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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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.

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 clĂ´ture 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


Worst Weather Challenges and other stories

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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.


Alaska Voyage Video 10: Gulf of Alaska and Inside Passage

Another video from our Alaskan voyages: This episode covers another part of our return trip in Summer 2016 from the Aleutians back to Puget Sound/Juan de Fuca Strait area. A four-day passage across the Gulf of Alaska brings CELESTE to Peril Strait, the aptly named entrance to Southeast Alaska’s inside channels. Here we explore forested islands, deserted coves, hot springs, and lagoons accessible only by dinghy before transiting Wrangell Narrows, another tight waterway with fast-running tides.

Hope you enjoy Episode 10!

 


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Photo publication news

Ocean-Navigator-March-April-2019

Seth’s photo of me on the cover of Ocean Navigator!

Good news on the publication front: two of Seth’s images were out recently, one as a cover shot (!) and one as a double-page spread, accompanied by a short article I wrote. The cover image is above – of me tending the spinnaker at the end of a good day’s sailing across Shelikof Strait, which separates Kodiak Island and the Alaska Peninsula. As you can see, it graces last month’s cover of Ocean Navigator magazine 🙂

The double-page spread was an “under-over” (half underwater) shot of me snorkeling below CELESTE, an image we worked hard to get over the course of our last season’s sailing. My article tells the story of getting the image. It was in the January-February issue of Cruising World magazine. Here’s the PDF of it!


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Alaska Video Episode 9: Kodiak and Kenai Fjords

In our last video episode, we set sail from the Aleutian Islands heading east for the remote Alaska Peninsula. In this next one, we continue our 2016 voyage onward to Kodiak and then north to the stunning scenery of the Kenai Fjords. Sailing from tranquil coves to calving glaciers, we witness breaching humpback whales, sea otters, huge flocks of puffins, high snow-capped peaks, and deep fjord anchorages. Hope you enjoy!

 

P.S. You can see all the previous episodes on our new Videos page.


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Alaska Voyage Video 8: The Alaska Peninsula

Another episode in the Alaska video series!

The last video covered the start to our 2016 sailing season, in Dutch Harbor Alaska, in which we tackled the most necessary repairs to CELESTE following a typhoon. This episode is the start to actually sailing in the 2016 season, with the boat in seaworthy condition again. Retracing our outward (2014) route back to Washington State, we leave the Bering Sea behind and sail along the Alaska Peninsula, one of the state’s most primeval-feeling coasts. Volcanoes smoke, brown bears pace the shore, waterfalls tumble down cliffs, tides run strong, and glaciers gleam white in the sun. Hope you enjoy Episode 8!

P.S. I’ve also created a playlist for our Arctic Voyage, including Episodes 1-6 which cover our 2015 journey from Dutch Harbor to Point Barrow on the North Slope and return.


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Arctic Voyage Video 7: Repairs in Dutch Harbor, Alaska

Here (finally!) is the next episode in the Alaska video series:

My last video episode covered our passages south in autumn 2015 from the “top of America” at Point Barrow in the Arctic back to Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands, once again to be CELESTE’s winter home. So this episode is the beginning of the following season (2016).

Winter 2015/16 was not nearly so kind to CELESTE as the previous winter – a typhoon from Japan hit the Aleutian Islands that year, causing severe damage throughout the town and harbor. So we return in June 2016 to find some major repairs to do. But between installing a new chain plate and readying CELESTE for sea, we also find time to observe the incredible wildlife of the area – humpback whales, sea otters, Arctic ground squirrels, and bald eagles.

Hope you enjoy this episode!