Brett Becker

Western Washington University
Bellingham, Washington

Logbook index

Logbook entries

08.22.2005: A letter to my parents

well, it was a little wild getting here, but i made it. had to pick up another student around 10pm on sunday at the airport in seattle. i was a little late so that put us arriving at anacortas just before the 12:45 ferry (which was actually the late 12:15 ferry. lucky for us!) so we arrived around 3am and we're really fatigued most of the day yesterday. we went out to the west coast (where the lime kiln lighthouse and whale watching park is.) there we began developing preliminary questions for possible foci for our studies. a bit later we were inside the lighthouse, talking w/ the lady who volunteers there about how she helps track the whales through a paging system around the sound. so she gets a page while we are there and shows us how the numbers that arrive on the page relate to coordinates on a a grid/map of the area. so, we suddenly realize that 26-82 is right where we are. so we rush outside to see a pod of whales porpoising across the horizon. the horizon itself was obscured by by a layer of fog, making our ability to figure out the size of the whales difficult. they looked huge. beautiful ebony giants diving up and over (hence the term porpoising). really stunning. they moved quite fast too, which was remarked upon by scott, our main prof, might be a bit of a challenge to follow when we are sailing. a challenge indeed!! so, today we are settling in (with more sleep) and getting into the work at hand.


09.26.2005:First Day out on the Gate Verde

Yesterday was a bit crazy. Faced w/ the utter incomprehensibility of cramming and packing an obscene amount of food, clothing and technology, somehow we managed. My "cabin," located in the port bulkhead, is quite cozy. By cozy I mean cramped. Actually it is quite nice. I think its called the crew quarters. A small hatch in the port bow opens up into my ceiling, right above my bed (which is also my dressing room (to access my closet I have to lift up my bedding and remove a panel where my head lies). The rest of the space is pretty much just my sleeping bag, with my feet resting very near the tip of the hull. The last foot or two being reserved for two very small shelves. Not sure if those reading this know my habits, but I am notorious for over packing, "just in case." Well, now I'm my own worst nightmare...anyway, it is cozy. In fact, despite the lack of heating in my quarters, I slept soundly (a little acoustic pun) and my body heat seemed to warm up the room pretty well. I'll try to take some pictures, if I can get my camera in there... So today we sailed. Aboard the beautiful and majestic Gate Verde. First thing, coffee and breakfast. A thick fog rolled in as we discussed duties and then we got to work. I swabbed the deck, something that will probably lose its exciting flavor as this trip goes on...oh well. its not that bad, and I certainly understand the psychological effect of cleaning. We finished as the fog cleared and the boat looked awesome shinning in the noonday sun. After a brief briefing of the major parts of the boat, we motored out and set sail. Woowee. First the main and then the jib. In fairly light wind (< 10 knots) we made our way around the NE side of San Juan Island. At one point, just after setting out, we spotted our first piece of wildlife = "SpongeBob SquarePants, off the port bow!!!" Indeed, some childs inflated balloon of the character floated across the waves as if he had found his true home, being released from the savagery of the sky. In the afternoon, we spotted orcas, after following tips on the FM to find them. They porpoised right by us...beautiful. They were close, but not too close, and they evaded my attempts to capture them on video. We dropped hydrophones though, and were able to listen to there calls and clicks while they swam past. Eventually, they disappeared and all that was left was the sound of shipping traffic.

09.27.2005: Sunny, but no wind

Didn't quite sleep as well last night, waking several times. May have been due to my shoulder, which has had a pinched nerve since the day before I left. Captain Todd said he didn't sleep well either, offering that perhaps it was our proximity to the nearby military base...well, lets hope that thats what it was, and never return there. Regardless, the day went smoothly, if fairly uneventfully. More orientation to the boat and planning for the day. This involves, a daily listen to the weather report and a review of the tides. The weather is a mixed bag; sunny but not much wind. The weather has been pretty fantastic in recent weeks, especially for the northwest, reaching into the 60s. Still, out on the open water, the wind is pretty brisk so its pretty difficult to comprehend any solid temperature. In my "hole", as it has been referred to by some of my shipmates, the temperature at night is probably more quantifiable. It is COLD. Still, long johns, watch cap, hoody, sleeping bag and some magic blanket from Cap. Todd make it pretty bearable.

After motoring out into the open water, we cut the engines and drifted while we were testing equipment and having lunch. Saw some whales briefly. I was busying myself finishing fashioning my parabolic microphone. Finally got it, but not much to capture. Still experimenting w/ focal length and testing it on some birds. Tonight I made dinner; coconut curry w/ tofu, carrots and yam (my specialty). Everyone ate it and several said it was quite good. Whew! All in all, the days go by pretty fast (so far)... Late tonight was a brutal struggle of computer gunk = trying to link pc's to the wireless mac network so we can all update our journals (like i am now) from our own computers. UUGH...what a pain and perfect way to strip away the beauty and peace that surrounds us. Still, it reminds me of how much time I am used to orienting around one of these little boxes of wires. OH, to remain in touch w/ the outernet... and even as i say it, my battery drains...i needs some sleep. The picture here gives you some idea of what occurs at night on the boat

09.28.2005: Windy, but no sun

Well, actually there was some sun this morning. It was beautiful in fact, perhaps warmer and sunnier than other days recent. Today I woke up early, around 6am, after going to sleep around midnight. This amount of sleep seems perfect. It seems necessary for me to stay up late so as to get "good and tuckered out" so I can sleep well. Nice and cozy last night, all bundled up. Anyway, by the time we were on to our duties (8:30ish) it was really getting HOT (maybe 60). The rest of the early part of the day involved; charting our course, more acquaintance with gear (wench practice & radar), and a crash course in meteorology. It seemed like a natural progression of our lesson when the breeze picked up and a fog rolled in. Quickly, our sunny day turned cold and overcast. Owing to the fog, we held off on weighing anchor, instead busying ourselves w/ technicalities and preparing our data sheets. Eventually, we head out as the fog lifts, though the weather seems to be getting worse. In fact, as we enter out into the open waters the rain starts spitting. We get far enough out and cut the engines and drift. For some reason, the hydrophones were getting some noise and so work began on attempting to troubleshoot. I love this kind of work anyway, but in this weather, on a boat rocking in open water, with visibility cut down by fog - tweaking electronic gear has never seemed more thrilling. Real living, out here in the field. Putting the equipment to the test, and testing our ideas. Tests reveal (and confirm later) that the boat itself can cause some electronic disturbances we need to avoid. Primarily, the electrical inverter which provides power to all kinds of devices. Luckily, we don't need AC power to record, though it might make our lives easier (as it appears to for everyone). Other issues were grounding, which was solved by attaching a wire to the amplifier and dropping it into the water, and some kind of radio interference (usually some french guy). Both of these were solvable w/ relative ease, though we only figured it out once we were anchored safely away from the turbulence, here in Mitchell Bay. Though some might feel otherwise, I thought today was a great success, in the sense of taking that first step: attempting to materialize the idea of making the gear do what we anticipated it doing. Such things, as I know, take time, patience and persistence. Tomorrow is another day and, apparently, there may be some wind for sailing. "Arrrrr!"

