Friday, August 31, 2012

What a day!

IF today had been my last day, it would have been a great way to end the season: the whales were not too far away and were active.  One whale developed a liking for our boat and spent quite a bit of time near us.  A Momma and baby whale from L-Pod came by and gave us a close look at Junior... and then did a breach close enough that guests could have gotten wet from the splash.  And nice height on that breach, too, since I could just about look into her eyes from the flybridge.

I got a call from one of the other whale watch boats right after that breach: "Nice position, (boat name)!"

I came back with, "Did anyone on your boat get a shot of that?  I would LOVE to have a copy of that!"

"If they did, I'll get an e-mail address for you."

We saw the "trifecta" of Orcas (lots), Stellar Sea Lions, and bald eagles.  The guests were very pleased.  Mother Nature blessed us with a beautiful day, upper 60s on the temp, blue sky, and not much wind.  Haro Strait was nearly calm.  If not the absolute best day of the season, it was in the top 3.  I have two work days left, and this is going to be hard to beat.

My Honey had the day off, and made sure I had 3 home-cooked (boat-cooked?) meals, including prime rib and mashed potatoes for supper.  I have tomorrow off... she's not counting on me cooking anything, but I will bring her lunch. ;-)

Oh, and live music at the park by the marina this evening; the Rhythematics (R&B) - great listening from our cockpit.

After tomorrow, we both have 2 days of work remaining.

The weather prediction is looking good for the next 10 days!  Yep, what a day! :-)

The right tool for the job...

I'm a big believer in that.  On Wednesday, we celebrated Captain Mike's birthday at work.  He turned the ripe old age of 34.  That's only 25 to 31 years younger than the rest of the captain staff.  He does a great job at the helm and also does most of our maintenance.  I trust his intuition on where to look for the whales.

When it came time for lighting the candles on his cake, no one had matches or a lighter - no smokers in this group.  I opened my bag and pulled out a portable line burner... which also doubles as a small torch for sealing waterproof electrical connections (shrinkwrap).  It made short work of lighting those candles...

Maybe a bit of overkill, but it did get the job done. ;-)  That's Mike on the right (with the "What the ****?" expression) and yours truly firing up the torch.

Once in a blue moon...

We've all heard that saying; who knows what it means?  Tonight (Aug. 31st), there will be a blue moon.  No, the moon won't be a blue color, but it will be the second full moon in a particular month.

A full moon... on a Friday night... at the start of a holiday weekend.  Anyone who has worked with the public will know what I mean: it's going to be a crazy night.  Yep, I have to work today, but we are done with our evening trips.  Joan has the day off.  Should be a good evening for "cocooning."  ;-)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

It's time...

You can take that any ol' way.  After a wonderful breakfast (bacon and sausage), I wondered what our lunch plan would be.  We've both eaten enough cold sandwiches to hold us for a very long time... we each grab lunch on the job when we can.  This is the first captain job I've had where I can eat while driving (just like driving our own boat ;-) ).  We both had the same idea for lunch today: Cousin Vinnie's Pizza; just like being in New York: a slice and some attitude.

As usual on our day off, it's time to take a short ride around to the pump out.  I have spent the season being very vigilant as I come and go from the marina.  There is hardly a day that goes by when I don't see some example of someone at the helm of a boat being stupid or negligent... small boats that cut in front of me, then turn in front of the ferry... big boats where the driver apparently feels size over-rules the Rules of the Road.  The other professional captains out there are great; problems are rare.  They don't come into or out of the marina at full speed, rolling every boat in the place.  They don't play "chicken."

And before someone asks, it's sailboat and powerboat drivers.  Today, as we were trying to get into the opening of the marina (to get to the pump out), a large powerboat pulled across that opening, and then proceeded to make a 270º rotation.  Taking his sweet time.  With boats stacking up trying to get out, and more boats stacking up trying to get in.  A 90º turn would have gotten him going the direction he wanted much quicker - as far as I could tell, he just wanted everyone to see how he could handle his boat.  That was followed by two sailboats heading out at something less than idle power; and then proceeding to stop in nearly the same place to put away fenders and lines.  Causing more boats to stack up.  Yep, it's time.

We stopped in the office where we work so I could check tomorrow's schedule; I may have a second trip.  I asked the boss lady if I could buy a coat through them like the one I've been wearing all season.  I looked it up on the internet, and they apparently only sell personalized (company name) and in quantities.  I offered to buy the one I've been wearing, if they'll be updating jackets.  She said, "Well, I'm sure we can work something out.  I guess that depends on if you'll be coming back."

I said, "Next week or next year?"  We've been doing that "Will you/won't you" dance as our time here gets short.  They could really use Joan for another month, but they would only have sporadic trips for me.  Joan let them know that we are "a set."  Besides, she knows how much I'd miss her if I had to leave her behind! ;-)  Joking, of course - she agrees that it's time.

The weather looks promising for the next 10 days; I hope it holds out a lot longer than that.

A day off...

The boats have been staying full.  Advance reservations are good.  We were anticipating a slow-down before our last days here, but that hasn't happened.  I am amazed that Joan and I both get two days off this last week... of course, not two days together.  Well, she gets two days in a row off, because "she's the favorite."  (My quote, not the boss) ;-) 

It is a rare treat this last month to get to sleep in until 7:00.  Yes, today was one of those treats.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

OK, I was wrong...

Today, I believed... they didn't come.  In fact, they weren't anywhere to be found.  The best thing about the boat I usually drive is the fact that it is "the adult boat."  Today, I had a group with more kids than adults.  I asked the boss lady, "Am I being punished?"  She is getting better with understanding my humor. ;-)

Not an Orca to be found anywhere in the area today.  Still, we managed to find 3 Minkies.  (Is that the proper plural of Minke?)  The Minke whales are faster moving and stealthier than the Orcas... we actually have to work harder to find and track a Minke.  And, it is a whale... unlike the Orcas that are actually the largest member of the dolphin family.  But, I digress.

It was a nice day today - the flattest I've seen the water in weeks.  Plenty of other wildlife... just no Orcas.  My naturalist hurt her back the other day, so the flat water was welcome; plus, I made it a point to keep any jarring to a minimum.  Not an easy feat running through Cattle Pass.

It was Captain Mike's birthday today.  He is the youngest of our captain crew... he turned 34 today.  No, I don't remember 34.  ;-)  The chocolate cake was tasty.

I came in early today to work out some kinks in the PA set-up on the big boat.  Apparently, being a former rock 'n roller qualifies me to set up a sound system.  There is a trick to it: you have to read the operation manual. ;-)  I get called to do this kind of stuff after it doesn't work

Tick, tick, tick.  The boss asked us if we'd like to stay another month or so.  We politely declined.  But, we will work our hearts out right up to the last minute of our contracts.  We each have 3 work days left... and we have tomorrow off together!  We have a plan: we going to sleep in.  Joan has been doing 7:45s every work day for the past couple weeks.  She is looking forward to lounging in tomorrow morning... I am looking forward to a real home-cooked breakfast.

Little Izzy has gotten very comfortable here in the boat.  She discovered the satellite TV receiver is just as good as an electric blanket.  Joan keeps saying, "She is a Texas cat - she doesn't like the cold."  It is going to be a shock to her when we head out of the marina and don't have electricity every night (we have had our electric heater on all but one night our entire time here).  No electricity, no warmth coming off that receiver...

I think her little furry paw pads are cute.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

If you believe, they will come...

What was that quote from "Field of Dreams"?  Yeah, that's not it. ;-)  The only whale report we had this morning put them well west of Victoria... not promising.  Apparently, they were on a mission.  By the time we were ready to leave, they were near Discovery Island (east of Victoria), and moving north.  We decided to go north, over the top of San Juan Island.  If they changed direction, this wasn't going to work out.

They didn't.  In fact, the whales picked up speed.  The next report put them across Haro Strait from Lime Kiln State Park.  By the time we were in Spieden Channel, they were heading towards our side of the Strait, and further north.  We found them a short time later, outside Mosquito Pass (near Roche Harbor).  It wasn't long before a lot of other boats found them, too.  Transients, and it seems that they can pop up anywhere.

We heard that there were more on the Canadian side of the Strait, so we decided to head west and check that out.  Yep, that worked, too.  Then off through the Cactus Islands to see if we could find some eagles... yep.  Another fine day on the boat... and, another day checked off.

