Friday, October 22, 2010

Inflatable boat finally reaches it's goal!

The first hard-bottomed inflatable boat that crossed the Northwest Passage along the Arctic has finally reached it's goal. We discussed it's trip on an earlier blog this month. Here is an excerpt from today's Kodiak Daily Mirror newspaper:

"The Zodiac crew that stopped in Kodiak on its way back from the Northwest Passage arrived safely in Victoria, Canada.

After more than a week waiting for a good weather window the crew left Kodiak at 3 a.m. on Oct. 6.

Across the Gulf of Alaska the weather was rough, but not as bad as it had been in the Bering Sea. The small boat reached Cape Spencer near Juneau in 22 hours.

The boat arrived home Oct. 13, somewhat the worse for wear.

“We literally had one engine hanging off the back,” navigator Scott Barnes said. “We had to use the ratchet straps to attach it. We had to pretty much limp the boat back, but we made it.”

The boat’s trip over the top of North America was the first in a rigid hull inflatable boat. The trip was organized to test the boat’s shock absorbing seats."

Back in June we talked about a group that came in the opposite direction, along the Northeast passage in a well supplied tug boat. They brought enough food for one year in case they got stranded in a port over Russia. Being French, that included wine. Check it out at

Here is another boat I spotted as I kayaked out to check on the Sea Lions. It travels throught the Artic Summer or winter!.

It's the Healy, the largest ice breaker in the USCG fleet. These guys carry enough supplies to live on board for 11 months, in case they get ice-locked. But, probably no wine. check it out at:

The tug in the June story was about the size of the small baby blue boat in these pics. The Zodiac would be a small spec, maybe twice the length of the Coast Guard's anchor!!

Seems strange, having the largest and the smallest boat that has sailed those northern waters in our harbor at the same time.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fall is in the air

Yes, Fall has arrive in Kodiak.
Here are some local pictures from mid October.

By comparison, Anchorage has lost it's leaves and they are expecting snow this week.

Fairbanks usually has its first freeze on Sept 8th. Their first snow usually falls on Sept 21st. Fortunately this year both were late (according to a weather report I saw on TV).

We recently traveled by Seattle on the 3rd week of Oct. and it was beautiful. They sure had a lot more reds than we do, either in Kodiak or the Alaskan mainland.

But they have all the congestion of the "The Big City" !

Time to put up the Summer toys

With the shorttening of the day, it is time to put up the summer toys.

No more kayak on the roof or fishing stuff on the back.

Just the old rusted 4WD. Time to mount it's studded tires, so it'll grip the road, no matter the weather.

Sea Lions sunning on their pier, before their nightly hunt

One of the things I learned about sea lions last month was their activity before going out hunting. It's not something I read.....and I might be all wrong. But this is what I saw over and over again this Fall.

I would kayak to their pier in the harbor after work and see them taking a nice nap. They'd start waking up as the sun started to hide behind Pillar Mt. The young ones would get in the water to play around the pier for about 30 minutes. Then some older ones would take them to play a few hundred yards away from their pier, to practice jumping and diving together. Later they went out of the harbor in a big group. I imagine it was for a nightly hunt.

My prior blog was was about them starting their trip out of the harbor and coming up to startle me in the kayak. They seemed to be having fun, and did not seem to intend me any harm.

Today's video is a series of 3 different visits I made while they were still sleeping. As the older ones woke and enjoyed the sun on the pier, the young ones would play in the water, swimming on their backs and letting their flippers catch the sun rays. Looked like fins of sharks sticking out...but barely moving as they floated by.

Hope you enjoy what I saw.

P.S. The trick, I learned, is to paddle very quietly up wind, and start very far away from their pier as they were still sleeping. Then I'd let the light wind carry my kayak towards them without making any sound. As long as I came slowly and quietly, they didn't get excited.

Admittedly this is in the Fall. They have returned form their Summer hunt and even the big ones have grown quite a bit since my Spring blog. Full tummy means a happy heart...and a non-mean sea lion. I would NOT ever try getting anywhere this close in the Winter or Spring time, when they are really hungry.

To see their behavior when they were really hungry, check out my YouTube from the end of Winter as I went eagle watching annoticed the sea lions at the edge of the dock. It starts with he arrival of 3 and eventually 15 to 18; all looking to get on board that fishing boat and getting a free meal. Two eventually did get on board, but didn't get to the fish before falling off the ramp.

Sea Lions surprise lone kayaker

On a calm September day, with the water acting like a mirror, I was taking pics of boat's reflections at one of our fishing boat marinas.

Suddenly 3 sea lions came up, about 20 feet from my kayak, just to check me out. I didn't realize how surprised I was till I heard the quiver in my voice.

But it turned out to be fun, watching them as they watched me. So, later in September I decided to learn more about their behavior.

Every night after work, I would kayak out and study them at their pier in St Herman Harbor (also called Dog Salmon Harbor by some).

Here's a series of pics and videos as they swam around me, on their way our of the harbor to go hunting.

Do you realize that when they come out of the water to breath, their heads are as big a bear's; they stick up higher than my kayak....and they spray water out of their nose for 4 - 6 feet.

It was indeed fun....after I realized they were just playing with me.