09.29.2005: Heave...Whoa!!!

While we may have had the sails up earlier in the week, today was the first day of sailing. Hard to recall all of what occurred, by for certain, there was rain. After morning routine (today I had the head) we reviewed weather and charted course. As we headed out, Todd made a point of telling us to be sure to put on our rain gear. Now, I'm really really really glad I that I have some. There is something really satisfying about standing out in the rain, with the wind dashing against your face and staying dry. I spent a lot of time in the bow, spotting for deadheads and bull kelp. We were tacking against a south wind, on a tight course. So, we had to tack pretty frequently. We all took turns on either side, wrapping the gib sheet around the wench and reeling it in. Meanwhile, some one on the other side has to be releasing the opposite sheet. Later on, I took the helm, which I hadn't done yet. It felt really natural. I think working the sails and just riding the boat helped me understand the way the boat moves in the wind. It's a little more complicated than driving; Keeping track of the angle of the wind, the movement of the sail, the current of the water against the rudders as well as the waves all at once. At one point, Todd said I had "found the groove," which apparently is actually a sailing term...go figure. Anyway, finding this "groove" appears to me as an ability to grasp and synthesize a variety of signals coming in simultaneously. Each signal alone is not enough to orient with, but with all of them one is able to maintain some stability of course. It felt a bit like being one with the boat.

The excitement of the day pinnacled when Todd hollered out "Porpoises off the bow," at which poin we rushed to the front of the boat and rode the waves as 5+ harbor porpoises were rode our bow. We were all screaming like a roller coaster ride, and the porpoises stayed with us for quite a while. For those who don't know, (I didn't until recently) dolphins and porpoises apparently get a kick out of riding the wave created by a boat and often can be seen in this manner. It's really crazy, watching them surface just in front of the boat as we cook along at 6-7 knots. Good to know humans are good for something.

The rest of the day got calmer, rain settling down and some warm wind coming in, allowing me a chance to dry off a bit. Luckily, my quarters remained mostly dry, which is amazing because several times the boat pitched down off of fairly big swells(4ft) into the water, spewing water all over and around the hull that surrounds my tiny abode. Now I'm dry and warm and tomorrow is apparently going to be about the same. The plan is to get some science stuff done; maybe we'll even be able to hear some whales.

09.30.2005: Testing Equipment....arrr

Awoke in the beautiful Roche Harbor. Man, what a place. If I haven't said it before, let me say it now, San Juan island is truly breathtaking. If anyone makes it out this way, I recommend a trip out to this island. The west coast has some awesome fauna. Its not that surprising really, considering the proximity to Vancouver island...the west coast of these NW islands are stunning.

Anyway, first thing today we head to the busy part of the harbor to replenish water supply and vent rubbish. Also picked up some very gourmet donuts (which means they cost $10/dzn. It was a little odd being back on land. It feltgood, a little, to touch the grass and acknowledge the trees and hear the birds. At the same time, I wasalso aware of a whole slew of human societal rules and expectations that we participate in regularly w/o being conscious of. The complexity of it felt contaminating. We live in an insulated little world of simple social interactions aboard the boat. Its a manageable and comprehensible social group.

So we eat gourmet donuts and some of us drink real espresso while we make travel plans. The weather forecast predicted only 5-10 knot winds out of the SE leaving no real possibility for sailing. We expected as much. There is work to be done troubleshooting equipment and ironing out our means of dispersal. So, we motor south along the west coast of San Juan island and, low and behold, come upon some orca. Everyone springs into action, "Deploy hydrophones!!" While most folks are keeping eyes out for the whales and some are deploying some other hydrophones, I work on eliminating some of the noise from cable rubbing on a different hydrophone. After several attempts, with helpful assistance from my compadre Wilfredo (Freddie), I eventually achieve success by using a floating buoy from which the hydrophone submerges, thereby eliminating both the friction from the cable rubbing on the boat. Next, I figured out a good method of running the hydrophone output into my video camera. This, hopefully will create a pretty neat juxtaposition, since the camera will be capturing what is happening topside. I got to test out the deployment method several times later on in the day, as the whales kept moving and we kept following. Pretty frantic process, and one that I got better at but was still not able to capture the whales both on sound and video simultaneously. Nevertheless, the signal was clear and I'm now ready.

Eventually the whales split. They seemed to be spread out all over, not really moving as a pod, and difficult to track. At one point a shipping container came over the acoustic horizon, sounding really interesting. Much more tonal than other boats, so I had somebody record it and registered the distance on the radar as around 1.6 Nautical Miles. I'll be analyzing it soon. Maybe even post it here.

On the trip back (into Jones Bay) I tweak my parabolic microphone some to make it strong and usable. It looks and feels good. I'll be testing it out in the morning on some birds most likely.

This island is really beautiful. We're actually at a dock (!) and this is apparently a county park (the whole island! There are some other folks mored here, really super friendly. Its that sort of park culture where you get people living on there boats who are so ready to meet people and talk. Super friendly. Also, as we got ready to eat a very small boat cam in w/ 6 or 8 oars rowing it in. Really odd since they were obviously coming in from the open water. Turns out they were problem-type teenagers who were being re-educated by being forced to endure an 8 day experience roughing it as they sailed around the islands, camping and living hand to mouth. There meager existence made me appreciate the shelter, fresh water, cooking and bathroom facilities and even electronic amenities that I have here. Always good to get a little paradigm shift...indeed.

10.01.2005: Picking up a new skipper

Stayed up late last night (and looking like tonight as well...) and I stayed in bed until 8. Pretty darn cold in there. Sure makes waking up feel good. First thing today we headed back to our point of origin, Friday Harbor Labs to pick up our new skipper (for this week), Judy. Actually got a little free time to walk(!) and surf(!!!!). Caught up on email and made some calls to some of you folks out there. The plan for the rest of the day was just to get the sails up so Todd could show Judy the ins and outs of his boat. For us, that meant a pretty open day. Spent most of the day on the bow, working on setting up hydrophone stuff again. At one point some dall porpoises began bow riding again and stayed with us for quite a while. It was really awesome. I got some cool footage of it too. You can watch it here.
The weather was really a mixed bag today; the sun kept peeking out during light showers, and the wind was pretty chilly. Still, I prefer hanging out on the bow and watching the water to the cockpit or the galley, where most people were. The freshest air I can remember breathing is on the bow. Tomorrow we head back to FHL to get clean (our laundry and ourselves). At that point this journal should finally be up on the web for you to read. Next weeks posting should occur on 10/9/05.

10.03.2005: Back on the water

Last night was late. Really late. Much later than even the hours I have been keeping. It helps me sleep though, being tired. Especially in the cold dampness of my quarters. Over the past several days I've noticed my throat getting a bit scratchy and a cough coming on. Its especially bad a night. With this in mind I'm trying to take care of myself a little more. This morning I had tea instead of coffee. I felt good, perhaps a little more mellow than usual and my body I think appreciated it.