One of the other captains, Craig, had invited us to his home for supper.  They have a great home on the south end of the island, near Cattle Pass.  He has done extensive work on the house (adding another story, an elevator, and lots of great woodwork) - I got tired just thinking of all that work... and then Joan mentioned having to keep all those rooms clean. ;-)  Yeah, the boat suits us fine, for now.

We had a great evening with Craig and Peggi.  We have a lot in common.  Of course, he asked, "So, are you coming back next year?"

"Did the boss set you up with that question?"

"No, we work together well.  It would be nice to have you two back again."

Nice of him to say that.  And, something to think about.

Interesting boat of the day...

While going to work yesterday, I came across these folks; they had just hauled a dinghy out of the water...

Someone had given them the dinghy.  It sat in the water for almost a year without being used.  Well, maybe it was being used as a science experiment? ;-)  He told me he rowed it from the other side of the marina, and the best he could get, rowing as hard as he could, was about a quarter of a knot.

And for folks who think stuff won't grow on a hull in this cold water, here's a closer look...

It makes me wonder what Wild Blue's hull looks like after 3+ months?  (We do have reasonably fresh bottom paint.)

Monday, August 27, 2012

A long run north...

Well, not up past the coal docks, but across Georgia Strait again today.  Honestly, these whales need to figure out a place they like and then stay there for a while! ;-)  We had them to ourselves for a while, and then were joined later by only one other US boat.  The whales were plentiful and active.  The guests were delighted.  The weather was beautiful and the water was flat.  I know that people think I'm kidding when I say it is never the same thing twice... we were across the Strait, northeast from Sucia - first time I've been in that area.  J and K Pods, breaches, spy hops, and tail-lobs, oh my!  We were about a half hour late getting back because of the distance we ran, but we were back in plenty of time for our sea plane guests.

My Honey opened the place today and then had to cover for one of the other staff who pulled something in her back... we did get to take an hour for a nice supper out before she had to go back in for an hour and close the place.  It was a long day for her today; mine was pretty easy.

Oh, what a beautiful morning...

Oh, what a beautiful day.  I've got a wonderful feeling... I'll be working in the bilge today.

OK, that's not how the song goes, but it's how the day goes.  Here was the view this morning...

Nice way to start the day.  Joan said, "Daylight come and me want to go home."  Yeah, we do a lot of singing. ;-)  I said, "Daylight come and me want to go anywhere - it's still too hot at home, and you know how I get after 3 months in one place."  One appealing aspect of these jobs, besides the fact that we are in the absolutely gorgeous San Juan Islands, was the fact that it was only a 3 month commitment (compared to 4 months in the Tetons).

The fresh water pump on our boat that was running intermittently yesterday, quit last night.  Right after Joan finished showering.  I'll be laying on my belly in the cockpit, working through a hatch to replace the pump.  I walked up to the truck to get a replacement pump out of our supplies.  On the outside of the box, it said, "3 year warranty."  Yep, it has been 3 years and one month since I last replaced the pump.  That's better than the last one, that only lasted 6 months.  The reason for that would be that this is the special "marinized" version... after all, you sure don't want to get a water pump wet.

I can't take a shower this morning until I get the pump replaced.  Timing.  There is a chance that I may not have a trip today.  This may be the start of the season slowing down.  Joan said, "You can have 'maintenance week' on your own boat if it works out that way."  I'm OK with that.  The last month has been really busy at work... I hope the owners have had a profitable season.  I know we have done our best to keep things running smoothly.

A little extra time off this week wouldn't be a problem for me. ;-)

Sunday, August 26, 2012


Nothing to do with Larry Mondello's brother (anyone remember "Leave It To Beaver"?  ;-)

I had a report for whales on the west side of the island... generally, a good thing.  Going north.  No, going south.  Wait a minute, where'd they go?  Again, decisions to make, as usual - just as we are leaving the harbor.  The way I looked at it: go north, and the northbound whales may be moving faster than I can run to catch them (and our boat is faster than most of the whale watching fleet)... or, go south and maybe those whales won't reappear?  Oh, and the wind is kicking up, meaning: running out to the south is going to be lumpy, but the ride back will be decent.  I decided to go south.

We were fortunate that one boat had the whales for the direction we were going... and they were moving off-shore at a pretty good clip.  The down side: it was mostly a beam sea, the most uncomfortable ride on this boat.  The guests did fine with the promise that there would be Killer Whales at the end of this long chase.  The waves were mostly 3' or a bit more, but closely spaced.

Our other boat got there before we did, because we stopped to look a few other things on the way there (I try to give my naturalist something to talk about all along the way).  I set us up in a decent position, but the whales were on a mission - they were running at about 8 knots.  The guests were delighted... and didn't seem to mind that the whales had plotted to run in a beam sea, as well.  I tried to turn up into the waves as much as I could to give them a steady viewing.  I explained what I was doing, and one guy said, "Hey, these waves aren't your fault."  The view was

One woman was trying to take photos of the whales with her phone... "Crap!"... "Crap!"... "Crap!"  I'm sure she was getting photos of water where the whales used to be.  ;-)  No doubt, the rocking of the boat didn't help, either.

After a good viewing, I turned us back towards Cattle Pass, miles away... with a 3' following sea, the ride is almost cushy!  We had over-stayed our time on the whales, so I had the naturalist check to make sure everyone would be OK with being a little late getting back - I wanted to take them by an eagle's nest on the way back.

They got to see an eagle near the nest, so it was a good stop.  When we got back, there were plenty of "thanks" both ways.  I told them that we appreciated them "hanging in there with us on that lumpy trek to the whales."  They were happy that they got to see whales.  That wasn't the case with most of the boats that went north.

As I was getting the boat put away, I could feel my shoulder and neck muscles tightening up... only one trip, but it felt like a long day.

Adding to the long day: just before I left for work, the fresh water pump on our boat quit working... no big deal, unless you want to take a shower, wash dishes, or do anything with fresh water.  We do have a fresh water washdown on a separate pump in the cockpit, but that is before the water heater.  No way will I be using that cold water!  On the bright side, we have another fresh water pump with us to replace the dead one (it's a boat, and this isn't the first pump to crap out).

When we got back to the boat after work, Joan said, "Turn on the pump."  I did, she checked at the pump... nothing happened.  She wiggled a wire, and the pump started.  This is how it has gone in the past... so, I know it won't last.  I'll use it until it quits again, then replace it... hopefully, on a day off. ;-)

On another bright side, we got a package with our mail at the office... two birthday cards and a "Wood & Steel" magazine (from Taylor Guitars)... one of the few magazines I still get.  Oh, and there was a bunch of other mail that kept Joan busy for the evening.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Nice, really nice...

It was a beautiful day in Friday Harbor and out on the water.  Bright sunshine, very little wind, temps around 70º.  How could you not have a great day?  The two trips I had today could not have been more different, yet each was a lot of fun.  No Orca reports this morning, but we did manage to find 3 Minke whales and a bunch of other wildlife.

About the time we were getting back to the dock from the first trip, we got a good report on an Orca sighting.  Out in Rosario Strait, moving south.  We made the right moves and were treated to an outstanding viewing of some very active Transients just outside of Thatcher Pass.  The guests did see a harbor seal who became the prey of the Transients.  No, this isn't the "Disney Channel."  I brought the guests back along the north side of Shaw Island and through Pole Pass, one of my favorite rides... and the first time I've had the chance to make that ride with guests this summer.

And the real treat: our friends Herb and Wilma are here - we had a nice evening of conversation in the cockpit of their boat, topped off with a trip to the ice cream shop.  Discussions of "What's next?" and "How 'bout next summer?"

Plenty of activity in the marina as we walked back to the boat... we sure do like our quiet location. :-)


And a photo sent to us from Herb...

Slow down?

Nothing to do with how fast the boat goes.  We've been expecting things to slow down with the whale watch cruises since we stopped doing the evening cruises on the 18th... no sign of that.  In fact, I'll be heading off to work early this morning because they filled my boat for a morning cruise.

I've had quite a few morning charters... that's a beautiful time out on the water.  Generally, the wind is light, and the light is pretty.  It puts us out before other boats, so we are more on our own for finding whales.  With no reports anywhere in the area yesterday, that may be more of a challenge today.

Speaking of the light in the morning, this was the view out the back of the boat while we had breakfast...

Whew, it's early. ;-)  No time to slow down.

Friday, August 24, 2012

How cool is this!!?

