Saturday, August 31, 2013

And then...

They don't go like you plan.  We got "skunked" today... no whales.  I have one day left - I want it to go out with a bang, not a whimper.  ;-)

It wasn't from lack of trying. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Some days it all falls into place...

This was one of those days.  When I went into work, we didn't have a whale report.  I did some maintenance on the boat, then prepped her for our trip.  A half hour before we were to board our guests... a report!  Good position for us to get to; 8 or 9 transient Orcas; and the conditions were reported: "If it was any nicer, you'd think you were at home in your easy chair!"

Yeah, that was from another captain, not from the National Weather Service.  Nice to get the word from someone who is there.

We boarded our guests, then the young man who was working the counter brought down two more guests... except they had boarding passes for the other boat.  I said, "You can ride with us or you can go on that boat," pointing to the next boat over.

He asked, "What's the difference?"

"That one is our family boat.  They have the screaming children.  This one is our grown-ups boat.  They have a walk-around deck, we have a great viewing platform right at the water level."

He said, "I want to go with you!"

"Welcome aboard."

The water was as calm as could be.  We stopped to see some seals and a bunch of Stellar Sea Lions.  On the way to the Orcas, a Minke whale put himself nearly in our path - he wanted some attention, too, apparently... so, we stopped for a few minutes to view Mr. Minke.

I could see the other boats who were already with the Orcas, so I knew I didn't have far to go.  I pulled ahead of the group, positioned our boat, and the whales started moving to give us a great front row seat.  Nice timing...

Transient Orcas, but they weren't moving too fast.  It was a relaxing, almost leisurely viewing.  After one deep dive, they decided to come up to wave at the folks on our boat... well, that's how it felt.  I could hear the gasps from our guests.

I moved a bit further out after they passed, they slowed... more nice viewing.  I could hear our naturalist explaining what Sound Watch does.  I called them (Sound Watch) on the radio and asked if they could come by our boat... the naturalist was wide-eyed as Sound Watch approached.  I said, "We were just explaining to the nice folks on our boat what you folks do - could you come up and hand us one of your educational pieces?"

"Sure!  Never had that request before."  We have a good relationship with them, and they know we play by the rules.  The guests got to see Sound Watch "in action," a bit later when a huge private boat started moving between the commercial boats on either side, heading right for the whales.

After more than an hour of some great viewing, I let the guests know that this would be our last looks.  We rotated away from the group and started back towards Friday Harbor.  When I mentioned that conditions were nearly calm... this was the view from the helm in the Strait of Juan de Fuca...

Happy guests back at our dock.  The first mate and I cleaned up things on the boat, then I headed back to our boat... I have a date tonight.

MY first mate and I had reservations for a "grown-up supper."  We had a table by the window, with a beautiful view of the water...

It opened up even more when the ferry left...

Maybe I am partial to the view, because it looks out at our boats on the Spring Street Landing docks.

After supper and dessert, we walked back to our boat.  A beautiful day... maybe the second time all season that I didn't need a jacket while I was out on the boat.  Blue sky, nice temps, winds about 3 mph... cooperative whales (Minke and Orcas)... and a date with my Honey.  We have a couple more days of work, but this is a very nice way to wrap up the season.


I think, if you are looking for them, there are signs.  Not the "No Parking" or "Please Pick Up After Your Pet" signs - that's too obvious.  When I am out on the water, I watch the sky; it often tells me what to expect.  I watch the water... waves will build when there is wind against current.  If there is a guest on the boat who looks apprehensive as they are boarding, I know to keep an eye on them.

Joan took me out for breakfast this morning... fewer people wandering around town.  This weekend is sure to be busy, then things will begin to taper off.  There are employees who are already done; another sign.  The walkways around the marina haven't had overflow boats tied off.

While walking back to our boat this morning, I saw another sign...

Yeah, that's a sign.  We have followed the autumn colors the past few years.  There are more and more leaves on the sidewalks around the marina.  It's getting to be that time.