Anyway, I woke around 08:00 (which is late) and after breakfast we all jumped into our duties, which were perhaps less organized than usual, owing to the fact of our new captain and that we were still actually docked at Friday Harbor Labs. We made our daily travel plans, entered into the log book and set off for the west side of San Juan Island, this time taking the southern route.

After a while of standing at the bow watching the water I went inside, thinking I should watch my exposure to cold air. Practiced knots for a while. Tried making a monkey's fist. Failed. I'll post a pic when I succeed.

At some point we found the whales. Initially we were at some distance from them (at least 1km) - too far for any good sound and way too far for identification. As they moved on, we moved with them, walking a thin line between pursuit (which is considered harassment) and distant observation. As the day moved on we found ourselves in the midst of the both whales and whale watching boats Regarding the whale watching boats, its worth mentioning that they are everpresent when we are studying the whales. In fact, more often than not, we follow their lead to where the whales are. Almost without fail, the whale watchers are much closer than we are. At times they seem within 25 feet (or less!). We, on the other hand, try to set a good example by remaining aloof and distant, trying not to disturb them.

This isn't always possible, as we found out today. At one point everyone was in the stern tracking some whales and I was appreciating some quiet time in thr bow. I heard a blowhole (which are very loud, even from 100's of feet away) and I looked across the port side of the boat to see a dorsal fin going under within 25' of the boat. I yelled, "We've got one at 9 o'clock, coming right at us!" Everyone scurried over just in time to see this awe inspiring creature coming up for a breath right next to the boat, before diving under directly under the trampoline. It was our biggest close encounter yet and one that is apparently quite rare. After all of our pursuing, it felt good to see one come to us. I hope we perhaps sparked her curiosity enough to come around us again.

Most of the day was spent motoring though we sailed a bit, under light wind. As we sailed back to anchor in Mitchell Bay, I took some time to relax in my quarters. They day was still pretty warm as the sun had been burning off clouds all afternoon. I laid and read with my hatch open, listening to the Incredible String Band on my ipod. Their music always warms my soul but this particular occasion was especially nice.

10.04.2005: Ritual of the Whales

Todays entry marks a profound moment. All earlier events in the day have become blurred in the depths of my memory in light of the experience of this afternoon. It began earlier in the day when we arrived off the sou'western tip of San Juan island, near the strait of Juan de Fuca. The whales were way off in the distance and the whale watching boats were hovering. We could tell something was up by the way they were acting; moving about in tight groups and splashing about. Very interesting and somewhat rare. We could almost feel the energy of their excitement. I attempted to shoot some video for a while, but the distance made it less than rewarding. Because it was an especially calm and quiet day, I brought out the parabola microphone with hopes of capturing some surface blowhole sounds. In between my colleagues gasps of "oh my god!!" and identification calls, "is that L71?" I was able to actually capture some pretty intimate recordings of their respiration. Until you've experienced it, its hard to imagine how loud their breathing is. On several occasions when we've seen them 200 meters or more off, their blowhole sounds are still audible. I was dumbfounded when I first heard it.

Some of the sounds I got are really clear because the whales began making their way past us toward land. Eventually we follow, after noticing all the other boats that had been further out in the strait, were now inland of us, again closer to the whales. We slowly cruise in, making our way north, as they do, in hopes of reaching a point where we can cut the engines and drift so we can get some good recordings. This is where the real action started. Hydrophones deployed, eyes glued. The orca began gathering in groups, tightly moving like a single unit. Its hard to imagine how so robust a creature could move in such tight arrangement. Shortly thereafter folks on the boat start getting all giddy about a "greeting ritual". Apparently its a pretty big deal. And not really expected this time of year. Usually occurs in spring when the whales return to the area from the south. Everyone was a bit perplexed to see it today. I, of course, am totally in the dark about these creatures, but I definitely felt a sense of deep culture in what I witnessed. Something profound was going on. So foreign though. So unfamiliar. So difficult to understand through the glaze of our own cultural preconceptions.

At this point, we were already running late so we headed back, much to our dismay. It seemed the perfect opportunity to study them, yet we were bound by practicalities and our daily travel plan to bid them farewell. As we motored, they swam parallel, along the coast, making good time. As we left them we all prayed we would see them again.

10.05.2005: Caught in the doldrums

It is difficult to recollect and discriminate this past few days. Our tight schedule and short power supply have kept me from writing until now. The days have begun to blur and merge (or blerge and mur even). From what I recall we left port early this morning, the crew being granted shore leave to take advantage of the shower facility at Roche Harbor (it seemed a bit extravagant so I passed on it, perhaps to the dismay of my shipmates). We left early because we were mored in the customs dock and didn't want them to find us there in the morning. This marked our first day out on the open waters by 8:00am. Felt good too, until we got out there. The calmness reached that threshold called 'dead' and we had cut the engines too. I suppose it may have seemed necessary to "Admiral" Scott that we should make use of our time to focus on crunching finite details. Oh, the excruciating agony of such restricting structuring when surrounded by open water and all nature's complex interweaving. Still, perhaps it was helpful, if not necessary, to keep our minds from coming undone, as the bugs began to swarm and the sense of utter stillness sank deeper and deeper into what is left of our psychies. It felt like what a lunatic who'd been unkempt of routine might experience if forced into military duty. One knew it was for our own good, but still the mind resisted this attempt to save it from its own undoing. This vague memory remains of the experience, though I cannot recall any more that transpired or how we got to our next port.

10.06.2005: Contact

The calmness of yesterday continued to some degree, though it was less stale and stagnant. Still, such weather makes for quiet waters on a hydrophone. This was most apparent when a large male orca came right up close to us, diving under the boat some 20' off the port side. Very little vessel traffic impeded the quality and our recordings of this event are perhaps the best yet. Also, few other whales were in the vicinity leaving the possibility of actually matching a call with some specific whale/behavior. The difficulty of associating a call with a specific orca stems from the fact that they are a) almost always underwater, hidden from sight and b) they travel usually in either small groups of 2-3 or else large pods of 15 or more. This type of solitary documentation clarifies the issue of which whale is vocalizing but also limits the scope of what context to ascribe, as one has to wonder "who he's talking to." In any event, these recordings are priceless and I hope to have some sample here for auditioning by the transmission time on sunday.

(Somehow I have invented a day. I really can't make heads or tails of which one of these is what "really" happened. In the interest of posterity I am keeping them both. I am too tired to weave them together with any eloquence so please, use your imagination).

I almost forgot this day completely, but luckily Scott's insistence of a 'Science Log' (in addition to our ship's log) gave me some significant points of reference, most significantly, the weather. It rained, and with the rain (as is often the case here) came wind, or else the other way around...In any event, we took the opportunity to sail. Little else do I recall except for wrapping sheets on wenches and standing around in my 'foulies' (the name for rubberized waterproof gear). It is quite remarkable though, how nice it is to stand in the spitting rain and feel warm and dry. I enjoy it immensely.

