Gone Floatabout

Sailing, Photography, Wilderness


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Ocean Cruising Club Lockdown Lectures

OCC burgee and Marquesan courtesy flag

OCC burgee flying from CELESTE’s spreaders

To keep our spirits up during the pandemic, the commodore of the Ocean Cruising Club had the wonderful idea to organize a series of Lockdown Lectures. The OCC is full of adventuresome and accomplished sailors with fascinating stories – there’s no clubhouse, just a great group of people. I’ve really enjoyed all the Lockdown Lectures, from Steve Brown’s talk on his 2018 Antarctica voyage to Clive Woodman’s tale of skiing the whole length of Norway and sailing back in his little 19-foot Cornish Shrimper! Randall Reeves took us vicariously on his “Figure 8 Voyage”, solo around the Southern Ocean and then around the Americas, almost entirely nonstop; Pam Wall took us family cruising the Bahamas; and Bob Comlay took us back to the days of the renowned sailor, mountaineer, and author Bill Tilman – he sailed with Tilman on some of his last trips. It was a wonderful escape to “attend” these talks virtually during the lockdown.

And I was very honored when Simon (the commodore) asked me to give one, too. I must admit it was a little strange to give a talk to a screen instead of a room full of people! I gather that almost all the presenters felt the same way, but it was a lot of fun and I especially enjoyed the Q&A at the end. My talk was on French Polynesia: I tried to give a sense of the culture and great beauty – both below and above the water – of the Marquesas and Tuamotu archipelagos.

Here is a link to all the talks – they were recorded so anyone can watch them. They’re all wonderful! And here’s the Vimeo link to mine on the South Pacific. Here are a few of my favorite photos from that part of the world:


Sailing in the Aquarium, article in Classic Boat Magazine

Celeste in Sea of Cortez

Celeste in the Sea of Cortez, 2018

Here’s a link to another of my articles, written a little while ago – after sailing Celeste around the southern part of Mexico’s Sea of Cortez in early 2018 – but published quite recently in the British magazine Classic Boat. I hope everyone enjoys the story!

Subscribers to Classic Boat should see what’s essentially the next installment in this story, an article about crossing from Baja California to French Polynesia, in a future issue.


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Polynesia’s beautiful underwater world

I recently made another a little reel, which I hope gives a bit of a sense of the gorgeous underwater world and incredible marine life of French Polynesia in the South Pacific. I simply love the diving and snorkeling there, whether its with the big critters – manta rays, dolphins, sharks – or the colorful reef fish, splendid coral, or the shoals of barracuda and jacks. Hope you enjoy the short film! (The diver in all the footage is a guy named Alexis, the organizer of a little dive club in the Tuamotus.)

(Click on the 4 arrows in the bottom right to make the video full screen.)


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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.

 


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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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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. Continue reading


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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


Worst Weather Challenges and other stories

ON201911

Recently, I’ve been writing a series of features for Ocean Navigator magazine. My series covers the toughest passages in my 50,000 miles of offshore sailing and it’s been a fun way to look back on many years of voyaging.

The first part of the series came out in the September/October edition of the magazine and is up online as well: Worst Weather Challenges. The second one is out in print in the current issue and covers our worst underway breakages. It also just came out online: Worst Breakdowns.

This current Ocean Navigator edition also has another piece I wrote, about a fascinating historical reconstruction going on in Maine – of the colonial ship Virginia, the first English ship built in North America. Last but not least, one of our photos is the cover image for the issue! (See left.) The catamaran pictured is the sleek and fast 57-foot Gunboat Vandal whose crew we met in 2018 in the South Pacific on their way to New Zealand.


Sea Gypsy’s Conundrum article online

Celeste leaving the Alaska Peninsula for Kodiak Island

Sailing in Shelikof Strait, Alaska

My Cruising World magazine article that I mentioned in the last post is now online. You can read it here and I hope you enjoy it! Thanks again to all the sailors who contributed!

https://www.cruisingworld.com/how-to-get-mail-at-sea/