Sunday, August 31, 2014

Th-Th-Th-Th-Th-... That's all, folks!

I wanted to go out with a bang... but more than that: I didn't want to go out with a whimper.

No whale reports this morning.  By the time I went in to work, there was a report of transients... way north.  As in: it would be, at least, a 5 hour trip; not allowing much time on the transients.  Past experience tells me that is more time than most people care to do.  Joan let me know that there were some on my boat who weren't going to be up for a long, or lumpy, trip.

There was a report of a Minke whale in the vicinity of Hein Bank.  A couple humpbacks too far west, moving further west.  Looks like my last day will be a Minke hunt.

Minke whales need to have better PR - they don't get the respect the Orcas hold.  Maybe it's because they have small dorsal fins on their long bodies?  They don't have BIG dorsal fins on the beefy bodies like the Orcas.  They don't spend much time at the surface.  They are mostly solitary.  They are baleen whales: they eat little sea critters without dramatic "kills" at the surface; they don't play with their food.  There is no Minke named Shamoo and a gazillion stuffed animal look-alikes.

They are the Rodney Dangerfield of the whale world.

Today, they were pretty much the only game in town.  I understand that the guests want to see Orcas.  From my perspective, Minkes are harder to find, and tougher to predict.  And, they are fast.  Think: torpedo.

As it turns out, it was Minke-palooza this afternoon!  We were watching 3 reasonably active Minkes... two that were surfacing together on occasion.  We even saw a couple fine examples of lunge-feeding.  This was one of the better Minke viewings I have seen.  And, did I mention: they are whales?

We had to go to Middle Bank to get this show.  On non-Orca days, the boat crew has to work harder, and (as you might imagine) the guests are generally less enthralled.  So, it wasn't going out with a bang... nor a whimper.  It was a good day on the water.

And our last work day.

OK, there is plenty of work to do before we leave the area (mostly moving out of, and deep cleaning, the boat); repacking everything for the road.

I said my good-byes to most of my first mates and naturalists.  Joan and I went out for a real grown-up, sit-down meal to celebrate the end of our work season.

It's all good.  (Defined by the Urban Dictionary as: nothing is bad)  Let the next chapter begin.


No, this isn't like a "throwback Thursday"...

Today is our last day of work.  Probably not a surprise to anyone who has even glanced at this blog in the past month or so.  I must have had work on my mind when I went to bed last night... I woke up in the middle of the night, from a dream where I was working on a VCNA.

"What's that?" you ask.  Thanks for asking.  In our former lives, we were in the photography business; a VCNA is a Video Color Negative Analyzer.  Every image we made back in the film days ran through the analyzer: step on the foot pedal, the image would come up on a video screen; make adjustments for density and color, let off the foot pedal, expose the print, the paper would advance (300' rolls of photo paper loaded inside the machine); advance to the next negative and do it all again.  Over and over.  Occasionally, the machine would need to be recalibrated - a tedious task where you'd have to make adjustments to the potentiometers that controlled each color... then make a series of test prints... then, usually have to make a finer adjustment, and do it all over again.

It gives me cold sweats just thinking about it.  Clients never saw that part of our business.  It was the work behind the scenes that had to happen every day in order for clients to get their images.  Most businesses have work like this that has to be done in order to turn out their finished product or service.

It is like that in the whale watch business, too.  There is a lot of work that gets done before guests pick up their boarding passes.  Like most businesses, if the phone doesn't ring, nothing else happens.  Joan and the rest of the desk staff help guests plan their trips here.  You don't just casually drive by the San Juan Islands - you have to take the Washington State Ferry (an hour and 10 minute ride) or fly in by seaplane or "on wheels" (into the airport), unless you have your own boat.  We set our departure times around the ferry schedules.  It takes some effort to get here.

Boat crews arrive an hour or more before departure time - all the safety checks, engine prep, cleaning, and planning needs to be done before the guests are brought down the docks to our boats.  Planning?  I've often compared getting to the whales (IF there are whales) to playing chess.  We look at weather, check the hourly tide/current predictions.  If we are fortunate to have a whale report (from boat(s) who are already on the scene), we learn the direction and speed the whales are moving.  The whales don't have a schedule... they could be milling around one minute, then take off at speed the next... then change direction... then split up and go different directions.

Many people think the whales are in one spot, frolicking around, waiting for people to come look at them... "Oh, look!  Here come the boats!  You do a tail-lob, I'll do a spy-hop.  Let's wait 'till they get closer, then we'll swim up next to the boats and wave at them with our pectoral fins."

Yeah, it isn't anything like that.  These magnificent animals are wild; they are on a constant hunt for food.  They can (and do) swim 70 to 100 miles per day in that search.  They are very family oriented - as much, or more so, than human families.  They go where they decide to go, based on where their food is.  It is never the same thing two days in a row.

There is plenty of planning for the boat crews, and that "plan" is always in flux.  We all work hard to make sure the guest has a good experience... not just "There's the whales - look at 'em."  Our naturalists are degreed biologists - they explain the behavior the whales are exhibiting, identify what whales we are viewing, and answer questions the guests may have... like: "How do whales sleep?"... "When are they going to breach?"... "How do you know which one is which?"... "If they are residents, where do they live?"... "What time do they eat?" (Really??  Did you read the previous paragraph?)... "Are there transmitters on the whales, telling you where they are?"... "Why do they do that?" (tail-lob)... "Why do they do that?" (spy-hop)...