Three days, man...

Anyone remember that line?  If you said, "Woodstock," you win 50 bonus points!

We were scheduled to be done on September 2nd.  Our work week ends on Sunday, so we are getting time off (for good behavior)... we don't have to work on Monday.  Sunday will be our last day.  This season has gone by fast.

The weather weasels are predicting nice weather through Sunday, and I am looking forward to some sunshine.  And after that, I am looking forward to... no schedule.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Zoom, zoom!!

No, I didn't buy another Miata.  I was looking at my phone last night and was surprised to see that I had 4G coverage and 5 bars!  I didn't notice any perceptible change in internet speed, so I just assumed my phone was playing games with me.

This afternoon, when I checked the computer...

For comparison sake, I have been getting 1.5 mg or less all summer.  It's enough to use up plenty of bandwidth, but this is almost 8 times faster!  Zoom, zoom!  I could watch a YouTube video without all the stop and start... I can upload a photo in the blink of an eye... we are connected!

I can only assume Verizon heard it was almost time for us to leave. ;-)


We had some spotty rain the past few days.  Looks like it is going to be some fine weather for our last weekend here on the job.

I had the chance to get the GoPro out in between the showers:

Some views around the marina...

Above the marina, there is another set of stairs...

Follow those up, go another block, and you wind up at our favorite little hamburger place, Vic's.  Joan said she may take me there for supper tonight!

Here's a look at the front of the boat that was the IBOTD a couple days ago (with the dinghy)...

Another boat that caught my eye (a Sundowner 32 Tug)...

Pretty lines on that boat, too.  It's for sale. 

Walking by the burned out building...

There was another meeting of the Port Commission yesterday - they are now committing to getting the building rebuild as soon as possible and getting the current lease holders back in.  No estimate of the time it will take, but some are saying it could be up to 24 months.  Some of those folks came by our tents on the waterfront when the meeting was over.

While walking the docks, I also came across Willie's Tug (our friends Herb and Wilma).  A short time later, I visited with Wilma, then later Herb.  They are on their way to Victoria and pulled in here for a night or two.  Spend some time in the San Juans, and you will likely wind up in Friday Harbor as some point - it's the commercial hub of the San Juans.


A couple misty morning images today...

Joan took this of Izzy and me, getting in a few more zzzzzz's...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What do you do with a day off?

We hear that from the folks at work.  Friends think we're out watching whales.  Or, off galavanting around, going from island to island.  If we get two days off in a row, we try for something entertaining.  But, somewhere along the way, "projects" need to be addressed.

With the day off today, we all three slept in.  7:30; I don't know about the other two, but I sure enjoyed the quiet time.  We went out for breakfast, then to the store.  I know what you're thinking: "Wow!  That is exciting!"

But wait - there's more!  We fixed the toilet lid.  Well, a bracket on the toilet lid.  The toilet lid is important in that little room, for more than keeping the cat from sticking her head where it doesn't belong.  It is also where we sit when we shower.  I'm not trying to paint any mental images here, and there sure as hell won't be any photos... but, we shower while seated on the throne.  Just like we did when we had the Leisure Travel campervan.

I need to find new brackets, but the repair should hold for a while.

You may have heard the saying: boat cruising is fixing your boat in exotic locations.  Yeah, it's pretty much the same if you're living on your boat.  OK, maybe more so.

Our Wallas stove/heater had stopped functioning.  I have to give it to the guys at Scan Marine in Seattle - they are a GREAT help when the Wallas needs attention.  Some people have had issues with theirs, our Wallas has been a champ.  A call to Scan Marine a couple weeks ago helped me diagnose the problem was a non-functioning glow plug.  I had them send one out to us.  Since we have other back up for cooking and heat, it wasn't a gotta-fix-it-NOW situation.  But, that glow plug has been staring at me for a while, so I decided to tackle it today. 

