The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 10

Mice in The Hice

We are docked in Prince Rupert, B.C. It feels great to be back in Canadian waters.  Audrey has been de-registered in record time thanks to Sheila (she is amazing) and we are once again Canadian registered with our home Port being Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.  We were never boarded by the U.S. homeland security, but the threat was always there like a heavy, very oppressive weight hovering over our bow. There is something about 18 year old boys with 50 calibre machine guns at their disposal that makes us really nervous. (The homeland security team in Alaska)

“Audrey Eleanor” had called Prince Rupert home for ten years prior to us taking her north to Haines, Alaska. Her former owners Blake and Amy along with old admirers showed up for a general inspection. The beer and yarns flow thick and fast. (We had to shovel her out the next day, the B.S. levels were high)  It was a great homecoming for the grand old lady after a two-year absence. We reluctantly leave our moorage at the Cow Bay docks in Prince Rupert and disappear with muffled engines into drizzle and fog.

As we motored away little did we know that we had acquired a stowaway who would drive us to the depths of despair.  He is darkly handsome, short and round with glossy black fur and an exceptionally long tail.  The little bugger is everywhere.  Our rule is that we have enough dry and canned goods aboard to last a month.  I have sprout seeds to provide live green stuff, we also experiment with sea asparagus and seaweeds and supplement some of these strange “greens” as the Captain refers to them with fish and crab.  Of course you sometimes come across a little corner store at the end of a falling down dock, which has vegetables lingering in bins that no one else wants, this is why they are still here of course.  These tiny supply stores can be miles in between nowhere.

His trail of red lentils gives him away.  It’s the strangest thing… to see trails of red lentils appearing and disappearing through out the boat. Then beautiful white toilet paper flowers began to show up in the dresser drawers and in closets. These kind of white flowers you sometimes see along the banks of the Yukon River (the toilet paper kind).  These ones are the nest type though.

One of the few things we do not have on board is mice or rattraps.  We are three hours out of Prince Rupert and not about to let a little mouse drive us back to port.  The Captain reverts back to his days of trapping and life is exciting.  There are water buckets set up with little ramps and string lines strung across the mouths of buckets to rotating bait…none of this is working.

Three days of mouse may not seem like a long time, but we are up close and very personal here…he scratches around at night, we can hear him under our berth, I start to think that I can hear him breathing. He has destroyed a month’s worth of beans, rice and a whole extra large bag of lime-flavoured nacho chips has simply vanished.  He leaves the empty bag as if to say in your face people.

When your time comes, your time comes.  The Captain gets up early and makes his way to the head (toilet) to find an extremely exhausted mouse swimming laps in the toilet bowl.  There is no sympathy; the intruder is immediately pinched by his long tail and lopped through the air, off the stern of the boat and he hits the water with a plop.  The crew and Captain feel a great sense of relief and a fish receives an early breakfast.  We are mouse free!!

The weather has been terrible so we are now sleeping up in the saloon on the floor.  We have better visibility up here.  I roll over on the mattress and look down through the focscle to the forward head. You can imagine my horror when I catch a glimpse of a very, very fat furry butt diving into a crevice in the wall.  This for sure is Mrs. Mouse and she looks like she will deliver a horde of lentil munchers at any moment.

If we don’t catch her before all of those babies are born, we will have to bring Audrey up on the hard and de-mouse her with some nasty chemical type stuff.  My theory about killer chemicals for rodents and bug sprays is, if it kills them it will kill us.  We may be bigger, but it will only take a little longer. To take a 30 tonne yacht up on the hard (land) is extremely expensive.  Regardless, there are no facilities in this remote area to handle us.  We would have had to live with the mouse infestation for two weeks or more, depending on the weather.

If Mr. Mouse was difficult to catch, Mrs. Mouse makes him look like an amateur.  She becomes bold enough to run over us as we try to sleep in the saloon.  I have to sleep with my head under the blankets, I am afraid that she will get caught in my hair.  The stress of her invasion is driving us crazy.  We are doing the sea going version of caddy shack.  I am beginning to appreciate that we don’t have a gun.  While I would not miss the mouse I would be concerned about a hole being blasted in the hull.  The Captain has had enough.