Otherwise, I recall hatching an interesting calibration idea. You see, at any given time we may have 5 or more hydrophones going, each into its own recording device. We do our best to keep notes of times of tracks and whatnot but if we need to match up our 2 or more recordings it becomes quite a difficulty. My idea is to drop our little hydro-speaker in at the beginning of our recording and play a calibration tone which could provide a reference point by which to sync all recordings. An ideal version of this would be some one speaking into a microphone the exact time. Not only would this help in data analysis, I just think it would be cool to speak under water. Besides, if we are spending so much energy listening to them, we might as well let them hear us a bit, in case they are actually interested in communicating. (There is a lot more on the idea of interspecies communication from stuff I've been reading, but I'll have to parse it out a bit before introducing it here. Consider yourselves warned).

10.07.2005: Awash

The limits of biology and physics constricted our travels today. Our holding tank was nearly at its peak and we made plans to return to Friday Harbor for a pump out. Once there I took the lead (having helped before) and walked down the dock to get the mobile pump unit and wheeled it down to the boat. I know I know, you are all afraid I'm going to give you every detail of the fecal extraction process, right? Well, too bad. My battery is running low and I've no real passion for the subject either. Just thought you should know stuff like this had to be dealt with (often). The title of todays entry isn't some allusion to the pumphose getting lose from my hand and 'christening' me (as it is called). Nay, nay. It just means that today was a bit of a wash as far as research goes. We were holed up at the Friday Harbor dock until after 3:30, which only left us a few hours traveling time to our anchoring point. Last minute plans were made to work our way up to Matia Island for the night. And that we did. And, I must say, it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I don't really think words can convey the beauty. I only hope that perhaps someday I can come back here again (perhaps with some of you).

10.08.2005: A series of unfortunate events

Today was odd. I think everyone on the boat might fully agree with me. Besides the fact that our 'anchor watch' is in full effect (whereby each of us wake for an hour each to attend to various duties) and the somewhat predictable change that might have on us, events seemed under the influence of some force beyond and it didn't seem to be sending us any good fortune. First of all I woke up early (after going to bed at 9pm the first time, waking at 2am, staying awake until 5am and sleeping until 7:00. At which point I sprung (or perhaps lurched) form my bed w/ the hopes of capturing the dawn chorus of birds at the exotic port of Matia island. I popped out of my hole and scurried down the dock and up into the forest overlooking the bay. The birds evaded my attempts to record them I think because I was not present enough. I was too focused on capturing their sound and not focused enough on just being present in the beautiful environment. I did eventually relax and appreciate it and the birds chirped up but by then I had set my recorder down and so i left it alone.

When I finally made my way back to the boat I got there just in time to see it motoring slowly out of the bay...without me. Hmm, I thought. Hmmm, indeed. I hollered big, "Gate Verde!," immediately regreting it as the true meaning of the name 'Echo Bay' made itself clear. It was still early. Oh well. I wander down to the boat moored next to ours in hopes of radioing my compadres to alert them of my position. The people were very kind (as tends to be the case w/ boaters) but it seemed my friends had neglected to turn on the radio (a big no-no). We tried again and again, but eventually the kind people just decided to motor me out to find them. Well ok then. We did it and got there and really surprised the crew. They thought they were about to be boarded by pirates ("Arrrr!").

Once they realize its me, they lower the dingy and Scott comes to retrieve me. What a surprise. Lots of laughs all around. For a minute or two. You see, Scott, in haste, ties the dingy to the rear port cleat, instead of lifting it up out of the water. I think he had thought to use it later, as we have been toying with the idea of using it for some hydrophone experiments. But instead he, for some reason, turns on the main motors, one of which immediately pulls the dingy rope into the propeller. ohhh boy. Now he's working with the hook pole used to snag mooring buoys and such and contemplating diving in to get it untangled. Remember of course, we have a borrowed captain, and the owner/captain of this boat is not present. He gets called and the situation gets broken down. Meanwhile, I'm feeling kind of responsible because it was my fault leaving without telling anyone this morning and the dingy only got unhitched for me. So I put on a life vest and hop into the dingy to try to get an angle on that rope. I finagle for a while, with some help, and...Viola! Whew. Another minor catastrophe avoided.

But, get this: not half an hour later the other engine quits. Completely unrelated. Bizarre. This time its the fuel line thats clogged. Scott works on it for some time (a couple hours) before figuring a way to force the crud in the line back toward the tank, clearing it.

By this time we'd lost the early start Scott had tried to create by taking off without me. Still, some whales were found and we motored off in that direction. And it took a while to get there. Once there other issues came up w/ hydrophones and one of my colleagues started getting sick to her stomach adding cream to the cake of a day from hell. Honestly, I felt relatively immune from the worst elements of it, luckily. Still the feeling was there and Scott had us come to shore early and gave us the evening off. A much appreciated sentiment. Oh, boy, did I need that shower.

10.10.2005: No Whales

After an extended shore leave we finally shoved off from Friday Harbor Labs around 14:30. The extra leave time was really appreciated and I think we got a lot done (I know I did). Of course, the main thing is taking advantage of the internet. Good grief, how much of my life depends on it. I realized this when it went down on saturday night while I was trying to update my journal and orson's web site. Frustratingly debilitating. sheesh. Just before we left I remembered I needed to send off my re-enrollment package to WWU so I can finish in the winter. I dropped off the letter to be mailed in the main office and had to dig money out of the secret compartment in my hat to pay for the envelope and stamp. Thanks Dad!

Most of the afternoon was spent motoring (no wind) south from Friday Harbor, through Shark's Reef and east over to Aleck Bay. We did try some new tests with enclosing an hydrophone in a plastic bottle in attempt to cut down on drag noise, with some success. But overall, not much happened today. The whales, you see, are not around. None of our whale spotting resources had any information on anything local. JPod had been seen south around Whidbey Island yesterday and we almost decided to make the 6+ hr trip there to try to spot them but instead we decided to wait them out for a day and see if they come back north. Also, LPod was seen around Sook, out in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but that seemed like a rough trip, and LPod usually disappears for the winter, so they might go all the way out to the Pacific for all we know. Seemed more prudent to wait and see if J returns. Trying to chase the whales can be a bit frustrating. Much easier to let them come to us. I have been encouraging my fellow crew mates in this approach and how we might better organize an instance of our cohabitation with them, rather than tracking them as external objects. This view has been (perhaps) heard. Still, due to its unorthodox nature in scientific investigation it is usually scoffed upon (at best) and neglected entirely at worst. Ho hum. So it goes. Though somewhat disappointed I am firm in my resolve and have some intuition that we will experience some moment or series of events that elucidate how embedded we are within our world. I understand many (if not all) of you may have no idea what I'm talking about, so I'll post some quotes from a paper I've been reading on the subject of interspecies communication in my journal tomorrow. Briefly, the author (David Dunn) proposes that there is a way of investigating nature (the world and all things in it) through coexistent cybernetic exploration. This is similar to an interpretation of Goethe's means of scientific exploration as explained by Bortoft in "The Wholeness of Nature." For sure, both suggest a pretty massive paradigm shift away from the longstanding method of scientific reductionism and 'observer as a removed subject' orientation and toward a collaborative relationship of and exploration in and within nature.