Mike from Scan Marine had given me a run down on how to replace it when I ordered the glow plug, but without the part in front of me, it didn't make a lot of sense.  I took the cage off the bottom of the unit, looked it over, and gave the nice folks at Scan Marine another call... Mike is on vacation, but my new best friend, Bruce talked me through what to do.

He said, "This may be easier if you remove the unit from the galley countertop..."  Yeah, I can see where replacing the glow plug would be easier that way, but there wasn't enough additional wiring and fuel lines to move it all the way out and flip it upside down.  So, when he said, "Remove the heat shield from the top," I had to translate that to: find a ridiculously small wrench and remove the heat shield from the bottom, while standing on your head... oh, and try not to drop and lose those small nuts."

There was a good deal of grunting, some minor swearing, some talking to myself ("Got to remember what order those go back in; don't forget to reconnect the power..."), but, other than the tough reach because of the installation, it was reasonably straight-forward.  Thanks, of course, to the good guys at Scan Marine.

Joan fired it up while I was putting the cage around the bottom of the unit... it started right up and ran like a champ!

The fun doesn't stop there: we took Wild Blue for a trip... all the way to the middle of the marina, where you will find the pump out station.  They have obviously fixed it since last week, 'cause it really sucks... and that's a good thing when you're trying to get the "stuff" out of your poop tank.

On the way back, I took this photo of my Interesting Boat of the Day...

Not so much the sailboat, which looks like a very capable world cruiser, but the fine match with the wood and bottom paint between the boat and the dinghy.  Nicely done!

You would think this would be enough excitement for one day, but there's more: we cleaned the slime off the bow and side of the hull under water... well, everything we could reach without going INTO the water.  Not bad.  A week from now, Wild Blue gets to do some moving... can't have our girl looking like a marina queen.

Other than some picking up around the inside, our day off work day is almost done.  Our company's bookkeeper invited us to their place for supper tonight.  Last Friday, we went to the yacht club with one of the other captains and his wife.  Sunday, we had supper with the previous owners.  Yep, our time here is getting short... it's nice to spend some quiet time with our friends.

Now, I'm going to spend some quality time with my new carbon fiber friend.  And, little Izzy will sit by me - she likes the music.

So, how big are they?

We have regulations that we have to follow when viewing the whales.  These regulations apply to everyone, not just the commercial operators.  The big thing is distance from the whales (200 yards, laterally) and speed (7 knots when within a half mile); there are also some distance regulations from shore in different areas.

Sometimes that distance doesn't really show off the size of these animals.  The boat I drive most often is around 32' long.  The big males can be bigger than that.  Here is a graphic that shows a size comparison to the average human...

They are impressive.

Monday, August 26, 2013


My first report before coming in to work said there were whales... out at Race Rocks.  Which is past Victoria.  And, they're moving west.  As in: away from us.

I went in early to put some fuel on, thinking I would put the hammer down and get my guests to the whales.  Then, before we boarded our people, another report... closer!  And, they weren't moving very fast.

If you had been there, you would have seen my happy dance.  ;-)

We loaded up the guests, I did a safety talk, told them my plan, and we shoved off.  The weather weasels said it would be a high of 70º today and partly cloudy... barely made it to 60º, and it sprinkled about half the time out on the water.  Last week of August, and I had 4 layers on... and could have used one more.

There were 4 boats on scene when we got there - easy to find a good place to view the transient Orcas...

The whales were focused today: moving in a relatively straight path, and taking deep dives between the surfacing.  They had changed direction, and were moving south.

More boats arrived.  You've heard me talk about a "conga line" - here's what that looks like...

They were on the other side of the whales.  Our position put us in a great place to view, but we had to keep pace with them.  The boats on our side...

A couple more views...

Sunday, August 25, 2013

This is the life...

We have been getting up at 5:30 most of this season.  No alarm set today, 'cause we get another day off!  Eight days to go.

Well, I was awake at 5:30, alarm or not.  I got up quietly... as quietly as you can do on a boat.  The Blonde slept in 'till almost 6:30, but "laid in" for another hour.  When she got up, she said, "This is the life!"

