Category Archives: Puget Sound

Tug Boating to Alaska


Hello sports fans!  I’m sorry to be away for so long from my blog (seems to be a recurring problem).

I went to Compass Courses in Edmonds in August for the 5 day Leadership and Managerial Skills course.  The course could have easily been packed into 2.5 days instead of 5, thank you USCG for your foresight on this issue!  On the last day of class, Aug 12th, I finished the final exam at 1100, got in my truck and drove to Everett, where my wife met me at the Dunlap Towing yard and drove my truck home for me while I crewed up on my first tug job.  Pretty much as I stepped on board, the gangway came up and we threw off the lines to get underway to Seattle.

In Seattle we stopped to fuel up and wait for our freight barge to be brought out to us from the Duwamish River by Western Towboat.  Western has a dedicated tug that operates around the Dirty D (Duwamish River) and it common for companies to handoff their barge or receive a barge from the Westrac (Western Towboat’s tug in the area) as they bring it in or out of the river to a waiting tug or place it on the West Seattle Buoys, where barges can be left for short periods of time as sometimes a berth needs to open or a tug is running late and the buoys are where these barges can be placed to keep them out of the way for short periods.

As soon as we fueled and made up to our barge we were underway for Alaska.  Our barge was 330′ and loaded with freight for Alaskan towns with mostly containers and some rolling stock like trucks and a new school bus.  Since I was on the mid watch from 12-0400 with the second mate, I went down for a nap before watch.  We passed very familiar places on the way out of Puget Sound and instead of heading west out of the Straights of Juan De Fuca, hung a right and Rosario Straights towards Vancouver Canada.  We passed through the Seymour Narrows sometime on my off watch when I was asleep and I didn’t get to see the famous narrow spot.  The last time I was through here was when I was a kid and we took our family boat North around 1978 (which I don’t remember much of).


Other than going to Dutch Harbor and some of the Aleutian Chain last June on the research vessel, I’ve never been to Alaska.  Let me tell you this:  YOU NEED TO GO THROUGH THE INSIDE PASSAGE!  It absolutely stunning!  Of course the route that we took, was the most direct to Juneau possible, there is still an incredible amount of bays, coves, inlets, passes, mountains, etc to keep one busy for a lifetime of cruising.  We passed several cruise ships (it was cruise ship season) coming and going from Seattle to Alaska.  These huge ships haul ass and I could only think about the people who pay to “see” Alaska and then miss over half of it while their ship steams along at 20+ knots while the passengers are sleeping at night.  Of course they get to go many ports and take quick little excursions that we are unable to do on a freight run.


2.5 days after leaving Seattle, we arrived in Juneau to offload some freight.  We needed to arrive on a tide, offload our freight, backload and lash the oncoming freight and a huge Taylor Forklift and depart before we lost the tide.  I think we were in town for around a total of 3 or 4 hours.  So much for seeing Juneau!  I could only see as much of it as was visible from our tug or our barge.


A couple of days later we were at the top of the Inside Passage and headed out into the Gulf of Alaska headed toward the Alaskan Town of Yakutat.  Again we pulled in, offloaded cargo, back loaded cargo and departed for sea.  The only major difference from Juneau was the fact that the container yard we tied up to in Yakutat did not have a ramp for the forklifts to drive onto the barge and pick a loaded container and drive it off ashore.  Instead they used the Pass/ Pass technique where the barge forklift sets the container right at the rail and the forklift from shore picks it right off of our deck and drives it into the storage yard ashore.  


At this point in the trip it was cloudy and rainy and we didn’t get to see shit as far the incredible Chugach Mountain range that we steamed right past.  A couple days more and we entered Cook Inlet heading towards Anchorage.  We arrived around 2200 and worked cargo until around 0200 in the morning and retired for the night.  This port is a major port and has all of the equipment to efficiently offload / backload cargos.  The downfall of this port is the massive 20+’ tide swings.  The tug actually has to break tow and go lay at another dock several hundred yards away from the barge.  When the tide goes out, the barge just sits on the mud bottom while cargo ops continue.  At this point, word came down that our mission would take us to Dutch Harbor with a small amount of container freight but after that we would travel West to Unmak Island and the town of Nikolski to load dirty dirt (more on that later).  In order to load dirty dirt, our barge needed a “fence” built on our barge of 40′ containers stacked two high and lashed all the way around the deck of the barge to help contain the load of dirty dirt.  The dock crew from the yard had this pretty much complete when we turned to in the morning around 0700.  We finished up, returned to the tug and waited for a delivery of stores to arrive (the cook had gone shopping at the grocery store).  As soon as the stores were loaded we made up to the barge and departed for sea.  I think we were in Anchorage for about 10 hours…never left the tug, barge or yard.  Great way to see the sights!