Our naturalists are patient, and passionate about their work.

The boat captains do more than just drive the boat.  Our foremost concern is the safety of those on our boats.  This may seem like a "pleasure cruise," but these waters can be tough.  There is a reason we train crew for all kinds of situations.  When we get in the vicinity of the whales, we have to know and abide by all the federal and state laws.  We position our boats so guests have the best view... often working around and with other boats doing the same.  We consider the direction of light so guests can get the best photographs.  We are always on a schedule, knowing that some guests have to meet flight and ferry departure times.  We may have another trip scheduled after this one.  We have to deal with private boaters who don't "play by the rules."  On days where the whales aren't around, we go in search of them, and still do our best to give the guests a good wildlife experience.  We are always looking out for "viewing opportunities."  And dodging logs and other debris in the water.  Wind, waves, fog, rain, and whatever else Mother Nature tosses our way.  Knowing that people are expecting "a three hour tour" to take exactly three hours... when the whales are an hour an 40 miles away from us... and we still have to come back that same distance after seeing them.  After a long day on the water, we come back into the harbor with the setting sun in our eyes, making sure we dodge the crab pots that some boaters put in the fairways just outside the harbor. 

Yesterday after work, while walking back to our boat, a woman noticed the logo on my shirt and cap... "Do you work for a whale watch company?"

"Yes, ma'am."  (I was expecting the "Where are the whales?" question that we get endlessly from private boaters.)

She said, "That must be a great job."

Contemplating one last day, I said, "Yes, it is."

Then came the usual questions.  My feet were tired (I had been standing at the helm most of the trip); I had my pack full of stuff on my back.  The sun finally squeeked out, and I was wearing a turtleneck under my polo... I could feel the sweat building.  My bladder was telling me it was time to go.

"No, the whales aren't just in one place... no, we don't have 'a route' that we travel... yes, they are wild animals and they do keep moving all the time..."

It is a very interesting job.  Viewing the whales never gets old; but, I don't get a lot of time to sit back and enjoy the view - I am constantly evaluating the distance, watching for other boats, positioning our viewing area on the boat for the guests, keeping track of time, checking the engine gauges, coordinating on the radio with other boats, checking on the guests to make sure they are doing fine, deciding what route to take back to Friday Harbor (considering current, weather, timing, and viewing opportunities).  I appreciate the challenge.

On this last day, I am ready to not be on a schedule.  Well, after today.  I would like to end the season with some great viewing, but no matter how it plays out, it has been an outstanding season for whale watching opportunities.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

One day to go...

Next to the last day today - it was chilly... I had to wear my flannel-lined pants.  Overcast and rain this morning, but it dried up before my trip today.  Still, I took my raingear - if I take it, it won't rain.  Well, that's what I'm going with.

I had a good whale report before boarding the guests.  Oh, there was some north/south stuff on their part, but I knew we could get to them.  I expected a bunch of boats to be on the whales today, but on my way down San Juan Channel, I got a report of transients by the Chain Islets (near Discovery Island, off Vancouver Island) - that would take care of the Victoria boats (cutting the number by half).

When we got to the whales, it was some of J and K Pod - they were spread out over several miles.  We were one of two boats on a group of three, and the other boat didn't stay for long.  There were a couple private boats that came and went, but we had these whales mostly to ourselves...

There was plenty of surface activity.  Another day with nearly calm water... my back is still sore from the other day, when it wasn't so calm.  Nice weather, cooperative whales.

One more day to go.  What are the odds...??


Friday, August 29, 2014

Easy day and friends from home...

It was a delightfully easy day on the whale watch boat today.  The resident Orcas were reasonably close.  The weather looked iffy: solid overcast, but the rain came this morning, not during our chartered trip.  And the sea conditions were... wonderful!  I had a report that conditions were "a one foot roll"... when we got to where the whales were, it was nearly calm.  Quite a change from yesterday.

An extended family group chartered the boat today; their goal: "We want to see Orcas!"

It was a pleasure to tell them that we had good reports - they were excited!

On the scene, we had some fine viewing of K-Pod...

Coming back in from the whales, we saw a bunch more wildlife: first, a Minke whale.  Then, a couple Dahl's Porpoise (only the second time I've seen them this season).  The Stellar Sea Lions were in fine form...

A short run from Whale Rocks, and we saw a bald eagle.  VERY nice viewing today!

And the water was SO pleasant...

We fueled the boat and got her cleaned and put away.  When I walked up to the office... my buddy Herb was standing there!  I haven't seen Herb and Wilma since we left Texas.  They were able to get a slip for tonight (not easy to come by on a holiday weekend); I walked down to the dock to catch a line for them while they moved off the breakwater dock.

When Joan got off work, we walked back to Willie's Tug (Herb and Wilma's new Ranger Tug) for a tour and some catching up...

Herb and Joan sitting on one of their cool fold-out seats in the cockpit...

A nice way to cap off the day!

Going out with a splash...

Well, it may be that my shoes are sloshing.