With the sun coming up and the heat still on, it was getting warm in the cabin.  Joan said, "Why didn't you turn off the heat?"

"I'm trying to acclimate you to Texas again." ;-)


And now we get to decide where we're going for breakfast.  Yep, this is the life. :-)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Fins to the left...

Fins to the right...

Another private charter for our boat today.  Nice people; they were early!  They had chartered the boat for an extra hour than usual.  I had two options to get to whales - neither of them close... one way south and west, moving west; the other way north, moving north.  About the same distance away, so I made the decision to go north - it is prettier running through the Gulf Islands than it is chugging away in Juan de Fuca.

These guests were celebrating a birthday; all adults, and they had purchased a liquor license for the boat.  I was pretty sure they weren't going to care too much that we had to go a long ways.  I visited with them, and we got out a bit early.  I was right - they knew how to enjoy themselves.

The whales were near Active Pass, between Galiano Island and Mayne Island.  Well, when we got to them, they weren't quite to the Pass.  Instead, they ran close to Enterprise Reef... plenty of boats whale watching today, and not all of them paying attention to the fact that they were drifting right at the reef.  I saw my depth finder go from over 250' to about 30' and moved out to reposition us... the whale watching was good...

Well, you might not know it from the photos... I had my hands full at the helm; the wind was blowing and the whales were not running any sort of straight line.  Transients again today; the guests got to see the results of them taking a seal.

We positioned ourselves just outside Active Pass, assuming that would be the way they would go... they did.  A dozen whale watch boats, a bunch of private boats, the whales... oh, and several BC Ferries all trying to squeeze through that pass...

Yes, I shot that image before going into the Pass.  Otherwise, it would have been from a LOT closer.  The BC Ferries are painted more festive than the Washington State Ferries.

The current was ripping through Active Pass; the guests were hooting and hollering, enjoying the ride.  We ran out into the Strait of Georgia for a while before it was time to head back south.  I gave them the scenic way back, and they got to see some bald eagles and harbor porpoise along the way.

The people were a delight; the weather wasn't sunny, but it was very pleasant ('cause I was dressed for it); and we had the time and speed to get to the whales... everyone was happy.  The guests were particularly fond of my first mate, and offered her a job with a dive operation when her time here is done.  He shook my hand at the end of the trip and said, "Man, you can drive a boat.  The first mate said you aren't looking for another job when you're done here, huh?"

"Nope.  It's playtime for this retired guy."

"Well, it's very apparent that you enjoy this position."

Very nice people.

Joan got off work about the time we got back to the dock.  She ordered pizza for us.  The place is called Kung Fu Pizza, it's connected with the China Pearl Chinese Restaurant.  The best part: you get fortune cookies with your take out pizza, too!  This was mine...

Yeah, that seems about right to me! ;-)

Yacht Club...

The Friday Harbor Yacht Club is at the top of the steps, up from the docks.  We frequently hear goings-on up there.  Last night, we dined there.

One of the other captains, Craig, has invited us out to their house in the past.  With our time here getting short (down to single digits for work days), we were trying to find a time that worked with everyone's schedules to get together... a couple days ago, I said, "Let's just go out for supper sometime after work - then you don't have to cook, we don't have to drive."  (They live at the south end of the island, by Cattle Pass)

Craig said, "We're having dinner at the Yacht Club on Friday - want to join us there?"

Perfect.  Well, except I don't have a blue blazer and an ascot.  ;-)  "Nah, it's casual."

It's a very nice facility, overlooking the water.  We met Craig and Peggy there, got nametags, and found a table.  The menu was varied: from steak to prawns to burgers.  Nice conversation.  We met some of Craig's other friends.  There was the typical, "You're coming back next year, aren't you?" discussion... followed by the, "Well, we haven't decided, yet," responses.

A nice evening out.

Friday, August 23, 2013

And then...

Some days are like this...