Yep, it was a "Monday on a Friday"... we had one of those rare days where we couldn't find a whale to save our souls.  Oh, we worked hard at it... no Orca reports, no Minke sightings... no whales anywhere.  I think I talked to about 25 other captains all around the area, and no one had whales.

Frankly, the naturalist onboard did a great job with keeping the guests entertained and informed.  I had to chuckle a few times, listening to her.  We had guests who were understanding, fortunately.  At the end of the ride, I let them know that we were sorry they didn't get to see any kind of whale, but it wasn't from lack of trying.  They still thanked us for a great time as they got off the boat.

Back in the office, there was a package waiting for me.  A friend from the NuWa forum had asked our address here.  He is from the area near where we used to live in the Black Hills... I didn't know what to expect, but thought it might have something to do with James Photography.  I was wrong.

When I opened the package, I found this...

How cool is that?!  It is a bag that has our boat name on it AND kitty paw prints!  It can be used as a carrying bag OR worn as a light backpack.  Thank you, Don - we are very appreciative of your thoughtfulness!

Of course, little Izzy was very curious... and she fits in the bag, too!

Sure makes that "Monday on a Friday" end on a very nice note! :-)

Monday on Friday...

With only one day off the past few weeks, Thursday is my "weekend".  That makes Friday my Monday.  Izzy sympathizes with me this morning...

Joan has 7:45s the rest of our time here.  That means we're all up early.  Then, a scant 7 hours later, I go to work.  I've been asked... yes, the work is still interesting; and, yes, we're counting the days.

Here's a look at my view when the ferry comes in...

That's how close we are to the ferry as we come and go.  See that swirl of water coming off the ferry - that is mild compared to when they really kick in reverse thrust... then, it looks like a swirling toilet bowl.

The goal for today is: scenes like this...

We'll see how that works out.  Oh, for those keeping track - 9 work days to go. ;-)

Thursday, August 23, 2012


It's a day off for both of us today.  We have nothing planned.  Oh, there will be some laundry and a trip to the pump out, maybe even a run to the store.  But, Joan is nursing a cold, and I am nursing a one-day-off-each-week for the last three weeks.  Not complaining, we just need a veg day. 

Little Izzy likes these days when we're all around.


A couple images around the marina:

D. Jones locker...

Get it? ;-)

And check out the radar on this small boat...

You know they have to make trips in the fog.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The whales were reasonably close today...

We found them on the southwest side of San Juan Island... lots of whales, lots of activity, two boats full of guests.  One of our naturalists made up a "bingo" game, with photos of wildlife and other things you might see on a tour.  One of our guests got a "bingo!"

Besides the Orcas, we saw plenty of other wildlife.  Before leaving on the trip, I told the guests to take to look around while we were out and take in the beauty of the San Juan Islands... and it was a beautiful day - sunny, comfortable temp (relative, of course, but close to 70º), light breeze.  The sea state was a bit lumpy on the way out, but I ran with the seas on the way back in... the boat felt like a magic carpet while I took the guests to an eagles' nest, and perfect light on an eagle, posing in profile.  The Stellar Sea Lions looked like they were playing King of the Hill.  Seals swimming about.

No pressure to meet schedules for planes or the ferry.  It was one of those days where we knew we'd see whales.  I like those days.

And tomorrow, I get a day off with my Honey.  I like those days, too. :-)

From a baked potato to Superman!

Hair cut day today.  I have to work, Joan doesn't.  I keep telling Joan that she is the favorite, since she is the only one in the place that gets two days off this week... and, it's two days in a row!

She was going to cut my hair a few days ago, but I got called in early... of course, it was to deal with the head situation on the boat.  So, today was the first chance for a hair cut.  It's warm today, so I managed to talk her out of the silver space blanket.  She suggested I put on "yesterday's" shirt, so I could shake it out on the dock before getting back into the boat.  To catch flying hair, she wrapped a white dishtowel around my shoulders.

Being a nice day, there are always people walking on the docks.  From the next dock over, there is a clear view to our finger dock.  Of course, people gawk.  I don't really care, but it is interesting to watch their reaction.  And the typical, "Do you have any appointments available after that guy?"

"Sure, but it's gonna cost you!"

When they ask how much, I take my life in my hands (since she is standing there with a sharp object in her hands) and say, "Forty years of hard labor."  I'm sure she knows I'm kidding... right, Hon?

At one point today, she went back into the boat to plug in the electric clippers.  There I was... sitting out on the dock by myself... in a royal blue long sleeve shirt with what looked like a white cape around my shoulders.  Yeah, I could see the gawks...

Look!  Over on that dock!  It's a bird!  It's a plane!  Well, at least it's not a baked potato!

The haircut looks fine.  Always does.  Better than a trip to a new barber who may not know how to cut thinning curly hair.  And we have another "shared experience."  The best part: no boat captains were injured in the making of this story. ;-)


Since Joan didn't have to go to work early today, she made us a wonderful breakfast.  She is great about having fresh fruit all cut up for us before the main entree.  This is a wonderful time of year in the Pacific Northwest: lots of fresh, ripe produce, and the prices are very reasonable.  It's a lot better than the crappy ol' Pop-Tart I would be inclined to make for myself when she goes in early. :-)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

We're going where??

We didn't have a whale report today.  Well, as we were getting ready to head out, a boat who was already out reported a Minke to the north.  We decided to head that direction.  It didn't pan out.  Then came a report of Orcas WAY north... as in: west and north of Point Robert.  We checked in with the office and were told: go for it!

I took a quick poll of guests on the boat... "Anybody on a tight schedule if we run late?  The whales are almost at Vancouver, Canada.  We will not be back anywhere near 4:30."

"Let's do it!!"

No way would we be back in time.  As we put the coals to it, the office was figuring how many people we had on both boats who had to be back to Friday Harbor in time for a 5:30 departure on the sea plane.  I let her know that we couldn't make it there and back in time.  The boss made arrangements with Kenmore Air for a 6:00 departure instead of 5:30.

"I don't think we can make that, either - but, it will be close."

She called back again, "OK, 6:15 - no later.  And earlier than that will be better.  And you probably have the rest of your guests who will need to make the 6:30 ferry."

At the beginning of the season, I really didn't like the uncertainty.  I think I'm developing a problem: I'm starting to enjoy the adrenaline rush.  ;-)

We ran across the Strait of Georgia with a latitude and longitude to aim towards.  I gave it all the horses we had.  It seemed like it took forever, but as we neared the target area, we could see a few Canadian whale watch boats on the scene... got it!

The guests were excited when we saw the first Orca porpoise, then breach!  Nice way to start!  They were running east at almost 8 knots; we set up at the legal distance and ran with them.  I let the guests know that we couldn't stay a long time... but, it was a fine viewing!  The Orcas were plentiful and active.  K-Pod... the same group we saw way south just a few days ago.

Figuring tide, current, distance, and our best top speed, we stayed until the last possible minute... then headed south.  Back across the Strait of Georgia again... the waves had built up a bit, but it wasn't bad... nothing that would slow us down.  We had to take the Strait at a diagonal due to the distance we needed to cover.  I kept going over the performance numbers along the way... it's gonna be close.

When we were about a half hour out, I called the office and told them we should be in with a couple minutes to spare.  Instead of going to our dock, we pulled up right at the Kenmore Air sea plane dock and unloaded those who needed to catch the plane.  Our boss was there at the dock, making sure the pilot didn't try to leave early.

The other guests were looking at the ferry that was already in... "Next stop, our dock, right next to the ferry landing.  You should have just enough time to casually walk over."

The first mate did a great job with lines, making both of our arrivals fast and efficient.  Guests were pleased.  It wasn't until I took a moment at the helm to do my log that I realized how wore out I was... in a good sort of way.

I had called Joan to let her know that I'd be a couple hours late so she wouldn't worry.

I checked out in the office and thanked the boss lady for making this all happen today.  When I got back to our boat, Joan said, "I want to hear all about your day... but, you'll never guess who I ran into today."

"Well, if I'll never guess, why don't you tell me?"

She was right - I never would have guessed... Jim and Deborah Bankson.  He was the Village Manager when we worked at the Tetons (which put him in charge of the marina).  "They are here on their boat and invited us over... if you aren't too tired.  Oh, and he quit at the Tetons."