She calmly enjoys our peanut butter bait every evening and continues to build toilet paper nests in the hold, in the galley (closer to the peanut butter bait) the stash of toilet paper is almost depleted…things are getting serious.  She does not forget however, to leave her lovely little black offerings everywhere that she has been.  We are at our wits end.

Necessity IS the mother of invention.  Simultaneously we yell “the heads!”  The Captain smears a 2”x 2” piece of blue Styrofoam with the last of the peanut butter.  The bait gets set afloat in the head.   Well, my goodness gracious if Mrs. Mouse doesn’t fall into the same trap as her husband, we find her swimming exhausted in the head the next morning.  Without hesitation she is lopped off the stern of the boat as well and another fish is fed.  If anyone for one second feels any sympathy for this terrorizing critter, you should live with mice in your hice!

P.S. a young Inuit girl that I went to school with in Kugluktuk insisted that if mice was plural for mouse, then hice had to be plural for house, you couldn’t have one without the other.  People in the house were also a cause for it to be plural.  It has stuck in my head.  Her English was much better than my Inuktituk.

The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 9

Tracey Arm channel of icebergs

Word has gotten out that Tracey Arm rivals Glacier Bay for magnificent glaciers and stunning scenery. The ice walls calve and collapse into the ocean with a force that creates huge resounding waves. Waves tinkle the neon blue icebergs like giant ice cubes mingling with new friends in a crystal glass. This solid granite canyon must have been created when the earth experienced an extreme upheaval and the rock cracked like a hard-boiled egg to expose wide white bands of contrasting colour that offset the milky green water. This is the ultimate in exterior design.

Tracey Arm is south of Juneau, Alaska by approximately 50 K. Icebergs ranging from barely noticeable (bergies) to spectacular glistening jewels guard the entrance to Tracy Arm. Navigation is difficult because the ice can obscure the range markers at the entrance, or solid blue crystals block the pathway, “Bergs or bergies” do not move readily.

At low tide the whole procedure becomes quite interesting as swirls and tidal rips develop in the sea and mountains of ice sway in the current, intent on blocking your route…while we have had to do some tricky navigating to get inside, it is worth it.

Traffic has increased since we first explored this channel; the cruise ships now navigate the rock canyons. Depending on the year, the icebergs can limit your access up the 30 K channel and tides of course affect everything.

We are making our way south this time and cannot resist trying once again to get a look at Sawyer Glacier. A past attempt to reach the end of the arm and see the glacier had been thwarted by a flotilla of icebergs at the 10 K range, the tides aren’t running in our favour this time either, but what the heck, and as I’m sure you know by now “God hates a coward”.

The anchor gets dropped in the little bay in the mouth of the arm. There are several boats here this time. A 45’ sailboat has tied to the trees along the shore and looks to be about 4’ away from the sheer rock edge. It is difficult to anchor with a combination of baby icebergs and boats all crowding for the limited space. This is quite a difference from the last time we visited, when we were the sole occupants in the cove. From my galley window I can see a little iceberg that’s attempting to rub shoulders with Audrey, it’s fairly small and is floating, so no worries. The little iceberg needs to worry; the Captain has decided that he wants to fill the ice coolers with berg ice. This ice is compressed, ancient and lasts way longer than any ice we can buy or make, it makes such a beautiful blue contrast against red crab.

We are a few days from Petersburg and will stock up on King crab when we get there. By stock up I mean we will eat all that we can and get a whole live one for the road. Any seafood if better when it’s fresh, so our philosophy is to catch it as we need it or flag down the commercial boats to see if they are able to sell or trade their catch. The prawn fishers seem to prefer swapping prawns for beer rather than cash. This barter system is often preferred, fresh bread goes almost as far as beer, but not quite.

Seafood is so delicate it takes no time before it acquires a freezer flavour that reduces it to mystery fish. Hmm are you sure that this is halibut, tastes like salt cod! How much do two people really need? I would like to come back tomorrow and still be able to get King crab. Leave the big guys for reproduction and throw the little guys back so they can grow up.