10.11.2005: Dead the dead of night

When we finally got out of Friday Harbor, after our somewhat extended shore leave, around 14:30 (2:30) we still had no real location on the whales besides a siting pretty far south, along Whidbey island. In our travel planning meeting we debated our options of following them southerly or waiting for them to come back up to the San Juan island area. Of course, we have no idea what they will do and so it feels a bit like the famous Schroedinger's Cat experiment. As if somehow what decision we make would affect their movement. It takes some great deal of discussion to reach a consensus. Another factor is our low supply of fuel, something we should take care of soon, but we have enough to travel 50 miles. Eventually the call is made to travel south and hope to intercept them and/or stay and fuel up at Port Townsend tonight. It is a 5 1/2 hour trip and so once we begin traveling I hole up in the hole and prepare to crunch data. I should note it has been a beautiful day (perhaps the best yet) and we have opened up all the hatches to air out the boat.

We travel less two hours and spot the orcas around a huge kelp 'island' out near the eastern edge of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We coordinate ourselves alongside them and drop hydrophones. Briefly, our friend (and most probably choice for orca scientist-superstar) Ken Balcomb (pictured here), of the Center for Whale Research zips up beside us in his little speed boat and we get his insight on the situation. The next several hours are pretty routine; cruise along side whales, stop and drop hydrophnones until they get too far off and we lose audible signal, and cruise so more. This ends up taking us back northward, from whence we came. Perhaps due to the mild weather we are able to follow the whales for some time, leading us into dusk and evening.

This was our first night out after dark and (even though the possibility had been suggested for tonight) it took me by surprise that we were out there, traveling a course not on a our "plan" and out after dark to boot. It was exciting!! We stayed with the whales, moving now and again until finally laying anchor at 23:00 (11pm). What an amazing experience. Very little is known about the habits of orca at night and what we experienced seemed significant. The calls were abundant and seemed more playful than the daytime calls, which seem (to me) more oriented around the necessities of foraging. Besides the underwater sounds, which we had pumped out the main speakers of the boat, one can hear the intermittent blow, even when they are far off on the horizon. It is a very strange phenomena to hear something breathe long before you can see it.

On the way to Snug Harbor we each took turns as part of a lookout group on the bow, keeping watch for debris and kelp arrays mostly. Each of us with binoculars glued to our eyes, eyes strained on the water 100 feet or so in front of us, radioing Todd whenever it was necessary to move the boat port or starboard. Apart from one small section with a substantial amount of obstacles the rest of our trip was smooth and unimpeded. Slept well this night.

10.12.2005: 11 knots!

Well, we hit 11 for a brief moment or two, but we were averaging an easy 9 for an hour and half or so. What a day! Ok, I'll try to recollect.

We were low on fuel so when we awoke this morning we motored to the dock at Roche Harbor. Scott and Val had taken the dingy early to arrange acquiring some bio-diesel. We were able to get 38 gallons of bio, to which we added another 30 gallons of strait diesel. Having that, and having gotten word that the whales were back again on the SW part of San Juan island, by Lime Kiln, we cruised south. On the way down there we discuss travel plans (weather, currents, etc) for what is left of the day. We've only got a few hours left before we will need to begin heading toward our gunkhole. For several reasons the decision is made to travel south and catch the dual wind/current combo on our return trek northward back into Mitchell Bay.

We did find the whales, and deployed the "Ears" (a dual hydrophone setup designed to simulate the way our ears orient sounds in our environment) in a cold, windy rain. Unfortunately, either due to the rain noise on the surface of the water or something else(?) we got very few quality recordings. We did see whales doing an insane amount of surface activity. Lots and lots of breaches (where the whale jumps fully out of the water), spy-hopping (where they poke there heads up out of the water-assumably to look around) and other tactile behavior. We've seen this kind of activity in the rain before and I'm beginning to wonder if there is a connection. (Are the enjoying the fresh water? Taking a bath?) At some point they moved off to the south and Todd advised that we should maybe start our return trip, making use of the strong winds. And that we did.

What had been a cold, rainy wind had turned somewhat warm and drier as we unfurled the jib and double reefed the main sail. The swells were 3-4 feet on average (some maybe 5') and moving northward with us. At one point Todd said the wind was 30mph. Once we had the lines set and were 'in the groove' we were really cooking. As each wave came up from behind us we would surf atop it and catch more wind from our height, reaching peak speeds of over 11 knots. It was unbelievably cool. While we had been cold and disappointed in our whale hunt earlier, now we were all having a blast, the whales taking a back seat for the moment to the excitement of riding the wind. At some point some one put a beach boys compilation on and general mayhem ensued. God, what fun we were having. We tacked (actually "chicken jibed") only once yet the sails needed constant attention and some adjustment in the fierce run we were on. This is the first time circumstances have actually permitted a 'beam reach', which is when the boom is at its widest angle to the hull, catching a sail full of wind as we run with the wind at our back. Wow, I don't know what else to say without making some of you out there scared for my safety. We were wearing life jackets (a requirement in this kind of weather) and holding onto something firmly attached to the boat was fairly necessary to not falling on your ass. Still, it seemed some people did, though we all stayed aboard.

We finally furled in the jib and brought down the main as we sort of coasted into Mitchell Bay, around 18:00hrs.

I helped cook tonight and for dessert Todd made his much anticipated Bananas Foster...mmmm,mmmm good.

10.13.2005: Poised adrift

Not much to report today. This morning Scott cruised out in the dingy to pick Val up and Leslie returned with him to join our crew for the rest of the week. What a treat (literally!). After that we raised anchor and cruised out of the bay in search of whales. The pager, upon which we rely extensively, had been quiet except for a couple of 'no whales' pages. Hurrumph. The weather was sunny early on but got cloudy and cooler as we moved out. As we did, efforts were made to prepare some kind of travel plan, but without a siting of whales it is really tough to choose a destination. There was some wind, but not really enough to sail owing further to our sense of uncertainty. For the record, in studying cross cultural healing practices I recall reading that uncertainty can have powerfully disruptive effects in some cultures. At times, a lack of certitude can cause social unrest and has been recognized as the source of physical sickness in some individuals. That being said, shortly after our travel plan (or lack thereof) eroded into doing whatever projects could be mustered from "gear tweaking" and just kind of drifting in the current, I fell ill. Nothing too bad, mind you, but the worst I've felt since being aboard. I tried to get some work done for a while (with no success) and eventually gave in to what was obviously not going away. I won't bore (or disgust) you with the details but lets just say my digestive system wasn't quite hunky dory. As the rest of the crew worked on troubleshooting and tweaking various hydrophonage I retired to my quarters, made my cozy little den, pulled my hoody up over my head, relaxed and closed my eyes, lulled to sleep my the gentle rocking of the boat.

I awoke a couple few hours later to the hum of the diesel engines. I could tell we'd be motoring for some time and I wondered where. Did we have a word yet on the whales? In hot pursuit? No such luck. We had drifted northward for some time and now were making our way south around the eastern side of San Juan island. I felt better. Food was being cooked and, perhaps I'd even have some.