"Well, I'd like to see them and hear all about it."  We poured some wine for her and a rum for me and went over to their boat.  It was like 'old home week.'  We talked about the Tetons, future plans, and just had a nice visit.  I'd be lying if I said Jim and I saw eye-to-eye on everything when we were both in the Tetons, but ... neither of us are in the Tetons anymore! ;-)  It was a different mood and no budget constraints to work out... definitely a better situation for both of us.

One of our first mates walked by the boat, and we called her over.  Jim and Deborah invited her aboard.  When we all left, while walking down the dock, we ran into friends Bob and Nita on their Ranger Tug!  At this rate, I'm never going to get back to the boat for some supper. ;-)

And interesting day, and a pleasant evening visiting.

Joan has tomorrow off, and I don't have to go in until noon... we can sleep in!

Do you miss it?

The discussion was with some folks who asked about us living on the boat this summer... "Do you miss not having a house?"

Well, we have a house.  It just seems like after a couple months there, we want to wander some more.  Being on the boat or in the RV is another form of domicile.  The space is certainly different, especially so on the boat (since it isn't 'a box').  We have a comfortable bed.  A galley with a fridge, microwave, and Wallas stove/heater.  Hot and cold pressure water.  An enclosed head with a shower.  Storage space (is there ever enough??), our 'sun room' in the cockpit.  Oh, satellite TV and radio.  Joan likes her Keurig coffee-maker, and I like the SodaStream for making soda (no schlepping bottles of soda from the store and way less garbage).  Little Izzy has her favorite blankie and toys.  The boat is nicely equipped with nav gear when we're cruising.  The electric windlass makes anchoring easy.

No, there isn't much we miss.

I thought about it a bit more.  I do kinda miss the jacuzzi tub - that's a nice way to soak out the aches and pains.  Oh, and having comfortable leather recliners is nice.  Joan added: a BIG refrigerator with an ice maker and a freezer that has room to store steaks and chops.  A nice covered deck (the awning works well with the HitchHiker).  4G data service is good - I do miss that.  Lunch out any ol' time I want - I guess that goes along with not having a schedule.  Unlimited water is good... we can use all the water we want here, but I have to top off the tank every other day or so.  Speaking of water, I do like a shower that has some 'moving around room'... yeah, that's a good thing.

Little Izzy added her opinion: room to walk around where there isn't a dog in your face all the time.  (People do like their dogs here.  It would be nice if they could all learn to pick up after them.)  I like the stairs in the 5th wheel - they give me a good jumping off point for the evening crazies!  I can barely get up to speed in the boat, and then it's time to turn around.  My tower!  I really miss my tower right in front of a full length window.

Oh, and my music room; a place where I can have a PA plugged in and pick which guitar I want to play.

Yeah, I guess there are a few things we miss... but not enough to want to run back right away. ;-)

I had to think about this overnight...

I come down from the helm at the end of each trip and help people get back on the dock.  I always say a few words about the trip, thank folks, and remind them to take all their belongings with them.  Every group is different.  I was surprised by the lack of enthusiasm... we had one of the best viewings of the season, with the boat in a great position, nice weather and calm seas.  The naturalist and I could not have been more excited about what just occurred.

On the way home, I stopped the boat and pointed out, "Besides that great viewing we just had, take a moment to take in the beauty all around us - looking to the southwest you can see the peaks of the Olympic Mountains above the clouds.  Look to the east and you can see Mount Baker.  The water we are on right now is the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and this is as calm as I've ever seen it.  The mountains silhouetted to the west are on Vancouver Island, Canada.  What a great day!"

Maybe it's because they can see things on the Discovery Channel, where hundreds of hours of video are edited into a couple of minutes?  I think some folks expect the trip to be like going to Sea World - whales right outside the harbor, breaching and jumping on command.  Unrealistic, of course... these are magnificent animals in their habitat; we get a view at the way they really live... see them on their endless search for food... see the family units working together... and occasionally see the joy when they jump and breach.

Breaching is the thing everyone wants to see.  We don't see it everyday.  Sometimes not every week.  Earlier this summer, we had a professional photographer who booked 4 trips with our company... he finally got the image he wanted on the 4th trip, and it is spectacular...

I'm not disappointed when we don't see this... well, I am disappointed on the occasional trips where we don't see whales; I really do want people to get the opportunity to see the Orcas.  Most of the time, people understand.

When I came down from the helm yesterday, I expected to see people still pumped up over what we had seen and experienced.  Maybe because I know from experience how special that whole trip was?


Monday, August 20, 2012

What a show!!

While prepping the boat, I got a report that the whales were on the other side of the island, heading north.  I planned to go north to intercept them.  When I was ready to shove off, another report said they had changed direction and were moving south.  Like I've said before: it's like playing chess.  We turned south.

Today, we made the right moves.  We saw plenty of other wildlife on the way to the whales, and they had moved south fast enough that it made our time to get to them shorter than I had anticipated.  K-Pod, and they were active.  Breaches don't happen all the time; today, I counted 6 in less than 2 minutes... and we had a ringside seat!

One big male didn't follow the rules... he made a 90º turn under water and came up close to the boat... close, as in: the guests gasped when that huge dorsal fin came up, followed by one very big Orca.  Our naturalist got a good view of the saddle patch and identified him as Deadhead.

About the only thing they didn't do today was form a chorus line and do a dance with kicks like the Rockettes!  Yes, it really was that good.

To top it off, the weather and sea conditions were perfect.  The day started off overcast, but the clouds broke and we had plenty of blue sky as we departed.  Very little wind.  And Haro Strait was nearly calm... as was Cattle Pass on our way out.

Coming back in, Cattle Pass was a little churned up, but the current was in our favor - I pulled the power back to 70% and was still doing 5 knots more than our normal high cruise speed.

Truly, a fine day. 

Oh, and this evening, Joan took me out for ice cream.  :-)


Walking down the dock towards our boat, there was a dad carrying a young girl on his shoulders.  She was sniffling and on the verge of crying.  He told her, "You need to stop that right now!"

She didn't.  In fact, the sobbing started in earnest.  The dad said, "I mean it - you're working yourself up!  Stop it!  Now!"

I have no idea what she was crying about, but she did reel it back in a bit.  A short time later, she said, "Daddy, I love you."

My heart absolutely melted.  I could tell his did, too, when he answered much sweeter, "I love you, too."

I had to give my daughter a call when we got back to the boat.  I just wanted to hear her say that, too.  Yeah, it still melts my heart.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Close encounters of the Orca kind...

It's been a couple days since we've seen Orcas.  The word was out.  Just before heading out this afternoon, I got a report of Transient Orcas up north, heading towards Monarch on Saturna Island.  When I did the safety talk, I let them know I had a good report - faces lit up!  I let them know they were north and were moving away from us... are y'all up for some fast running to get there?


Well, got them all in the spirit, now we just need to get 'em on the whales.  We found some Transients just east of Plumper Sound... and, indeed, they were moving to the east at a fast pace.  I pointed out a seal that was in their path (not a bright seal) and there was a collective gasp.  The seal disappeared... I'm going with: he got the heck out of there.  I didn't see him getting tossed around like a volleyball.  We had a nice viewing of the Transient Orcas... also saw sea lions, seals, and some eagles.  Even saw some harbor porpoises on the way back.

It was a good day.  I especially enjoyed the part about not having to be concerned about having an evening trip.  When we were nearly back to our dock, I got a call that one of the other captains (not our company) was having a problem with the steering on his boat.  We got back ahead of him, and had two captains and two first mates, all with large fenders ready to catch him as he came into his slip.  Fortunately, his bow thruster was functional... he made a very nice arrival, but was grateful for the assistance.

It had been a cloudy day, kinda cool.  When we got back, the sun came out.  Nice way to wrap up the day.  A couple images from the ride home...

I got to walk home with my Honey... and little Izzy was excitedly waiting for us...

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Our last evening trip of the season...

Today marks an ending - our last sunset whale watch of the season.  Again, the Orcas have decided to take some time off.  I wound up doing maintenance on one of our boats through most of the morning and afternoon.  I had just enough time to go back to our boat and get a shower before heading out for our last evening cruise this season.

No, we didn't see Orcas, but we did see plenty of other wildlife... and, we had a beautiful sunset to cap off the day...

A bit over two weeks to go.  We have been asked to stay longer than our contract time, but I think we'll be ready to untie the docklines as planned.

Friday, August 17, 2012

10 hours...