Three work days left (a holiday weekend).  I think Mother Nature may be trying to tell me something.  It has been a glorious summer, weather-wise and for whale watching.  The weather weasels can give us a semi-sometimes-accurate forecast for the weather conditions, but the whales are totally unpredictable.  As it turned out yesterday, the unpredictable whales led me to make the decision to head north... and though we had some snotty wave conditions, it sounds like it was worse to the south.

The forecast for the next 3 days: cooler with a 30-40% chance of rain.  After we leave, it warms up and the sun comes back.

The forecast I'd like to see: 99% chance of whales, with a strong likelihood of breaches and spy-hops. ;-)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Rockin' and a rollin'...

Good whale reports today: residents to the south, transients to the north.  Reports on the sea conditions weren't so favorable: 2 to 3 foot and building.

Decisions... go south, where the conditions are getting lumpier, but the whales are closer.  OR, go north, where the conditions aren't as bad, but you have to go further.  I could almost be a politician - I put off a decision until I was heading out of the harbor.

The whales to the south were moving north... the whales to the north were moving south.  Conditions to the south were getting lumpier still, but the tide would be changing soon.  I assumed the flood tide would move the southern whales faster north.  Yeah, we're going north.

Like that proverbial chess game, except each group of whales was playing checkers or Parcheesi... but they sure as heck weren't being predictable.  The southern group turned back south on the flood tide.  Really??  The transients to the north split up - half went north and half went south.  The group of transients going south were going to be our best bet.  Conditions where we would find them were reported to be 2 foot waves and building.  I heard boats further south reporting even snottier conditions... and that's what would be heading our way.

I checked on the guests, let them know that the conditions would be "sporting"... that's my euphemism for "hope you can all keep your lunch down."  They seemed excited.  Riiiiiiight!

As we neared the whales, I could see the waves ahead of us building... "2 foot," my ass... definite 3's and more.  The flybridge on this boat puts high over the water... think about what a metronome looks like: the boat is the bottom of that, and I am sitting on the part that swings back and forth.

A cheer from the group on the boat rang out as the whales surfaced in a good group formation.  I almost let out a cheer, because they were moving almost into the waves... it is VERY uncomfortable to be in rough conditions when the waves are on the beam.  3 foot built to 4... 4 foot built to 5.  I asked the first mate to let me know how the guests were doing: "They're having fun!  Wow, it sure isn't fun up here!"

I braced for the first time we came down a steep wave and buried the bow... up to the bow rail!  Another cheer from the group on the boat!  Damn, these people are champs!  Another group surfacing with the whales, and another bow stuff - I was keeping just enough forward speed to maintain steerage so we didn't broach between the waves.  I asked the first mate if we were taking any water over the coaming... "Yes, but it is going out as fast as it comes in - and they're still having fun and enjoying the whales."  (The boat has large scuppers across the stern.)

And then, almost as fast as it built, the waves started to diminish!  Three foot waves, normally something I try to avoid with this boat, were easily manageable.  Another couple minutes and it was down to 2 foot... this was almost easy (by comparison).

And there were whales.  And happy guests.

No, I don't have any photos.  I had one hand on the wheel and the other on the shifter and throttle.  Both feet widely braced.  In the past, I have described conditions like that as: being strapped to a mechanical bull for 3 hours.  That's not really accurate... there is no "strap" - you have to hold on tight!

We stayed with the whales for almost an hour.  Then, we ran through Mosquito Pass, and by Roche Harbor.  There was a HUGE yacht anchored out... with a helicopter on the aft deck.  If we are playing "Who Has The Biggest Yacht?" game, this guy wins.  From my high vantage point on the flybridge, I still had to look up to see the lowest portholes in their hull.  Yeah, HUGE.

We looked at other wildlife on the way back to Friday Harbor.  I came down from the helm and got a round of applause.  One guy asked me, "When do you decide to call it quits with the waves and weather?"

"I go by what the guests can handle.  I've turned around to find calmer conditions in waves that weren't as rough as today.  You folks are great!"

Everyone was smiling.  Yep, another good (but lumpy) day on the water.

First day of school...

No, I'm not going back to school.  As a proud graduate of the 4th grade (3 of the toughest years I ever spent, by the way), I think I reached my educational potential a long time ago.  ;-)

Today is the first day of school in Friday Harbor.  Not a big deal, but it does mark the local feeling that another summer season is done.  Don't tell that to our desk staff (including the Blonde) as they continue to fill seats on boats.  This has been a very busy season in Friday Harbor.

I walked uptown for a breakfast sandwich this morning, and didn't see much difference in the number of people on the streets.  School starting does slow down family travel, but there are a lot of us who prefer to travel during the "shoulder seasons".

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Not our family.  Well, the staff here is kinda like family.

Today, we had naturalist Sarah's family on our boat.  Sarah is a great first mate and naturalist - meeting her family, it is easy to see where she comes by that good attitude and friendly manner.  It is great to see family come visit the staff here - a lot of them are a long ways from home... nice to see them excited about bringing their family on the boats.

There is a bond with the boat crew.  Once we push away from the dock, we have to know that we can count on each other.  It is a lot of responsibility for the crew.  This is a good bunch.

Four days to go.


One thing I won't miss here: laundry.  Oh, laundry needs to be done, and Joan praises the marina laundromat - they do keep it clean and in repair.  BUT... $4 a load to wash and about the same to dry.  Yeah, I know: it's an island.

