Wednesday, June 24, 2009

On the Same Ocean

I want to share a comment Maureen Gordon left after one of my recent posts. Maureen and her husband Kevin own Maple Leaf Adventures, an ecotour company which runs trips in BC and Alaska, under sail, on the historic schooner Maple Leaf. I have worked as a resource person onboard each summer for many years and as a result have had the chance to see some of the most beautiful spots on the Pacific Northwest Coast.
My recent travels have been spectacular but I can say (with authority now) that our own coast and islands are equally dazzling.  


Around about the time you were writing this, heading north on Circadia, Kevin, Paul, Lila and I were heading north on Maple Leaf.

And at some point, I thought of you two briefly, about where you were and whether you would come home at all!

    It was 5 a.m. Alaska time when you wrote this post, and I was trying to ignore our alarm clock. Unlike you and Kim in your ocean-going boat, free of land in the blue, blue sea, we were creatures of the coast, dropping anchor at night, travelling by daylight.

We were on a crew-only transit from Sandspit to Sitka.
     While you were bucking those tremendous squalls in the south Pacific and thinking of the Queen Charlotte Islands, we were in the North Pacific, moving away from the Charlottes, bucking waves and a building wind in Hecate Strait. Sunshine, though, no clouds. 

At one point, the day we headed northeast toward the mainland, you could have shot a straight line from your boat to ours and not hit a single island in between.

 Since you know the area, I'll tell you what we were doing. 
We'd dropped anchor 7 hours before you wrote. We'd tucked into a bay filled with rocks, just out of the huge copper mirror that Clarence Strait had become in the Alaskan sunset. That sunset seemed to fade not to black but ever pinker, while we stood and watched a humpback whale, no doubt incoming from Hawaii, slowly breathe and sound, swimming the path up the channel we'd abandoned for the night. The whale was more like you than us, travelling on without the need to put out a chain and rest. 

The sunset stayed through hanging the anchor light, opening a bottle of shiraz and sharing 2/3 of it. It was hard to stop looking at the sea. I realized that since we'd rounded Cape St. James on June 2, we'd been heading northwest into a brilliant sunset every night. I noted this because we were always out on deck taking pictures of the bow in the sunset.

We slept and had to wake early.

Within three-quarters of an hour of you writing, the anchor light was away, the coffee, tea and GreensPlus Energy drink were brewed (three people, three different stimulants!). We were following that humpback north for another long, long June day, crawling ever farther up the chart of southeast Alaska, still two days away from our own turning point (Sitka).

It's frightening and comforting to think about us both on the same ocean, so very far from one another but doing a similar thing ... so far away that if this technology didn't exist we'd never have an inkling of the others' existence right now.

That day was epic, a calm run and chores in the morning. Then a brief opening to the Pacific, that allowed some sea otters and us to share a brief inspection of each other. Then into Rocky Pass between Kupreanof and Kuiu Islands, where Kevin and Paul turned Maple Leaf about 120 times in 90 minutes. We traversed The Devil's Elbow at exactly high slack. The pass was so shallow it felt like we should be kayaking. 

(A moose and her calf on shore, another sea otter in the water and a great big black bear ... and no ability to stop and watch.) 

Then onward, out past Kake into Frederick Sound. I was at the helm and looking for humpback whales as the wind increased to 15 or 20 knots over an ebbing tide. 

After five minutes of constantly having to re-find a whale's splash in the growing whitecaps, punctuated by closing hatches and staring into the sun for logs and debris, I decided I was trying way too hard to whale watch. 
    We spent 90 minutes in the exciting sea hanging out in the wheelhouse as waves hit the hull from the port side and sprayed over a deck ... foredeck, well deck, aft deck, wherever the wave happened to hit. 

Great mats of rockweed, the size of a livingroom floor, were sloshing around Frederick Sound and once when a wave sprayed against the bow it broke not only into water drops but also flying bits of rockweed.

Then we were across and surfing downwind, up Chatham Strait, into Warm Springs Bay for the night.
Love, Maureen 

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