Alaskan Brown Bears

Back to the stories behind some favorite images!

It’s probably obvious why I chose this image to lead the Alaska Wildlife gallery. Grizzly bears are so closely associated with the North American wilderness that it seemed too good a choice to pass up. But brown bears fishing for salmon are almost an Alaska cliché, so I wanted to pick a shot that was interesting photographically as well as for its 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 in August 2014 that we spent in this 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.

King Crab Traps

This is another Alaska image we both like – it’s the other leader for the Alaska Landscapes and Seascapes gallery. (There are two leaders for each gallery, one on the home page and one on the Galleries page.) In my last post, I wrote about the home page leader image, St Elias Range, so here’s a little behind the scenes on this one, too.

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.)

St Elias Range

One reader asked in regard to the renovated site if I would still be writing any sailing stories on Gone Floatabout. The answer is mostly, no, not traditional sailing blogs, as I’m shifting the focus to photography – looking outward at our beautiful planet. But, since a lot of our images are taken while sailing, many of my posts will still have a lot to do with sailing! Like this one:

I thought I would start off with the leader image for my first gallery, Alaska Landscapes and Seascapes. This is possibly my favorite image 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.

Renovated Site

I’ve intended to do something different with Gone Floatabout for a long time. I’ve wanted to make it into a photography site, showcasing the beauty of the natural world, rather than a blog site relating personal sailing stories, so now I’ve finally done it. I’ll still write posts, but they’ll focus more on specific photographs – of places or animals – than on voyaging. Clearly, our images are influenced by where we sail, but Gone Floatabout will really be much more about nature photography than sailing going forward.

You’ll see that I’ve entirely renovated the site to be a collection of galleries, organized by location. So far I’ve completed the first three galleries: Alaskan Land- and Seascapes, Alaskan Wildlife, and images from the Pacific Northwest (coastal British Columbia and Washington). I’ve also made a good start on the Birds gallery, though it’s pretty heavy on Alaska at the moment and I’d like to add birds from elsewhere as I go through our old (and new!) photos. I hope you enjoy the new site.

2021 Calendar for sale on Lulu

I wasn’t actually planning to put together a calendar this year, but a sailing friend very nicely asked me to! It was so nice to hear how much she’d enjoyed last year’s Alaska photos that she changed my mind and we’ve published a 2021 calendar. It’s a big change of pace from Alaska: it’s all underwater images from French Polynesia taken over the years sailing CELESTE there. Manta rays, sharks, colorful reef fish, and dolphins are a few of the critters highlighted. Here are some of the images, and here’s the link to the calendar.

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! 🙂

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 – we 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!). We 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 we 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 our outrigger canoe. It’s always so much fun to jump in the water with them. Seth actually took this photo on one of our scuba dives – this was a wonderful dive!