Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Rikitea, Mangareva, Gambier Islands, 20th of December

Landfall in Paradise

During our more than three weeks at sea, we saw one ship, about a dozen storm-petrels, a few shearwaters, and a lone masked booby. But not a single albatross, whale, or even a dolphin! The days passed chilly and overcast with an occasional rain shower. At some point, we lost all hope of seeing the sun again - and we were supposed to be in the tropics! 

Only a few days before we arrived in the Gambier islands the temperature skyrocketed to 30+ °C, which felt absolutely marvellous. On the 16th of December, we dropped anchor in a deserted bay of the island of Taravai inside the reef. Although the island was invitingly beautiful with green hills and sandy beaches, we didn’t leave the boat until the following day. Instead, we had a hearty supper and went early to bed. It was wonderful to be able to sleep peacefully eight hours in a row after so many days of three to five hours of sleep on rolling seas. 

As is proper to an island paradise, the beach was dotted with palm trees, and behind the trees began a dense jungle home to local wildlife, in this case, three wild chickens and a rooster (as far as we could see). 

We played Robinson Crusoe and collected ripe, brown coconuts lying on the beach. From these Pekka will later make coconut milk with the traditional Polynesian method using a tool called rapakoko to scrape the inside of the coconut. The milky juice is then squeezed out of the  pulpy mass. With a machete, we also hacked down several yellow coconuts to drink.

On our third day we weighed anchor and reluctantly headed for the village of Rikitea, on the island of Mangareva, to obtain customs clearance. On the way, we remembered that we had discarded our too worn-out French courtesy flag a few years ago, and had forgotten to buy a new one in its stead. This did not present a problem, however, as we used the Dutch courtesy flag, after a few minor alterations, as a substitute!

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz, 22nd of November

Frigate Birds, Tortoises and Iguanas

Magnificent Frigate Bird (chick)

A visit to the Galapagos Islands is a dream to come true for anyone who is interested in nature. And not only because of the islands’ wildlife but also because of their history i.e. Charles Darwin! 

Magnificent Frigate Bird (juvenile)

Magnificent Frigate Bird (adult male)

We went on a day tour to Seymour Norte, an island north of Santa Cruz, which is home to sea lions, marine and land iguanas, and several populations of marine birds, magnificent frigate birds and blue-footed boobies in particular. 

The land iguanas were transferred there from Baltra Island back in the 1930’s to save the species from extinction. 

While Pekka spent most of the week doing maintenance work on our good boat Sarema, Riitta wandered the streets of Ayora taking care not to step on the marine iguanas basking on the pavement. 

She also payed a visit to the Centro de Crianza de Tortugas Fausto Llerena, a breeding center for giant tortoises. There one has an opportunity to observe part of the program that has saved both Galapagos tortoises and other endangered endemic species.

Due to the extremely heavy swell in the bay of Puerto Ayora, we were forced to shorten our stay in Santa Cruz to a little more than a week. We did try to make our life more tolerable by dropping a stern anchor to keep the bow towards the swell but when a water taxi cut our anchor line, we had had enough of the roller coaster conditions in the anchorage, and were more than happy to continue our voyage towards French Polynesia. 

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos 18th of November

Headwinds and Boobies

Six weeks and two days after leaving Bellingham we dropped anchor in Academia Bay, Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands. During our rather tiring leg, the so-called prevailing winds that were first supposed to come from the northwest and then, further south, from the south-southwest never materialised but instead we were forced to push against southeasterlies most of the time. The strange thing here is that according to statistics, there should be NO southeasterlies in this area at this time of the year (or ever)!  So what has made the winds change their direction - climate change, global warming or…(actually, Pekka blames Donald Trump!)?

Fishing-wise we were equally unlucky. During the six weeks at sea we managed to catch only two fish, one bonito and the other we couldn’t identify. In between and after the two fish, we lost a total of four lures, and about a week ago when reeling in a BIG and beautiful mahi-mahi (dorado), first our one and only sturdy fishing rod (130 lb = n. 60 kg) broke and then the line (100 lb = n. 45 kg) snapped. Thenceforth, no more fishing!

