04 December 2014 | Anchorage
24 July 2014 | Bulldog Cove
21 July 2014 | Shelikof Straight
10 May 2014 | Maleolap Atoll
07 May 2014 | Maloelap Atoll
02 March 2014 | Rongerik Atoll
12 February 2014 | Ailuk Atoll
22 December 2013 | Majuro
09 December 2013 | Majuro
27 November 2013 | Tarawa
Losing a Friend
04 December 2014 | Anchorage
Kiri was born just over one year ago in the small Pacific island nation of Kiribati (pronounced "kiri-bas.") At a gas station in Tarawa, I'd noticed the tiny kitten's tail sticking out of an empty single serving Mylar potato chip bag. She was flea-ridden and mangy, but her eyes shown brightly. "What do you say Lolo," I asked? "We only have the Marshall Islands to go through before we get home to Alaska. You have wanted a cat - and they are not going to care when we get to Dutch." We eyed her keenly and assessed the situation. Her life here in Tarawa, would surely end soon - falling prey either to the nocturnal cannibalistic dog packs, or starvation. We made a pact and agreed; "if she only lives one month with us, she will surely have a better life that she would here."
With the gas station attendant's blessing, we adopted her and brought her home to Radiance. We bathed her in a plastic tub and picked the fleas from her tiny body - which fit in the palm of my hand. Over the next seven months, Kiri would grow into a fine young feline and become a valued crew member and dear friend - serving as watch-mate for an epic voyage of almost 5000 nautical miles of sailing. As Lolo and I stood watch schedules 24/7, Kiri kept us company with her playful antics and warm snuggles. We cared for her like a child and she made our house a home. Together, we endured the mundane with the terrifying, big waves and sea-sickness, the sweltering heat of the tropics, and the frigid temperatures as we moved north. We taught her the ways of life aboard but she knew nothing of life ashore.
In August, our voyage ended when we arrived in Seward, Alaska, and moved to a home in Anchorage. We were worried about her, but she seemed to delight in everything new....trees, birds, grass, strange animals...indeed, everything was wild and amazing and she was full of enthusiasm. She refused to be kept indoors, so we got her fixed and got her a collar. She ventured ever-farther from the front door, but always returned to climb atop Lolo's chest at night - roaring away with her enthusiastic purring. Then she'd settle at our feet for the night. In the morning, she'd rise with me and the alarm clock for a quick snack and then want to go outside.
Yesterday was just such a day. In the morning, I lifted her and gave her a snuggle, and then looking at the new fallen snow outside, let her out. I woke Piper, made coffee and called outside for Kiri. Then I took a shower and called Kiri. I got dressed and Piper made her lunch, and I called Kiri. "Piper, we have to get going so I can get you to school." I said. We hopped in the car and began to drive.
On the next street over, in the middle of the darkly lit road - atop fresh white snow, I saw a black and white object. I knew it was Kiri but I did not want to believe that. I pulled the car over. She lay still - with only a dusting of fresh snow on her fur. Blood dripped from her mouth and her eyes were wide open. I took her in my arms, held her head and buried my face into her fur. "Oh Kiri, it's OK......sweetie.....it's OK." She was warm and her eyes were wide open. Her body was limp, but she seemed as if she was still there. Through tears, Piper and I stroked her and spoke to her - telling her "it's OK.... We love you Kiri...we love you."
I didn't know what to do. I knew she was dead, or nearly so and I thought that Lolo should say goodbye, so we raced back home and broke the terrible news. I gave Kiri one last hug - her body still warm and fur, soft and supple, then lay her in a shoe-box and drove Piper to school.
I have never, in all my years felt so saddened by the loss of a pet. I used to believe that as humans, we could heal. And even our hearts could heal and be good as new. But I know now, after living and experiencing loss as long as I have that a piece of your heart dies each time. And it leaves a hole... that will never, ever, be filled again.
