Saturday, May 9, 2009

Hauling out on the grid in Sitka

We are back in Sitka--had a good trip around from Warm Springs Bay. One
of my first boat projects was hauling out on the tide grid to bottom paint
change zincs, and grease my variable pitch prop.
The tide grid is a system of pilings and bents. We position the boat over the bents
at high tide and tie off to the pilings. As the tide goes out, the boat slowly settles down
on top of the bents. If you do it right, the boat will remain upright and allow access to
the bottom until the tide comes back in.

Putting Sailboat Bob on the grid is a little more complicated than most
boats, as we have a wing keel and have to make sure the rudder doesn't
settle on a bent (which would cause some damage).
I always make sure I'm on the boat as it resettles on each high
tide to make sure the boat doesn't shift and come down in the
wrong place. On this grid, I probably have about a foot of leeway.
The fun part about being on the grid is that you have to go on a six
hour cycle. The high tide is usually in the middle of the night this
time of year, so you lose the first nights sleep moving the boat over
to the grid and waiting for it to touch down. Then you grab a couple
hours sleep and are up about 4 AM when the tide is low enough to get
at the bottom of the boat. A few hours later, the tide will chase you back
to shore and you have a few hours to run around to pick up all the things
you needed while the tide was low but didn't want to waste tide by chasing
them down. And a few hours later the boat will start to settle back down
on the grid as the tide starts to drop, so you need to be back to the boat to
make sure it comes down straight again. These cycles repeat until you're
and ready to float off (again in the middle of the night, ruining another
good night's sleep.
The boat standing straight up on the grid.
Most states have laws about the toxic materials that come off boats when
they haul out. You have to use a tarp to capture particles (bottom paint is
toxic because its job is to kill anything that tries to grow on your boat below
the waterline). Any water goes into a drain that is filtered before it is allowed
to return to the sea.
In Alaska, everybody runs their boat up on the grid, which submerges in the
sea twice a day. Old bottom paint is scraped, burned, or sanded off and pretty
much drop to the ground to be carried away by the next tide. Old zincs, paint
cans, plastic, and assorted unneccessary pieces of boat lay around, covered with
thick marine growth. Beds of mussels grow between the bents, and clams squirt
guysers of water into the air at low tide. Gulls and ravens scavenge constantly,
and as the tide comes in, fish, sea lions, seals and otters cruise through looking
for a meal. I guess they haven't read the notices that the grid area should be too
toxic to support life....

The coast guard buoy tender, the Maple, across the channel
from the grid, visited us in Warm Springs Bay last winter.

Besides bottom painting with anti-fouling paint, I also changed
my shaft zincs (which prevents galvanic corrosion to any metal
parts of the boat).

I also greased my max-prop. I can change the pitch on the prop,
and when we are under sail, I can feather the blades to minimize
drag. The prop automatically changes pitch when I shift into into
reverse for more efficiency when backing or stopping the boat. This
prop cost a lot more than most of the cars I've ever owned.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Spring is Springing!

Spring finally appears to have sprung here in the bay. It hasn't snowed in about 10 days, we have had a few days of sunshine and even some rain! Although we still have maybe 7 feet of snow outside the lodge, we are down to bare deck and boardwalk.

We are getting packed up and ready to take the boat back to Sitka before we start our regular jobs. Jen will be making up for lost time by flying (a lot) with Alaska Airlines and she'll also be busy supervising me on some of our sailing charters this summer. We leave here around May 1, depending on when the lodge crew arrives and what the weather is doing. As I write this we have boxes everywhere around the lodge and things are a bit cluttered, which makes Jen very cranky. Luckily, we haven't run out of chocolate yet so we are able to manage her temper.

Since everybody has been asking, here is the story about the brown bear that ate Jen's favorite deer, Jo.

There are a lot of deer that have been hanging around the beach in front of the lodge--it's about the only place they can find anything to eat because of all the snow on the ground. Jo was just one of maybe seven or eight deer we would see most days, and apparantly not a part of the larger group of deer that hang together. There are two sets of doe and fawns, but Jo was a fawn on her own. She actually seemed intimidated by the others, and kept to herself.

Here is Jo in happier times. He/she (we think it was a she) was not quite a yearling and often grazed and slept under our boardwalk. We saw her almost every day and Jen usually went out to spend time with her, and Jo was accustomed to Jen getting close to her. Then four or five days went by, and each time Jen went out to look for Jo she was nowhere to be seen--we did notice some ravens and the eagles being very vocal and flying very close to the lodge.

As I was running the snowblower one day, a raven flew out from the Squirrel Tree--a large hemlock that has a very active resident red squirrel. I looked over the snowbank and saw what was left of Jo in the hollow at the base of the tree. I didn't think too much about all the bones showing--after all, the eagles, ravens, martens, and minks had been feeding on her for a few days. Jen was devastated and didn't want me to move the carcass, wanting to leave Jo where she had apparantly curled up to die. That was fine, but the next day I checked on the hollow and Jo was absolutely covered with a huge volume of very fresh bear scat (aka bear shit). The bear wasn't around, but it was time for Jo to have a burial at sea, as bears can become sort of teritorial about their kills, and the squirrel tree is only about 15 yards from the back door of the lodge. We looked back at the first photo Jen shot of Jo's body, and noticed that there was bear scat deposited on her even before this fresh pile.

