Monday, June 30, 2014


Having our three days off each week is working out SO well.  We know that will go away by August, but the boss is hanging in there with us.  Today was the first of three.  We talked about taking the boat somewhere, but it has been a couple weeks since we have been able to take the scooters out for anything but running errands or commuting... and I have done less commuting compared to last year.

It was an absolutely glorious morning - clear blue sky.  By the time we walked uptown for breakfast, it was shirtsleeves temperature.  We ran into the boss on our way back to the boat - he asked how the "three days off thing" was working for us.

"Loving it!"

We grabbed jackets and a camera, put Izzy's lunch out early, and headed up the docks and stairs to the bikes.  Having the scoots here has made a real difference in our enjoyment.  We uncovered them, mounted up, and headed out.  Town is busy - plenty of people walking the streets.  By the time you get out of Friday Harbor, the hub-bub dwindles... and the roads on this island are perfect for cruising on two wheels.

We've run some of these roads already, but they are just as much fun the second (or third) time around.

We turned down the narrow two lane for the road Joan likes best: False Bay...

It is kinda hard to see in the photo above, but with the heavy woods and typical Pacific Northwest weather, this road actually has mossy spots on it.

Before getting to False Bay, we came across this sign...

I've been thinking about getting Izzy a pet... I wonder how she'd feel about a couple goats?  Second thought, that might get a bit smelly on the boat.  ;-)  The eggs are self-service - get what you want out of the cooler.

Running past the farm and pasture land...

With the occasional glimpse of water (above).  It's an island - you are never far from the water.  Look close in the photo above, and you can see the Olympic Mountains at the cloud line.

I like the street sign in the photo above: Frog Song Trail.

On to False Bay...

Kids playing in the tidal pools at low tide...

Yep, not much of a bay at low tide.  Pretty view looking out across Haro Strait and Juan de Fuca...

We have a Discovery Pass for both bikes (gets you into Washington State Parks), so we decided to make our way to Lime Kiln State Park (known by some as "Whale Watch Park").  Another pretty turn out, looking over Haro Strait...

Pretty views at each pull-out...

Apparently, someone didn't like the sign at the pull-out in the Westside Preserve - those are bullet holes (above).

Joan checking out the activity on the Strait with my monocular (like binoculars, but for one eye - easy to carry and hold with one hand)...

I got a phone call from our youngest captain, who is doing his first "solo" on the boat I usually drive...

"You've got this - now, make me proud."  ;-)

Lime Kiln State Park...

That calendar above keeps track of the days they see whales from Lime Kiln; well, it is also when they are detected on the hydrophone in the water there, if the whales pass by at night (but aren't seen).  As you can see, there are a number of "zeros" on that board (no whale sightings).  I'm probably a little biased, but the best way to see whales in this area is from a whale watch boat (we go where the whales are, and they are always on the move).  Another nice view...

We walked some of the trails in the park, and took an ice cream break.  From there, we went north to English Camp again.  Last time here, we didn't go down into the camp, just viewed from above.  We heard they had a scope set up to view an osprey nest, and decided to check it out...

Yep.  The youngster is BIG - must be about ready to fly.  No way to hook my camera to the scope, so you'll just have to imagine.

We were discussing the wind direction; Joan used her compass app to check it out...

It's OK, we are scooting, not anchoring.  ;-)  You can tell the wind direction from the flag...

Here's a closer view of the blockhouse in the photo above...

Good design: those little openings on the second story are for guns.  That level was set 45º off from the lower part of the structure, to allow the guns to be aimed at any direction.  If you read up on the Pig War, you know the guns weren't necessary.

I put my camera away after this stop, but we continued riding.  All over the island.  We found new roads to explore as well as our favorites.  Just a beautiful day; fun roads.  We did pass some rental mopeds a few times, and people on bicycles; but, not a lot of other traffic.  Yet.  People are showing up for this holiday week.  The island will be hopping from here on.

Timing and the best laid plans...