There is a hole in the house and it hurts. As I look at Kiri's collar, half-empty food dish, and little ball of tinfoil, I realize she will never know how much she meant to us, how much she helped us on our passage, how much she was loved, or how much she will be missed by us. By all measure, Kiri won the lottery in quality of life and though her life was short, I will never, ever forget her. I don't for a second regret adopting her, but I only wish she had been able to stay a little longer.
24 July 2014 | Bulldog Cove
We slip through the small cut in Granite Island that opens into Taz Basin - a spectacular jewel of an anchorage along the Kenai Fjords. It is boisterous and rolly outside, but placid and serene in the tiny basin. Hundreds of feet of solid granite shield us from the wind outside and it's almost eerie just how quiet and still it suddenly becomes. We drop the hook in 85 feet of water, though we are just a hundred feet from the shore. Launching the dinghy, we decide to take Kiri with us and consider the smooth granite rocks a safe place for her. She has been to shore exactly twice in her life - once with me on a deserted atoll in the Marshalls, and once in Kodiak to visit the vet and get her shots. She is beyond reluctant, more terrified. But in a matter of days she will be living the life of a landlubber, so this will be good for her. She scurries across the granite boulders and into the brush - meowing in protest. With Piper's help we coax her out after picking some blueberries for breakfast pancakes and take her near the summit to overlook the rollicking sea on the other side. She is not impressed and instead of hiking with us, scampers into a hole quite deep between the huge boulders. O.K. she is a cat. She needs to be rescued by the equivalent of the fire department. Fine. She can wait. I look back upon Radiance floating in the placid tranquil water and tugging at her anchor line. This unassuming and relatively tiny eggshell of fiberglass has transported us some 20,000 miles over the last two years. She looks a little tired..with yellow salt water stains along her waterline. She has been good to us. She has kept us safe and sound. She has delivered us home. As I look down upon her, with my daughter at my side, I ponder this for a moment. We decide to head back to the boat but first must rescue the cat from the tiny bear-like den she has wedged herself into. Lolo takes off her hat and jacket and lays down in the rocks - reaching far down into the hole and grabs Kiri by the scruff of the neck. She can't really move, so she hands the cat up to Piper who hands her to me. I stuff her into the arm hole of Lolo's jacket and she does not complain. She wants to be saved. We head back to the boat for dinner and a movie and sleep well. This morning after some blueberry pancakes and a short excursion ashore, we head off to Resurrection Bay....our home waters. Trolling through Pony Cove, I hook a silver salmon but it manages to shake the hook. I can't believe we are here. Everything looks so beautiful. The mountains, the water....the water. The water is...is...greenbluesilver. It's kind of Fender sea foam green, but that's not it. It's silvery, Brach's candy blue..or Kenai River green. I struggle to describe it. It's, it's,.....it's home. There is no other color like it. I see my soul in it just under the wavelets. There is stupid chatter on the radio - from Deshka River tinnies here for the Seward Silver Salmon Derby. They are like Jr. High School boys on the radio. I cringe at their radio etiquette and wish the coast guard would issue citations to them. But, I know they are weekend warriors from Anchorage and they have short fuses. Was I like that? Will I be like that again? I have always been a sap. I've wondered how I would feel arriving back home after such a long journey...after such a long time...a very long time planning for this trip. This trip of a lifetime. I know I will get choked up. Maybe not now, maybe not tomorrow - when we pull into Seward and tie up the boat..to the dock..from whence we left some 20,000 miles and two years ago. But if I happen to be in your company and I do start to get all teary eyed, be forewarned as I'm sure it is going to happen - and probably more than once. We are home and I feel not unlike I did after I graduated from high school - heading off to college and an uncertain future. For I certainly have an uncertain future. But it is one I do face with pride and open arms.