Once we got underway, we were headed west to the Aleutians.  The scenery along the Alaskan Peninsula and Kodiak Island was stunning!  While we didn’t have perfect weather we got to see quite a bit of the mountains and had some really good, flat water.  A few days later we arrived in Captains Bay (on the back side of Dutch Harbor Proper).  The scenery here was also amazing and it is nearly impossible to think of a more scenic port!  We discharged all of our remaining cargo and got immediately underway for Unmak Island and Nikolski.  the steam from Dutch was about 24 hours and upon arrival at Nikolski, we entered the bay, slowly steamed into the wind and started dumping wire from the tow winch while zig zagging our way upwind.  at the top of the bay, the tug made a big sweeping left hand turn and continued dumping wire until we were pretty much abeam of the barge about 100 yards away.  This is called “Laying on the wire” and is how we would remain for the next several days as loaded “dirty dirt”.  No anchor needed!


The town of Nikolski is a group of around 18 houses and an Orthodox Church.  Mostly natives live from what I’m told.  The church, like many places in remote Western parts of Alaska, were built by the Russians way back when.  I’m sure all of the materials had to be brought in as there isn’t a tree in sight in any of the Aleutians that I saw except right in town were someone plated one.

As soon as we were secure, a landing craft came out from shore carrying a load of dirty dirt and picked myself and the ab cook up and took us over to our barge.  The landing craft could load 25 racks at a time.  Each rack carried 3 large bags of dirty dirt.  The dirty dirt is soil that is contaminated by diesel, spilled when the military departed the Aleutians after WWII.  Contractors dig up the dirt, fill the bags and place them on flat racks.  The landing craft crew loads 25 racks in a load and delivers them to the barge where they pass / pass the dirt aboard and we stack it and lash it for the ride to Seattle.  In Seattle, it is offloaded, transferred to rail and taken to Portland, Oregon to be incinerated and decontaminated.  We spent several days loading dirt.  Upon our arrival back at the tug, we found out the remaining crew had been busy catching five fresh halibut.  We gave one to the landing craft and I cleaned the rest as no one else knew how.  Fresh Halibut….Yum!

Once the dirty dirt was loaded, we returned to Dutch to load more dirty dirt that had been recovered from Adak a week or two earlier.  Once we got all of the dirt loaded, we filled in all the remaining space with heavy equipment that was pulling out due to the end of the working season.  We then received word that we would be standing by several days waiting for a second barge to come it from Naknek (Bristol Bay) before we could head toward to home.  We spent our days working cargo ashore or being tasked with moving barges around the harbor.  While we were tied up in Captains Bay, two different captain friends came in on factory trawlers and tied up at the next dock over from us.  Both times, we were so busy that I didn’t get a chance to walk over and say hello.  The next morning when we had time, they were gone.

We did manage to borrow the yard truck and go to the Dutch Harbor Library and get connected to the internet and chat with home.  It was about two weeks since I had been able to check in.  FYI: Verizon does not work in Dutch (AT&T and GCI are the only two at this time that do) but the local library has free wifi.  

We also went over and visited the new Gretchen Dunlap.  The Gretchen is Dunlap’s new harbor tractor tug and is quite impressive.  Read more about her here: Gretchen Dunlap.

Finally, after some weather delays, our barge arrived and we got underway from Captains Bay.  We steamed slowly out of the bay with our barge streamed astern way back on the wire.  The second tug pulled right up alongside of us and we passed them our Swede wire, which they attached to the tow gear.  We pulled tight on their tow gear as they broke off from it and pulled away from us.  We then pulled their tow gear onto our deck and made it up to our second tow wire / winch.  Then we streamed the second barge out, but not as far as our first barge, which was way back.  This is how we travelled back to Seattle.