The snow was too hard for tracks around the hollow, but we found bear tracks in the softer snow around the lodge. The back paws measured 13" in length. We had a bear wander through two winters ago that measured 16" along its prints.

For scale, that is Jen's bootprint on the right (the one with no claw marks at the toes).

Jo's final ride--she got to go out in the skiff for a burial at sea. Originally we thought that Jo had just succumbed to a hard winter, but after finding the bear sign and moving the carcass, we discovered that her shoulder had been separated--probably by a hungry bear, just waking up from a long winter's nap.

On to a more cheerful topic--our neighbor Christine has been spending the winter in Eugene this year. She sent up a package with early Christmas gifts for next year (She is very organized!). Feral scored big time with a pile of toys and feline accessories, while the humans in the bay cashed in on hand knit custom Christine-style socks. Our friend John, who shovels every deck and set of stairs over at the townsite had snow shovels personalizing his socks!

With the warming temperatures, calmer seas (for the most part), and the opening of some commercial fisheries, we are starting to see more boat traffic in the bay. Our friend Dave Knapp brought his boat around the island for a spring shake-down cruise and stopped by the bay.

The Heuer/Emerick gang flew over to stay in one of the cabins in "town". Here a couple of animals face off before dinner.

We are finally down to bare boardwalks and decks. There is still a lot of snow on the ground, but it is nice not to be walking on snow and ice all the time! Yesterday Jen finally agreed we could take down the boardwalk lights, and now our nights are inky (bear-less?) black.

There are a couple of minks hanging out around the lodge. In fact, one of them tried to live in our battery room off the shop for a while this winter. They don't have very good toilet habits, so I was able to convince him to move back outside by chasing him out and then barricading the door with a hand cart.

To make up for having to rough it outside, we sometimes leave a few food scraps out for him and the martens.

We put some bacon grease out on the deck which was whisker-lickin' good. The minks, martens, and even a red squirrel all enjoyed taking a few bites before moving on with their usual routines, until the Mink Dawg got smart and picked up the whole thing and disappeared under the deck.

Now you know why we call this Deerborne Alley, off the I-5 Corridor. There is actually a Dearborn Street and exit in Seattle off the I-5 freeway.

The Trumpeter Swans have been moving through. We've seen a group of three, a group of six and a group of 23 either swimming around the bay or flying overhead.
And of course we see Bald Eagles just about any time we look for them.

We will be leaving the bay for Sitka in a couple of weeks. That gave us a problem, because my skiff is stored on the ground by one of the guest cabins. I had to take the snowblower out a few times to snowblow a path into it, much like Deerborne Alley. We still haven't launched the skiff, as it hasn't quite melted out of the snow, but we are just waiting now for the right day.

Because the crew cabins are buried in snow, I also took a snowblower up there to try to clear the snow around them. When the crew gets here around May 1, at least they will be able to open the doors which were almost buried with snow.

Feral coming home after checking out the snowblowing job I did at the crew cabins.

Here she is going past "Jo Hollow"--look out for bears, Feral!

Friday, April 3, 2009


Well, winter is hanging on here in the bay. Last night (Thursday night) we had a low of 21 degrees. We still have about 8 feet of snow on the ground and tonight there is a snow warning calling for up to 4" of snow. We regularly get two to three times the forecast because of our little microclimate, so we're braced and ready.

Although it has been snowing most days, we did get have a clear day this week and took the kayaks out for a paddle.

With the sun out, we decided to shovel off the kayaks and
do a little spring kayaking around the bay. We pushed off
the dock under clear skies and calm seas.

If you look closely, you can see sailboat Bob and the lodge to
the left of the orange kayak.

Although it was sunny when we left the dock, by the time we
had paddled over to the other side of the bay, it started to snow.

Then we ran into ice in the first arm. We paddled through it
for a while before giving up and heading back to open water.

We paddled over to "town" and by the time we got to the
waterfall, the sun was back out. This is Baranof falls.

You can see that there is still a lot of snow here on cabins.

Paddling over to the salt chuck.

Inside the Salt Chuck--there is a narrow (15 foot?) entrance
that opens up after you pass through a channel of maybe 100
yards. The incoming tide fills the salt chuck and as the tide
drops, the entrance actually becomes a rapids as the water
funnels through the narrow channel and the depth drops.

There were lots of birds--meganzers, goldeneye, scaups, &
surf scoters inside. We also saw several deer along the shore.

We still have a lot of snow around the lodge!

Digging down to the beach

As of April 1st, our winter snowfall is just over 26 feet. Although we had a total of over 35 feet two winters ago, it has been colder this year and we have about the same amount of snow on the ground. Jen was tired of looking at a big wall of snow and we had no easy way to get down to the beach, so we decided to make a path through the snowbank. The way we make decisions is that Jen decides and I do it. The bank was 9 feet high and it's about 20 feet down to the beach.

We started out by putting a hose out and melting a
tunnel through the bank. That took about a week.

Even while we were melting, the snow kept coming down.

Putting a sun roof in our new snow cave!

Then shoveling to break through to the surface.

Feral checking things out.

The view from the tunnel looking back up to the lodge.

Seeing daylight.

Time to get serious!

The big picture.....


Feral coming over for inspection!