But to counterbalance all this, we were extremely lucky with bird watching! Boobies, in particular, both brown (Sula leugocaster) and red-footed (Sula sula) visited Sarema frequently, and some of them even spent the night aboard making use of either our dinghy or the now motionless wind generator. The most peculiar visitor, however, was a somewhat ragged and weary looking red-breasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) that spent two days with us and then disappeared. We think, and hope, that the little fellow moved to a nearby fishing vessel as, at the time, we were more than 200 miles from the coast. 

Although, initially, we had no intention of coming here, we can’t really complain as it is difficult to imagine a more interesting place for a pair of wildlife enthusiasts than the Galapagos Islands!

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Bahia Tortugas, 21st of October

A Detour to Mexico

To our great disappointment everything did not go as planned. After about a week at sea we were hit by a storm (50+ knots) that caused quite a bit of havoc aboard our good boat Sarema: the wind shield canvas was ripped apart on both sides of the cockpit; the newly repaired genoa was torn; Webasto got water through the exhaust pipe and stopped working; the wind generator lost one of its wings and had to be lassoed to stop it rotating uncontrollably (by Pekka, a natural-born cowboy!); china broke when a breaking wave tilted the boat abruptly and the sink emptied its contents on the floor (first time ever!); the inner forestay lower Norseman terminal became loose, and we had to take the sail down, remove all the parts and tie the forestay to the pulpit. And when we hoisted the SEABRAKE (Model GP30L), designed ‘for when the going gets rough’, there was nothing but a mere thimble left of the brake!  

The worst thing is that while heaving to we got a rope around our propeller. As a result, instead of heading for French Polynesia we are currently on our way to Bahia Tortugas where we’ll get the rope removed, repair the torn sail properly, and either reinstall the inner forestay or store it for good. We still have about 400 nm to go, and the anemometer reading is about six and falling. Thank God we are in no hurry!

On the 19th of October, we sailed into Bahia Tortugas aka Bahia San Bartolome, Baja California Sur. Once inside the bay, the wind coming from behind Mount Bartolome began to abate and we had to resort to our emergency plan: Pekka had spent the previous day constructing a rack on the swimming platform for the outboard engine which was now taken into use. 

With the help of the little wind there was left and the outboard engine, we slowly motor-sailed further towards the head of the bay and finally dropped anchor in front of the small village of Turtle Bay. We’ll stay here for a few days to repair at least some of the damage caused by the storm, and then continue our voyage hopefully under more favourable circumstances!

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Bellingham, U.S.A. 1st of October

The End of Inside Passage, finally!

The absolute highlight of the journey from Port Hardy to Bellingham was the town of Sointula! 

Malcolm Island was settled in 1901 by Finnish immigrants in search of a new life, a place where they could establish a utopian community based on the principles of equality and freedom.

In the beginning there were only Finnish people there and their language predominated. The Finns obtained a land grant from the British Columbian Government and set about building their new home on Malcolm Island. They gave the name Sointula - Finnish for “place of harmony” - to the location selected for their permanent settlement. The early years were hard, but gradually the life that these pioneers dreamed of creating became a reality. The community established a cooperative store which is still operating, they learned to cut and mill lumber, they took up fishing as livelihood, and played an influential role in the development of B.C.’s commercial fishing industry. 

To all of these endeavours they brought a spirit of cooperation and also a tough determination that we Finns call SISU.

But it was not all hard work and sacrifice. The newcomers never built a church on the island, but their vision included a place for the arts. They soon erected a meeting place for the community which also served as a venue for theatre and music. Thanks to a gift of books from progressive Finns living in Australia, a small library was also started within months of arriving on the island.

Malcolm Island and the town of Sointula continue to evolve. From a totally Finnish-speaking community Sointula has changed to a mainly English-speaking one. But despite many changes and challenges, the dream of a better life is alive and well!

We arrived in Bellingham, US last Saturday and will continue tomorrow morning our journey down south. If everything goes as planned, we’ll drop anchor in Gambier Islands, French Polynesia, sometime in November. 