It took a total of 14 days to get back to Seattle and other than a couple of days crossing the Gulf of Alaska was very pleasant weather.  As we approached Vancouver Island on the Inside Passage, word was passed that we wouldn’t be allowed to travel further South than Cape Scott (N/ end of Vancouver Island) with two barges and that we would have to take the outside of Vancouver Island to return to Seattle.  Luckily for us, the weather was perfect!

We returned to Seattle and dropped our first barge off to the waiting Western Towboat tugs and while they took that barge upriver, we put the second barge on the buoy for them to retrieve when they are finished with the first barge.  We steamed two hours back to our yard in Everett and 45 minutes after tying up, I was at home, kicking my feet up and chillaxin.

Great trip overall.  There are things I really like about tugs and things I don’t like.  For the sake of any new people getting their feet wet and trying to decide what sector of shipping they would like to get into, here are a few of my thoughts:


Small crews and no passengers to deal with.

Better pay than research vessel

Great crews with lots of experience and willing to teach a FNG like me

Towing shit is cool and the making and breaking a tow is cool.

I was left pretty much to my own to find shit to do / what to paint/ projects etc.

Yard is very close to my home


The tug gets very small after a couple of weeks.  Bring books, movies etc to stay occupied in your time off.

The tug gets its ass kicked in weather more than a big ship.  You will feel it and the tires on the side of the hull take a bit of time to get used to.  The engine noise is much louder than it was on the ship I was on.  I slept with ear plugs at all times.

Comms with home are very limited compared with what I came from.

There isn’t really any schedule going to these remote areas.  Weather and customer delays are common.  Alaska freight is boom or bust depending on the season.  Prepare to be super busy in the spring / summer / early fall and slow in winter for the most part.  This works really well from some people as they like to travel during the winter.

The bunks on the tugs were built for short people.  If you’re tall like me, prepare to sleep sideways or with your legs bent. (Yes, I know I’m being bitchy)

Overall very good trip and I learned a ton!  Total was 37 Days.




More Tugs

More tug photos from around the Pacific Northwest.
Crowley Nanuq at the Foss yard:

Western Towboat Alaska Titan:

Crowley assist tugs in San Diego:

Curtain Maritime working in San Diego:

Sause Black Hawk:

Lindsey Foss:

Crowley Ocean Wind:

Westar Bearcat:

Westar Pacific Wind:

Freemont Tug’s working the Foss 300 Steam Powered Crane into the Kvichak Yard while launching a new vessel:

Some Kirby Tugs:

Other tugs I don’t remember snapping:

Western Towboat assisting a USCG Cutter out of Lake Union through the Freemont Cut:

Thank you for stopping by.  More posts coming soon.


Summer Happenings

Returned home from the South Pacific at the end of April and have been nonstop since.  Here are some notes about what has been happening.  I told myself to not wait so long between posts and keep this blog more updated and will try to in the future, especially since I can’t use the slow internet excuse now that I’m home.

So here goes:

A couple days after getting home, I went to Westport to run halibut charters for my friends Mark and Merry at All Rivers and Saltwater Charters.  They have built their business into a year round sport fishing operation with the main focus being on tuna during the summer on board their four Defiance 29 Pilothouse boats.  They also run salmon, bottom fish, halibut, ling cod, and river fishing trips.  They have some very reliable, professional captains and I fill in occasionally to allow them time off for weddings, days off, etc throughout the season when I’m not at sea on my regular ship.

The way the season works is there is a deep water halibut opener every Sunday and Tuesday until the overall area quota is caught.  In recent years this means maybe a total of 3-4 total days of halibut fishing.  This year, we fished Sunday, Tuesday, the following Sunday was blown out due to weather, and a final Tuesday.  Then the season was over.  I had originally avoided committing to the final Tuesday in anticipation of a 5 day research vessel trip onboard the Clifford A. Barnes.  I had been contacting the Port Captain over and over to get confirmation the trip was a go but had no reply and no firm plan ( turns out he was in Korea) so I went ahead and committed to run a charter on the final Tuesday halibut opener.   Shortly after committing, I was also confirmed to run the research cruise starting on Wed (be onboard 0630).  I finished the halibut trip, finished receiving payments and hauled ass for home (3 hour drive), got home a 2230 Tuesday night, repacked my clothes and gear, crashed out and my wife drove me to Seattle at 0530 Wednesday morning.