P.S. The yellowish images were taken later that day, when they decided to give me a special "show". With the setting sun behind them, it was neat catching the drops of water as they jumped in and out of the water. At one point some had about 2/3rds of their body in the air; looked more like whales than sea lions. I never had seen them jump that high. I didn't get it all on film. Thought I had it on video, but I guess I didn't press the record button hard enough to start the camera. It's easy to mess up when so much is happening around you.

More about them another day.

The last of the berries

Here we go. Talking about food again.

Well, when Fall comes, that is the end of all fresh local foods till lettuce and rhubarb in May or June.

So, the end of Sept and early Oct is the time to climb Pillar and pick up some of those low bush "cranberries".

They are not as big as store bought ones. But, they taste better when you pick them yourself.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Guns in Alaska

This weekend we took the concealled weapons class. Not because we need to.

Handguns,rifles and shotguns have always been legal in Alaska. The average Alaskan owns 3.5 guns. You can wear them openly.

The only reason they made the Alaska concealled weapons law in 2003 was so that you could wear a jacket over your gun.

Locally, it is wise to wear one while fishing and hiking. Although the great majority of our local brown Kodiak bears are nice, you never know when one might act mean. So we pack a handgun quite often in the woods. And we practice. The indoor range is quite a social place in the Fall and Winter.

So it is no surprise that Kodiak is the number one contrubutor to the NRA in total dollars; even more than the big cities like Dallas.... and we only have 14,000 people!

Here is our class make-up: 30% Coast Guard personnel, 30% physicians, 10% nurnsing, 10% clergy, 10% educational, and 10% other. We all passed.

For the class we had to use an outline of a "human" target". But, I'll tell you, the prior weekend was much more popular. In the Fall and in the Spring they have a "charging bear" event. A poster of a bear is placed on a cart that is pulled to you as fast as possible. The goal is to draw you weapon and incapasitate the bear before he reaches you. Admittedly it is closer to 20 instead of a bear's 30-35 mile per hour charge.

It is a lot of fun.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

More famous boats in Kodiak

Last Spring we talked about a French group that got an old tug, replaced the engines with efficient new ones and even put a sail to help them save gas. They started in the Spring of 2009, sailed north around France, Scandanavia, turned East around Russia along the Northeast Passage and eventually made it to Alaska and Kodiak in May 2010.

Well, in September a Canadian group decided to get an 37 foot inflatable Zodiac, left New Brunswick and came across the broken ice of the Artic while Summer lasted. Their goal: 8,000 mile trip by turning West north of Canada, along the Northwest Passage, rounding Alaska and then going south to the west coast of Canada.These 2 guys were not into gas savings.

Here I take the liberty to paraphrase an article by Sam Friedman in the Kodiak Daily Mirror newspaper.

Their goal was to make it as quick as possible. And so they got three engines with 300 horsepowers each! With special "bladders" they can carry 1,000 gallons of gas and travel 1,000 miles between fill-ups. Is that 1 mile per gallon? Not bad for a boat that can reach 70 mph! (Much better than the tug's 8 gallons per mile, but without the comforts of home)

And travel quick is what they needed to do. Without a galley, a bunk, or head (eg toilet), they didn't want to stay out there too long.

Here's a picture of the "cabin": vinyl; and the size for 2 to sit in. Imagine living off granola bars and sleeping while sitting up.

Good thing one of these guys owns a company that makes special seats for boats that go out in rough seas: shock absorbers on the stem and special straps to keep them on the seat. Instead of riding out the storm they push through it.

Storms in the Bering Sea can alter anyone's plans. Riding through, strapped to their seats, caused 25Gs of acceleration as they rode those waves. That's twice the accelaration a fighter pilot experiences. So, it was down to 15 knots progress in seas in which fishing boats make absolutely no progeress, they just ride the troughs. Two and a half days and they make it form Barrow to False Pass!

So, once they got to False Pass they decide to spend a night on land and sleep in a cabin overnight. But that is not too restful either. A bear wakes them up, tearing down the wall of their cabin. So its back to the "safety" of their boat.

Last I hear, they were in our marina, seriously thinking of putting their boat on a barge and getting on a plane back to Canada.

1,500 miles short of their goal. But alive.

I think sometimes we do get some peculiar people here.

(P.S. Maybe, for comparison, next time we'll show you the largest ice breaker in the USCG fleet).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hunting time in AK

"Going hunting" is an excused absence from school in Alaska. And it should be. You can learn a lot by hunting.

Plus, it might actually be what puts food on your table.

This summer, for example we had a family over for dinner. The teenagers just kept talking about how our BBQ burgers tasted so different. Turns out they have eateelk and moose for over a year. Cattle just tasted so different that they like it. (We, on the other hand, were equally impressed with the elk steaks they left for us).

We have no moose or elk in Kodiak. So if you don't want bear, deer, or buffalo (the last 2 were "imported" to the island years ago), it'll require a ferry ride to get your food.

So here is a picture of a young Kodiak teenager, on her excused hunting expedition to the mainland, earlier in September.

Note that she is actually the one who shot the larger moose.

Those antlers have a 58 inch spread!

This is just part of an Alaskan's education.

Incidently, did you notice? ...... Those are NOT all trees behind them.