo was taken I had only learned to ski two years previously… so I’m kind of proud of it 🙂

Fall in the vineyards.jpg

Alpine vineyards in autumn, 2013

There’s something about this image that captures the crisp air of autumn, that hint that winter is on its way. Even though the vineyards are still green, the overcast sky combined with the snowline and the red vine over the clôture give that sense of the changing seasons and the shortening days.

Bears fishing-2

Brown bears fish for salmon, Alaska Peninsula, 2014

It’s hard to choose an image from CELESTE’s first real voyage in 2014, but observing these bears on the Alaska Peninsula was probably the biggest highlight of the trip. These brown (grizzly) bears, well fed off the salmon coming up the river to spawn, seemed to tolerate each other in close proximity. To anchor CELESTE in this nearly landlocked bay (can you find her in the picture?) and to watch these impressive predators fish made for one of the most memorable weeks in all my years sailing.

Whalebone iglu

Whalebone iglu, North Slope, Alaska, 2015

Once again, it was hard to pick just one photo from voyaging to the Arctic in 2015. How to choose among the surreal beauty of the polar pack ice, the flocks of migrating birds so thick as to darken the sky, the midnight sun just barely touching the horizon, and the photogenic if somewhat unnerving sight of spray blowing off the crest of a wave in a gale? Instead, though, I chose this moment, capturing the interior of an old whalebone and sod iglu on the North Slope, a home still inhabited as late as the mid-1970s. The Inupiat elder at the entrance, who was born in one of these iglus, became friend and host during our stay at anchor off his village, showing us around, introducing us to his friends, and recounting the history of this incredible place. If we had done nothing else and seen nothing else, our sail to the Arctic would have been worth it for this.

Alpine Waterfall

Hidden waterfall in the Alps, 2016

I had to put in one more Alpine image for 2016, the year we said goodbye to Switzerland. Coming around a turning in the trail, I caught sight of this magnificent waterfall, tucked away in my favorite part of the range, a fairly empty region that requires at least two days on foot to reach. This was our last big trek in the Alps before we left in the fall to return to the States.

St Elias Range

Stillness at dawn, Alaska, 2017

This is one of my favorite images of Alaska; it distills so much of what I love about the Great Land. There are the immense mountains, of course – in this case the St Elias Range, rising 18,000 feet from sea level – and the wild conifer forests, and the hardy little fishing boat heading out of harbor. But there’s also the beauty of a still, clear dawn after weeks of rain and wind, and the urge to make the most of it, especially as you can tell that the fleeting summer season is already gone and winter close at hand. You can almost taste the salty smell of low tide and feel the cold bite of the autumn air on the tip of your nose. 2017 was the last summer aboard CELESTE in Alaska, and by autumn her lockers were well stocked with jars of salmon – wild-caught, smoked, and pressure canned on board.

Celeste in mid-Pacific

Crossing the Pacific, 2018

I love this image for the sense it gives of the immensity of the ocean. It’s arguable that the ocean is the world’s wildest wilderness, in that humans cannot survive on it without man-made equipment (flotation, protection from exposure, fresh water storage), and I think this photograph captures some of that sense of one’s smallness and vulnerability out there. This was taken in the ‘doldrums’ (the Intertropical Convergence Zone), the band of inconsistent, squally weather around the equator, while crossing of the Pacific for the second time. The 3,000-mile trip took 23 days sailing, from Mexico to the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia.

Stars coming out over Hualalai

Watching the stars come out from Mauna Kea, Hawai’i, 2019

Taken on the island of Hawai’i, from about 9,500 feet on Mauna Kea (Hawai’i’s tallest mountain at 14,000 feet), this long exposure shot captures more light than is visible to the naked eye, and so one can see both the last rays of the tropical sunset and the stars already glittering in the clear night sky.  “Glittering”, however, is just a figure of speech: the air above Mauna Kea is in fact so undisturbed that the stars cease to have that “twinkling” quality one sees most other places. Mauna Kea is a truly special place: despite its tropical location, its heights are quite cold and even retain snowfall in winter; and despite its volcanic cinder geology, it has that same stillness and silence I’ve so appreciated in the Alps and other continental ranges.

 

 

 

 

 


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Cover girl Celeste

Flying Fish 2019 coverToday when I opened my post box, what did I see but lovely CELESTE on another cover! In the photo she’s rollicking along before a strong northwest wind en route to San Francisco from Cape Flattery, Washington a few years ago. Flying Fish, the biannual journal of the Ocean Cruising Club, also ran my story of the passage, including many more photographs that didn’t make it into the first version of the story, which ran in Ocean Navigator magazine. Here’s the cover (above) and some of these new/extra photos:

Plus one of my favorites, that I got from the 7-foot rowing dinghy on a windy day in Southeast Alaska:

Sailing past waterfall


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Beating Winter Blues

PY Feature_Dec2018About a year ago, my article “12 Liveaboard Tips to Beat the Winter Woes” came out in Pacific Yachting magazine, and now it’s up on their website here, just in time for winter again. Hope you enjoy it, especially while staying snug and warm ashore somewhere! 😉