The little “berg” is roped to the side of the boat and the Captain hacks away at crystals of brilliant blue. He passes me one of the bigger chunks to feel, it is heavier than regular ice.

In the morning a huge cruise ship is leaving the Arm, we wait for the ice to quit moving from their wake before we head up the channel. The tide is returning so we are following the bergs into the Arm, we hope that we have enough time before the tide changes and we have to fight our way against the ice.

On a little rock ledge there is a momma bear with this years cubs hiding between her legs. It’s a straight drop into the ocean below if they slip. We are not sure of what she is trying to accomplish and she’s looking a little uncertain herself. Audrey slows down and we stay far enough away from her so we don’t add to the confusion.

With a roar a thirty-foot tour boat comes out of nowhere. The idiot pilot stops his boat right under the bears and cameras click like typewriters gone berserk…the poor bears scatter up the cliff, the babies are bawling in fear with the whites in their eyes showing in terror. They are slipping and falling, we fully expect to see one of them drop the 20 feet into the ocean. The Captain is furious, if we would have found anything on board to throw at this stupid tour operator it would have happened

The tour boat hits full throttle again and roars off around the corner, leaving the rest of us to deal with the ice banging against our hulls from the wake they’ve created. The bears shoot dirty looks over their shoulders as they top the 60-foot cliff; obviously they are glad to be done with all of us. I can see momma bear muttering, ”some people’s children, no manners at all!

Our necks are cramping from looking skyward up the straight flat rock that heads straight up to the sun and drops directly below the surface of the ocean. With the shear drop into the ocean the depth of the water allows for some unusual boating.   Waterfalls cascade down the rock all around us, spilling beautiful crystal clear glacier water into the sea.

The Captain brings Audrey’s bow toward the shoreline between two waterfalls. I am on the bow, not sure what he is doing. He slowly inches us forward until our bow is touching the sheer rock face between the two falls. This is so out of the realm of usual that my instincts are on full alert, “we’re too close to the rock, we’re too close to the rock.” What comes out my mouth is; “what in the hell are you doing?” He laughs, puts Audrey in neutral and throws me the water jug. “You’ve always wanted to take a shower under a waterfall” he says, “I expect by the time that the jug is only partially full, you will be soaking wet.”

I cannot back down because this is true, I do mange to fill the jug AND stay fairly dry. It’s an incredible feeling being underneath tons of falling water with mist blowing around you, I would love to do it again, in warmer water! This liquid ice will be great for drinking and it makes exceptional coffee.

Around the corner under full throttle cruises the “Empress of the North”. She’s a replica of an old riverboat complete with fake waterwheel. If you glitzed up the SS Klondike in Whitehorse, Yukon and she would be a smaller twin. Her hull is smashing through the ice and we wonder if she’s been re-enforced as an icebreaker. We have seen her several times before, her passengers always seem the happiest of the cruisers. They hang over the sides and wave and shout as they go by, lots of the other cruise ship passengers don’t respond to a friendly wave. Everyone is heading for the glacier.

A small thump resonates a vibration through the hull, then a bigger one and a bigger vibration. We are two kilometres from the glacier, but the tide has turned and now the icebergs are bumping against our hull, it is amazing how little “give” there is in a floating block of ice. I’d assumed that our bow wake would simply push the ice to the side, that isn’t what happens. The little ones will move, by little I mean no bigger than three feet in diameter, after that it’s like hitting a rock wall. Sitting still we can feel the ice hitting the hull, causing vibrations through Audrey’s bones, it’s time to back out of here. The ice is packing quickly so we do have to back up to get out of the icepack. Again, so close and yet so far, next time we’ll make it.

P.S. The Empress of the North has a record of running aground at least once a year. She ran aground again shortly after we saw her and was out of commission for the rest to the season. Whatever they are doing they seem to have the most fun while they are afloat.

The Empress of the North in Tracy Arm, Alaska

The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 8


A Sleeping Giant

A Grey whale snoozes beside the Audrey Eleanor, the clank of the anchor wakes him and with a single graceful sway of his tail he moves on.