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Port Hardy 13th of September

Inside Passage 27th of August - 13th of September

The journey from Ketchikan, USA to Prince Rupert, Canada was windless, countercurrentless and sunny! On the way, we overnighted in a pleasant anchorage in Dundas Island and continued therefrom to Prince Rupert flying the courtesy flags of both Canada and British Columbia, and the Q signal flag indicating that s/y Sarema was healthy and requested free pratique. 

We arrived in Prince Rupert in the evening and, after trying to contact by VHF both Cow Bay Marina and Prince Rupert Yacht and Rowing Club in vain, motored to Rushbrook Harbour where we found a place alongside a big motorboat. Since the very first thing one is supposed to do after arriving in a new country is to contact Customs and Immigration, we headed straight to the harbour master’s office to use their telephone but found that the office was already closed for the day. The telephone number of Customs and Immigration was on the notice board, and there was a public telephone nearby but the problem was that we didn’t have any Canadian money.  And even if we had had Canadian coins it wouldn’t have made any difference because the telephone was out of service. As last resort, we decided to try our Finnish mobile phone which had stopped operating upon our arrival in Alaska and had been non-functioning ever since. To our surprise, we were back in business. Clearly, the crossing of the border had worked wonders!

We spent two sunny days in Prince Rupert but it was wet and windy when we continued our journey. We stopped in Kumealon Inlet for one night but didn’t leave the boat at all because of the miserable weather. The following morning we motored to Lowe Inlet, under blue skies again. After casting anchor, we dinghied near the shore and dropped our crab pot in about seven metres of water and then made a sightseeing tour around the beautiful bay. When we came back to the boat we saw two young, handsome wolves on the shore. We stayed two days in Lowe Inlet so that Pekka could change the bearing and seals of the inner forestay furling (Profurl) which had passed their best before date ages ago. The somewhat troublesome repair was a success, unlike crabbing.

Our next stop was Coghlan Inlet wherefrom we continued to Khutze Inlet. There we stopped at the mouth of the bay to drop our shrimp pot and having done that noticed several humpback whales on the opposite side of the bay.  We motored to the middle of the bay and stopped there to observe the whales. Soon there were more than a dozen humpbacks feeding all around us!   

When we finally decided to leave Riitta said, ‘After all these whales, it would be nice to see a bear for a change.’ ‘I hope the whales don’t take our shrimp pot with them!,’ said Pekka. When motoring into the bay we saw a black bear fishing in a stream near the shore. And, I am sure you have already guessed, when we went to lift the shrimp pot the next morning, there was no shrimp pot there anymore. It had gone with the whales!  

We are quite certain that our wee shrimp pot caused no problem to the whale, but whales themselves can be a problem due to their intelligence. According to the National Fisherman, North Pacific sablefish fisheries have a major problem with sperm whales. These giants help themselves to the catch dangling from longline hooks like hungry customers from an all-you-can-eat conveyer belt sushi buffet. As whales often do, they used adaptive behaviour to determine when the boats were headed out to the fishing grounds and when to strike for their supper.

As hard as it might be imagine, the whales discovered the acoustic signature of a boat shifting in and out of gear meant fish on the line. And that sound has become a dinner bell of sorts to the whales. Over a few seasons the whales perfected their technique and can strip a longline clean, although the average loss is closer to a still astonishing 50 percent. Even when miles away, the gear vibrations are enough to alert a whale who can quickly narrow that distance to feast before the line is pulled to the surface. 

Our next destination was the narrow bay of Bottleneck Inlet. After anchoring we made our traditional tour of the bay and found a salmon stream at the head. In the stream, a black bear was lumbering around trying to find something to fish. This season’s salmon run was clearly over.

When we exited the bottleneck the next morning, we saw two humpback whales on the opposite side of the passage. One whale dived and, after a while, breached! But, alas, it was so far away that we were only able to enjoy this spectacle through binoculars. 

While we stayed put, the whales began nearing us and were soon well within reach of our cameras (Yes, Pekka is nowadays taking photos, too!). According to A Field Guide to the Marine Mammals of the World, it is important not to approach humpbacks too closely, maintaining at least 100 metre distance to the rear, as people have been killed when breaching whales have landed on their boats. 

In this case, however, it was the whales that were coming too close to us, and eventually we had to move further away from them. From a safe distance, we continued watching and enjoying their show as they kept slapping their long, wing-like flippers, moaning and roaring loudly. The meaning of this kind of behaviour is not known, but we think it’s a sign of a happy whale! 