From the time I first got to the boat this morning, until I checked out: 10 hours.  I started the morning out with a whale watch trip... the whales didn't punch in today.  I talked to at least 40 other boat captains in every part of the San Juans, Gulf Islands, and the 3 big straits - no one saw Orcas.  We all worked together, taking different routes around different islands, and checking in.  One of the busiest days of the summer, and not an Orca to be seen.

I was out before most of the other boats.  Figuring where the whales were last reported (last night at 9:00) and the direction and speed they were heading... aw, heck, they could be anywhere.  Just not here.

An hour and a half into the trip and out into Haro Strait west of Stuart Island, a report came over the radio: one boat had seen one Minke whale at the south end of Lopez Island.  People don't come here to see Minke whales, but I was working hard to give the guests the most for their trip - we burned a bunch more fuel and ran south.  On the bright side, they were getting a beautiful view of the west side of San Juan Island (yes, we were circumnavigating the whole island) on an absolutely gorgeous day.  The water was nearly flat.  As far as boat rides go, it doesn't get any better than what we were experiencing.

I scanned every bait ball I saw on the southwest side of the island, but no Minke to be found.  Then another report - further south and east.  We spent some time, and getting a few glimpses of one very fast and shy Minke.  Turning north, we saw Steller Sea Lions, including two males trying to determine who was the "alpha."  Like a fight on the Jr. High playground, mostly just a lot of noise and posturing.  We saw eagles and other water fowl.  Some playful seals.  Just no Orcas... just like all the other whale watch boats out there today.

Coming back in, I was just ahead of the ferry.  My goal was to get to the dock and have the first mate get one or two lines on before the ferry blasted us with wake.  Just before getting to the narrow opening to our slips, another tour boat made a sharp turn, cutting us off.  I called the ferry on the radio, asking if he could give us 30 seconds... "Make it quick, we have a schedule to meet, too."

"Thank you, sir, I appreciate your consideration."

I was a bit behind schedule and had another trip with a pretty short turn-around.  A water taxi trip, including wait time.

Some of the other staff started carrying things down to our boat: two HUGE coolers, watermelons, bags of other supplies, cases of wine... dang, someone was planning one heck of a party!  Our job was to take them to Waldron Island.  Apparently a tract of land was being turned over from one preservation group to another, and this was the party celebrating that transfer.  And we had a bunch of people to take along with that 300+ pounds of supplies.

We got off on time, and the boat handled all the extra weight without much complaint.  Over the last day or two, I checked with a half dozen other captains about docking on Waldron Island... no one had ever been there.  Waldron has about 100 year round residents and only two docks - both private.  No facilities for visitors.  I told the other captains, "Well, I'll let you know what I find."

Frankly, I prefer to have some local knowledge if it's available.  Little stuff, like: how deep is the water at the dock?  Any shoals not charted?  Height of the dock?

Oh, and I was told that we could drop our passengers at the dock, but would not be allowed to stay at the dock.  We had a two hour wait time, while they had their gathering.  I asked one gentleman at the dock, "Can I use one of those mooring balls?" pointing to a half dozen empty moorings.

"Well, those are private."

"Yes, sir; I understand that.  I guess I could anchor somewhere in the middle of those moorings, but it sure would be a mess if I hook someone's mooring anchor.  Plus, we are going to be on the boat the while we wait."

"That's a good point.  See that yellow one over there?  Those folks won't be back until late - you can use that one."

Sometimes you just have to give 'em a good reason to be cooperative.  ;-)  There was very little breeze, so I knew we weren't going to put any pressure on the mooring.  Anchoring this boat is a lot of work and takes two people.  The first mate was grateful that I made this easy for both of us.

So, for the next 2 1/2 hours (you didn't think they'd be on time, did you?), we visited and moved around the cabin, trying to stay out of the sun.  I was a warm day.  I made regular trips to the helm to check the depth finder... yeah, this is as close to the bottom as I've been with this boat.  The other boats on mooring balls here were a lot smaller.

When we saw the folks on their way back to the dock, we untied from the mooring and made our way back to the dock.  Oh, other than some kids jumping and swimming, no one else had used the dock during that time.

We had a beautiful ride back to Friday Harbor; I even stopped for a bit to give them a chance to look at some harbor porpoises.  I got a call from the office on the way in, asking if I'd fuel the boat after dropping off the passengers... "Sorry, the fuel dock closed at 6:00.  Let Mike know he'll have to come in a little early tomorrow.  I'd sure do it, if they were open."

Back at the dock, we helped cart all the supplies (and garbage) that we carried over.  Yeah, sometimes we get to be pack mules, too.  ;-)

It had been a long day on the water.  And really beautiful.  For this last trip, with no whales to be concerned with, no other boats to contend with, and lovely flat water, I was able to get a few photos.

The dock at Waldron...

The view from the helm once we were on the mooring ball...

Yeah, that's pretty close to shore, and I'm not used to seeing low double digit depths below us (it was 9 feet at the dock).

On the ride home...

That top photo is leaving Waldron Island.  The middle (with the silhouettes) is looking towards the west.  And the bottom is with the pretty evening light on the Wasp Islands.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The VHF...

The VHF radio in the boat is our contact means to other boats and shore stations.  We were out for a short ride today, and it is always entertaining to put the marina frequency (CH 66) on the VHF.  It is said that when you pick a boat name, you should say it three times in a row... to see how it will sound on the radio.  It must be exasperating to have to spell the boat name EVERY TIME you use it on the radio ("Yeah, that French name seemed kinda cool at the time.")  And then there are those who simply don't know how to use the radio... like the guy today who kept calling the marina OVER and OVER, but never responded when they called him back.  After a bunch of that, he had to sheepishly admit that he had the volume turned way down.  You could hear the lack of patience in his voice until he figured out the problem.  Maybe another of those French names, like Dumas?

This is going to be the warmest weekend of the summer.  There are going to be a lot of people from the mainland who didn't get out in their boat nearly enough who are going to make an effort to do so this weekend... after all, the summer is getting short.  People seem incredulous when they are told by the harbormaster that they can put them on the waiting list for a slip: "You would be number 5 on the waiting list for a 40 foot slip."

"Ohhhhh.  What are the chances we'll get a slip for the night?"

They can't tell you that, but I can say as the afternoon wears on, the chances get slimmer.

I have no doubt that this is going to be a VERY busy weekend in Friday Harbor.

RV news...

Even though we are spending all our time currently on our boat, we're still RVers, too.  We received some sad news that NuWa Industries is planning to stop production for "build orders" after September 15th.  That will carry them through December on 5th wheels to be built.  As many of you know, we have a NuWa 5th wheel and are very pleased with the quality and construction of our HitchHiker.  No word at this point on whether the production stop will be temporary or permanent.  As before, NuWa will continue to do warranty and service work.  They are a first class operation.  Our thoughts are with their workers at this time.

And good news: friends John and Kathy Huggins have published an eBook about the RV lifestyle.  It's a good read - I did editing and proof-reading for them, so I had a preview look.  The book is titled "So You Want To Be An RVer?" and is current available at Amazon, and coming soon to the Nook...

Congrats to John and Kathy!

Summer, part 2...

Besides being a great day on the water, the weather was "perfect PNW summer" yesterday, and looks to be the same for the next couple of days.  Daytime highs predicted to be in the low 80s, light wind, lots of sunshine.  With 2 1/2 weeks to go on our contract here, we're hoping for continued nice weather so we can do some cruising on our own.

Today is a day off for us.  We've both been working 6 day weeks the past couple of weeks.  Joan has had a lot of early mornings, opening the office... meaning we're both up early.  Sleeping in felt good this morning.  The only thing better than "summer" weather is: no schedule with summer weather.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Rambling Roy the Stock Car Boy...

It's an old Jim Croce song.  And today, I felt like Rambling Roy.  We didn't have any whale reports when I came in early to work (the boat needed to be fueled).  Nothing when I was done fueling.  Finally, one vague report of a Minke south of Lopez Island, but no Orcas.

We headed south and after seeing seals, sea lions and eagles in Cattle Pass, we headed southeast to find a Minke.  One other whale boat was out there and had a sighting... but hadn't seen it in a while.  I looked around, and three boats were heading in that direction.  I guess the four of us were on a Minke hunt.  We each took a position and started looking.  The Minke popped up in front of our boat, to the delight of our guests.  About 4 seconds later, we got a report of a dozen Orcas in East Sound (Orcas Island).

