Monthly Archives: December 2014

Wind in your face, you’re in the right place

I pre-wrote the following post in case the internet sucked up here in the Gulf of Alaska. The internet has been barley working. The weather has been rough and we are getting our butts kicked. We are almost to Station Papa and should be setting out two new moorings and retrieving another over the next two days. Will update as soon as possible. Happy New Year!

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(This is the Gorge Power House on the Skagit River in Newhalem, WA where my gradfather was the chief machinist. My grandparents moved here when the highway ended in Newhalem a long long time ago).

My two favorite things to do when I’m off the ship include fishing and riding my new (to me) Harley.

One of the common sayings when fishing with live bait (anchovies) for tuna was “Wind in your face, your in the right place”. By dropping your bait over the rail on the windward side, the boat would drift away from your bait rather than over the top of it if you were on the leeward side. To help rookies remember the proper side, the saying went “wind at your back, no fish in your sack”.

Since selling my boat last summer and shipping out on the Thomas G. Thompson, I haven’t had too many opportunities to get on a good tuna trip. Luckily for me, my former first mate, Marlin Mike, has kept my freezer fully stocked with fresh fish. I am very thankful for that.

The ISO KALA….I sure do miss her!
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Last summer I bought a 1999 Harley Electra Glide from my Uncle and have been having a blast riding it all over the place. One great advantage to the mariner life is that when you are home, you can do things mid-week when everyone else is at work. Riding my bike during the week has allowed me to avoid crowds on weekends. I love to crank up the tunes and get some wind in my face on the open road.

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Totally unrelated:
I nearly forgot to mention that I happened to be at the University Bookstore in Seattle a couple months back and saw Mick Fleetwood of the band Fleetwood Mack:
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Station Papa Bound

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We are departing for Station Papa, 700 miles from anywhere, in the Gulf of Alaska. The science party is focused on studying wave heights, launching sea rider gliders and placing a new mooring.

Click the link for more information about STATION PAPA.

Click to see the current sea conditions at STATION P.

It should take us about four days to get out there. If the internet works, I’ll try to send in an update.

Visiting Nootka Sound, Vancouver Island Canada

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We just returned from Nootka Sound on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, Canada. This was an 11 day senior thesis project for all the seniors to complete their field projects prior to graduation. Some of them studied bottom samples (mud) near the site of an old mill, others studied microbiology, a few studied the mixing of fresh and salt water in the deep fjords and the effects of tidal flushing and others starfish wasting (the starfish on the West Coast are melting away due to a virus). We carried a small boat so that some students could work on their projects in areas we couldn’t take the ship.

As we departed Seattle, there was a very strong low pressure system approaching the coast. As we passed the West end of the Straights of Juan De Fuca and Cape Flattery we were pounded by high winds and swell. Our ship looked like it had an Ebola outbreak as there were sick students everywhere! Luckily for them, we only had to transit approx. 12 hours on the outside before reaching the inside protected waters of Nootka. As the storm passed we had some very nice days. The fjords in Nootka Sound are very narrow in places, sometimes less than three of our boat widths, and very deep (nearly 200 meters). This place is off the grid. We had an internet black hole while we visited the area due to the steep mountains. The locals nearly all travel in small aluminum pilothouse boats. There are a few roads, but many of the towns are 30-50 miles by dirt road. A few use float planes to get around. There are several fish farms in various inlets and we saw one active heli-logging operation. This would be a great place to take your boat and get away from it all.

Scenery Photos:
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As we returned to Seattle, we were met with another storm on the outside. A final parting gift for our students to remember. Overall Nootka is very scenic and would be a great place to visit when there were more time to explore the many coves, inlets and nearby lakes.

To all mariners at sea: MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Seattle’s Ballard Locks & Ship Canal: Entering from sea

We came through through the Ballard Locks and ship canal to the University Of Washington today. I decided to take photos along the way and show some of the sights and ships along the way.

To enter the channel you aim just to the right of Shilshoe Bay Marina. There are a lot of sailboats in this marina. When the wind blows, there is one hell of a lot of clanking going on:
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Just inside the entrance of the channel on the left side is Ray’s Boathouse Restaurant and to the left of that is Anthony’s Restaurant, both very good seafood joints.

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You will then pass many waterfront homes and soon see the Burlington Northern Rail Bridge in the distance. The Ballard Locks are just on the other side of the bridge around the corner to the left:
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If you are in a large vessel, you will have to get the bridge open. Today we didn’t need an opening on the Clifford A. Barnes Research Vessel. The bridge was already open for a tug and barge ahead of us that went into the large locks:
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Just as you turn to go under the rail bridge, you will see the locks up ahead. The large locks is on the left and the small locks are on the right. Just before entering, there is a waiting wall on the right. Being that we were in a government vessel, we went in first:
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Often they will pack several vessels at a time in the lock. Once everyone is tied off, the gates will shut and the level will rise or fall depending which way you are going:
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The fish ladder is over in the corner by the yellow pipes, just below the condos:
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The small locks couldn’t be more easy. You loop your dock line over the button and make it fast. The buttons are on large floats that stay the same level as your vessel when the levels change. In the large locks, you heave your lines over to the attendants and then you manage your lines and you rise or fall.
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Once the water has risen and the lock opens, you are now in fresh water of the ship canal / Lake Union / Lake Washington. This is the home to many tug companies, commercial fishing vessels (many of them are based in Seattle but fish in Alaska), tour boats, private boats, houseboats, yachts, etc.
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Here is the Army Corps of Engineers “Puget” that collects logs and sunken vessels from the locks and nearby channels that would otherwise restrict vessel traffic:
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A tug waiting to enter the large locks outbound:
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Looking back into the locks where we just came from (looking West):
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The emergency lock gates and crane. If the lock gates were to fail, the Army Corps would place these emergency gates to keep all of the fresh lake water from flowing through the locks until repairs could be made.
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The Highland Blight, officially named the Highland Light, has been stinking up the place for a long time. It’s probably good for scrap now, but someone is living the dream of one day sailing this tub back to sea.
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Kirby Tugs (formerly K-Sea):
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This is Ballard. Ballard was once a working man’s town but is almost completely yuppified now. Other than a little industrial area and some working waterfront it’s all shops, condos, coffee, bars and thick black frames glasses.

