Sunday, August 31, 2008

August 29, 2008 - Departing Oakland

The sun rises up over the redwood canyon ridge across from the house at 7:00 am and with it the mercury begins to climb. We've been having a heat wave for the past few days an it seems like today will be one more in the chain of sweltering afternoons. There is almost nothing else to do to be ready to depart, but somehow, we take a few hours to complete last minute house departure chores. We've left temporary tenants to watch over the place, but as we review the instructions for them we realize there are a million little details that govern how we manage the plants, the feral cat, the water conservation, the sun and heat, operation instructions for all the high tech gizmos that should be easy to operate but are not, and on and on and on. After 5 pages of notes, I simply give up and wish them a good visit and cap it off with a list of some of our favorite places nearby for them to explore.

Waiting for Diane to be done with work, I've been busy preparing and imagining what this extended trip will be like. For the past few days I've been slowly adding items to the camper being careful not to infringe on the visible living space. That means modifying interior shelves, organizing drawers, and making use of every nook and cranny we can find to pack things like dried nuts, berries, spices, books, maps, camping equipment, tools, and the like. If there is anything we forgot, we'll need to get it as we go.

Our plans should take us in a grand clockwise arc out of California, north through Oregon out of the redwood empire. We'll then head north and east through Washington State - passing to the south and east of the Cascade Range popping up into southern British Columbia and the towns of Nelson and Ferny on the fringes of the rockies. From there, we'll dive back down to Glacier National Park/Waterton Lakes Park. We hear there is snow expected on the way - but its hard to image when the dashboard thermometer is climbing close to triple digits. From there we'll pick a route across the plains and weaving through the Great Lakes to end at Pumpkin Island in the St. Lawrence River - a place of peace, solitude and family just over the Canadian border and southwest of Ottawa in the 1,000 Island archipelago.

As we leave the Bay Area it seems as if someone has plucked the sky up by its center post and puled it upwards. Likewise with the hills, valleys and farm fields - the edges of our experience have been stretched outward as the landscape expands more and more as we leave the city and it's congestion behind. The number of cars shrink, but the size of the trucks grow - to doubles, even triples of tractor trailers. The machines in the fields dwarf the workers tending them, and the grain, corn, and rice elevators appear massive when surrounded by the pancake flat valley bottom of this ancient lake bed.

It's harvest time in the central valley and large combines can be seen churning over the vast fields - throwing up a cloud of dust, that in some places is the only indication of their presence - when seen from 5 miles away. Artichokes, fruit, vegetables, tomatoes, and nuts. Its hot out - really hot - like in the high 90's, and the sun beats unmitigated upon the earth here. The few clouds we have are high and scattered by the cold wind blowing in the stratosphere.

We're on a two hour rotation for driving duty - enough time to really settle into an activity, but not too long to get bored.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

2008_Aug. - Short sail up the coast with Stu

(I urge you to click on any of the images to enlarge it and see the details.)

The plan was to get a good start and see how far we could get in two days without rushing, and without subjecting ourselves to a hammering in the ocean.

The day started actually working on "Harvey" the RV to fix some wiring serving the battery charger. Since Stu has every possible electrical tool on board Aquavite, we took Harvey to the dock and shuttled back and forth between boat and RV to get the repairs completed.

That chore out of the way, we checked all the through hulls, rigged the boat for the expected 20-30 knots of wind and slowly motored out of the Oakland estuary towards the bay.

Once we crossed under the Oakland Bay Bridge, the wind picked up as expected, and the fog began to creep in over the Marin hills and through the gate. Now the wind had us,and we simply balanced the sails with the rudder, set our course for Horseshoe cove, and sat back to enjoy the ride.

Upon reaching "Hurricane Gulch" - the narrow strip of water in the lee of the Marin Headlands, we furled the jib and doused the main to motor in to this pocket harbor in Marin County just inside the Golden Gate bridge. We've used this place as a staging point for sails out to the ocean many times - usually we are the only ones anchored here - across from the delapidated Presideo Yacht club, its deteriorating docks, and the Coast Guard station . Recently, there have been significant renovations on land here - updating the civil war era dormatories to an upscale Inn - but otherwise - the waterfront appear unchanged for as long as I have been passing through.

Anchor is off the bottom mud by 9:45 am and we are underway, sailing out the gate through a long deep swell. As if on que, a pod of dolphins swims by on the port side. We notice a whole fleet of boats heading out the gate at the same time - the shorthanded race to the Farallons. We fall in behind the last boat and watch the scenery.