One boat questioned that report, "Are you sure?  I've lived here for years and never heard of the Orcas being in East Sound."

On the radio: "I'm looking at 'em right now!"

I could not have been choreographed better: the four boats that were looking for the Minke rotated and headed south.  Three other boats that were in the vicinity of Cattle Pass turned around.  I asked my guests, "Anyone here on a tight schedule?  We have a report of Orcas, and we're going to put the coals to it!"

A cheer from the guests and we were running at high cruise... and an extra 3.5 knots of current in our favor!  The naturalist asked me, "How long will it take to get there?"

"30 to 35 minutes, if we can keep up this pace.  Get the folks excited to see Orcas."

It looked like an armada, with 7 or 8 boats all heading the same direction... fast.  We picked our way through the crowd, knowing that we'd probably be the second or third boat on the scene when we got there.  I saw the whales surfacing and picked the side that would give our guests the best light for photographs.

The Orcas were moving slowly southward in East Sound, so I turned off the engine and we drifted along, getting a great view and moving at just the right pace.  Two other boats pulled in by us, but there was room for all of us.  These were transient Orcas and seemed unusually active... we had breaches, tail lobs, spy hops, barrel rolls, and a couple moves I don't have a name for: a head stand move with the tail waving... for about 30 seconds!  Then, some upside down tail slaps, followed by lots of jumps and porpoising.  It was an incredible show!

At one point, we were about 100 feet off the cliff on the west side of East Sound.  The engine was off, we were enjoying a great show off the back of the boat (the bow was pointed towards the cliff, we were drifting sideways).  And two Orcas popped up between us and the cliff!  I was caught between Orcas and a hard place. ;-)  Did I mention; it was a great viewing?!!

It is about a half hour from East Sound back to Friday Harbor at our fast cruise speed.  I stayed on the whales for as long as possible, knowing it wasn't going to be a problem if we were a bit late getting back.  We had some very happy guests on the boat.  At one point on the way back, we had a perfect view of Mount Baker off the stern - I stopped the boat briefly so anyone who wanted could take photos.  Then, back to making some miles.

When we got back to the dock, one guy said to me, "You can really drive a boat.  I saw what you were doing, riding the wake of those bigger boats, drafting... you should be a stock car driver!"

I guess that was a compliment.  I did take advantage of currents and wakes to gain some speed where I could.  Getting to know the water here so you have some idea of where to be in any particular channel helps, too.

It turned out to be a very fun day!  Warm, too - I didn't need a jacket!  :-)

A beautiful morning...

We were up early... Joan has to be in at 7:45 again; my workday starts at the crack of noon.  In a small boat, when one of us is up and moving around, the other is... well, you know.  Truth be told, I have to get up or else I won't get my morning hot chocolate with a teensy bit of coffee (just to make me feel like a grown-up).

Joan was all perky this morning; looked outside and said, "This is a beautiful morning!  Maybe the nicest I've seen since we've been here.  No condensation in the cabin, low humidity - there isn't a cloud out there.  It's perfectly clear!  And a nice temperature.  This would be a perfect 'at anchor' morning."

"Yeah, but we aren't at anchor," I mumbled.  I've made a lot of noise in the past about being a morning person, so I figured I should get up and look out there to see what all the fuss is about...

Yeah, that is pretty.

I'm not the only one slow in appreciating the unfolding morning...

A quick check of the forecast shows clear, breezy (N@10-15), and a high of 80º.  It's probably going to be a bit lumpy out there today, but I may not need a jacket. ;-)  It was 66º at 7:30 this morning - there have been plenty of days this summer that barely made it to that for a high.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What was that sound??

Last month, one of our dock neighbors told us about a woman who lost her small dog to a river otter... the story was: it jumped up on the dock and snatched the pooch.  Since then, Joan made a new rule: Izzy can only be outside the boat when she is on the leash.  Prior to that, we were letting her walk on the finger dock by our boat by herself when she wanted.

We were sitting out in the cockpit after work and heard a bubbling noise right at the side of the hull, next to the dock.  Then, splashing right under the dock... and a high-pitched growling sound.  Was that Popeye (the one-eyed seal)?  Nope - Joan went out on the dock and saw a river otter swimming away.

Oh, and Izzy had been right at the edge of the cockpit, looking to investigate what was making that noise... guess the lock-down continues.

Five years ago, two river otters boarded our boat while we were in Bell Harbor in Seattle - they made one hell of a racket and weren't the least bit intimidated when I went out.  They were on top of our boat, then ran across the dock and onto the next boat, I assume looking for food.

We haven't told Izzy why she doesn't get to go out on the dock by herself - don't want to give her nightmares.

Foggy again this morning...

We were up early, because Joan had to be in at 7:45 to open the place up.  The first thing we do on rising is check outside... yep, thick fog.  I pulled up weather: it says it's currently cloudy, no mention of fog.  Nothing in the hourly forecast about fog.  Yet... there it is. ;-)

Fog messes with my trips.  Not because we can't go in the fog, but because our guests arriving by sea plane can't get out of Seattle or in here.  We've actually had some very interesting whale watching in foggy conditions.

I got a call around 9:00 - no cancellations/rescheduling due to the fog, which was lifting.  At 11:00, another call - yep, several flights that can't get in.  Stand by.

I'm due to be in at noon.  I should know if I have a trip by 11:59 or so.  That's part of the job.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Two in a row!

Two charters for me today.  The first one was early - be there at 8:00 to prep the boat, put on ice, ready to head out between 8:45 and 9:00.  I rarely know much about any specific charter until the people are ready to board the boat... could be a family, could be a business group.  This morning, it was a group of Japanese folks on a guided tour through parts of the United States.  I visited with the leader of the tour (he speaks English) to see what they want... "Take us to the whales.  We don't really need to see anything else.  If you can have us back in 2 1/2 hours, that would be great."

"Well, it pretty much depends on where the whales are - no reports this early in the day, so we'll be the scouting party.  It isn't like the whales are in one place, waiting for us to visit."

The rest of this is going to sound like a cliche'... yep, LOTS of cameras, plenty of telephoto lenses.  Their next destination is Alaska to photograph bears - they are serious about their photos.  While waiting in front of the office for several of them to use the restroom, two of them found our "animal hats" that we have for sale.  Oh, they're cute... in a kid-kinda way.  You can select from an Orca, a sea otter, and two different dolphins.  The guys were trying them on, laughing hysterically, then taking photos of each other.  That's where I thought it would end, but they each bought a hat!  A dolphin and a sea otter... OK, the sea otter kinda looks like a teddy bear.  One of the other guys saw their hats and went in and bought an Orca hat.  Well, all-righty, let's go to the boat.

I got them on the boat, and introduced myself... and got a round of enthusiastic applause!  I laughed and said, "Easy folks, I haven't done anything, yet."  One guy translated, enthusiastic laughter, and more applause.  This is going to be an easy crowd. ;-)

The first mate/naturalist, Amy, came on board, and I said, "You know her, you love her, let's hear it for AMY!!"  She was embarrassed by the roaring round of applause.  I did the safety talk, waited for translation, then said, "Everybody ready to go?"  Yep, more applause.  As I pulled out of the slip, I gave the horn a blast... more applause!  I was cracking up.

With no whale reports, I headed north, hoping to hear something before I had to make a decision to continue north or turn west.  I called the office and Joan had an unconfirmed report, so I decided to head for a spot north of there and hope for an intercept.

Amy came up to the helm and said, "Most of them don't speak English.  When I say something, the leader just says it again... in English.  What should I do?"

"You're a tall, pretty redhead.  Smile, point, and nod - they'll get it.  If anyone asks a specific question, answer it slowly.  And smile.  And nod."  ;-)

Sometimes things work out.  We were the first boat on the whales and had them to ourselves for about 30 minutes.  I let SoundWatch know what we were seeing, and within the next 20 minutes, there were at least a dozen boats moving in on our location.  (Yes, we do tell each other where and what direction... we got to be the "star" this morning.)  Cameras were burning through shots!  They were cheering every time we had a good view... and there were a LOT of good views.  A breach, and the crowd went wild!!  They saw "the baby"!!  Oooohs and aaaahs are the same in Japanese as they are in English!

I came down from the helm and confirmed that the leader wanted us to get back early and not look for any other wildlife... yep.

