Saturday, August 27, 2016

The long arm of the law...

It was a tough day on the boat today: big wind.  I had a charter this morning, and a public trip this afternoon - the wind continued to build during the day... by half-way though my afternoon trip, the wind was 15 gusting to 25.  I'll get back to that.

I went in early to do some maintenance; I haven't been on this boat in over a week.

As I was coming in from my morning charter, I got a phone call... I had my hands full with bringing the boat in, so I let the call go to voice mail.  We were close on time between the trips - while my first mate went to the office to escort the people for our afternoon trip to the boat, I checked the voice mail: it was from a NOAA officer.

No, I am not in trouble - I witnessed some awful behavior around the whales by a kayak operator a couple weeks ago.  SoundWatch asked if they could give my name and number to NOAA for a statement/description of the incident.  Absolutely.  That was the purpose for this call.

I let officer Dan know that I had just come into Friday Harbor and only had a few minutes... "Friday Harbor?  I'm just coming into Friday Harbor!  Can I come to your boat?"

"I let him know that were were on the main commercial pier, and there was room behind us for them to dock.  I stepped off our boat to grab lines for them.  We made our introductions and visited a bit... I said to them, "You know the other commercial operators are going to think I am in big trouble, with NOAA officers on my boat, right here on the main pier!"  We all had a chuckle about that.

As they were wrapping up taking my statement, Alex (first mate) arrived with our guests... I saw the look of "oh-oh" on Alex's face when she saw the NOAA guys.  I explained to the guests what was going on, shook Officer Dan's hand and thanked them for coming by.  Dan said to our guests, "You are in good hands with Captain Jim!"  Nice of him to say that.

I let our guests know "the good news and the bad news"... there are whales in the area... they aren't close... if they had the time, I would do my best to get them to the whales... Mother Nature was going to give us some wind and lumpy conditions to deal with.  I had three guests who had a 5:30 seaplane to catch.  That is going to put some pressure on us to get to the whales.

As it turned out, we did see a humpback whale about 30 minutes out of Friday Harbor...

The report I had for Orcas was transient killer whales... in Canada... way in Canada... into the Strait of Georgia... not a good place to be on a windy day.  The guests were all excited about that prospect.  I knew we were at least an hour from the Orcas when we left the humpback.  The latest report had them moving south (towards us)... that didn't last: they turned north and were moving a fast pace.  Away.  Not good news for us.  To add to the fun, the wind and waves continued to build.  We were consistently taking spray over the top of the boat.  Rough ride.  My first mate came up and asked for some wristbands - accupressure bands to help with seasickness.  "How many do you need?" I asked.

"Two."  She took them down and came up a minute later... "Two more if you have them."

"Yep, but that's all I have."  I was taking a beating on that tall flybridge helm.  I could see the other boats on the whales in the distance... we weren't going to get much time with the Orcas.

The first view of the whales brought gasps and squeals from down below.  I set us up for the best viewing and ride I could get in the conditions.  No, I didn't have time for a single photo of the transients - I was working hard at the helm.  I let Alex know our "have to depart" time... knowing that it was going to be even rougher on the ride home... I would probably have to slow down more.

That departure time came quick, I pulled away from the whales, set up a track for home, and had Alex take the helm... I went down to check on the guests - they all seemed to be doing OK... and happy that they had seen Orcas.  I said, "Remember that excitement and anticipation you had on the way to the whales?  Well, try to enjoy our 'white water ride' on the way home, because we have along ways to go.  Keep up that great attitude!"

The whales had moved further north while we were with them - I estimated my time back at an hour and 45 minutes... giving us a 15 minute pad for getting the guests who were flying out to the seaplane dock.  That would give them enough time to stop to use the potty on their way to the dock... if it was going to run any longer than my estimate, I would be dropping the 3 who were flying at the seaplane dock, then take the rest of the guests to our dock.

The first hour or so heading back was a punishing ride at the helm - not as rough for the guests in the cabin, but still not a leisurely cruise.  I kept updating my calculations.  The last 45 minutes were almost pleasant (other than the wind) - the chop on the water was down to about one foot.

I was going for 5:15 as our arrival time... we pulled up to the dock at 5:13.  Happy guests getting off the boat.  The boat needs fuel and a very thorough rinse to get all the salt spray off.  We did the cleaning, but I just didn't have it in me to rush to the fuel dock before it closes at 6:00.  I come in a little early tomorrow to get that done.

It was a long day on the boat.  Five work days to go.  I could really use a hot tub.

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