The laundromat in town closed this year.  Didn't matter to us, because the one at the marina is close and the prices are the same... but that means all the townfolk who don't have a washer and dryer are coming here, as well.  Joan usually gets up early on a day off to get it done.  This morning, we were the only ones in there at 6:45.

Speaking of which, this is her last day off before becoming gainfully unemployed.

I took a camera along, planning to get a few marina morning photos... dead batteries.  Joan lent me her iPhone for this one...

I am scheduled for an afternoon trip.  5 work days left.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

That's a nice boat...

Our friend Don (from Knotty-C) came by late this afternoon.  Joan was taking a nap, so he and I found some shade and visited for a while.  Wasn't long before our friend Sam joined us... then invited us to tour his Nordic Tug 37.  He took us back to where it is docked in his dinghy... gave us the VIP tour.  What a gorgeous boat!  Sam is an interesting young man - it has been a delight to get to know him better.

The boat...

That's a real nice boat!

It was a great "guy visit" with Sam and Don.  Eventually, Don had to head out to an anchorage, so Sam gave us a lift back to the Friday Harbor docks and we all said our good-byes.

Starting to wrap up this chapter.

We didn't know what was wrong... so we took a break.

Yes, they really said that.

Another beautiful day off.  My last day off until we are gainfully unemployed again.  The Blonde gets tomorrow off.  We lounged in the cockpit this morning, enjoying what we like best about boating... I think our next boat will just be a cockpit... pointed towards the sunrise or the sunset.  ;-)

After breakfast and cleaning up, we decided to take what will probably be our last fun day of scooting on San Juan Island (at least for quite a while).  No, I'm not going to say things like: "This is the last time we will go to the grocery store here," or "This is the last time that I will walk uptown to buy Salted Nut Rolls from Ace Hardware here," or other stuff like that.  Probably.

I left my camera in the under-seat storage area on the scoot, intentionally.  I figure we've all seen these scoots on the road... lots of roads.  We had a blast, tearing around the island.  On a particularly good curvy road, we'd get to the end of it, look at each other, and say, "Let's do that one again!"

We stopped for lunch at Roche Harbor, sat outside, and enjoyed the marina views.  And the food.  Joan had a stacked up Cubano sandwich, and I had a prime rib open face, that was an actual piece of prime rib.  Yeah, this will probably be the la... nevermind.

Back on the scoots.  Joan turned off on a road we haven't been on before - yeah, we better go check it out.  Lots of curves, no traffic.  Then we came across something unusual...

Yeah, I got the camera out.  It's an old car with a tree growing up through the middle of it.  You don't see that every day.

Well, since I have the camera out...

This looks like a good place to go...

There are a lot of little lakes scattered all around this island.  This is the only mention of bacon... and, as we all know, everything is better with bacon.  ;-)

Back to Friday Harbor, and looking for a late afternoon trip to the pump-out.  We got over there, put on our rubber gloves, ran clear water into the holding tank, pressed the button to pump-out... and nothing.  No beeping, no suction... nothing.  We looked for a breaker of some sort all around the pump-out post... nothing.  Joan pressed the button... nothing.  I pressed the button again... more nothing.  It's like 5 people walking up to the elevator, and each one of them feels the need to press the button... well, except the elevator usually works... really, we got nothing.

I called the Port on the VHF radio and explained the situation to the young lady.  She proceeded to tell me how to use the pump-out.  "Yeah... we know how to run the pump-out.  It is NOT working.  No beeping, no suction."

She said, "Let me get right back to you."  A few minutes later, she did: "Maintenance is aware of the problem and will be there in 10 minutes."

We waited 15 minutes, then the kid driving the pump-out boat went by.  I followed him to their parking spot, thinking he might be able to pump us out.  Nope - you have to let them know a day ahead of time.  "Well, if the Port had informed me a day ahead of time that the pump-out wouldn't be working today, I would have called."

He said, "Looks like they have the pump motor apart - I'm sure they know about this."

"Thanks for your help."  And by that, I meant: thanks for nothing.

About that time, our friend Sam came by, and we visited for another 10 or 15 minutes.  Sam is a good guy - he didn't press the green button to see if it would work.

Then, Joan saw the maintenance guys walk by at the end of the dock.  I went down there and asked if the pump-out would be functioning soon.  One of the guys said, "We didn't know what was wrong with it, so we took a break."

"No shit, Shakespeare?"  No, I didn't really say that.  But, I thought it.  So about 30 minutes after being told they would be here in 10 minutes, there was still no resolution.  Oh, they did press the button again.  Nothing.  He said, "Maybe it has air in it?"

I said, "I think you would still hear some suction."

He pressed the button again.  More nothing.  45 minutes after we arrived here, we decided to cut our losses and go back to our dock.  We'll try again tomorrow.

We rinsed off the boat, hooked power up, fired up the satellite TV... Joan thought a nap was in order.  I think I'll go to the cockpit... 'cause I really like the cockpit.

I have often said, "Never judge a day by the weather."  It is a beautiful day - downright warm again.  Feel free to judge a day by the pump-out station... you know that's something you never see on a dish towel.  ;-)  Doesn't matter - this may have been the most fun day of scooting, and that DOES matter.

Did I mention that this will probably be our last day of scoo... yeah, I bet I did.

Do you need a ride home?