We had a nice group (small wedding party) who chartered the boat.  They were on time to check in, but 15 minutes late when it was time to board the boat.  There was a whale report, but it was close to an hour and 50 minutes away.  Allow some time for viewing, then the long haul back... it wasn't in the cards for these folks, because they had to catch a chartered seaplane in 3 hours.

I gave them some alternatives, and together we decided to look for Minke whales.  It was a delightful trip; they were very happy.  I would rather go for it and get people to the Orcas (transients today) when possible.  Sometimes tight schedules don't allow that.

On the bright side, it was a very nice Minke viewing day: mostly overcast, but calm seas south of San Juan Island, considering the wind.  We saw 3 different Minke whales, one that came up for a close and personal view of our boat.  Stellar Sea Lions, bald eagles, lots of other water fowl and seals... and, of course, the beautiful San Juan Islands.

We weren't alone with our trip south.  While we were the first to find a couple Minke whales, before long another excursion boat joined us (I called in the location).  Then another.  Until there were 6 commercial boats there.  We pulled away from the group and did some other touring.

The water was pleasant, and a bit cool today.  No two days are the same, but we do our best to give those who ride with us a great tour.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

What a day!!

We are settling into a routine... the fire creamed our office, but not the spirit of this business.  Joan is taking calls, filling seats, and handling internet inquiries from the boss's shop (inland), we are checking people in and giving boarding passes from our tent on the waterfront.  Joan doesn't get to meet the guests in person, and she misses that.  The guests can't go into the office after the trip and tell her what a great time they had... she misses that, too.

But, we are going out with full boats.  Business is strong.

Today started out beautiful...

Sunrise is still one of my favorite times, and I get to see the sun come up when we get up at 5:30 currently.  Joan gets ready for work, Izzy and I get some time together.  Little Izzy sitting in the cockpit this morning...

I played some music for my little furry girl - it's a nice way for my day to start, too.

I went in to work and prepped the boat.  There was a 2 hour old report of transients... close enough for us to get to them, but they can move a great distance in two hours.  Just before shoving off, I got an update: they had moved a bit further away, but with the speed of this boat, I knew we could catch them.  I told the guests that they are in for a great day.

Mother Nature blessed us with beautiful blue skies and not much wind.  We turned north out of Friday Harbor and put the coals to it.  We caught up with the transients just south of Turn Point - they were moving northwest, and there were more of them than I expected.  I moved us into position, hearing the guests cheer as they saw the dorsal fins and the spray.

I was able to get some photos today...

A roll...

Love that white belly!  A look at the big male...

There were about a dozen Orcas... they broke into three smaller groups, then regrouped as they pushed northwest.  We were getting great views.  Then, a breach!  And, another from a different animal.  I pointed my little point & shoot, and...

A double breach!!  Do you suppose they get together under the water and say to each other, "Let's do this one together - that'll make 'em scream!!"  They were right.  More active than we usually see with the transients, and the guests on our boat were loving it.  OK, the crew was loving it, too!

After a lengthy viewing, I told the guests this would be our last looks.  One of the Orcas did a pectoral slap... I'm pretty sure she was waving good-bye.

No one had a tight schedule, so I took the scenic route home, through John's Pass and the Cactus Islands, where we saw a pair of bald eagles.

Very happy people getting off our boat.

Izzy's dock adventures...

I'm not the only one with itchy feet - little Isabella has been getting braver on the docks again.  She is not the social butterfly our other cats have been... with there is a lot of movement and commotion nearby, she much prefers to stay inside.  Lately, though, she has been hopping out of the boat to check out the world beyond the boat...

"Izzy, don't go too far."

"Sweet little me?"

"I mean it - stay where I can see you!"

"Nice face."  Yes, cats have expressions... and they use 'em, just like kids.

And then they do that sweet face again...

And her "tough girl" walk on the way back to the cockpit...

Port Commission contact info...