As we leave the bridge behind, the wind dies down a bit, and the swell lengthens. Its a comfortable ride and we are glad to be free (if onyl temporarily) by the land boundries of the bay. As the day progresses, the weather to sea looks less and less compelling, so we head north in the narrow channel between the 4 fathon bank and the coast. Suddenly I hear a rumbling sound - never heard on board before. The engine is off, so I know its not bearings, or prop shaft related. I peer into the rigging to see if anything has come loose - All looks fine. Stu climbs the companion steps and we think together for 30 seconds before it dawns on us - that was an Anchor chain sound.

Up until now we had been riding the swells powerfully, with many a wave washing over the bow of the boat sluicing the entire front of the craft up to the dodger with salt spray and wash. One of these waves, or a series of them had loosed the knot holding the anchor to the bow sprit, and the anchor had left fly toward the bottom - some 50 feet down.

As luck would have it, a tangle in the anchor rode - that part of the anchoring system that is rope, not chain stopped the entire line from unreeling and scrolling overboard. But, it seemed as if we had at least 60 feet of line out. Somehow we were still sailing. The anchor had not hit bottom. We slowed the boat and heaved to. Then I went forward to assist Stu at the anchor locker. Stu thought perhaps we were indeed "anchored" in a patch of very bumpy water just off Point Bonita. Surreal upon reflection.

I sat down on the bow, anchored my feet against the stantions, and with the best body mechanics I could muster, began the long and arduous job of hauling in the anchor. Indeed upon a few hard tugs, it seemed like we were not actually dug into the bottom, but simply dragging the long chain and anchor like a heavy fishing line. Pull by pull the reluctant anchor came closer to the boat. I kept looking up at the rocks off point Bonita, concerned we might drift that way, but Stu was keeping a careful eye out, and the current plus wind were driving us parallel to, and not up upon the rocky point. Pull - by pull the line came in. I stopped often to brace the line against a bow cleat to catch my breath. What seemed like forever, transpired in just a few minutes actually. Before I knew it, there was wet chain in my hand and I knew we had only 30 more feet to go. With one more mighty effort, the anchor was back aboard where it belonged, and Stu came forward with a very stout rope of sufficent length to tie a bombproof set of knots to hold it in place for the reaminder of our journey. Phew!!

That chore complete, we fell off, jibed the boat and were back on our merry way. No worse for the wear, but having learned an important lesson about the quality of knots needed to hold that anchor down when regularly a-wash with ovean swells.

We came across a harbor seal, with large fish in jaws, shaking it wildly to kill it. Hovering attentively just above the melee of the thrashing seal, we spot a fleet of gulls, hoping to grab the fish spoils left behind from the seal's hard fishing effort. In a flash, the seal, and his lunch were gone and the gulls flew off in seach something more promsing.

Once north of the potatoe patch, we turn back to complete our loop. The wind had dropped even further, and the swell had reduced over the shallow bank, so we sailed south again right over the sholl, keeping a careful eye out for any sneaker waves approaching from the northwest. In the swells place was a far reaching body of water covered with dancing waves. I have a pictue of that below. The water almost popped as the white caps disipated randomly. There was not perceptable swell, but a reguklar field of 2-3 foot tent shaped waves that appeared, then disappered without moving any way but up and down. Aquavite muscled her way through the slop like a mighty snow plow - shoving the wavelettes aside and we worked our way homeward. We passed by the sea bouy marking the coastal channel and turned towards the gate. Note in the picture the relative SIZE of the bouy compared to another boat, about our size passing by.

Once back in the gate, the ventury effect between The City and the headlands accelerated the wind and our boat speed picked up to over 7 knots. We flew eastward towards home on a building flood tide and were rewarded with woderful views of the City Front, and a smattering of weekend sailors in well trimmed boats.

As we sailed east, the temperature rose and we peeled off layers. Foul weather gear, sweaters, long sleve shirts, finally down to a tee shirt. At one point Stu ducked below and came up in shorts - a wide grin on his face. This is indeed why we continue to go out to sea in small boats.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

2008_August Point Reyes - Wittenberg Peak to Skyline Trail to Arch Rock

(Click on any image to enlarge...)
Click here for aerial view - zoom in for details...

Left Bear Valley Trailhead and climbed up to Mt Wittenberg.

Wildflowers abounded with these and giant lupin, sticky monkey flower and others

Coastal Fog was thick, low and stuck at the coastal escarpment. The mountain and ridge were sunny and above it all..

At Arch rock looking south towards the Golden Gate...

Looking west towards the hook of Point Reyes

California Quail family was guarded by papa here...the rest were just beyond in the bushes

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

2008_July Gwaii Haanas - Queen Charlotte Is.

Double Click any image to blow it up...

Overview Map of British Columbia west coast - Queen Charlotte Islands are in the upper left corner - Vancouver is in lower right.

Queen Charlotte Islands - Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve encompasses southern half of the chain of islands.