21 July 2014 | Shelikof Straight
We are leaving Kaflia Bay on the Alaska Peninsula this morning. Stretched across the Shelikof Straight I can see the entire Kodiak Island chain in the distance. It's another beautiful day. We've spent the last four days exploring, bear viewing, picking salmon berries and just plain ogling the overwhelming scenery in one of Alaska's true gems - Geographic Harbor. Lush green mountains thrust steeply from the emerald sea, their tops still covered with thick volcanic ash from the huge novarupta eruption in 1912. Volumes of this coarse ash form light tan colored beaches - giving the shallow waters a tropical appearance and we couldn't help but to take a swim at one. Though the tides weren't quite low enough for clamming, it didn't stop the bears from strolling along the beaches and we were constantly on the lookout, shouting "hey bear, ho bear." We watched numerous fluffy sows with anywhere from one to three roly-poly cubs. On one small beach, several bears congregated near a dead sea mammal, posturing and challenging one another for the right to feed. It seemed one male bear was the king though and he guarded the feed with bravado while the others gazed on yearningly. We watched him pull great hunks of fat from the carcass - stuffing himself for hours. Exploring the shallow lagoons by dinghy, we stuffed ourselves with huge bright salmon berries, saving some for pancakes and pie! We met the fish and wildlife volunteers, Dan and Mary - the only seasonal inhabitants of Geographic Harbor and they told us of an archeological dig going on at Takli Island where they have found artifacts from settlements dating back 4000 years or more. In short, I could spend the whole summer right here.. But the tick of the clock is becoming more audible as we near the end of our journey. So we moved up the coast another 20-miles last night, stopping at Kaflia Bay (the very site where Timothy Treadwell - aka grizzly man and his girlfriend Amy, were killed and eaten by a particularly hungry brown bear.) We dropped the hook near a perfect sand beach in bright emerald water. Mountains rose straight up around us and we watched huge schools of salmon fry roll around the boat. I commented "look at the water. It's just so amazingly beautiful." Lolo said "wow, look at this place. Wow!" Slightly mocking us, Piper said "look - it's just so.....normal." I guess we can tell we've been away for two years. It's true we've seen some really spectacular, beautiful and amazing places. Though I've lived in Alaska for nearly fifty years, I am still humbled and awed by this place and it makes me so happy to know that the most spectacular and amazing place we've seen on our trip..is the very place we call home. I am reminded of a quote I once read which seems to ring true: "We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploration will be to arrive where we started. And to know the place for the first time." -T.S. Elliot, "Little Gidding"
10 July 2014
They say those who gaze upon Priest Rock are destined to come to Dutch Harbor again. It is for this reason we were warned by our friend Nic not to look at it. But it was too late. After finishing a celebratory steak dinner aboard, we stood on C-float watching the myriad of bald eagles and fired away our questions at our neighbor John Kelly - the first live person we'd talked to in 25 days. Over dessert aboard, he shared his special reserve of Japanese Suntory whiskey (empty bottles of which we'd seen all over the beaches of the Marshall Islands, but had never tasted) and we talked until 3am before finally realizing it was late; a fine welcome to the land of the midnight sun. Over the next few days we explored the thriving fishing town of Dutch Harbor and old town of Unalaska. As the number one fishing port in the nation, Dutch Harbor handles 800-million pounds of bottom fish and crab per year. I'd planned to cash in on a crab feast or two so we saved our appetites for Sunday brunch at the Grand Aleutian Hotel where amongst other delights, there is a never ending giant bowl of red king crab legs. I love crab, but especially king crab. The feast was delicious and we had earned it crossing 3300 miles to get here. After the second heaping plateful, I was stuffed - this being only the second time in my life to admit I could eat no more crab (Brad West will remember the other.) For the next few days we ogled at the wares in the ship supply store and shopped at the giant Safeway which sports the most amazing display of diverse and fresh produce we've seen in over a year. We had a cheeseburger at the Harbor Bar and walked into Unalaska. Lolo relished in a long hot shower at the community center, while I photographed the historic Russian Orthodox Church and noted the site of the once famous Elbow Room bar. During the hay day of the king crab fishery, fishermen rolling in cash would wait in line to get in, often tipping the waitresses with 100 dollar bills for their drinks. We picked up some groceries for dinner and stopped at the hotel on the way back to relish a pint of fine Alaskan IPA on tap. Good food and good beer. Nobody does it like the good ole USA..even in Dutch Harbor. On the dock, we were greeted by a friend of a friend, Frank Kelty, who asked if we'd seen much of the place and graciously offered to take us on a driving tour the next day. Frank, it turns out, has been in Dutch Harbor since 1973, is a wealth of information and had even been the mayor of Unalaska for a number of years. After picking up a couple more pounds of king crab from Mike's Firehouse, we were sipping Alaskan Amber and preparing for another crab feast when the radio crackled to life with the voices of our friends on Off Tempo. They were still hours away, but would make it in tonight - after 33 days at sea. Later, while chatting and congratulating them on deck, another gentleman named Cooper motored by in his small boat and handed us a couple packs of fresh sockeye salmon. Damn, it's good to be back home and if we find ourselves in Dutch Harbor again, that will be just fine with me.