I'm not suggesting anyone contact the Port Commission, but if you want to voice your views regarding how the situation after the fire should be handled, here are the commissioners' names and e-mail addresses:

Port Commissioners
Mike Ahrenius –
Greg Hertel –
Barbara Marrett –

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The meeting...

Just back from the Port Commission meeting.  While there was other business on their agenda, the crowd was there to show their support for getting that building rebuilt AS SOON AS POSSIBLE and get the current lease-holders back in.  The place was packed - standing room only.

One gentleman in the crowd asked the commission point blank "if there were other plans being considered for that space?"  The commission was very non-committal.

Here's what I learned:

Fire investigators are in the building right now, working to determine the cause.  They hope to have answers by Friday, but that is not an absolute.

If it is determined that a particular piece of equipment was the cause of the fire, that manufacturer can ask that the scene be held so they can get investigators out.

The city government members said they will do everything they can to support the expeditious rebuilding of that building.

The Port Commission (3 members) have the final say.  It made me concerned that none of them threw their support into rebuilding as soon as possible.

When community members and business people spoke, it became very emotional - it is clear that Downriggers is a staple in this community.  Our boss let the commission know how many employees we have and re-iterated the impact of the number of visitors these businesses bring to the San Juan Islands.  A local bank officer stated that they will do all they can to support the rebuilding.  People cried when they spoke of Downriggers, and how it has employed local people.  Someone asked, "How many people here have received some sort of donation from Downriggers, San Juan Safaris, Friday Harbor Marine Center, and San Juan Excursions - almost every hand in the room went up.

NOT A SINGLE PERSON spoke in favor of anything but rebuilding and getting the current businesses back in there.  I think the Port Commission got the message.  They also made it clear that they intend to move on this quickly... followed by the concerns of permitting, hiring architects, getting construction bids, considering all alternatives (??).

I think this was the first of many public hearings.  The public has spoken: they want things back the way they were, and as soon as possible.  The building is an eye-sore in one of the busiest ports in the state.  Whether the commission will carry out what the public wants is yet to be determined.

We'll see where this goes from here.

Tick, tick, tick...

12 days left on our contracts.  Joan and I have a day off together today, a real treat.  Some of our regular chores need to get done (laundry, taking Wild Blue to the pump out, etc.), but we had a relaxing breakfast out, then a leisurely walk to the "other" store, where they had a tent set up outside for all the great produce available here in the PNW.

The odds are pretty good that we will get a couple more days off before we are done, so we may actually be down to single digits for work days.  This boy has some itchy feet.

As we get close, the discussion turns to "what next?"  It is going to be warm if we head south right away.  There are forest fires around the western part of the US that we want to avoid (had more than our share of smokey smells, thanks).  Boat time on the water sounds better than slogging through the heat with a boat on land.  We'll have to see what Mother Nature has in store as departure time nears.

Joan asked me what I miss about home, and I said (in this order): "The scooters, the jacuzzi tub, and the Select Comfort mattress."  I am lobbying to take off again once we check out the house, this time with the RV.  We can haul the scoots, it has a Select Comfort, too... but no way to take the hot tub. 

In the words of the philosopher Meatloaf: "Two outta three ain't bad."

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tent City...

When I got back from today's trip (a beautiful day on the water, by the way), the Port was erecting tents for the building occupants...

Certainly better than a folding table out on the sidewalk.  We will be sharing a tent with another whale watch company... that shouldn't be confusing at all...

We will continue to keep our phone/internet set up inland at the boss's shop; and, a much nicer presence here on the waterfront.

There is a Port commissioners meeting tomorrow.  No idea if anything will be decided.  A lot has to be done before dismantling what is left of the building and reconstruction... if they decide to go that route.  There is a contingent lobbying to make it an "open space"... that would be a real loss to the community, considering how all the businesses in that burned out building contribute to the local economy.

Stay tuned - I'll post further info as it becomes available.

I mentioned in a earlier post that the full moon is tonight - and, it is a beautiful, clear evening...