I had to go slow, working my way back east, and staying clear of the quickly moving Orcas.  I got them back to the dock within 5 minutes of the "hoped for" time.  More applause, and the leader was delighted.  Of course, Amy and I had to be in some photos.  Enthusiastic hand-shakes and good-byes.

We prepped the boat again, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and waited for our next charter.  It turned out to be an extended family - very jovial.  We joked a bit while they boarded.  Same request: get us to the whales.  They were OK if we saw other stuff, too.  One young boy (7), that I joked with during the safety talk... he was loving the attention.  His folks were the ones in charge of this outing.  The Dad said, "I knew you guys were the right ones when I booked this on the phone."

I said, "You talked to Joan, didn't you?"

"Yeah, she was great!  She had us all excited about this.  Very helpful."

"Well, put in a good word for me... I've been trying to 'get friendly' with her," I told them.

"Is that your wife?"

"Only for the last 40 years."

They were having fun the whole time.  I could hear them joking with each other, commenting on "how cool this is," when we were on the whales - they were enjoying the whole experience.  It was another fun whale viewing.  On the way back, I took them where they saw bald eagles and seals.  I think the little boy was as excited with the seals swimming nearby as he was the whales!

They appreciated all we did.

Great whale viewing, nice weather, decent water conditions, and fun folks onboard - it was a long day, but a very good day.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Dinner with friends...

Some C-Dory friends stopped by today - my buddy, Casey, and a friend I've corresponded with but hadn't met, Jim, from Florida.  While the three of us were talking, along came Bob and Betsy, more C-Dory folks that we cruised with the last time we were up here.

Joan was already at work, and I had to go in shortly after the visit, but we made tentative plans for the 6 of us to go out for supper... if I didn't have an evening trip.

For the afternoon trip, we ran north into Canadian water and saw a good number of J-Pod, including the new baby.  There were other Orcas the other direction that might have been a bit closer, but I knew the guests would enjoy seeing the newborn.

I had to laugh when the last two guys got on the boat... with their accents and loud talking, it sounded like they were doing the Steve Martin and Dan Akroid routine of "two WILD and CRAZY guys!!" from Saturday Night Live.  Nope, it wasn't a routine... just two guys with American girlfriends (fill in your own lines from the skit here).  As far as I could tell, they were from Dumbassastan.

The extra running was worth the effort; everyone on the boat really enjoyed seeing the whales.  I got back and found out I didn't have an evening trip, but I have an early charter.  We took the boat to the fuel dock and topped it off.  Turns out I have two private charters tomorrow, so the timing was good getting the fuel taken care of this evening.

Then, after getting home (well, to the boat), getting Isabella supper, and waiting for Joan to get home, we went out for supper with Casey, Jim, Bob, and Betsy.  Good conversation, good food (I was really in the mood for a steak), and then the short walk over to the ice cream shop.  Nice way to set off a great evening.

Back to the boats for everyone, and an early start to the day tomorrow for us.

The Kittiwake in action...

Finally, a shot of the Kittiwake on the job...

Seriously, you want me to eat that??

Little Isabella has not been a finicky eater, but recently, she has tired of her favorite: Ocean Whitefish & Tuna.  When we went off-island a few days ago, I picked out a variety of flavors for her.  I have made it a point since she became a part of the family to rotate flavors so she didn't have the same thing two days in a row.  I know her likes and dislikes.

This morning, I opened a can of Fish & Shrimp... within seconds, Joan and I both said, "Phew!"  Then Joan added, "Don't buy that one again."  I waited to get Izzy's vote.

We have our routine: I open the can, she rubs on my legs.  I put the food down, she waits for a rub on the back of her neck, then she dines.  She perked up when I opened the can, did her leg rubbing, waited for me to put the food down... and approached it like it was a land mine.  She stood right in front of the dish, took a more direct wiff, gave me a "you have to be kidding" look, and walked out into the cockpit.

If she had thumbs, I guess that would be a big "thumbs down." 

"Yeah, I'm layin' on the table... "

Saturday, August 11, 2012

You have the best job ever...

Another great day today: two trips saw the baby both times.  Plenty of activity, but the water started getting a bit rough this evening.  Nice folks on both trips, and a beautiful day.  Come to think of it, most of the trips are pretty grand.  When the guests were getting off the boat this evening, one guy said to me, "You have the best job ever."

I said, "I'm glad you enjoyed the trip."

He said, "No, I really mean it - you get paid to do this.  This is the best job I could ever imagine."  And then he put a nice tip in my hand.

Oh, I'll remember the drunks, the pukers, and the shotters (there is no nice way to say that), but the good days are many and the tough days are few.  About three weeks to go.  This is the first week I'll have overtime.  That guy would really be impressed with time and a half.  Wink

Friday, August 10, 2012

Awwwww - it's a baby!

Some days are just great.  Some are spectacular.  Today was beyond that.  When I ran north for my afternoon trip, I had a group of Orcas heading south from the north, and a group heading north from the south.  All I had to do was position myself at the right place at the right time... and, it all worked out!  I couldn't believe there weren't more boats watching this.  All kinds of Orcas activity: spy hops, a couple of great breaches, tail slaps, pectoral slaps, lots of porpoising... just a great afternoon on the water.

For the evening trip, I lucked out... the other boat was full of teenagers, with a few adult chaperones (a charter)... I had all adults, what I will call "the regular guests." ;-)  The whales had already moved quite a bit further south, but we were able to find them... all the while, looking at a very large fog bank to the north and west, moving our way.  And this "show" was even better: more whales, more activity, more breaches, and the star of the show: the newest member of J-Pod who was born just 4 days ago!!  If there was ever a time when I wish I had enough hands to drive the boat AND take photos, this would be the time... some of the adults were "pushing" the baby, showing it how to porpoise.  We saw "baby spy hops"... it rolled over and showed us its little pink belly.  Words do not describe how cool this was, and I have no photos to show you.

When it was time to head back in, I told the guests that this would be our "last looks"... and there were two more breaches and another "baby spy hop."  The guests were absolutely gushing!  OK, so was I.

On the way back in, we saw some Stellar Sea Lions and a couple bald eagles - a great ending to a great day.  I did have time to shoot this sunset with my phone on the way...

That lighter area you see just above the terrain is the fog bank moving across the island, coming in from the west.  Boats that were in the area where had just been were in thick fog... the viewing had been great, our timing was very fortunate.

This was one of those rare days that I would have paid to have the privilege of driving this boat to watch what we saw with the whales.  Yes, it was THAT good!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

About the ferries...

The ferry is the lifeblood for those in the tourism industry here... the ferry we were on today holds 2,500 passengers and 144 vehicles.  Unless you feel the need to drive around San Juan Island (most people come here as a day trip), there is no need to bring a vehicle - you can easily walk all around Friday Harbor.  Need to get to the other side of the island?  You can rent a car, mopeds, take a cab, or there is a shuttle bus for $15 per person (all day).

The cost for putting our truck on the ferry is around $70, plus $12.45 for each additional passenger. 

The ferry workers do an admirable job of getting all those vehicles on and arranged, all in a relatively short period of time.  Multiply that by six times daily from Anacortes, other inter-island ferries, and one that comes from Sidney (Vancouver Island, Canada)... and you can see that they bring a LOT of people to San Juan Island each day.  Or, you can get here by private boat, private airplane, or Kenmore Air (a sea plane company that flies out of Seattle to many different places in the area).

Just giving you some options... if you decide to come this way.  smiley 

Going to America...

That's what Captain Craig calls it when you go "off island," heading to the mainland.  It's a day off for us today, we have one pass left on our multi-ticket, we need to get some supplies, it's a beautiful day, and we're going to let someone else do the boat driving.  The really good news: the ferry has been running on schedule the past 48 hours.  We talked about using our pass for the ferry before it expires, but as of Monday, things were still a mess with the ferry's schedule.  We decided we'd hold off until, and if, things settled down.

So, we are off to America.  Breakfast in our bellies, the truck parked near the front of the ferry, and a nice view from the top deck of the Washington State Ferry Elwah.  Our multi-ticket pass for the ferry expires next week, so this will be our last time before we head back "to America" for the season.

Lots of work hours the next 2 weeks, then it should start to slack off until we're done after Labor Day.  We have some decisions to make about where and when, but that is weather dependent... no "have to" schedule to make.  I enjoy the work here, but I am looking forward to... no schedule (my favorite thing about being retired).

Still plenty of America out there we want to visit... today, it will be Wal-Mart! ;-)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

I met a friend today...