We had dinner with our friends Bill and Colleen last night.  (former owners of the whale watch company where we work)  They have graciously invited us into their home many times this summer.  Colleen cooks, Bill makes smart ass comments about the cooking, the three of them drink wine, and we all enjoy the spirited conversation.  There are some people you can just be very open with, and we have that with them.

We drove a scooter to their place last night.  Yes, that was singular.  As in: Joan rode behind me.  If all you've ever done is ride as a passenger, you don't know the "downgrade" in sitting behind.  Surprisingly, the PCX handles the two of us just fine.  Oh, the passenger complained about the accommodations, but she is used to her own bike.  There are some steep hills to climb to get out of Friday Harbor, and "Little Red" ran right up them like a champ.

I mentioned "the three of them drank wine"... we have a hard/fast rule: we don't drink and ride.  Not even a little.  Our friends wanted to know why we came to their house on the scooter?  (We usually take the truck)  We generally bring dessert, wine, and soda (for those of us who don't drink wine), and Joan doesn't have to fuss with "helmet hair" when we take the truck.

I have a great parking spot with our truck: close to the motorcycle/scooter parking, so I can put the covers in the truck and grab a jacket out of there.  Very handy.  There is a sign post right at the front of the parking spot, so the vehicle on the other side can't whack into you.  The truck is our "resupply vessel" - it is a close parking spot.  Move it, you lose it.  I ain't moving it - not until we're ready to leave this island.  THIS is part of the reason we brought the scooters... well, that and the fact that they are a blast!

So, that's how we wound up at our friends' place on one scooter.  Hey, if you look at the Honda website, it shows several photos of a couple on the PCX... of course, they are young, skinny people... add 'em both together and I probably still have 'em by a pound or twelve.  But, I digress - when it was time for us to leave, Bill and Colleen came out to give us a hug good-bye... and Bill asked, "Do you want me to drive you home?"  Colleen asked, "Are you sure you're going to be OK on that... that... that?"

Apparently, they thought our scooter was afraid of the dark.  ;-)  The PCX brought us home just fine.  The headlight does a fine job (we rarely ride at night, though).  I could see that deer on the side of the road just fine... standing like a (cliche') deer-in-the-headlights.

Is it more fun to ride one-up?  Well, there is a short "butt-stop" on the seat that divides the rider's part from the passenger... and the rider definitely gets more seat real estate.  The passenger has to hold on, with a bag strapped on her shoulder, and doesn't get to twist the throttle when she wants.  Pretty sure Joan would say it is more fun to ride one-up.  I kinda liked the snuggling, even if it was forced.  ;-)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Not many more of these...

When I asked Joan what she wanted to do today, she said, "Let's walk up to the store, stop for lunch at the Chinese restaurant, and get out on the scooters."

"So, you're saying you have a plan?"  ;-)

It was still when we walked up to the scooters - made us both put off wearing jackets (but, we brought 'em)...

We talked about what roads we wanted to ride... we may get another day of riding in before we start packing up.  I have to say, the roads on San Juan Island, and the whole area, have been some of the most fun we've had since we bought the scooters... lots of fun riding options.

Today, I decided to try something different, photographically: I put a telephoto zoom on the DSLR.  Normally, I use a wide angle zoom or the GoPro (which is really wide angle).  The wide views expand what you see, the tele compresses the perspective.  I knew it would be harder to get the subject framed right with the longer lens (shooting without looking through the viewfinder), as well as camera-shake from hand-holding (with one hand) the camera.

I was pleasantly surprised...

Yeah, I am liking the perspective...

Last week, the island was hopping - LOTS of people.  This week, the roads seemed less populated.  We rode some of our favorite roads twice! 

Another beautiful day...

Monday, Monday...

If you said, "The Mommas and the Papas," you win 50 bonus points.

Seems like most folks dread Mondays.  I like 'em!  This season, we have had regular days off (and a relatively regular work schedule) - it has made it easy to plan our free time.  Our "weekend" is Monday and Tuesday... so we are off when the rest of the world goes back to work.

Our last scheduled day is September 1st... a Monday.  :-)  So, I think we will actually be done next Sunday.

I have groused a bit about working.  It isn't the work so much as being on someone else's schedule.  I may have said something about the "August people."  ;-)  Truth be told, those people would likely be the same in June.  LOL

This particular job isn't something to do for a season, then move on to something else.  It takes most of the first season to "learn the ropes."  Besides learning new boats, there are all the regulations: distances not only from the whales, but from different shorelines.  It takes a while to understand the animal behavior... oh, you can read about it, even see it casually on your own... but to have consistently successful trips, there is constant learning.

When we first saw Orcas years ago, I thought they were "cool"... like BIG versions of our bottlenose dolphins in the Tropical Tip.  Sure, there are similarities, but seeing these animals almost daily means you get to see how certain individuals behave.  You appreciate the distances they cover daily, in the constant search for food.  You learn what effect the toxins in the water have had on them.  But, more than anything else, you see the family relationships, the incredibly strong bond these animals have with each other.

As our time gets short here, that is what I take away this time.

The area is absolutely gorgeous, water and land.  Being immersed in it, in all kinds of weather, is special.  I don't get to say, "It's a crappy day, I think I'll crawl back into the V-berth."

I enjoy being able to share all this with our guests.