This was my first trip as captain of the Barnes and took place at the Elwha River near Port Angeles (also where the Port Angeles pilot station is for large ships entering Puget Sound).  The marina is very tight and is where one of the three Westport Yacht factories are located ( recently purchased by the Chouest Family).  There are usually a few Westports parked in a already packed marina.  The long time Barnes captain of 27 years was on board to walk me through the boat, answer questions but mostly to train me how to maneuver this old girl.  She was built in 1965 as a USCG Ice Breaking Harbor Tug and has a fairly deep forefoot and nearly flat stern.  Captain Ray says “she handles like a salad bowl with a too small rudder”.  I took her from our home dock in Lake Union, through the Ballard Locks and out to Port Angeles.  Our pre-arranged moorage spot ended up being directly behind a 125′ Westport Yacht with two more parked across the narrow fairway behind us (where we would normally turn).  To ice the cake, the opening day of halibut season in this area was during our stay, which meant a whole bunch of small boats coming and going, coming and going to the fuel dock adjacent to our berth and just adding to my trial by fire.  After a couple of days of tutoring me on the finer points of the Barnes,  Captain Ray headed home and left me and my mate, Ken, to run the rest of the trip,  everything went fine and I really got a pretty good feel for this old girl.

The cruise itself was an extension of an earlier project monitoring the effects of removal of two hydroelectric dams on the Elwha River and studying the sediment flows from the river mouth into the bay.  It is the third time I’ve been able to do this cruise in the last few years and the change each time is extraordinary.  On the evening of the forth day (Saturday evening) the science party disembarked choosing to drive back to Seattle instead of steaming on the Barnes (8.5 knots cruising speed) approx 9-10 hours. Ken and I departed around five in the morning and arrived back at the UW around 1400.  Ken’s family picked him up within minutes of getting tied off and I hung out for a bit until my buddy Mikey arrived.  We went downtown, parked, found a killer sports bar and ordered some grub and cocktails and went to the Key Arena (former home of the Seattle Supersonics – fuck you very much NBA) and went to The WHO Concert.

Yes THE WHO are old.  YES they still rock and put on an amazing show.  Check that off of my bucket list, before they kick the bucket.  Got home around 0030 Monday morning.

Out the door 0630 to head to Ballard to Crawford’s Nautical School for a license prep course.  Crawford’s has been in operation since 1923 in some form or another and is family run and owned.  Crawford’s differs from many other prep courses that offer similar training.  They operate on a four week rotating schedule with week A being rules of the road, B being Nav Gen, C being Deck Gen and Deck Safety and week D being Bridge Resource Management (BRM).  Then you self study from home or in class until you feel you are ready to test at the Coast Guard for your appropriate license level (smaller license levels can test at Crawford’s).  I’m working on my 1600 Mate Near Coastal license.  I sat in on the four weeks of classes with the only variation being that instead of doing week D (BRM) I went to a different classroom with a few other students and studied Terrestial Navigation since I had already BRM.  T-Nav includes navigation along coasts by dead reckoning, taking bearings from known points such as lighthouses, buoys, prominent land features, etc., figuring distance traveled with speed by wheel or RPM, tide and current calculations and things like vessel intercepts, and hurricane avoidance. It also has some celestial navigation included like azimuth of the sun or star, amplitudes of the sun and sunrise / sunset calculations.  For my license level the T-Nav module (test) is 15 questions and I can only miss one in order to pass.  Another major difference that is different at Crawford’s vs. another school or course, is that once you pay the course fee, it is good for one year.  You can come and go as you like or as your work schedule allows.  This is really nice for the working mariner, however you must be diligent and stick to a plan in order to finish.

While in class, my regular ship, the Thomas G. Thompson passed our window on the way to the shipyard for the next year.  Seattle Times did a nice write up here TGT heads to yard.

If anyone plans to test or upgrade their license, I highly suggest reading the following post from fellow blogger Crewboat Chronicles detailing the process.  I referenced this post many times through the process and found it extremely helpful.  Read it here:  Hawsepipers guide to applying, studying, passing Master / Mate 500/1600

My original plan, prior to actually taking the course, was to take the four weeks of courses and then study from home for about a month before testing.  Once we got into the meat of the program, it became apparent that I would be much better off with instructors from Crawford’s assisting me.  To get to Crawford’s takes almost exactly 45 minutes to drive from my house.  That’s with no traffic.  This is Seattle, there is traffic.  Slow, painful traffic which turns my drive into at least 1.5 hours each way.  To compensate for the traffic, I started leaving home at 0500 and staying at class until 1900 each day.  This also allowed me to study alone for a couple hours in the mornings and evenings and really get a lot done but have assistance for questions during the day.  It worked awesome and I made a tentative plan in mind head to test this coming week.