Looks like July 4 in Dutch
04 July 2014
Every sailor knows that any plan made is subject to change. In spite of our best intentions, it seems that forces have conspired to deliver us to Dutch Harbor. The last 24 hours have seen us bucking headwinds and 3 meter seas trying to beat eastward. When I pulled up the chart this morning, it showed 124 miles to Dutch...or 1-more day, and that began to sound pretty appealing. This was followed by a series of email exchanges. Piper would not be able to join us in Kodiak as early as originally planned due to her summer vaulting competitions, and then Brian and Terri from Off Tempo informed us of the "all you can eat Sunday brunch" at the Grand Aleutian Hotel in Dutch where it is reported "the crab alone is worth the price." When we also realized that tomorrow is the 4th of July, it seemed meant to be. Plus we may not get another easy chance to visit Dutch Harbor, and it's right here. Besides all of that....we're pretty exhausted and ready for a whole nights sleep. Chances are we can't stay long and we might even luck out and find some westerlies which would make a nice sail for the final leg. Now if we can just keep Kiri away from all the tomcats.
After the Gale
02 July 2014
We just passed the 50th parallel, but it has not come easily. Our passage thus far has seen unseasonable weather - and an onslaught of lows traveling across the pacific. The North Pacific high has waxed and waned - allowing these festering lows to migrate into our path and several days ago we found ourselves on the wrong side of one and riding out a gale for a couple days. 30-knots of sustained wind and 4 meter seas begin to take their toll on a boat and crew after a while. The boat is washed repetitively with sea water, and it eventually finds it's way into places through small deck leaks we never had. The cacophony of riot is astounding. Rigging strains with shock load forces as the boat lurches and bounds through the seaway. Bulkheads creak incessantly and drips of seawater appear on the settee cushions and the forward bunk. We are wet. It's impossible to sleep as my ears lock into every sound for clues of something going wrong. I think about contingencies..if something happens, what will I need to do quickly? What about this? What about that? If we hit something, or something hits us, how will we stop the water? Will we have time? If we lose the rig, how will I rig an antenna for the HF radio? What if one of us gets badly injured, or worse, falls overboard? We're over a thousand miles from anywhere and there's nobody else out here. We are essentially alone on the planet. I've thought about these things before, but in a gale, the loop plays over and over and it's stressful. Kiri, our cat, is not impressed and she climbs onto our chest peering into our eyes as if to say "can you please make this stop? " We took some evasive action by veering north to let the low sweep over us faster and it did. Things have been much better since yesterday, though we are seemingly trapped in the center of the low in dense fog as it moves along with us. But our weather guru tells us things will be improving as this dissipates and there's nothing concerning in the near forecast. We've now sailed over 3000 miles and have 750 miles to go. With any luck we'll make Kodiak in 6 days. Looks like we'll miss 4th of July, but it will sure be nice to dry out, see Piper and maybe even stroll on up to the Kodiak Island Brewery...not necessarily in that order.