Excerpt from Shearwater Resort and Marina's Visitor's Guide. A good example of the importance of proofreading!
The further south-east we travel, the more boats and people we see. It is almost impossible to find an anchorage where there are no other boats although the season is almost over. How crowded it must be in summer, we can only imagine. 

        On the move!

We are presently anchored  in Kwakume Inlet where we have been for the past three days waiting for the weather to improve. There was first a gale warning in effect which was then upgraded to a storm warning. To pass the time, we have been crabbing with our brand new crab pot we bought in Shearwater. So far, only four Dungeness crabs have found their way into the pot. There must be something wrong with either the bait (cat food as for shrimp) or the location. 
If the weather forecast holds true, we should be able to leave tomorrow morning and continue our interrupted passage towards Port Hardy.

The skies were clear and there was hardly a breeze left of the strong winds as we motored into Port Hardy’s Quarterdeck Marina today. From here we’ll continue towards Bellingham, USA which is going to be our last landfall before leaving for French Polynesia.

Farewell Alaska!

Despite the weather, our last summer in Alaskan waters was truly amazing! Never before had we seen so many bears fishing in the rapids, so many mama bears with a total of three cubs, so many humpback whales lunge-feeding, so many orcas so close to our boat, not to mention the one and only Rufous Hummingbird. Throughout the summer, also after crossing the border, the magic word has been SERENDIPITY, and we hope this magic will last us for the duration of our voyage!

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Ketchikan 26th of August

Inside Passage 15th - 26th of August

We thought we had arrived in Petersburg, USA, but it said “Velkommen to Little Norway!” in the town’s Visitor’s Guide. The reason for this is that many of Petersburg’s residents have Norwegian ancestors who came here to fish and fell in love with the region’s snowy mountains and fjords that reminded them of home. Still a few decades ago, Norwegian was commonly heard on the town’s streets, and Norwegian Constitution Day is celebrated during the Little Norway Festival each May. We stayed two rainy days in Petersburg waiting for the correct timing to go through Wrangell Narrows because the currents in the strait can be very strong (9+ knots). 

We left Petersburg at six in the morning and motored through the narrow strait leading to Wrangell. Our timing was excellent, and only one hour later we arrived in the small town of Wrangell at the mouth of the mighty river of Stikine, which means ‘The Great River’ in Lingit. The Tlingit Indians were the first known inhabitants also in Wrangell and have lived here for at least 5000 years. We visited the Nolan Center in the heart of downtown Wrangell that exhibits, among other things, Tlingit art and an interesting collection of historic photographs that trace the colourful history of this area under the Tlingit, Russian and British occupation. After two extremely rainy days, we filled our fuel tanks, cast off and headed into the bush. 

From Wrangell we motored into East Passage and anchored in Madan Bay located just before the narrowest point of the Passage where the currents are the strongest. The next morning just before high-tide slack we weighed anchor and motored to Berg Bay located just after the narrowest point of the Passage, only about ten miles from Madan Bay. We stayed two days in Berg Bay crabbing and waiting for the weather to improve. The waiting payed off weather-wise as it stopped raining during our second night there. Crabbing-wise we were not as lucky; we only got one Dungeness crab which is now in the deepfreeze waiting for company.

Our next stop was Anan Creek where we dropped anchor in a rather open bay but since there was no wind to speak of (and no rain either!!) it felt safe to leave the boat there unattended. Anan Creek is home to the largest run of pink salmon in Southeast Alaska, but the stream contains all the five different species of salmon as well as Dolly Varden, steelhead, and cutthroat trout, and this abundance of fish attracts large concentrations of bears. Historically, Tlingit Indians established summer fishing camps at Anan and gave the creek the name still used. 

The trail leading to the rapids is about half a mile long, winding through a most beautiful moss-draped rainforest. While walking along the trail we kept talking and singing (Riitta) loudly in order to alert bears of our presence, because a startled bear can be dangerous. The only bear we saw was a brown bear wading in the shallow waters between the creek and the bay. But as we reached the rapids, there were a number of black bears, both young and old, fishing on both sides of the creek. Most of the bears we had seen in Alaska so far had been brown bears or grizzlies and therefore it was extremely interesting to observe black bears for a change, and at such a close range. 