10.14.2005: Data point Ho!

What to say. Though the uncertainty of yesterday has mostly left me, today still contained its troubles. Maybe I picked the wrong time to give up coffee. Its surprising what an effect its absence from my day can have. Still, there are probably other factors involved. But it just goes to show how much our own internal orientation can influence our perception of events. In any event, here's the course of events as I experienced them.

According to plan, we made efforts to arise early and cruise out at first light (perhaps not a good combination with my new anti-coffee agenda). We had no clue where the whales were as we ventured south through Shark's Reef out onto the soutwestern tip of San Juan island. Our preliminary observations/recordings were merely of cargo vessels, oil tankers, ferries and fishing boats. Later, after travel planning, we caught the current northward along the west coast of San Juan and ended up spotting some dorsal fins out ahead of us a ways. We slowly made our way north, eventually converging on a small group (12 or so) in the midst of a feeding frenzy. Once we were close enough, we cut the engines and deployed hydrophones. Its hard to say, but we may have been too close, according to the 'Be Whale Wise' guidelines. At one point whales were crossing our bow and stern within less than 25'(!).

The waters were fairly choppy, with swells of at least 3' constantly heaving the boat to and fro. Combined with my low energy level and a growing sense of unease about our methods of investigation, made today a bit of a bum trip. Without coffee, my mental faculty was running at mere "human-mode" and the prospect of abstracting numbers onto a data sheet out of full sensory experience just wasn't floating my boat, so to speak.

This is an issue of mine, I fully recognize, as I have worked diligently over the years to keep from being "submerged in the sea of conventionality of almost impenetrable density", to quote Charles Fort. So, I'm experiencing a bit of cognitive dissonance with the status quo of reductive scientific objectivity. My main issue being that it seems we are over-simplifying these highly complex, intelligent mammals and attempting to keep ourselves in pseudo-separation, analyzing their processes as one might chemical or physical phenomena. To give some idea of possible alternative methods of investigation I am going to post some quotes from David Dunn (whom I have mentioned before). He has been pioneering the field of inters-species communication as a function of musical phenomena for over 20 years.

"To unravel the linguistic code of a cybernetic logic as large as a species' social organization, let alone the overwhelming complexity of an eco-system, seems a ludicrous proposition. Given the difficult task that acquisition of a foreign human language represents, it seems absurd to contemplate language on a level of multi-species interaction. To further compound the problematics, we may once more ask the basic question: what grammars could such linguistic structures exhibit which might be recognizable as such by humans? This question, however, shifts emphasis from a more fundamental issue. It assumes an impossible objective stance in relationship to an environment from which human observers cannot extricate themselves(Itallics mine). Thus, the assumption is not that evidence of such structures should be sought in order to render the intelligence of another life form translatable; rather, such evidence is only part of the ongoing process of discovering the larger mental system within which we are also participants(again, my itallics). The creation of interactive languages is not only appropriate, it is essential. Recognition of the language of the observed is only groundwork from which intrinsic interplay may proceed. We must begin with interaction in order to infer language instead of assuming it. It must be invented within the context. Entering into interaction is to begin generation of orienting behavior which includes the other organism. If such orienting behavior eventually permits self-description of its interacting components, such that these organisms can orient to each other and themselves, then a resultant consciousness is immanent through recursive description".

-David Dunn, from Speculations: On the Evolutionary Continuity of Music and Animal Communication Behavior

The weather projection for this afternoon was a bit too blustery for comfort so we made efforts to anchor early. Once there we were called to the fore deck for a continuation of Val's meteorology lesson. To say he is an animated teacher would barely do him justice. As if any one of us could be bored in such a stimulating environment anyway, he put forth efforts to stir up our energy by animating us as the movement of the earth to explain how the Coriolis Effect makes objects in the northern hemisphere deflect to the right. This, combined with the effect of cold, high pressure air in the polar regions moving towards the warmer, low pressure air around the equator creates the NE & SE Trade Winds. I'm sure this is a major simplification but I'm amazed that Val could communicate it in the brief time he did, and even more amazed that I was here able to sum it up in two sentences. Another interesting tidbit he threw in is that the weather term "front" was derived from the interactions of trench warfare in military fronts during WWII. For this, perhaps trivial, fact I am thankful. As if some kind of multimedia experience at the end of our lesson, our class finished with light pellets of rain issuing forth from the dense rain clouds above. As I write this now the wind gusts up to 15 knots from the east and rain comes down intermittently. Our barometric pressure has dropped 12mb in the past 24 hours. Looks like a low pressure system has moved in.

10.17.2005: Fogged in

When I climbed up out of my hatch this morning the wind spat a spritzer of rain on my head, "ah refreshing." The surrounding blanket of fog implied that today's weather might be a challenge. Our skipper for the week, Kevin, whom we picked up saturday seemed to be getting comfortable with the vessel (and withe the idea of traveling under low visibility conditions). Our plan was to take advantage of the full moon in the coming nights by attempting to track the whales after sundown. Very little has been studied about their nocturnal habits and one of my colleague's projects entails a continuous 72 hour follow. Well, the combination of fog and darkness might be a bit too much, but in daylight, with calm wind and water, the captain and crew felt up to the challenge.

We motored out of Fish Creek, on the inside southern tip of San Juan Island, through Shark's Reef out into the northern edge of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and turned northward cruising up the western coast of San Juan. The only word on whales we had had recently was that one of the pods had been spotted south, off of Whidbey Island near Admiralty Bay. Our discussions of whether or not to chase them south had been tabled and the decision made to remain north and wait them out. In recent weeks their pattern of movement predicted they would not stay south very long. Still, by the time we were at Lime Kiln we had gotten word that they were still south in the afternoon so we turned around and headed back with thoughts that we would hole up in some bay tonight that has an open acoustic window to the strait, in hopes of hearing the whales if they cruise past in the night (a likely possibility...or so we thought).

Once we made it to Salmon Bank, just outside of our destination of Aleck Bay, we dropped the hydrophones again to see if we could hear any whales. No luck. We headed in to our gunkhole and anchored in almost exactly the same weather as I awoke to this morning. Felt like a day that didn't happen. Strange. Only the calendar would say otherwise. In the bay we made use of the time to work with Bob McGlaflin, testing a night-vision low visibility scope he had brought. We send out a contingent in the dingy and had them attempt to hide from us. The night-vision scope is pretty incredible. I'll post a picture by the time this is uploaded to the web.

When I awoke for my anchor watch at 0200 the fog had cleared and the sky was opening up to reveal the moon. The weather forecast for tomorrow looks promising. Last we heard the whales were even farther south, around Vashon Island. Looks like we may attempt to wait them out again, instead of attempting to chase them on a 10hr goose chase. Still, tomorrow is our main window begin our night observations and it sure would be nice to have some whales to observe. One thing is for sure, I'm going to need some sleep either way. Signing out.