Then my port captain called and needed me to run two five day trips on the Barnes back to back.  This cut my plan down by one week.  I didn’t want to try and take a couple weeks off from studying and then try to re-enter and have to make up ground, so I decided to try and take the tests Wed, Thurs and Fri just before the Fourth of July so I called the USCG and scheduled testing times at their local regional exam center.  When I scheduled with them, they put me on the schedule, but they said call back Monday and confirm with Bill ( he runs the testing room) as he would be returning from vacation.  On Monday when I called Bill, he said no testing on Friday because they were getting early liberty for the 4th of July, but that I could instead test on Tues, Wed and Thursday.  That cut my study time by one more day.  The tests are given in modules and for my license I need 6 modules.  You have to take a minimum of two each day and they must be done on consecutive days.  If you pass four, you are locked in and can come back at any time in the next 90 days to complete missed modules.  Miss three or more and you must do a full re-take of all 6 modules.  When my study schedule was reduced, I made a tactical decision to focus all of my effort on four modules: rules, t-nav, nav gen and chart plotting.  I would leave deck gen and deck safety for last and didn’t spend any time studying them.  Not at all how I would have liked to approached the exams, but shit happens.

The first day of testing you must take Rules first and then it is your choice which modules to do next.  I missed one on Rules.  Then I took t-nav because I wanted to get it while it was fresh in my brain.  I could only miss one…I missed three.  Ended the day 1 for 2.  Went back to class (5 miles away) and studied until 7 pm.  Thursday I started with the chart plot (15 questions can only miss 2).  I missed two and passed!  Then did nav-gen and passed.  Ended day two 3 of 4 total.  Day three I now must pass at least one of the final two subjects ( the two subjects I really haven’t studied at all).  Passed them both!  Ended five for six.  A huge relief!  Then I reported to the Barnes and spent a couple days provisioning and loading gear.

We had a successful first day and made it to our anchorage and experienced a trip ending mechanical failure.  We organized getting the science party disembarked with our small boat the next morning  and have made plans for a tow back for repairs.  The good news is that crab season just opened and few of the crew had pots and a cooker onboard so we had a fresh crab lunch yesterday while logistics were being worked out for our tow.

Repairs so far seem like they should go pretty quickly and we will be on schedule for our next trip.  This current trip will likely be rescheduled shortly after.  I will work in a week of study and go pass that last module.

Whew, that was a long post!  Everyone be safe and have a good summer.  More news coming soon!


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:





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.


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:







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:


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:



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:



The fish ladder is over in the corner by the yellow pipes, just below the condos:

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.


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.

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:


A tug waiting to enter the large locks outbound:

Looking back into the locks where we just came from (looking West):

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.








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.



Kirby Tugs (formerly K-Sea):

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.



The Stabbert’s built a marina for yachts with condos above:



Starting to see the Ballard Bridge in the distance:








Just before going under the Ballard Bridge, Fisherman’s Terminal is on the right:













Just after the Ballard Bridge on the right hand side of the channel is Coastal Transportation:



On the left side is the Bold. Another ship that rarely moves. If it does, it’s just to a new berth.

Then you come to Trident Seafood’s yard on the left and Ocean Beauty Seafood’s on the right:







Redden Marine Supply is next on the right:







Foss Shipyard is next on the right:












A few more fish boats on the left and then….




Western Towboat’s Yard is on the left. Their tugs always stand out in yellow and blue!




Just after Western Towboat is Kvichack (pronounced V-Jack). Builders of aluminum vessels:


Then some more small boats on the right and Lakeside (Sand & Gravel) on the left:






Turn around and look where we just came through:

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):








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.



There is Fremont Tug on the left:































As you round the end of Gasworks Park at the North end of Lake Union you start to see the Interstate 5 bridge:

























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.

Just before going under I-5 there is an Ivar’s Salmon House on the left. Keep Clam!

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:



















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.