I had a late charter.  Usually our last trip goes out at 5:30, back to the dock around 8:30... ish.  Joan scheduled me a charter with a 6:00 departure.  These folks wanted to see whales: they are here from Texas for a soccer tournament in Seattle; they drove up to Anacortes and took the ferry over to get on our boat.  The Plan: get on the boat after the ferry arrives at 5:55, get the folks to the whales, have them back to the dock at 9:00 so they have a little time to look around Friday Harbor, in time to get on the 10:00 pm ferry heading back; and then make that drive from Anacortest back to Seattle; where they will arrive very late, then get up early to catch their flight back to Dallas.  Whew!

Pretty ambitious plan.

Insert your favorite "best laid plans" quote here.  The ferry was late.  Vessel Watch was showing they would arrive 25 minutes late.  Nothing for the first mate and I to do but cool our heels - the boat was prepped and ready to roll.  The inner-island ferry arrived before the ferry from Anacortes... they were there for quite a while.  Then I remembered, this would be the last day of operations for the ferry Evergreen State - she is now officially out of service.  Forever.

The Anacortes ferry couldn't pull in until the inner-island ferry moved off that landing and over to the other landing (yes, Friday Harbor has two "slips" for the ferries, but only one can accommodate vehicle loading.

So, that "25 minutes" turned into 40.  The first mate met the people before they got to our office and brought them down to the boat.  It seemed like a long slow walk down the dock, because they were stopping to take photos of each other along the way.

Not their fault that the ferry was late, but I was anxious to get out.  The boss doesn't want us doing night operations; understandable when you see all the logs and other debris in the waters here.  Plus, it is kinda hard to see whales in the dark.  ;-)

I did a brief safety orientation, told the first mate to finish up with any details as we were pulling out of the harbor, and we shoved off... 50 minutes behind schedule.  With a gray sky.  And the report that whales were moving away from us.  I wanted these folks to get to see some whales... and if I could get them to the whales, it would mean this first mate and I would have a perfect month: we have seen whales on every trip.  That would be a first for me.  But, it has been a really good whale season, so far.

I put the power to it as soon as we could, and headed north.  I was "working the currents" to get some extra speed; the timing was such that I could pick up an extra knot or two by going north, over the top of San Juan Island, then with the tide change, gain some speed going south.  We were going to need every minute we could gain.  I got a text from the boss, reminding me to be back before dark.  I had checked all our running lights and deck lights before this trip... just in case.

A look at the sky, running on the north side of San Juan Island...

Our other boat that departed before 5:30 was with the whales.  The only boat on scene, so we had some idea of where to go.  That's the good news; the not so good news: they were going to have to head out before we could get there, AND the whales were picking up speed, heading away from us.  I had a good idea of where to start looking.  Then another call on the radio: one of the Canadian whale watch boats was just about there... and would be there long enough to help mark the spot for us.  That's part of how our network works.  He reported that the whales seemed to be spreading out and weren't very active.

20 minutes later, we arrived on scene.  I saw several whales near shore and an impressive male slightly off-shore.  I went for the male (taller, more impressive dorsal fin) and I heard the group on the boat cheer when they first saw it.  Viewing this big guy for a bit, I turned towards the shore in time to see a female breach.  Then another.  Apparently, the whales decided to get more active!

All the while, I was looking at my watch, figuring how long it would take me to get back to our dock, and what routing would be the fastest.  The viewing was very good, but this is the only shot I had time for...

Yes, there is a whale out there.  That was with a wide angle setting.  Hey, I had my hands full.  When I figured we were at our absolute limit on time, I let the guests know this would be our last looks.  We departed at 7 knots, the maximum speed when within a half mile of the whales.  The whales had other plans: one came up in front of us.  I shut down.  The guests oooh'ed and ahhhhh'ed.

No way would we make it back before dark.  On the bright side, it was a beautiful sky...

And my favorite shot of the evening...

Heading south in Haro Strait.  You can see the wake - we were making some miles.  I ran south, and came up through Cattle Pass.  This is my 5th trip through Cattle Pass this week: one in thick fog, one in drizzly rain, one really lumpy, and one perfectly calm - tonight it was only a bit choppy.  My big concern was being able to see logs in the water with the diminishing light.