Yes, I have said, "This is what Joan wants to do," but is has been a joint decision.  We have cruised these waters on Wild Blue.  It isn't even remotely the same.  Both experiences are special.

And, we have Monday off!  ;-)

Oh what a beautiful morning...

It is the first of our days off.  We slept in this morning... it was after 6:00 when I first stirred.  I looked outside - clear skies, with the sun just beginning to peek over Brown Island (it has moved further to the south in the last few weeks).  No fog; a refreshing change.

I took a leisurely shower and set up chairs in the cockpit.  Coffee and hot chocolate, with morning pastries.  No rushing around to get on a ferry or needing to be anywhere at a set time.  I turned on the satellite radio to listen to The Today Show.  Laid back mornings in the cockpit are a delight.

Joan said those words I love to hear: "The Dow is up this morning."

Little Izzy joined us in the cockpit and did a short "walk about" on the dock (never leaving our sight).

It was a very busy week at work, and I am truly enjoying no schedule.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


... it is easy.  This was one of those times.

I had fueled the boat late yesterday, so all I had to do today was the normal prep.  The day started off even foggier than yesterday, but it burned off around 11:00.  I turned on the radio when I started my prep: the whales were at the southwest side of the island... it was still foggy at Cattle Pass.  A half hour before departure, the whales started moving north, at a pretty fast pace.  The visibility was reported good to the north.

Yep.  At this pace, going north will be the easy way to go.

The guests were all checked in early - my first mate brought them down... early.  I did my safety talk and we departed... early.  One in a row!

Checking the radios again, the whales had continued their up-island running.  I let the guests know that "the plan was unfolding just the way we hoped."  A cheer!

I barely had to go south on the other side of the island - the whales met me at the northwest part.  I swung into a position, and they came to us.  I bumped out a bit to stay at the proper distance, and we watched the first group of K-Pod go by.

Easy.  And a good viewing...

If you had been there, a second sooner, this splash was a breach...

I was just having fun, watching it all unfold...

That boat looks close - it isn't.  That's the perspective from the lens.  We did, however, see a private boater run right up on the whales, and at a high rate of speed.  The dumbass had to drive between all the other boats that were staying 200 yards away... even if you DON'T know the rules, it should be apparent that you are doing something that NO ONE ELSE is doing.  Most people would notice that.  The sad part: it was a C-Dory.  People were hollering at him on the radio, and SoundWatch went up to them once the whales had passed... they later told us that was the SECOND time they talked to this guy.  Sigh.

I had to just let it go.  We ran north with the whales.  When they got to Stuart Island, I rotated the boat and told our guests that these would be our last views.  I went down from the helm to make sure everyone was happy with the views and was ready to see some other fun stuff.  Another cheer!  I like this group.

We ran along the back side of Spieden Island, and my favorite little run between the Cactus Islands.  We saw seals playing in the water and two bald eagles posed for photos...

Heading south towards Friday Harbor, we came upon a group of harbor porpoise... these guys looked a lot happier than the ones we saw being hunted by the transients earlier this week.

The water was mostly smooth, the weather was sunny and beautiful.  The guests were appreciative of the day they had with us.  The boat didn't need much clean-up.  The three naturalists said, "Captain Jim, come with us to get ice cream!"  What a nice day!


The end of this work week for us.  One week to go, but for now, we're looking forward to a couple days off.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Decisions, decisions...

Whales to the north.  Way north.  Whales to the west.  Way west.  The north ones are transients, not moving any particular direction.  The west whales are residents, J-Pod, also not moving much.  Go north with the current and fight it coming back.  Go west against the current and enjoy the push coming back.  We have two guests on the boat who have a fixed time that they have to be back, to catch a departing seaplane.

What would you do?

I decided to go west.  My reasoning: the resident whales generally pick up speed as they come from the west; that would move them towards us.  The transients are a loose cannon - they could go any direction.  If I need the extra speed coming back, I would rather be running with the current than against it.  And - it is J-Pod... there should be at least 20 animals.

As we were heading out of the harbor, I called one of the boats with the whales to the west to find out sea conditions: "As nice as you could hope for."

Yep, that's the way we're going.

We swung by Whale Rocks to see a gaggle of growling Stellar Sea Lions on the rocks, on our way through Cattle Pass.   It took us almost an hour and a half to get to the whales (south of Victoria).  I was hoping to spend an hour viewing, then haul on back home... thinking it will take less time on the way back.

Remember that "chess" analogy I have used before?  This was a good game.  Most of the Friday Harbor boats went north.  There would be a bunch of Vancouver boats north, a bunch of Victoria boats west.  Our timing was good - when we got to the whales, there weren't a lot of boats on them.  It was easy to find a spot for good viewing.  Happy guests. 

There were spy hops and a couple breaches.  A "baby breach" (the two year old calf).  Lots of synchronized surface activity.

The whales continued to move east - yep, heading towards home for us.  After an hour of viewing, we pulled away as they turned more northeast.  Nice viewing, and we were getting closer to home as we viewed.  Win/Win.

I stayed offshore heading towards Cattle Pass to stay away from the gill-netters.  As we neared Salmon Bank, I saw a Minke whale surface nearby... yep, we're going to view a Minke.  Unlike most, this Minke came to the surface 4 times in a little over a minute... and there's your Minke show - two whale species for the price of one!

