Cover Photo Series

In the interests of resurrecting this blog, I’m planning to do a little series on the backstories behind a few of the photos I’ve had published on the covers of magazines.

This one here was the cover shot for (obviously!) Pacific Yachting magazine, published in Vancouver, British Columbia. My article about the passage to the Aleutian Islands was the main feature in this issue, and this image of Celeste on a rare gorgeous day there led it off. I think what I like most about this photo is the juxtaposition between the rugged terrain and the idyllic sailing conditions. There’s the blue sky and blue sea, just barely rippled, and Celeste gliding along under her asymmetrical spinnaker. And then there’s the shear rock of the mountain peak rearing up from the brilliantly white ice of the glacier. This area, the volcanic chain of the Alaska Peninsula, that terminates in the Aleutian Islands, is a wilderness of harsh, volatile weather, and with perhaps more bears than humans. We certainly saw more bears than people when we sailed there. And we certainly had our fair share of whipping winds and spray, rain and fog, and williwaws – katabatic winds accelerating down the mountain slopes. So a day like this one, when the sun was shining and the wind perfect for the spinnaker, was a very special treat.

In the days before this shot was taken, we’d been having exactly that sort of “Alaskan” weather: cold rain and high winds. In fact, that’s what we’d been having for a couple of weeks! It was blowing so hard on our departure from one port that the track for the staysail sheet had pulled out of the deck (and it was bolted through the deck, so that’s saying something). In the entire time we’d spent in Prince William Sound, the clouds only once lifted enough for us to see the jagged peaks of Chugach Range that surround it. So after sailing across to the Alaska Peninsula at night, to raise these stunning mountains in the brilliant sunlight, and then to glide along beneath them in perfect conditions was a true gift.

Of course it didn’t last very long! But that’s all part of the fun of sailing up there!

A Favorite Photograph: Alaskan Brown Bears

Back to the stories behind some favorite images!

It’s probably obvious why I love this Alaska image: grizzly bears are so closely associated with the North American wilderness, and Alaska in particular. But brown bears fishing for salmon are almost an Alaska cliché, so in our time in the Great Land we wanted to capture images that were interesting photographically as well as for their impressive animal subject.

(Quick note: brown bears and grizzly bears are the same animal. These bears are called “grizzly” in the interior of the continent but are called “brown” on the coast. Kodiak bears are actually also brown bears, who happen to live on Kodiak Island.)

I like this image for a lot of reasons. First, of course, is that it brings back great memories of the week or so that we spent in this particular spot – a nearly land-locked bay on the remote Alaska Peninsula – watching these brown bears fattening up for their winter hibernation. All of the bears in the bay had distinct personalities and it wasn’t long before we could tell them apart by both appearance and behavior. Some were rambunctious juveniles, some were protective mothers, some were alpha males, and others just minded their own business and got on with the fishing.

Photographing two bears together like this is hard to do anywhere but a salmon stream at the height of the spawning. Brown bears are usually solitary and territorial; normally they don’t tolerate other bears in close proximity. But during the salmon run, they congregate in certain prime fishing areas without apparent problems. There seems to be enough food for everyone. Indeed, there’s so much fish that the bears will often eat only their favorite part – the head – and not bother with the rest. I love how this image portrays that, how it shows two bears concentrated on the stream and utterly unconcerned with each other.

It’s also rare to be able to get such clear, close-up, head-on photos of bears. But again, the bears are so well-fed, and so focused on the salmon, that they seemed hardly to notice the humans in the bay with them. This bay is actually a destination for a number of “photo safaris”; at first, we were wary of going ashore at all given the number of bears on the beach, but after a couple of days, one of the wildlife guides accompanying a photo safari invited us to join their group seated beside the stream and we were amazed at how thoroughly the bears ignored us. (Everyone is careful to take precautions, of course, for the good of both people and bears – no one brings food ashore; no one gets overly close (this image was taken with a 400mm zoom lens); and everyone stays grouped together – and so far as I’m aware, it’s worked out so far.) I love how you can see the intensity in this bear’s eyes, like he’s about to pounce on a fish (which he probably was!).

As well as the bear’s intense gaze, I love the movement and depth in this photo. I love the bow wave that the front bear’s left paw is making as he pushes upstream through the water, and how that movement is echoed by the water pushing around the bear in the background as he stands facing upstream. Then there’s the depth of field, with the focus on the foreground bear. My eye then goes to the out-of-focus background bear, and then follows the horizontal lines of alternating yellow-green grass and gray water to the blurry – almost translucent – sailboat in the top right. Of course I love that the boat is Celeste! The dark green alder bushes make a nice contrasting border at the back of the shot.

And finally, what are all those little dots?? Well, an Alaska summer photograph wouldn’t be complete without a few mosquitoes!

Worldwide Classic Boat Show

Some of you might know that I’m a writer for Off Center Harbor, a site dedicated to classic boats and do-it-yourself boat-building and adventuring. Since few if any of the wooden and classic boat festivals happened in person last year, Off Center Harbor has put together an online Worldwide Classic Boat Show. They’ve collected over 600 classic boats to showcase, everything from a lovely varnished launch on Italy’s Lake Como to racing yachts to canoes. Celeste is one of them 🙂 If you’re interested, “tickets” cost $5 and the show lasts until March 7th.

A Favorite Photograph: King Crab Traps

This is another Alaska image we both like. Here, it’s spring in the Aleutian Islands, the off-season for the King crab fishery. As many of you may know from the TV series “Deadliest Catch”, the King crab fishery is a tough business, conducted in fall and winter when strong storms can pummel the Aleutians and kick up big waves in the shallow Bering Sea. What I didn’t realize until we sailed to Dutch Harbor was that the king crab traps themselves are huge: wrestling one of these things onto the deck of a fishing boat would be difficult enough without a winter storm, even with hydraulic or electric winches. I like this image because it juxtaposes the serene beauty of a rare calm and sunny spring day in the beautiful Aleutians with the toughness of living and working there. (Me standing by the traps provides a nice sense of scale.)

A Favorite Photograph: St Elias Range

I’ve transitioned away from keeping a sailing blog, but hope to write occasional posts, so here’s the start of a little series of the stories behind some of our favorite images.

This is one of my favorite images from our voyages in Alaska because it captures so well so much of what I love about the Great Land. There are the jaw-droppingly huge and beautiful snow-capped mountains, the wilderness of coniferous forest, a calm ocean at dawn, and a hardy little fishing boat heading out to make a living from the sea.

It was autumn when we were moored in this incredible corner of the world, at the edge of the Wrangell-St Elias National Park. When I look at this photo, I can almost feel the cold morning air nipping my nose and condensing my breath as I stood on the dock savoring this view.

It was the first time we’d seen the mountains at all since we had sailed into this bay: it had been raining and blowing a gale for almost two weeks. Then, on this morning, the wind lay down and the clouds lifted to reveal the St Elias range, which includes the second highest peak in America. The contrast of the calm, the silence, and the clearing skies after all the wind and rain of the prolonged storm was stark, and most welcome. Alaska is often like that: the wilderness and the weather can be harsh, but so very worth the effort.

Ocean Cruising Club Lockdown Lectures

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:

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. We both 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.)

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 summers 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.)

 

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! 🙂

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 😉)