10.18.2005: Neutral Buoyancy

As these days continue on and time compounds upon time, events seem to repeat themselves and we are faced with more of the same struggles and accomplishments. The fog from yesterday opened out to the horizon, seemingly allowing us a chance at locating our elusive friends. Alas, our network of humans, connected like a primitive hive mind via electronic prosthesis was only helpful in informing us that the whales were still south. With that in mind, orders were given to raise anchor early in hopes of getting a jump on the long trek ahead. I missed most of this as I slept in. By the time I rose we were out in open water, the eastern edge of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, with hydrophones deployed, listening for with baited breath and peeled ears in hopes of some click trains or a whistle or call. All of these stand out substantially against the backdrop of the oceanic soundscape. There is simply nothing else using the frequency range they use at such power levels. The only noises remotely comparative in sheer dB level are the constant anthropogenic drone of cargo vessels and other boats. Sound travels exceptionally well in water, you see. The noise coming from an boat engine/propellor at one nautical mile sounds under water like a your next door neighbor's lawnmower 50' away. We have estimated to have heard whale calls and clicks over 2nm away. But not this morning. We pulled in the gear and motored on while we grappled with the logistics of our situation.

We headed south, strait into a fog bank, because we had begun hearing the whale watching boats talk about orcas in that vicinity. Again we deployed the hydrophones, while nearly everyone gazed out over the water through binoculars hoping to see some brief surfacing activity. We were perplexed and disoriented. We seemed to be just where they should be. The fog blocked out all landmarks, lending to the sensation of confusion and humbling us to the vastness of the waters. Our hopes of initiating a night follow were gradually dismantled as the whales began making there way out west, into the part of the Juan de Fuca that leads out into the open ocean. The waters there are the most severe and not a proper place for night travel.

When call was eventually made to give up for the night we began the 2-3 hour cruise northward under nightfall. We each took turns on bow watch, eyes glued to binocs, looking out for anything solid that might obstruct the boat. It was rainy but not too cold. When we got to Snug Harbor we docked. Scot gave us a break tonight from anchor watch and we celebrated by watching 'The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou'. Many har-hars and apropos parallels to our own aquatic adventure.

Tomorrow there is hope for a late night expedition, but the experiences of the past couple weeks have left me increasingly uncertain about our capacity to find the whales by anything other than luck.

10.19.2005: Wednesday

Again, another day with no significant whale activity. We cruised south from Roche Harbor after pumping out, filling up on water, rinsing the deck and grabbing espresso and donuts. The pager, up which we rely so heavily, was silent most of the day except for stray sightings of a humpback near the southern tip of Vancouver island. Boy, I really think some people were beginning to build up a strong resentment to that humpback. We made some recordings at a few times during the day, keeping our senses keened in hopes of hearing something somewhat musical (ie. a whale call) within the monotonous drone of shipping traffic.

On our way toward our anchorage a huge pod of 15 or so dalls porpoises attached themselves to our bow in frenetic frenzy for nearly half and hour. As you may recall this has been a frequent experience with the dalls, and our most intimate relationship with any marine mammal so far. One cannot help be feel their excitement and frivolity in viewing them surf the wave of our momentum. I have become especially interested in the timing relationship of their surfacing. Often 2 or more will come to the surface to breathe (an amazingly brief phenomena) synchronously or else one after another in a kind rhythmic pattern, one after another, that seems to suggests intentionality. I was able to capture a significant amount of the bow ride on video. A short clip, with the entire Beam Reach Fall 2005 class (minus myself) and our inspiring and buoyant leader Scott is available here. From left to right - Scott, Courtney, Laura, Nicole, Celia & Freddie. The wind was whipping up as we made it to our port for the night (Fish Creek). In fact it rocked the boat pretty heavy for most of the night, finally settling down sometime before I awoke for my anchor watch at 0400. When I got up the sky had cleared and the moon was poking out of fluffy clouds passing swiftly past it. The waters were calmed and the wind had died down. Real nice night.

10.20.2005: Humpbacks & stellar sea lions

Faced with the crushing prospect that our ideal cetaceans were nowhere to be found (seemingly having headed out the Strait of Juan de Fuca into the Pacific or else who knows where?) we decided to follow up on the consistent deluge of pager sightings claiming humpbacks were off of the tip of Victoria, on Vancouver Island. We gradually worked our way out there, arriving in the afternoon. The humpbacks were there as were a host of vessels; fishing, whale watching, ferries and cargo ships. For the most, we stayed at a robust distance of over 300 meters, meaning our observations were limited to binoculars. We dropped hydrophones, but heard only the constant din of combustion engines and prop turbulence. The most surprising and intimate experience was when a couple stellar sea lions swam right toward the boat, underneath and up on the other side, gazing its eyes at us with some curiosity. This recognition was the most deeply touching to the whole crew. It seems for weeks, as we've struggled to achieve some intimate contact with the marine mammals, they have for the most remained aloof. The gaze of this creature seemed to confirm our existence here, bringing us back from the isolation of the past week. I'm not sure if these creatures are more acculturated to humans here (due to the greater population/tourism industry) or else just more friendly because they are Canadian.

As afternoon pushed on captain made the call that it was time to begin our trek toward or hole-up for the night, Port Angeles. On our way, we got a couple more chance for some closer inspection of the humpbacks. Great big creatures, they. Unfortunately (for us), they merely surfaced to breathe a few times every five minutes, the last surface predicting their extended decent by the view of their tale breaking the surface on the way down.

We made our way into the Port Angeles vicinity after dark, the city lights illuminating the coastline beneath the awesome specter of the Olympic Mountains. This was the first time I have felt what many mariners have felt before me, the excitement of arriving in a unfamiliar port and all its tidings; warmth, dryness, libations and the prospect of sharing our tales of adventure. The admiral (Scott) and the captain (Kevin) were talking P.A. down, using words like "seedy" and "dangerous" but after being cooped up on a 40' vessel w/ 8 other people for several weeks any opportunity to commune with terra firma and mingle with the greater populous of landlubbers seemed an enticing prospect. We squeezed into a spot marked 'no overnight docking' and tied up. It was pretty much the only spot open, all the slips that were available being too small for our 20' girth. No mind, we'd be out early anyway.

For what it was worth (?) we were given shore leave to go explore, with the reminder that we should travel in groups for safety. I was anxious to stretch my physical as well as psychic space so I took a walk w/ a couple of my colleagues. The area wasn't as bad as I had expected. The intro to 'Nick Danger, Third Eye" kept running through my head, except with Port Angeles instead of Las Angeles. We walked and walked...and walked, eventually feeling an unfamiliar strain in the hip/leg region which I'm assuming is from the atrophy of the muscles used in walking while on the boat. I'm guessing maybe a 4 mile walk or so that night. I slept very well indeed, waking as we motored out around 0700. Great sunrise too. But that is for tomorrow...

10.21.2005: Taprobanic

Aye, a beatific and auspicious impression on the senses, that morning illusion that the sun makes. And today was a spicy one. Felt good and the sky was looking to be clear. We were headed northward, back into the Strait. By 0830 we had a page alluding to the presence of killer whales in the nearby vicinity. Scouts were put in place and we motored on, eventually spotting them by 1000 or so. They were moving in the same direction as us and the wind was behind us as well, and the call was made to raise the sails. And raised they were. Things got a little hurried after that, so you may have to check out the video to get some idea of what happened but basically the we became one with the whales. We were making about 5 knots and this was the first time we had sailed in the presence of whales. Though, "in the presence" doesn't quite capture the intimacy of the situation. It was one of those beautiful moments that just happens, and you know the forces of nature have somehow aligned themselves in your favor, and you are thankful.