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The Stabbert’s built a marina for yachts with condos above:
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Starting to see the Ballard Bridge in the distance:
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Just before going under the Ballard Bridge, Fisherman’s Terminal is on the right:
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Just after the Ballard Bridge on the right hand side of the channel is Coastal Transportation:
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On the left side is the Bold. Another ship that rarely moves. If it does, it’s just to a new berth.
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Then you come to Trident Seafood’s yard on the left and Ocean Beauty Seafood’s on the right:
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Redden Marine Supply is next on the right:
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Foss Shipyard is next on the right:
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A few more fish boats on the left and then….
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Western Towboat’s Yard is on the left. Their tugs always stand out in yellow and blue!
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Just after Western Towboat is Kvichack (pronounced V-Jack). Builders of aluminum vessels:
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Then some more small boats on the right and Lakeside (Sand & Gravel) on the left:
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Turn around and look where we just came through:
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Then you enter the Fremont Cut. The area is lined with trees and bike / walking paths on both sides. Many large tech firms are on the left side and Seattle Pacific University is on the right. At the end of the cut is the Fremont Bridge (short) followed by the Aurora Bridge (tall):
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After going under the Aurora Bridge, you start to enter Lake Union. Once in Lake Union you will see the big grassy hill on the left called Gasworks Park. This is where Seattle’s 4th of July Fireworks are launched each year. It just was redone and new grass seeded. On the right as you enter into Lake Union you will see downtown Seattle.
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There is Fremont Tug on the left:
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As you round the end of Gasworks Park at the North end of Lake Union you start to see the Interstate 5 bridge:
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A dry rack for ski boats. This isn’t all that old. It is soon to be torn down so that new condos can be built. The working waterfront is disappearing.
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Just before going under I-5 there is an Ivar’s Salmon House on the left. Keep Clam!
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Just as you go under the I-5 bridge (tall) you make a sharp right and pass under the University Bridge (short) and enter Portage Bay. On the left side of Portage Bay is the University Of Washington (where my other ship, the Thomas G. Thompson is berthed) on the right are a bunch of houseboats. At the SE end is the Seattle yacht Club:
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This transit ended for me at the U of W dock. If you were continue just around a slight left turn and go through one more cut, you’d pop out into Lake Washington right near the Husky Stadium. The transit from the Locks to the U of W takes about 45 minutes.

Stacked Tight & Coring the Coast

In October we ventured out to the Washington Coast for a short trip involving seafloor coring. We had some pretty rough days with the winds clocking over 50 knots. Typically we may get hammered with a large NW swell this time of year but mostly things were out of the SW. Not overly huge, but 20 feet and 10 seconds is no fun! That’s Stacked Tight! Here is what it looked like:

Rough weather from the bridge: (Notice the rusty water from the roll tank vents on the upper deck)

From the stern:

The coring took place along the Washington Coast along the continental shelf. Earlier mapping trips had identified some locations with methane gas seeps. This trip was to try to drop a core into those seeps and try to analyze the mud for microorganisms that thrive in the seeps.

Birds following us around. Do they think we are a fishing trawler with some scraps for them?:
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The first step is the get a detailed map of the area with our ships multi-beam transducer. We just make several passes like mowing the lawn at around four knots while the marine techs tune the sonar beam to capture an image of the actual seep bubbles. When the weather really kicked up, this is the only part of the operation we could do. All over the side ops were cancelled.

Once the seep is identified, they drop a core over the side and try to hit the top of the seep. This is more of a luck type operation than skill. The core is basically a huge stack of weights on the end of a section (or multiple sections) of hardened drill casing. A clear plastic sleeve fits inside the drill casing and when the core is brought to the surface and secured on deck, the clear sleeve containing the mud slides out from the drill case and can be cut at different intervals and frozen in the ships science freezers. Once ashore the samples will keep some researchers busy for the next year or two in a lab somewhere.

The core and weight are nestled in the cradle near the guy in the blue hard hat:
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The core has been removed from the cradle and lowered over the side:
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The core being brought back onboard. Notice the mud on the casing. Then the sleeve is removed from the casing with the mud inside:
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All of the lifting and lowering of the core are done with our huge trawl winches located down inside the ship. The winch wire is reeved up through the crane base and over a two meter block that attaches near the end of the boom of the crane. The crane is only used to swing the core over the side and then it is placed in a large crutch to help support the weight. The core is dropped with the winches until is plunges into the bottom. We can almost instantly tell if we hit the spot by how much tension is metered when we begin to pull the core off the bottom. If the tension remains fairly low then we know we hit a hard spot or rock and the core did not penetrate. If the tension really spikes then we know it was really driven into the sea floor.

This was a fairly hard operation to photograph, as I was running the winches most of the time. Here is the view from the winch control. We can see the trawl winches in the winch room on the monitors:
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We returned to Seattle’s Pier 91 to unload our science guests. I snapped a panoramic photo with my cell phone. Pier 91 is where much of the Alaska Trawler Fleet calls home.
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