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!