For most, the difficulty of remembering our scientific purpose is extreme during these close encounters. Something in the brain just reels and shuts down when confronted with such a stunningly beautiful and, apparently intelligent, creature. They porpoised right up beside the boat, passing us, and one of them did a little tail lob, another breaching just off the bow. We were pretty dumbfounded. But the whales were moving faster than us and our wind petered out soon after. We motored after them for the rest of the afternoon, excited at the prospect of having whales at all. They headed northeast, back toward San Juan Island and we followed, eventually getting as close as South Beach, but this was not to be our moorage tonight, nay, not tonight. The call had been made to take advantage of the choice weather and still somewhat full moon to pursue them into the night. Shifts were laid out, protocol was outlined, snacks were prepared. I chose the 2-5 shift and so I chose to crash after dinner. It was quite a struggle trying to sleep while the boat stopped and started over and over, visions of unexpected deadheads or reefs racing through my mind. At one point the waters had gotten pretty rough and I was getting concerned. I popped my head out of my hatch and there stood Scott at the watch. The night was crystal clear, the moon and stars were out. The current, apparently, was quite strong and thats what I was feeling. They had lost the whales though, about 45 minutes before. There was going to be one more attempt to try to detect them using the hydrophones before we gave up and headed back to Port Angeles. By 0400 we were pulling into Port Angeles again. We had travelled over 60 miles today, in a big circle. Now I'm up, its 4am and I'm getting called to watch. Hopefully it will tire me out so I can sleep. Bon nuit.

10.22.2005: More night ops

At some reasonable hour I awoke, having slept from 0500 until 0900. Morning brought some much needed boat cleaning duties, as well as waste management pump out and H2O fill up. We left by 1000 or so, having picked up a new crew member - Mike, who is the other main board member of Beam Reach (besides Scott). He brought us good tidings of french pastries. Bon bon!! I broke down and had coffee for the occasion, the first all week. We got a page that the JPod (whom we had lost in the night) had somehow made it back east to San Juan and were cruising southward along the west coast. We engaged our a course to intercept them. It took a couple hours for us to finally find them, which happened pretty far south of San Juan, around Hein Bank. The smooth water, light wind, consistent whale watching boats and the cohesion of the pods traveling style made them easy to keep track of. The behavior today was significantly different from what we have seen in recent times. It seemed like the whole pod was moving as a unit, surfacing all within seconds of one another and close enough to be touching. The most popular theory on board is that this is "resting" behavior, though the term is a little misleading as it doesn't really reflect what we consider "rest" because they are still moving, porpoising up to breathe in regular, consistent intervals. My theory is that they are "tuning" their consciousness, in the same way meditation does, except on a group mind level. Apparently, there has been a growing acceptance of this "group mind" view of cetacean culture. Though an unfamiliar concept for most, the idea that consciousness might manifest in other creatures in a different form other than individual orientation has gained acceptance in recent decades. But I'll save this for my paper. Back to the good stuff:

So we followed them south and farther south, eventually getting far enough away from San Juan to where we knew we weren't going to make it back tonight. As the sun was setting the wind picked up a bit and captain made the call to raise the sails. For a brief period things were moving really smooth, we were keeping up with the whales and were able to hear their blows enough to track them. But, in case you've never tried to sail while tracking a psychically synchronized group of marine mammal at night, let me tell you something, it ain't easy. In fact it can very quickly become a fiasco. Which is pretty much what happened. Once the wind picked up more than anticipated the captain realized that the main and the screacher might be a skosh too much and adjustments were made. Meanwhile, Mike, at the helm, was trying to jibe to accommodate for us having superseded the path of the whales in the strong wind. Once turned around we had to find them again, which didn't happen until I spotted a 'spy hop' (which in hindsight was probably one of them looking out for us!) and then a dorsal fin heading strait for us just off the stern at 20'. Time to tack! We swing around again and have them for a few moments, but trying to maintain momentum with the wind while tracking something you only see briefly every 20 seconds or so while visibility grows more and more limited and wind and waves grow more and more challenging is just kind of comical. It was pretty funny, all in all. Luckily no one was hurt (including a whale). So captain makes the call that our game is called on account of questionable visibility and we trek in toward Port Townsend, our nearest safehaven. We make it in with no real significant difficulty. We all are beginning to feel more and more the grief of Ahab. Now, as we sit in the harbor, the wind shakes and rattles the rigging and whips through all the boats, clanging and rattling. We are safe.

10.23.2005: A three hour tour...

Before finally laying down last night I was compelled to explore Port Townsend's marina, that captain Kevin had said was full of many cool old ships, the rigging of which were ringing in the wind in the most mellifluous way. I grabbed my tape recording gear and hauled off into the night wind, which was blowing strong. What I heard was some of the most interesting and soothing sounds I've yet heard on this trip. Quite nice indeed.

I awoke as the engines kicked in early early early in the am, around 0500, as had been decided the night before, and headed back northward for Friday Harbor. I tried to sleep for a bit, but we were fighting a strong current and the noise of the waves crashing against my cabin walls was stirring fearful imagery in my mind. In fact, it got so that the theme to Gilligans Island (the part where it says, "If not for the courage of the fearless crew, the minnow would be lost") was going through my head. But still, I tried to sleep. I knew others had volunteered for this god forsaken shift. But my hatch was cracked open just a bit to allow for ventilation and, apparently, we had a close shave with a certain container ship whose wake we then hit pretty close to its origin. Up and over and up and over and KERSPLASH! in comes the water on my head. Well, not too much but enough to get me out of bed. Good thing we're doing laundry today (God willing).

Up I got and joined the crew in spotting for whatnot and gobblygook. We were not making good time (about 3 knots) against the current and the clouds were spitting in our face as well. Just kind of a nasty way to begin the day. (images of Gilligan and Skipper struggling with the wheel of the Minnow). So anyway, we make it out almost into dead center of the strait, triangulated by shipping lanes...and the starboard engine cuts out...shortly followed by the port. You see, the gauge looked low last night (and I was concerned) but efforts were made to calibrate what "E" means, and for some reason it seems the tendency was to ere on the side of us having a surplus (for reasons I cannot understand). I'll spare the specifics because it makes for a better story...

We tried to make good with the wind for a while, moving along the western side of Smith Island (with its one lone house) but the wind was coming from the north making our northern journey a bit of a struggle. Were it not for Bernuli and his effect we'd be going nowhere even slower. As it was we were close hauled and making a (somewhat) respectable 3 knots. Still, the wind was fickle and the sails were tending to luff.

Meanwhile, a call had been made to Vessel Assist (like AAA for boats) to bring us some fuel. He arrived in due time with the 15 gallons of diesel and eventually we were back en route to our safe port.