Sitting weeks after I have returned, our trip to Gwaii Haanas– the misty islands of the Queen Charlotte Islands seems like a dream – a temporal transportation from this land to one truly different – naturally deep and saturated with wildlife, laced with rich human history, intertwined with the traditional stories of Eagle, Raven, and the other spirit beings as well as first nations encampments, western explorers, furriers, whalers, loggers, and now the lighter touch of the ecotourist.

Suffice to say modern air travel, first leg by airliner from Vancouver, BC, then the last leg by a skittish, yet nimble float plane from the small outpost town of Sandspit can get you most of the way there. But once the floats of the bush plane skim away into the wind is when the most special part of the journey and transformation begins.

We are left on a rough stone beach – left wide and exposed by the dramatic tide cycle – sometimes up to 20 feet. Once the hum of the plane recedes into and around the closest bend in the nearby island group we are left with just the lapping of the water on the stones, the cry of the nearby oyster catchers, the occasional eagle’s alert call or the sound of some startled woodland creature or jumping fish. The wind makes sounds ranging from a slight swish to a mighty roar as it filters through the towering cedar and spruce tress that make up the bulk of the surrounding canopy. We look up at the scuttling clouds spitting rain and are rewarded with the magical and powerful swish-swish-swish of a pair of beating raven’s wings as it flies just overhead. This rush of sound and wilderness texture wraps around us all within the first few moments of being deposited here by the pilot. Like the warmth of a good soup, the mighty broth of land and sea and sky and spiritual magic seeps into our bones as we are accepted and welcomed to this wonderful place.

We travel by small hand powered craft – not too dissimilar from the way humans have traveled in this part of the world for thousands of years. Our pace is well suited to take in the splendor of our surroundings – both airborne, land born, as well as on, and beneath the waves. We paddle from camp to camp – gather water each day as we need it, pitch camp on protected beaches, where our foothold in the forest barely extends 50 feet into the lush undergrowth. The coastal rainforest is lush and complex here – building a tall forest canopy on the thinnest of decomposed organic material covering the underlying volcanic rock. Many large trees remain here in the southern reaches of the Queen Charlotte Islands – traditionally know as Gwaii Haanas by the Haida people who occupied this area for so long before westerners came. Between the large trees is a riot of ferns, moss, fungus and other low light plants covering every square inch of the forest floor. There is virtually no flat land here as the hills climb almost immediately from the water at every site.

Each day, we awaken, prepare for a full day of outdoor activity as we exit our carefully pitched tents, generally breaking camp every other day with the off days being exploratory paddle days returning to the same base. Under our group dining fly, or out on the beach we consume our varied breakfasts of eggs, porridge, muffins, fruit salad and strong coffee carefully prepared for us by our skilful guides in small groups or alone considering the brightening sky and looking aloft for birds and out to sea for whales or seals. We are carefully dressed in layers of synthetic clothing and wonder materials that keep us warm throughout the day’s changing conditions.

We break camp, load the boats, haul them to the water line as a team, and push off into the cold water – gliding away – hopefully without a trace left behind. The team learns quickly what is required and we grow more coordinated day by day making the whole process flow often with few words beside the quarterback’s count just before we lift the boats.

Days are spent paddling, gliding, floating with the current, exploring tidal creatures, bird watching, beach exploring, whale watching, reading, writing, taking pictures and generally having fun. Hot meals are prepared and served by our guides and gorp holds us up between meals.

At the start, we are keeping careful track of the number of sightings of each species, but that soon is abandoned as we are seeing so many of everything that counting seems pointless. Bald eagles, oyster catchers, minke whales, harbor seals, moon jellies and more. Most plants and animals appear where we expect them – others not. For example, in our careful exploration journeys inland we discover abalone shells and other shells far from the beach, and sometimes in the branches and crooks of trees. These we are told have been deposited by ravens who have picked up the seafood by the water and carried it aloft to be consumed on a stable branch overhead.

We learn a new phrase CMT – which stands for culturally modified trees. These trees, usually cedars, have any number of deformities that reflect the sustainable harvesting of some part of the tree – either a strip of its bark for rope making or basket weaving, or a straight, clear plank separated from its truck. The cedar tree was the chock stone of Haida culture providing versatile building materials for housing, baskets, cooking and storage boxes, hats, aprons, and foremost for formidable canoes. These large, seaworthy canoes enabled the Haida to raid other tribes up and down the coast establishing their supremacy – gathering slaves and other trade goods from as far away as Brasil. With the plentiful source of high concentration protein in the surrounding sea, an efficient and long lasting building material, and slaves for help, the Haida had more leisure time than other native peoples and used it to develop and maintain a rich oral history of strong clans – to make extensive artwork, and dramatic carved poles. These poles, which form the most easily recognizable iconography for these people told storied of clans, and of an individual’s wealth through the hosting of lavish potlatches.

