Gone Floatabout

Sailing, Photography, Wilderness


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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

It’s safe to say that I love the mountains just as much than the sea, and this image reminds me of some of my happiest memories, trekking 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 our first real voyage aboard CELESTE in 2014, but observing these bears on the Alaska Peninsula was probably the biggest highlight of the trip. Well fed off the salmon coming up the river to spawn, the bears 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 our years sailing.

Whalebone iglu

Whalebone iglu, North Slope, Alaska, 2015

Once again, it was hard to pick just one photo from our voyage 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 our 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, we 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 summer we said goodbye to Alaska, fittingly with CELESTE’s lockers well stocked with our own jars of salmon – caught, smoked, and pressure canned – and this was our last port before rushing south down the Inside Passage to beat winter down the coast to California.

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 on our second crossing of the Pacific. The 3,000-mile trip took us 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

Lots to choose from this year, too, but I couldn’t pass up this one of the stars coming out over the island of Hawai’i. Taken from about 9,500 feet on Mauna Kea (Hawai’i’s tallest mountain at 14,000 feet), the long exposure captures more light than is visible to the naked eye, and so we 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 loved in the Alps and other continental ranges.