The bears differed from each other both in appearance and in their fishing techniques. Although all the bears were black, some had short fur, some had so long fur that it even had a parting, and a few had partly curly fur. Also the tone of their fur varied ranging between pitch-black and brownish-black. But black bears can also be born with white fur. These white-coated black bears are known as Kermode bears or Spirit Bears. Ranging across British Columbia’s north coast Kermode bears cluster on Princess Royal Island and Gribbell Island. The white bear may owe its survival to the protective traditions of the Indians who never hunted them or spoke of them to fur trappers.

We spent several hours watching the Anan Creek bears, and returned to our boat with more than a thousand photos and everlasting memories. On our way back, after a blind corner, we came literally face to face with a black bear.  We stopped dead in our tracks and waited to see what the bear decided to do. When the bear started to lumber towards us we had but one option and that was to back away ever so slowly (and calmly!!). After getting out of his way, we stopped again but as the bear continued heading towards us we had to back away for another ten metres or so. Now that the bear had plenty of room, he decided to leave the trail and disappeared into a thicket.

When hiking in bear country i.e.anywhere in Alaska, there is Bear Etiquette that you should be familiar with. You should make noise (talk, sing, whistle) so that bears know you are there. You should be alert at all times because bears can be anywhere. If you encounter a bear you should remain calm, speak firmly and let the bear know that you are human. You should never imitate bear sounds or positions because this may be interpreted as a challenge. You should never run because you cannot outrun a bear, and running may trigger the chase instinct. And you should never ever get between a sow and her cubs. 

A sow defending her cubs and a young male wanting to show off are the most dangerous of the bears. Our bear was neither a sow nor a teenager but a big adult bear that didn’t pose a threat to us. But although we knew all this, we have to confess that the experience was quite exciting. We have often been very close to brown bears in our dinghy so that we always had a means to escape if necessary. But here in the forest the situation was quite different.

Our next anchorage was in Santa Anna Inlet just a few hours’ motoring from Anan Creek. We dropped our shrimp pot on our way into the bay and lifted it the next morning on our way to Meyers Chuck. There were eight big shrimp which made a nice lunch. On the way to Meyers Chuck, the wind picked up from 0 to 40 knots in an instant after entering Clarence Strait. The wind and the current that came from opposite directions made the seas so choppy that we had no chance of getting to Meyers Chuck. We did a U-turn almost in front of the village and sailed to Vixen Inlet where we spent the night. In the evening we studied the GRIB files and decided to leave the following afternoon. There was nothing left of yesterday’s winds when we motored to Meyers Chuck, and after just a few hours, we dropped anchor in front of the village public floats. 

Less than ten hours later at 4 am, we weighed anchor again and headed for Clarence Strait. According to the tide tables, there was supposed to be 3 to 4 knot current that should have speeded our way to Ketchikan but, for some unknown reason, this current never materialised! And when the wind picked up soon after our departure from Meyers Chuck, we were tacking against the current and the 25 - 30 knot winds (small craft advisory!) across Clarence Strait again and again all the way to Ketchikan where we arrived at 4.15 in the afternoon. The distance between Meyers Chuck and Ketchikan is about 30+ miles but for us it was 50+ miles, and instead of the normal six hours, it took us about 12 hours to reach Ketchikan!  

Ketchikan is our last port of call in Alaska. The marina we are in is called Bar Harbor and it’s quite a funny coincidence that when we arrived in the USA for the very first time about twelve years ago, the town where we obtained customs clearance was also called Bar Harbor (Maine). 

Although we are in rainforest area, the rains of the past fortnight or so have been abnormally heavy and are partly due to Typhoon Banyan that left behind a sky-bound column of water vapour carrying an amount of water nearly equivalent to the average flow at the mouth of the Mississippi River, the largest US river in terms of volume. The Ketchikan International Airport reported yesterday that more than 30 cm of rain fell during the past three days. 
We’ll depart for Prince Rupert as soon as the weather permits, and hope to see bluer skies in Canada!