The naturalist asked, "Since we're going faster with the current, can we stop and see some birds and seals on the way back in?"


And just for fun, we saw a couple of Stellar Sea Lions in the water, and some harbor porpoise in San Juan Channel.  It was a fine day of wildlife viewing!

Morning sensations...

We got to sleep in this morning.  Joan doesn't have to go in until 9:00; I don't have to go prep a boat until noonish.  When I looked out this morning, the fog was thick.  The only sound was the distant blast of the ferry's fog signal.  No other boats moving around, yet.

Joan made coffee (for her) and hot chocolate (for me).  It is nice to not have to be in a hurry.  Work wasn't far from Joan's thoughts though: she said, "We have a lot of people flying in today."  (Sigh)

She will be busy when she goes in, trying to make altered plans work for people.

We could hear the ferry come in; couldn't see it.  The rocking motion at the dock when the ferries come and go is something we hardly notice anymore.

Why so much fog in August?  Warm days, cool nights, and that temperature differential moving over the cool water.  It's Fogust.


On edit: it is burning off fast!  An hour after I made the above post...

A little wispy fog back towards Shaw Island...

So glad my Honey won't have to be scrambling to reschedule people.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Scooter - Whale - Whale - Scooter...

That was my day today.

I was scheduled to drive out of Roche Harbor today; two trips.  I decided to head over there early and have breakfast at Lime Kiln Cafe.  There was a car behind me on the road to Roche - it wasn't that close, so I didn't pay that much attention to it, just noticed it was behind me all the way.  When I was parking my scooter, the guy in the car pulled up... "What is that thing?"

"My scooter?" I asked, "It's a Honda."

He said, "I thought it was going to be one of those pain in the butt mopeds - that thing really hauls!  I couldn't keep up with you coming out of the corners!  You looked like you were having fun."

"I was.  It's a nice way to start my day."

"A Honda, huh?  Nice!"

I had a leisurely breakfast... 'till a lady tapped me on the shoulder and asked, "Are you the captain of our ship?"

"Ship?  Are you going out on an 11:00 whale watch trip?"


"Then I am your captain."  We visited for a bit.  Of course they asked if we were going to see whales... "I haven't checked in for work, yet.  I'll let you know when you board the boat."

With breakfast done, I went to work prepping the boat.  Listening to the fleet radio, the only report wasn't good: the residents are WAY north and moving further away from us.  Looks like we'll be on a search for transient whales.

When the guests boarded, I did the safety talk, then explained the whale situation.  When I told them we'd be looking for transients, I could see the dubious look in some of their eyes.  I told them my game plan - how I planned to look for the transients.  More not-so-sure looks.

We took off, heading north... saw some seals (gumdrops for transient Orcas) and a couple bald eagles.  Going further north into Boundary Pass, I scoped out the far shoreline, along South Pender and Saturna Islands... was that a spray?  There's hope!  With the binoculars, I saw another whale watch boat moving fast in the direction of where I thought I saw the spray.  I called them on the radio, "Do you have something there?"

"Yes, are you close by?"

"Not too far.  See you in a bit."

I let the naturalist know that we would be seeing some transients.  She told the guests and a cheer went up on the boat!

Sometimes, you get lucky.  And it was a very nice viewing...

The whales were very surface active.  When they stayed in one place, we assumed they made a kill... some "celebration" moves... and very happy guests!

Back to Roche, almost on time... except a guy driving a BIG boat (at least 50') couldn't figure out how to get it to the fuel dock, and was blocking the area when he went back and forth, but never got any closer to the dock.  The fuel attendants were standing on the dock, waiting for him to get close enough to toss them a line.  We all waited.  Ten minutes.  Sheesh!

The guests were very understanding... and so happy with the whale viewing they had.

We spruced up the boat to get ready for trip number 2.  I was hoping the same transients would be close to where we left them.  There were other boats with them, so it looked good.  Until we got into Boundary Pass and saw that they had moved west.  Fast.  I burned plenty of the boss's fuel getting to them.  On the first trip, finding the whales was a very pleasant surprise; on this trip, we could see them, but it seemed to take a long time to get TO them, as fast as they were moving.

This viewing was completely different: it was a blood-fest!  They caught a harbor porpoise, tossed it about, and tore it to shreds.  They were teaching the young ones how to hunt.  Then, a seal met the same fate.  The whales had stopped their fast trek and were staying place to eat and play.  A completely different, but great viewing.  Then, the long ride back to Roche.

We cleaned up the boat and I headed to my scooter, looking forward to the ride back to Friday Harbor.  There was a couple looking at the Grom that was parked near my scoot.  He had perfectly quaffed silver hair, she was much younger.  Draw your own conclusions.  Pointing at the Grom, he asked me, "Do you know how much something like this costs?  I think it would be great to carry that on the boat."

I told him what they sell for, and we visited a bit.  The younger prettier part of the couple looked at my scooter and said, "I like this - it is much racier looking!"

"Racy - that is a lot better than 'cute'," I said.  "I hear 'cute' a lot."

So, a woman's opinion: the Grom, "Too small - you would look goofy on that,"... the PCX, "Racy!"

It was a nice ride home... on my racy scooter.  The Blonde had pizza waiting for me when I got back to the boat.  Yep, a very nice day.

