Archive for June 2nd, 2012

Beam Reach

I’ve always wondered how people in Medieval times sailed. I was told by the captain that it was much more difficult because they did not have motors and modern technologies such as GPS and weather forecasts.¬† Sailors had to rely mostly on experience and observation. I find it really amazing. And I feel fortunate that we have the resources to sail safely through the oceans.

What makes the Gato Verde green? First of all, Gato Verde is the first Catamaran in the Pacific Northwest to make use of biodiesel. Gato Verde also uses LED lights on the boat, which are more energy efficient. The Gato uses lead-acid batteries, which are recyclable. These batteries only allow the Gato to go full-throttle for about 30 minutes (to be prudent). There are other types of batteries, namely nickel-metal and lithium. Lithium batteries are lighter and has twice the power of lead-acid batteries. To make the Gato more green, captain Todd has been considering adding solar panels to the boat.

On the boat, we make use of our resources sustainably. One good example is using sea water to wash dishes. It really worked for me as I usually prefer to rinse the dishes until they are spotless. I could do so without worry with sea water because we never have to worry about running out of sea water. The dishes are given a brief freshwater rinse after being thoroughly washed with sea water.

We learnt during a discussion the difference between “black water” and “grey water”. Grey water is waste water from washing. Usually, grey water from a boat is released directly into the open sea. It is worrisome to think about the potential harmful effects of surfactants on marine life. In the United States, boats are required to “pump out” their sewage at designated pump out stations. In Canada, however, boats can release their raw sewage into the open sea. This is worrisome. If sewage gets into freshwater sources, there is concern about contamination of drinking water. This is not a concern with sea water as we don’t drink sea water. However, by releasing sewage into the sea, we are releasing hormones, drug metabolites, and terrestrial pathogens into the marine environment. That can be harmful to marine life. Usually, raw sewage can be treated to remove harmful materials before being released into water.

In not so long a time we have learnt that ropes should not be called “ropes” but “lines” and “sheets” on the boat. Ropes the keep the sails in place are called “sheets”. Typically, a sailboat has a jib and mainsail. The jib is smaller than the mainsail, and its orientation is changed during tacking. Tacking is a sailing strategy where a boat sails zig-zag close reach, about 45 degrees to the direction of wind. Beam Reach is where a boat sails across the wind, approximately 90 degrees to the direction of wind. It is also good to remember the parts of the boat, especially when deploying the dock lines and fenders. The front of the boat is called “bow” and the back “stern”. On the boat, the direction to the front of the boat is “fore” and the back “aft”. With this special language, the boat seems to be a world of its own.

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So you think you want to be a marine mammal researcher…



I once spoke to a seasoned wildlife biologist and he told me, “At least the species you are interested in are obvious and not elusive. It would be much harder to study elusive animals.”

He had a good point. At times, the day wore on without news of the whales, and even though we worked hard at taking physical oceanographic measurements, everyone grew worried that we were not going to get enough whale data. This is definitely something to keep in mind in future endeavours.

The emotions arising from “chasing whales” can sometimes get in the way. It’s frustrating, and it makes people anxious. One wonders, what can be done about it?

First of all, the team tried everytime to make the best educated guess of which spot in the Salish Sea would be the best spot to meet the whales, taking into consideration logistics such as biodiesel levels and whether there was a need to pump out or refill fresh water. Our Captain Todd  had been our anchor the entire time, sharing with us his valuable knowledge and experience in seafaring. The navigation program OpenCPN gave us an edge in planning our routes.

The tides and currents played into it, too. Sometimes, the whales were sighted as far north as Point Roberts, and we had to consider the plausibility of making it to Point Roberts and back to San Juan Island for anchor in the evening.

As we did made our best effort to put ourselves in the best position, luck often played a part as well. When there is a lack of data, making a decision to chase whales that are a mile away became a dilemma. Nonetheless, despite these challenges, we had a good number of whale encounters. Some might think it too few, but in the end, the exhilaration of whale encounters, no matter how few or many there were, outweigh the frustration and as everyone got into the rhythm, everything brightened into a good day.

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