The last rays of the day as we headed north in San Juan Channel

By my calculations, we would arrive back at our dock at just in time for their 10:00 ferry departure.  On the way in, it was dark, but I could see they were loading cars on the well-lit ferry.  I called the ferry helm to make sure they'd still be loading walk-on passengers after the cars - yep.

We put the boat in our slip, thanked the guests (they were very appreciative of our efforts) and let them know to "not dally on your way to the ferry" (very close to our docks).  We needed our deck lights to be able to see to clean up the boat.

Happy guests, happy crew.  We have the next three days off, so it doesn't matter how late I get back to our boat.  My butt was dragging, my shoulders felt the strain of craning my neck to watch for stuff in the water as the light went away and the chill.  It's OK, I can sleep in.  And I have finished my first month with "no skunks" (saw whales every trip)... I think I'll stop keeping track now.  ;-)

Sunday, June 29, 2014

My Honey is good...

Not talking about the stuff bees make.

Joan usually has to go into work a lot earlier than I do; she generally opens the office on the days she works.  Most days, I don't have to go in until noonish, for afternoon trips.  I have a late charter this evening, so we won't see much of each other today.

I walked up to the store this morning to get her a donut ('cause she didn't have breakfast this morning).  She was training one of the new naturalists how the front desk operates.  While I was there, a young woman came in and said, "I'm here to check in for my trip today."  When Joan asked her name, the woman curtly told her and added, "a party of three."

Joan is very organized.  She has boarding passes ready for the day.  At a glance, she can see the names, number in the party, and which boat they're on.  Joan nicely said, "I don't see that name on our passenger list.  Would it be under a different name, or perhaps with a different company?"

The woman snidely said, "I think I know where I scheduled my trip."

Joan then very politely explained to the woman that there are several companies with similar sounding names, and added, "We'd love to have you ride with us today."

The woman pulled her phone out and said, "It is with you people.  I have it right here..." then paused while she realized she had made a mistake.  "I'll have to check into this further."

Joan nicely told her, "If we can direct you or help in any way, please let me know."

I saw the astonished look on the trainee's face.  Joan told her, "That happens almost every day.  The company names sound similar, and the place next door to us frequently doesn't have anyone there to man that office - just a sign on the door telling people to walk up the street to another office.  Sometimes people take it out on us because the other company doesn't staff their waterfront office.  You just have to be friendly and try to help them."

Joan is good.  Oh, and I did see that woman show her phone to the people she was with, then go into a different place.  The other company picked a name that sounds like ours, and made a logo that looks very similar to ours.  I understand the occasional confusion.  I don't understand the snide.  Joan takes it all in stride; she is a very good representative for this company.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Never the same thing twice...

Definitely, the best thing about this job: it is never the same trip twice.  Even if there are two trips the same day.

This morning, when I checked around 11:00, there were no whale reports.  I would really like to see whales today and tomorrow... well, OK every day I'm out there.  But, that would make it all of June without getting skunked (not seeing whales).  I almost regret writing that - don't want to upset karma.

Today, one large family group had chartered the boat.  Nice people.  Fun.  Maybe a bit boisterous, since I had to settle them down to get through the safety talk.  I knew my 1st mate/naturalist would have her hands full... the people wanted to talk amongst themselves, not listen to a naturalist.  I told her to "kick back - don't try to teach them stuff they don't want to learn.  When we get to the whales, they will be interested in some of what you have to say.  But, it's their boat, and if they want to chit-chat, that's what they get to do."

When I checked on them, they were having fun.  They were excited to see the whales... well, before we got to the whales, they thought everything was a whale... "No, that's a log.  That?  That is a seal."  I just had to chuckle.

We got to see most of J-Pod and a couple of L-Pod.  The whales were moving at a pretty good clip, so we had to move along with them.  We took the scenic route on the way home.  The day had started out gray with an occasional spit of rain, but turned out to be partly sunny by the time we were heading back.  The guests were delighted with the trip.  Me, too.

I had to work the helm the whole time, to keep the boat in the best position for their viewing, so I didn't have time to get any whale photos.  Fortunately, the water was nearly calm, making for a great ride (and nobody yakking).  There was a collective groan from the guests when they saw a big private yacht run right up on the whales... I guess they did learn some things today, since they showed their appreciation for respectful wildlife viewing.