Elwha River Dam Removal

Elwha River

I’ve got alot of catching up to do to this blog, so I’m going to condense down to two or three posts what I’ve been up to lately:

I was supposed to be sailing onboard my normal research vessel, the Thomas G. Thompson, accumulating more unlimited sea time, however the University of Washington asked if I would stay as the mate for several more trips on the Clifford A. Barnes as we had several important trips scheduled. They were having a hard time finding someone who was familiar with the ship. The license needed is very common at 100 tons, but the ship’s internal workings are a whole different level than the majority of 100 ton captains ever see. The boat has alot of systems more commonly seen on a ship and ship’s have engineers. With a crew of two (captain and mate), we get to spend time in the wheelhouse, running the crane and winches, cooking, and playing engineer. I was a deer in the headlights so to speak when I first entered the engine room on the Barnes, but have spent time working in there in between trips and getting to know her failry well. There is a bunch more to learn, but the basics are under control.

One of the cruises we did was a trip to the mouth of the Elwha River on the Olympic Pennisula of Washington State in the Straights of Juan De Fuca. The river was blocked by two dams years ago. The dams had outlived thier useful life and conditions on the Elwaha were perfect to take on a project like this. First off, most the Elwaha’s watershed lies within the boundries of Olympic National Park. Also the river dumps directly into the Straights of Juan De Fuca, allowing the sediment that runs off to be scattered by the strong tides. One of the biggest issues with the dams is all of the sediments collect behind the dam. In most of our NW rivers, if a dam were to be removed, the sediment would flush downstream and block streams and rivers or build up behind dams further downstream.

Our trip was with a group of scientits monitoring the mouth of the Elwaha and studying how the sediment flows are changing. Here are some photos of the new river mouth and the Elwha River Basin:



IMG_20140820_105551_992 - Copy













The first part of the dam removal was started a year or two back and began sending the flows towards the estuary right away. This summer the last part of the last dam was removed. The beach at the mouth of the river has grown approx. 300′ and if there are any large floods over this coming winter should expand fairly raipidly. Our group was focused soley on the oceangraphy aspects, however there are also groups watching the biologly as well. For example the sediments have covered up some estabilshed kelp beds and driven out thier inhabitants to be replaced by different species such as clams. There were no plans for salmon to be stocked in the river and it was estimated that it may take four years for any to return. The very first year the first dam was removed, wild steelhead returned to the upper river and this year at least 4,000 wild salmon have returned to the lower river with at least some of those reaching the upper river.

The other part of our trip was to host some donors to the university who may help with the replacement for the Barnes as she is scheduled to be retired in a couple more years. She was also designed as an ice breaking inland harbor tug and not a good coastal boat at all unless conditions are very favorable.

As we departed Lake Union in Seattle we had to lock out through the Ballard Locks in thick fog:


The mouth of the Elwha River is a one hour run in the Barnes (also commonly refered to as Cliffy) to Port Angeles, WA. This port has a USCG Air Station (one of two serving the WA Coast. The other being located in Astoria, OR) and also is where incoming and outgoing ships must pick up or drop off thier Puget Sound Pilots. There is also a large log loading facility and many tankers anchor here while awaiting space or assignment to refineries further inland. We would return to Port Angeles each night and offload science equipment so it could be repaired and made ready for redeployment. We were also able to change members of the science party and pick up and drop off donors.

Our first objective upon arriving at the river mouth was to try and recover a tripod that was set on the seafloor months before. The tripod has several instuments that are continually recording currents, water conditions, etc. Much more detailed that I can relay to you with my limited knowledge of this stuff. I aways ask the science party obout them, but it quickly gets technical and I never remember what they told me. The first attempt to rever the tripod failed and the acoustic release failed to send the bouy with the retrival line to the surface. We finished the day using a “Ship X” witch is a little spring loaded contraption much like a bear trap that is lowered on the crane wire. When it touches bottom, it snaps shut and returns a sample of seafloor bottom so it can be studied in the lab upon return.

The Ship X: (how it got it’s name is unknown to me)



There are about 200 stations marked that have been sampled in the previous trips:

We returned to port and the next morning they brought another piece of equipment that was able to get the second acoustic release to trip and we were able to recover the tripod:


Since it is on the sea floor in shallow water it accumulates a whole bunch of growth that must be cleaned off. The instruments are removed one at a time and downloaded and then once on shore serviced and new batteries installed. Everything is then remounted and at the end of the trip the whole thing is redeployed again.