Some very nice whale photos...

Our naturalist Rachel sent me some photos of whales we have seen recently.  I share these with her permission.  Enjoy...

Great job, Rachel!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Just so you don't think it always goes like you plan...

I have said that driving the whale watch boat is like playing chess.  You make your move, you see what move they make, you make your next move.  If it all goes well, you win.  Well, today, we did get to see whales, but if they were Bobby Fischer, I was Curly from the 3 Stooges.

I had a good report: whales moving slowly south on the southwestern side of San Juan Island.  I actually said to my naturalist, "This should be an easy day."

I really need to not say that.

Checking for one last report as I left the harbor, it looked like our game plan was good.  Those crafty whales waited until I was half way down San Juan Channel... then, they decided to turn north.  And move fast.

I had to play "catch up" to get to them.  Fortunately, our boat is reasonably fast.  By the time I got to them, they were at the northwest side of the island - they were moving about 8 knots.  I had the tidal currents working against me.  Fishing boats with gill-nets making me run off course.

Pretty sure I could hear the whales laughing when we got to them.  They must have been the "only game in town," because there were plenty of boats on the scene... and by plenty, I mean it was crowded.  A couple dumbasses on an old sailboat were WAY too close to the whales, and in the process, they were blocking almost everyone's view.  I knew they were dumbasses, 'cause they were motoring their sailboat with their fenders handing out.  (Boat people will get that!)  The whales put on a good show, but dodging all the other boats was a challenge.

Then, the whales decided, "This is far enough north," and they turned around... making all the boats have to do a 180.  I know they were laughing at us.

When we were ready to leave, it was closer to Friday Harbor to just circumnavigate the island rather than run back south.

So, we didn't "lose" the game, but they made us work for it.

As we left the scene, I told the guests, "We'll be going north to get back to Friday Harbor.  I'll take us through Mosquito Pass on the way (it is shorter to go that route) - if you win the lottery, you can pick out your 'lottery house'."  One woman on the boat stopped at the office when we got back and told Joan, "I was disappointed that we left the whales to go look at houses."

Really?  That's what she got out of that??  That's what I get for trying to make the return trip interesting.  At some point, we do have to leave the whales... I stayed with them as long as possible.


I can tell it is getting to be late August.  People seem to get odder late in the season.  Just when you think you have heard everything... there have been several people come into our office after getting off the 3:00 ferry... they want to go whale watching and kayaking... and want to be on the 6:00 ferry back to the mainland!  By 3:00, all the whale watch boats are out on their last trips of the day.  No one offers a 2 hour whale watch, 'cause the whales aren't waiting for us right outside the harbor.  Our day-trip kayaking excursions are 3 hour or 5 hour - leaving from the other side of the island!

Seriously?  I'd like to go out for dinner and a movie... I have an hour to get that in.  LOL

Yeah.  It's August.  ;-)

Interesting Boat of the Day, AND What Are You Thinking??!!

When I got home last night, I had a text message, telling me I will "likely" have an early charter.  That meant I had to be up early and clean up... no idea how that boat was left yesterday, so I knew I'd have to go in before my normal prep time to see if it needs fuel, etc.  The other office booked the charter, so I had no information.  Their desk doesn't open until 8:00, and I would have to be to the boat by 8:00 to prep it.

Well, suffice it to say, the charter canceled... something about a timing conflict.  A waste of an early morning for me.  No, it isn't usually like this, but when there are two offices dealing with 3 boats and crew, sometimes the details "get lost."  This is part of "the schedule" that I don't care for.

Which leads me to the "What Are You Thinking??" part of this post.  Apparently, the sale of Wild Blue came as a shock to some of our friends.  There have been a lot of questions, some of them asking if "we" are OK, and a lot of "What other boat are you getting?"

I spent 32 years as a professional photographer.  We made a good living and enjoyed our clients.  Photography is something a lot of people do for a hobby.  I used to jokingly say, "My next career is going to brain surgery... no one does it for a hobby, and no one will say to you, 'My uncle has a good scalpel and does freelance brain surgery on weekends'."  LOL

Photography wasn't my hobby.  When we were ready to retire, I really didn't care to take any more photos, other than for our own enjoyment.

I kind of backed into this boat captain stuff.  There are a lot of people (us included) who boat because of our passion for being on the water.  I have felt that passion evolving; the captain jobs I've done have changed my perspective somewhat.  Don't get me wrong, I still love being on the water, but I think we are done hauling coast to coast... maybe even done cruising.

We don't know what "the next boat" will be, and it may be a while before we make any decisions.  In the meantime, we will kayak and paddleboard (when we get to warmer water), ride our scoots, and find some interesting places to RV.

"We" are fine; both onboard with this next chapter.


That said, while walking back from the office this morning, I came across this beautiful boat...

It was built in 1928 (I visited with the owner for just a bit).  THIS is a hobby boat.  Boats always need something... wood boats need even more... more time, more maintenance.  But, what a classic beauty.  A lovely boat for up here; the Texas sun would eat that brightwork up in weeks!  Look close, you will see the owner out there with a towel, wiping off the dew.  ;-)

Still, this gets my nod for Interesting Boat of the Day.  Come to think of it, I don't think I've taken the time to post many photos of interesting boats this season... hmmmm.