Have you said to your kids, "You have to be careful of meeting people on the internet"?  Today, I met a very nice gentleman and his wife - Earl and I have been trading posts for years on the Trailersailor Forum, but this is the first time we've met face-to-face.  Earl and Suzanne rode with us on the whale watch boat today.

I was really hoping we'd get a great Orca viewing today, but it wasn't to be.  The Orcas report I got, put them almost to the Pacific Ocean and heading west... no way could we get to them.  We went south and found a couple fast-moving Minke whales south of San Juan and Lopez Islands.  Other interesting wildlife, as well; including a bunch of Stellar Sea Lions in and around Whale Rocks.  The day started out overcast and cool, but turned beautiful while we were out on the water... the Strait of Juan de Fuca was as calm as I've seen in quite a while.  It was a great day on the water.

When we got back to the dock, Earl and Suzanne waited while I got the boat put away, and then got a tour of Wild Blue.  Joan was working with a guest on the phone when I left, but made it back to the boat in time to meet Earl and Suzanne.

Earl would be the taller guy on the left. ;-)

Last week, I had a chuckle when I got on the boat - there was a sign next to the horn I installed...

Today, I finally got a photo of it.  I love my horn.  I use my horn... every time I leave the dock, I give a long blast.  (There are a lot of little boats that run in and out of that area without looking.)  In the fog, it is nice to have a horn that doesn't depend on compressed air.  And, there has been fog here.  ;-)  And I'm OK that the folks in our office have a sense of humor. :-D

Day off tomorrow!  With the extra hours I've been putting in, I'm ready. :-)

That was it??

I had joked a while back about summer here "lasting about 4 days"... of course, I was exaggerating: we had three days in a row that were above 70º this past week.  One day, it even made it to 84º, and people were complaining about the heat.

Yesterday, it took most of the day to make it to the mid-60s.  Looks like more of the same today.  So, Summer 2012 - August 4th through the 6th.  ;-)

Checking the local 10 forecast, there are 3 days in that 10 that are predicted to be around 70º... just not 3 in a row.

Another 10 days with longer hours (by coincidence).  After August 18th, we are done with sunset whale watch trips; so, one trip per day, unless there are charters. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Another fine day with the whales...

I came in early to fuel the boat; I called the fuel dock and was told there was space.  By the time I got out of our slip and around the corner, we were number 4 in line and a few seconds later, there were 3 more behind us.  We weren't in a tight time situation... good thing, because the boats that got to the fuel dock before us were BIG... and it takes a lot of time and $$$ to fuel them up. ;-)
When it was time to board passengers, my boat got out first today - I decided to head south.  I had a solid report on the whales, the weather looked good, and they were reasonably close.  Our other boat wound up being 20 minutes late getting out (waiting for guests on a sea plane), they decided to go north.  The good news: we both saw Orcas!

We got to compare notes before I went home and they went out for an evening trip - sounds like we both had good views and happy guests.  One of the highlights on our trip was after viewing whales: we came across a bald eagle sitting on a rocky outcropping as we came around an island.  As if on cue, the eagle took flight, dived towards our boat, and pulled a fish out of the water about 30 feet from our boat!  A cheer came from the guests!  Then 4 big Stellar Sea Lions hauled out on the rocks.  Plenty of other wildlife.

This was what I would call "an easy day": comfortable water conditions, decent weather, whales close enough that we could spend all the time we wanted with them, other interesting wildlife, happy guests, and back to the dock right on time.  :-)

Joan was done with work at the same time I was (of course, she went in over 4 hours earlier than I did), and I got to walk her home.  She had a fine day, too.

It is so good to have the Orcas back in the area.  After 6 weeks of seeing them every day, I got kinda complacent, thinking they'd always be there.  I won't do that again. ;-)  Don't tell them, but it is fun seeing humpbacks and minkes, too... this place is just well known for the Orcas.

Where'd it go?

We have had a good, solid 3G signal while here in Friday Harbor.  Having decent internet makes staying in one place easier.  By the time I got home from work yesterday, the 3G signal was taking on the same reliability characteristics as the ferries... sometimes there, sometimes not.

Speaking of which, they have put another ferry into service to take the place of the one that crapped out at the Friday Harbor ferry landing... thus, the reason for the ferry being on-time when I got back with the water taxi trip yesterday.

Maybe they'll be replacing the 3G tower here?  Riiiiight. ;-)

I got up this morning, and our view was gone... really thick fog.  I'm lucky it wasn't like that yesterday, with an early trip.  Joan is going to have her hands full when she opens this morning... no doubt there will be folks due to arrive by sea plane that aren't going to get in.

We'll see how things play out.

By 8:30, the fog was lifting nicely...

There is an island behind that trawler...

The plan...

If you read the previous post, you know how many opportunities there were for the day's schedule going awry... and the day started with the ferry being 20 minutes late.  Joan was working for me and met people as they came down the steps, before they could get to the office - every minute counts.

She got them all routed to the boat, and the naturalist leading them.  We knew an approximate number and had put additional seating on the boat.  We got them on and seated, I did a quick safety talk, and we shoved off.  I put a few more ponies to work, and managed to make up 10 minutes enroute to their island destination.

These types of trips are always interesting, because you never know what the dock situation will be.  Plenty of rocks near the dock, but it was slack tide and we could see into the water.  We helped people off the boat, confirmed when we were to be back for them, and took off.

I made up an additional 10 minutes on the way back, since the boat was now much lighter.  We pulled up to our dock just in time to have the guests for the next trip escorted to the boat.  (And, Joan brought me lunch.)  I had gotten the most current reports on the way in... after nearly a week, there are Orcas in the area again! 

The guests had already been told (by who knows??) that there are no Orcas to be found.  They were delighted when I told them we had "a good report."  Another safety talk and we were off; an hour to an hour and a half before most of the other Friday Harbor boats.

When I got to the area where the Orcas were reported, I had to decide: north or south.  There were a couple whale watch boats already on the scene, so I had some decent info... south it is.  The "show" started almost immediately when we slowed down.  A spy hop, plenty of porpoising, then a full breach - yep, we chose the right direction.  The boats to the north had a couple animals, we had at least a dozen, and they were being plenty active.  The guests were in awe... OK, we were all in awe; it was a delight (and a relief) to have the Orcas back.  And, in a big way!

The guests got to see Soundwatch in action, when several private boats violated the distance laws, nearly running up on the whales.  We do more than just show people the whales: we also educate them and get them interested in conservation and protection of the marine mammals.

We were perfectly positioned, and the whales weren't moving any particular direction.  The salmon-fest must have been good, since happy whales are active whales.  After nearly an hour with the Orcas, I had to carefully pick my way out and get some distance in order to start heading back.  More good timing: bald eagles, including a juvenile.  Cute baby seals.  All the usual wild game across Spieden.  More eagles.  More seals.

With a very full tour, a boat full of happy guests, and a schedule to maintain, we pulled back up to our dock right on the button.  Sometimes things just work out... I didn't want to say anything so I wouldn't jinx this last water taxi trip.  We exchanged thank you's and good-bye's, and got ready to shove off again.  Joan got me a fresh soda (nice to have her looking out for me).  And we were off again.

Listening to the radios on the way, it sounded like the boats that were still out were seeing the Orcas, but not in the group size we had been treated to.  No one was complaining.  We pulled up to the dock 10 minutes early to bring the folks back that we took out this morning.  Good thing, 'cause the current was really ripping; it took a second swing at the dock and using a spring line to haul the boat in.

These folks were happy we were on time (apparently they had been told that we'd probably be behind because of the ferry), and we were off again.  I called the office to see how the ferry was running... on time!  I knew it was going to be close (the only time in the last few days when I was hoping the ferry would be late).  As I made my turn into Friday Harbor (the bay), the ferry was making the same turn from the other side... no way could I maintain my speed like the ferry can.  I told the first mate to get the boat ready to dock at the Spring Street Landing... the water around our dock would be in a swirl for well over 5 minutes due to the ferry.  The guests were in time to make that ferry, but not much time to spare.  One lady hugged me on the way out and said, "That was fun!"  I was just glad we were able to make the timing work.

We sat with an empty boat for a few minutes, letting the swirling wake settle before bringing the boat back to our dock.  Happy guests all around... and a happy boat crew, too.  9 1/2 hours of boat time.  And back in time to take my Honey out for supper.