Part way through the week, we shifted to coring. The equipment used is called a box core and is lowered rather fast on the crane wire driving the box into the seafloor. As it is lifted the end shuts and they get a perfect core and then cut samples one inch deep for closer insection in the lab:








Among other things, they are looking for a particular isotope that falls in the rain and then is flushed out to se, settling on the seafloor. By tracking this they can tell alot about the flows of sediment.

Because we were coming in and out of Port Angeles each day, I took variouse pictures of the happenigs at the port. Some of the pictures are of shipping, the Lidsey Foss Tractor Tug, the Black Ball Ferry (Coho) which runs from Port Angeles to Victoria, the USCG Air Base, etc.:


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Here is some further information regarding the project:




R/V Clifford A. Barnes

Sailing as mate for a couple short trips onboard the Cliffy as she’s known.  This week’s trip is in Puget Sound.  Yesterday we deployed a science mooring then took water samples.  The rest of the trip is water samples and net tows.  I’ll try to take some more pictures.  Since there is just a crew of two, we either anchor or tie up to a dock each day.  Last night we anchored in Port Madison across from Seattle and the views of Mount Rainier are incredible.





Cliffy is a former USCG harbor tug converted to research.  She’s scheduled to be replaced with a bigger purpose built vessel in the next couple years.

Anchor discovered off of Whidbey Island may solve 200 year old mystery


HMS Chatam

Q13 Fox News is reporting:

PUGET SOUND – When a commercial diver stumbled over a massive object in the waters off Whidbey Island back in 2008, local historians debated the significance of the discovery. Doug Monk was gathering sea cucumbers when his air hose got snagged on what turned out to be the arm of a old ship’s anchor, the Seattle Times reported. Since then, experts have been researching books and explorer’s journals, checking British court documents, and even checking with weather experts on 18th-century water currents.

The consensus now is that what Monk found in the waters off Whidbey might be one of the most sought-after relics of European exploration of the Pacific Northwest: an anchor lost by a ship that accompanied Capt. George Vancouver in 1792, the Times reported. Vancouver was exploring the Puget Sound aboard HMS Discovery.

Monk, and amateur historian Scott Grimm think that the 900- pound anchor broke free in heavy currents off the HMS Chatham on June 9, 1792. The Chatham was an armed tender to Vancouver’s ship Discovery, the Times reported.

There are others that dispute the conclusion that the anchor is from the Chatham. No one will be able to say for certain until the anchors is excavated this spring, the paper reported. Monk hopes to have the anchor tested by experts at Texas A & M University.

“For 100 years people have been looking for this thing,” Grimm said. “It was discovered by pure accident. That’s the real story — that the history was screwed up. I want to correct the history books.”

Grimm admits that if he and Monk are somehow proven wrong or if more analysis proves inconclusive, he would be greatly disappointed. But he doesn’t think that will happen, the Times reported.

PUGET SOUND – When a commercial diver stumbled over a massive object in the waters off Whidbey Island back in 2008, local historians debated the significance of the discovery. Doug Monk was gathering sea cucumbers when his air hose got snagged on what turned out to be the arm of a old ship’s anchor, the Seattle Times reported. Since then, experts have been researching books and explorer’s journals, checking British court documents, and even checking with weather experts on 18th-century water currents.

The consensus now is that what Monk found in the waters off Whidbey might be one of the most sought-after relics of Euopean exploration of the Pacific Northwest: an anchor lost by a ship that accompanied Capt. George Vancouver in 1792, the Times reported. Vancovuer was exploring the Puget Sound aboard HMS Discovery.

Monk, and amateur historian Scott Grimm think that the 900- pound anchor broke free in heavy currents off the HMS Chatham on June 9, 1792. The Chatham was an armed tender to Vancouver’s ship Discovery, the Times reported.

There are others that dispute the conclusion that the anchor is from the Chatham. No one will be able to say for certain until the anchors is excavated this spring, the paper reported. Monk hopes to have the anchor tested by experts at Texas A & M University.

“For 100 years people have been looking for this thing,” Grimm said. “It was discovered by pure accident. That’s the real story — that the history was screwed up. I want to correct the history books.”

Grimm admits that if he and Monk are somehow proven wrong or if more analysis proves inconclusive, he would be greatly disappointed. But he doesn’t think that will happen, the Times reported.

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