The only photo I took, on the way back to the harbor...

Pretty water, bits of blue in the sky.  Nice day.

Friday, June 27, 2014

You ever have something strike you funny that others don't get?

Yeah, me, too.

Of course, the Blonde often thinks I am a half-bubble off level.

We picked up a couple nice looking steaks at "the other" grocery store on Wednesday.  Joan has had them marinating since then.  We were going to have them for supper last night, but she wound up with some things that came up around closing time and didn't get home (to the boat) until just after 7:00.  Neither of us felt like cooking or cleaning.

This morning, I asked about the steaks.  She said, "Let's plan for making the steaks tonight... unless I get away late again, and then we'll have hot dogs."

Writing that, it doesn't look as funny as it sounded... steaks, if there's time, hot dogs if not.  For some reason, it really cracked me up.  Quite a difference.

We are 1/3 of the way through our time here.  It must be getting to me.  ;-)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mine is a glamorous job...

Some people think so.  A swaggering captain; running someone else's boat; not having to pay for the fuel when you put a couple hundred gallons on; out watching the whales.  OK, other than the "swaggering" part, that stuff is true.

Then, there is the other side: you go, even if the weather is less than ideal (fog, wind, waves, rain) - oh, sure, we would call a trip if the weather was too bad... haven't seen that, yet, here.  But, there are days when you'd look outside, and if you were running your own boat, you'd say, "Nahhh, I don't think so."  On your own boat, you decide where you want to go... I pretty much go where the whales are... and sometimes where they "aren't" (I've been fortunate so far this season).  You have a diverse bunch of people on the boat, all with expectations - and it's your job to meet those expectations.

I prep the boat.  I work on the boat.  I am responsible for those people on the boat, so I want everything working like it should.  I have 1st mates who clean, but I am responsible for what goes on with the boat, so if there is ugly, unpleasant, or dangerous cleaning work, I do that.

I had good whale reports today.  That's the good news.  The not-so-good news: pretty lumpy conditions where the whales were reported.  We had two young kids (6 and 12) on the boat today... kids eat some awful food, and seem to be the most prone to sea-sickness when conditions get rough.

I think you know where I am going with this.

I had a wonderful 1st mate on the boat today: she is hard working, smart, and a quick learner.  I did tell her (and she already knew): "If someone doesn't feel well, if they go into the head compartment, they WILL get worse.  It won't be pretty."

Of course, the 6 year old told the 1st mate she "had to pee."  And by "had to pee," she meant: projectile vomiting.  In a relatively small, enclosed compartment.

I was at the helm, trying to position the boat so the people could view the whales and still make the ride as comfortable as possible.  The whales thought it would be funny to run with the waves on their beam.  Yes, that mean we were talking that rolling chop on our beam.  I did my best to keep turning the boat into the bigger waves, but then I had to come back to line up with the whales again.  I had no idea what was going on with the yakking child.  Oh, and her brother was yakking over the side of the boat.  At least that is easy to hose off.

I found out about all this when the 1st mate came to the helm, looking green herself.  "What's going on?" I asked.  She told me about the kids.  And then told me, "I cleaned up as much of it as I could, but then I started getting sick."

I let her sit for a minute, then had her take the helm (staying busy helps with mal-de-mer). I gave her some wrist bands to put on the kids (oh, and they never gave them back).  Then told her, "If this happens again, we close the head for the rest of the trip.  Better to clean it when we get back to the dock."  Then I told her, "You are the toughest 1st mate I have worked with - I am VERY impressed."

I went down and visited with the guests.  Except the two kids, most of them looked OK.  They were enjoying the whale viewing.  I let them know that "this will be our last looks," then went back to the helm and put the bow into the waves and headed for smoother water.  We looked at seals and eagles.  I checked on them again - even the kids were fine.  Plenty of smiles.

At the end of the trip, people were very gracious - they had a great viewing, even if the conditions were a bit lumpy (first time this season for me - and that is pretty amazing).  The 1st mate and I put on rubber gloves and thoroughly cleaned the walls and floor of the head compartment.  Yes, a very glamorous job, indeed.

