Gone Floatabout

Sailing, Photography, Wilderness


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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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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


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World Oceans Day

Dolphin

Dolphin just breaks the surface off Celeste’s bow, Baja Mexico, February 2018

Saturday (June 8) was World Oceans Day.

I didn’t actually know that until today — I’m not really plugged into all the sundry United Nations holidays out there. But I like the sentiment behind it, celebrating and protecting the world’s oceans. The ocean is obviously a source of joy for me — as all my readers know, I try to spend as much free time on or in it as possible.

Under-over_Celeste and Ellen

Ellen swims under Celeste, French Polynesia, August 2018. This was the recent double-page spread in Cruising World.

And so Saturday was no exception, despite the fact that I wasn’t aware at the time that I was celebrating World Oceans Day!

I tried out a new scuba diving site, accessed from shore, and was really pleased to find a reef with healthier coral than I was expecting.

Coral reef

Healthy coral reef!

There was also a good amount of fish, many of them fairly large specimens of their species. Though I didn’t see any big marine life (rays, sharks, game fish), I was still very pleasantly surprised by the health of the reef.

Peacock grouper

Peacock grouper

I’m just an amateur observer, not a scientist, so I have no idea if my hypothesis is correct, but it seems likely that this site (which involved a 3/4-mile hike in over rocky terrain in full scuba kit) was more pristine than many I’ve dived simply because it’s less trafficked. And not just by scuba divers, but snorkelers and spear fishermen too. There was also little run-off from the land and the water temperature wasn’t too hot by tropical standards – 79 degrees F. In an effort to keep the site healthy and untrafficked, I’m not going to say where it is — sorry!

Over the years I’ve seen a pretty big variance in coral reef health, all over the world. Again, this is hardly scientific, as I’ve only been back to exactly the same places in very few instances and haven’t done any kind of systematic studies, but it does sadly appear as if the reefs of the Pacific are not as healthy as they were a dozen years ago. Thankfully, I still run across some areas of superbly healthy reefs. And even the moderately healthy reefs, like the one I dived Saturday, give hope for conservation efforts.

Reef and surgeonfish

A beautiful reef in the South Pacific, July 2018

In my opinion – and for me personally – there’s nothing like seeing the beautiful natural world with one’s own eyes to make a person care about protecting it. So it’s good we have days like World Oceans Day, which hopefully get more people out there to see for themselves!

 

 


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Not too late for summer reading!

It will probably come as no surprise that I love to read about outdoor adventures, ashore and afloat. So when we finished our summer’s sailing this year and received our big stack of waiting mail, I was excited to see the Summer issue of Misadventures magazine.

Misadventures-2

Of course it’s always fun to see my own writing in print, but what I enjoy even more is seeing what else is in the magazines. This issue was full of interesting tales of guiding on the Inca Trail, becoming a park ranger in retirement, and advocating for public lands as well as fun stuff like a recipe for campfire Bibimbap. The theme of the issue was Landfall, which is of course a central part of offshore sailing (or at least, one hopes so!) My own piece was about the magic of landfall to a seafarer, that exhilarating – and sometimes bittersweet – moment when you first sight land on the horizon after days or weeks at sea. 

Misadventures is written by all kinds of adventuresome women and I was honored to be among them this summer. The magazine was started to celebrate women and the outdoors, and while it’s certainly inspirational to women and girls, it’s also just a good read about the great outdoors and great pursuits!  The Landfall issue is still available in stores, or on the magazine’s website. And while most of the print articles aren’t online, the site has lots of other interesting stories!

 


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50,000 sea miles

Setting moon on Pacific crossing

Moon setting at dawn on my second Pacific crossing

So, this summer, when I was out-of-touch and offline, we were sailing across the Pacific again. This second Pacific crossing was quite different from the first one in 2007, but more on that in a later post. But en route, we realized we had sailed some 50,000 sea miles.

In that time, we’d sailed across 4 oceans, crossed the equator three times and the Arctic Circle twice, and, I’m pretty sure, had run aground in every ocean. So here’s to the sturdy little vessels that took us so far!


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All Blue Water Boats Should Steer Themselves

So says Yves Gélinas, the incredibly accomplished and innovative sailor who invented the Cape Horn wind vane, and I couldn’t agree more.Strong SE wind

Twelve years ago, Seth and I and two friends set off on our circumnavigation aboard Heretic with no self-steering gear at all. No electronic autopilot and no mechanical wind vane. We both came from racing (round-the-buoys) backgrounds and were used to hand-steering boats to get the best out of them. With four people taking turns at the helm, it was possible to make ocean passages like that, but it wasn’t much fun. Nor was our fatigue helped by the fact that we were sailing Heretic like we were in a race….

Cold sailing

Hand-steering Heretic in a gale off Rhode Island in November 2006. Me on the left, one of our friends – John – at the helm.

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Passage to San Francisco (October 2017)

Passage to SF-2Last winter, while living aboard and working on CELESTE in Port Angeles, we discovered just how frequent and how deep the low pressure systems that hit the Pacific Northwest can be. So this year, after returning to Port Angeles from our Alaskan cruising, we were determined to get south of their tracks before the winter pattern began.  Continue reading


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Inside Channels to Open Ocean: Ketchikan, Alaska to Juan de Fuca Strait, Washington, August 2016

brown-bear-fishing-alaska

Brown bear fishing for salmon, Southeast Alaska

Our last post ended in Southeast Alaska, where we’d encountered a whole range of sailing conditions, revisited places we’d enjoyed in 2014, and discovered new places including a river where both black and brown bears fished for salmon.

Upon leaving the touristic town of Ketchikan, we once again entered deserted channels between forested islands. Our last stop in Alaska was a little cove just a mile or two north of the Canadian border, and then we set off to Prince Rupert to clear Customs into Canada.

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Glaciers, bears, and crossing the Gulf of Alaska: Kodiak to Ketchikan, July 2016

Sunset on Kodiak IslandWe wrote our last post from Kodiak, a wonderful town where we met a lot of very friendly people. As well as completing necessary chores like laundry, internet, fuel, and groceries, we had fun hiking the hill behind town. We really fell in love with the island of Kodiak, though, when we left town to sail to a deserted bay. Deserted, that is, except for humpback whales, sea otters with babies, and hundreds of puffins and auklets! Continue reading


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Dutch Harbor to Kodiak: Great sailing and great wildlife!

Sea Otter, Unalaska Island

Sea otter, Unalaska Island

With repairs complete, we departed Dutch Harbor/Unalaska on June 26 for the big, beautiful Alaska Peninsula. The first challenge was to sail between the Aleutians out from the Bering Sea and back into the Pacific. The passes between the islands are notoriously rough, with tidal currents running strong. On our way into the Bering in 2014 we had used Akutan Pass and had encountered a 3-knot favorable current at the supposed slack tide. We’d had bumpy conditions (contrary wind – wind against current) but nothing bad, and the 3-knot boost made it fast. This time things went even better! We chose the smaller Unalga Pass and had glassy calm seas despite a 2-knot current with us. There was thick fog, but otherwise it was very pleasant.

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