We also learn from the daily VHF weather radio forecasts that for this area small craft advisories are never issued for everyday deserves a small craft advisory and it would be redundant. With strong currents, many rocky shoals, rapidly changing weather, and the dramatic change in water from the open stretch and depths of the wide Pacific to the constrained waterways between this island grouping and the relatively shallow Hecate Straight separating us from the mainland by 70 miles of shallow open water. For this reason, we travel carefully, usually in the mornings before the wind comes up, sticking close to shore following the contours of the shallow bays and jumping from point to point on the bigger crossings. Although the water is chilly, I never feel cold paddling, and am very comfortable in the stable fabric and aluminum tensioned umbrella shaped-like a boat that is our Feathercraft double folding kayak for this week. There is flexibility in the hull – more so than with a more rigid plastic or fiberglass hull. The boat seems to roll more over waves along its length, and we can feel the undulating pressure of bull kelp tubes on the bottom of the boat as we glide over it near the shore. The narrow inflatable bladders along the length of the gunnels adds buoyancy and stability – especially when we are fully loaded with our gear, drinking water and whatever group gear we can stuff into the numerous cavities and between our extended legs.

As the days progress, my body acclimates to the natural rhythms of daylight and dark, activity and much needed sleep. The tide rises and falls on a predictable cycle and I am settling into a deep, undisturbed peace. Even though I surround my self with reading material, log book, harmonica, and camera when on shore – I more often then not sit leaned up against a driftwood log and stare out to the water – scanning for whales, or ravens, or jumping salmon, slowly beach combing for evidence of life, and watching the dramatic sky and it’s scuttling clouds. Hours pass in the blink of an eye and my heart rate drops to almost indiscernible. Days pass, blended into one another, and I’ve lost count. Day names are irrelevant. I have arrived.

All too soon, the silence is broken by the throb of the returning float plane. Somehow, it lands, skims to a stop and backs up to the beach where we await the disembarking passengers. They are wearing clean dry clothes and their skin has the shine of a recent shower. I can even smell the distinct different soaps and shampoos they used just hours ago and a world away from here. They will inherit our boats, our beach, our guides and will spend a week pushing another week northward in the island chain. They will learn – they will season, just as we had. We form a line and load our gear hand over hand into the hold behind the door, clamber aboard stepping on the pontoon, and then we lift off in a spray of saltwater, circling and climbing quickly. I catch a fleeting glimpse of the remaining crew on the beach before they are lost in the mist and forest canopy below, greeting each other and getting acquainted with that magical place – the Gwaii Haanas.

Exploring Sandspit on our arrival day.

Fly to put-in...

Day 1 - Burnaby Narrows to Alder Is. (yellow track)

Day 2 - Out to Scudder Point and back - too wet to photo - lots of kelp beds

Day 3 - Up Juan Perez Sound to Marco Island

Our soulful trip mate, Steve Leonoudakis sat out on a point in the drizzle, playing harmonica, and letting the spirit of Haida Gwaii come to him in the form of a simple song (performed for us along with a D minor harmonica) around a modest campfire below the high-tide line:

Haida Gwaii
Grey grey sky
Rising from the trees
Over blue-green seas
Paddle in my hand
Hold me in this land

Arc of whale
Splash of tail
Midnight blows
They come and go
Call me in my sleep
Call me to the deep

Raven’s wing
Forest sing
Eagle rise
Spirit skies
The tide rolls in
And the tide slides out

Haida Gwaii
Grey grey sky
Rising from the trees
Over blue-green seas
And the tide rolls in
And the tide slides out

And the tide rolls in
And the tide slides out
And the tide rolls in
And the tide slides out
And the tide rolls in
And the tide slides out

Day 4 - Hutton Inlet and back

A Threshold Between Worlds

There is no doubt that these islands have a powerful effect on people and the light may have a lot to do with it, perhaps because it is meted out so grudgingly. The Queen Charlotte Islands are among the rainiest places in North America…where the total hours of cloud cover amount to more than 250 days a year. When the sun does shine it is often through a prism of water particles, and for this reason, rainbows are a common occurrence here….But there is more to it than water and light.; the life force out here is extraordinarily strong in a literally, biological sense. Twenty three species of whales live in or pass through the region’s waters, and the islands themselves are home to one of the continent’s highest concentration of bald eagles. Burnaby Narrows, a slender channel in the middle of the archipelago, contains one of the highest concentrations of sea life per square meter than any place on earth.

From The Golden Spruce
By John Vaillant

Day 5 Across the sound to Hot Spring Island and then on to Murchison Is.

Day 6 - Out to the point and back

Skidigate to Prince Rupert - BC Ferries
Prince Rupert to Port Hardy, Vancouver Is. - BC Ferries

Link to great whale watching operation - Stubbs Island - plus daily photo blog of sightings from the wheelhouse...