No photos.  Trust me, that is better this time.  ;-)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Return: whales, fog, and "Papers? Do you have your papers?"...

Our time in Victoria passed quickly.  This morning, we cleaned up, had breakfast, checked the weather forecast, and shoved off.  The views heading out of Victoria's Inner Harbour...

It was a lovely morning; 59º when we got up.  Sunshine.  The forecast stated, "Fog in some areas."  Seems like the last few times we've come back from Victoria, we have run into fog across Haro Strait.  Our timing was good to run with the tide/current, and there weren't much in the way of wind waves.  Out of the harbour, we turned east in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  Yep, there is some fog ahead...

Passing Trial Island, the water lumped up a bit.  Nothing like the way over.  Coming by Discovery Island... "Whales ho!"  Since Joan is in the office all the time she is working, she doesn't get to see the whales; I deviated from our route to check out our friends from J and L-Pod...

I asked Joan if she wanted to drive or shoot - she took the camera.

For Mark J.: check it out - a t-shirt.  Love the enclosed, protected helm.

A very nice viewing.  We turned off from the whales and pointed Wild Blue east.  The water smoothed out, but the fog rolled in...

Visibility dropped to less than 100' across most of Haro Strait.  A weather alert came across Channel 16 for "greatly reduced visibility in fog for parts of Puget Sound."  I guess this was one of those parts.  The radar did its job, allowing us to avoid the sparse traffic we came across.

As we neared Cattle Pass, it started to lift - a little at first...

Once through Cattle Pass, the fog really began to lift.  From this...

to this, in about a minute's worth of travel...

It was clear the rest of the way into Friday Harbor (spelled in American, again ;-) ).  Before going to our slip, we had to clear Customs.  The Customs officer was on the dock... he asked if we were clearing as we approached the dock.  "Yes."  I was thinking: this will go fast, since he is right here.

I was wrong.

He checked our passports.  Thoroughly looked over the boat's registration.  Asked me a bunch of questions.  Needed to see my drivers license.  Had us both remove our sunglasses so he could see that it was really us.  I said, "Your name is _______, isn't it?"

"Yes.  How do you know that?"

"Well, you have checked us in every time we have come back from Canada, and we are spending the summer in Friday Harbor - I see you on the dock about every other day."

"I see a lot of people on the dock," he said.  Then, "Miss Joan, you stay with the boat.  I'll need you to come with me."

"Where are we going?" I asked.

"This way."

"To your office?  You have always checked us in here at the shack.  What's up?"

"I am by myself right now, so we have to go to the office."

Along the way, he continued to ask me questions, often phrasing the same question in different ways.  Several times, he asked if we bought anything in Canada..."Only food that we ate at various restaurants.  No other purchases."

Then he said, "Can you prove you didn't make any purchases?"

I asked, "Are you kidding?"  We continued walking.  "Slow down, big fella," I said, "your legs are a lot longer than mine."

"What is your home port?"

"Spearfish, South Dakota."

"I thought you said you are from Friday Harbor?"

"You are mistaken.  South Dakota.  Same as the boat registration.  And my passport.  And my drivers license.  We are currently staying in Friday Harbor.  For the summer.  Like I told you before."

He said, "I am not familiar with Spearfish - what is it near?"

"Rapid City - in the Black Hills."

"Have you ever been to Custer State Park?"

"Many times.  Great motorcycle riding there.  No passport necessary.  Just kidding."

"We take our work very serious."

"I can see that."

We finally made it to the office.  He put my passport number into his computer, looked at the boat registration again, back at the passport, then said, "This all checks out."

"I guess I'm the only one not surprised about that."

Then, the long walk back to the boat, where I got to answer more questions... "What took you so long?  You weren't a smart ass, were you? ..."

"Don't ask."

We pulled Wild Blue around to her slip.  Along the way, we saw a bald eagle in the trees...

Interesting trip back.  And now on with the "stuff after vacation"... laundry, getting the boat cleaned up and set up for livin' instead of traveling.  Little Izzy sat at the aft dinette seat all the way across.  She wanted to know why I was late getting her lunch ready.

"Don't ask."