Audrey pulled away her moorage in Haines, Alaska on July 26, 2006.   Haines was difficult to leave; we’d established wonderful friendships on the docks and in the community as well. Richard from the Eleanor S would no longer commission us to spy on his daughter, she sometimes spent the night onboard the Eleanor S. He wanted to know whom she was holding hands with. She prepared her own reports for us to pass along to Richard her vigilant father.

Carl off of Driftwood Charters had married Jenny and was no longer perusing Canadian girls. We had enjoyed many Dungeness crab fests at his little house tucked into the Alaskan wilderness with an outlook over Mud Bay. While we ate he quizzed us on available Whitehorse women. His honesty was refreshing; Carl was looking for a wife. Not a maid or a nurse, but a wife who would be his partner during his life. He had criteria to follow and was direct in his approach. Jenny ended up being his lady.

This does not remind me of Carl, but it jumps into my mind as part of the usual gyrations of northern romance. I am reminded of a time when my brother Joel and I were in Haines years ago. He was chatting up the barmaid and asked what had brought her to Alaska, her reply, ‘the men’. His eyes lit up at the response. When he asked if she had been successful in her search she replied, “The odds are good and the goods are odd.” I laughed for days over this.

Judy from the homebuilt ship the Arcturus, gave us her personal copy of a book that she wrote on edible plants in Alaska. The University of Alaska was in the process of having it published, it supplied us with invaluable information on edible plants and seaweed in Alaska. I developed a fondness for sea asparagus.

B.J McLean from Whitehorse donated a copy of her CD ‘January Thaw’ I’m not sure if it helped with the homesickness or made it worse…it sings of our Yukon home and is still one of our favourites. B.J.’s songs bring the northern night skies and friendships crawling up onto your lap anywhere that you go. She suggested that the Captain pay particular attention to the “Plump and Friendly Northern Girl” song. He loved flirting with her.

My brother Kurtis had decided that we needed an escort from Haines to at least Hoonah, Alaska. Kurtis uses ANY reason to escape to the sea. Our escort grew to include my parents, Ricks’ youngest daughter Alanah, Kurt’s wife Janine and my little niece Jianna Mia, who was five months old at the time. Jianna is a very special little girl; we waited for her for 10 years. She finally arrived after her parents spent a most wonderful long weekend boating in Alaska.   Mia her middle name, stands for Made in Alaska.

We end up dropping the hook behind Sullivan Island the first day out; our 8 knots couldn’t out run the weather we ran into alongside Eldred Rock. The next afternoon we motored into Hoonah, Yukon. That is not a typo; there were more Yukoners on the transient dock than Alaskans. The flying bridge on Audrey is a most social place. The Captain deep fried fresh halibut on the back deck and the fishing stories on the bridge grew as the pinks and purples of the summer night sky reflected back at us in the glass calm water.

Fishing in Hoonah! For some of us in the north, this is what summer is! Icy Straight is thick with marine life; salmon jump out of the water saying pick me, look at me, pick me. I know, I know I’ve heard the sea lice theory, I prefer mine. People say that Icy Straight is a living aquarium and I agree. Kurtis heads out to scout out the fishing ground. We are the mother ship, most meals are done aboard Audrey and the jolly jumper is easy entertainment for Jianna and us as well. A little wake action winds up the jolly jumper and gets that baby swinging in all directions.

At 8knots (approx. 10mph) we get to see a lot of things that I suspect a person misses at 20+ mph. Porpoises love our bow wake, they ride it and roll and race each other. If you lie on the bow and hang your head over the edge they roll over and make eye contact. They will continue to stay in the wake with eye contact as long as you can carry on an ANIMATED conversation with them. It’s harder then it sounds, a one-way conversation with a marine mammal runs out of steam quickly, what to say to a porpoise? A friend of mine who knows these things says very loud female opera keeps them fascinated for half an hour at a time…I have yet to try.

We catch up with Kurtis at the fishing ground, anchors are set, fishing lines are baited with squid and dropped, the games have begun. Once the engines are cut, the quiet drops down off of the mountains and the sea sings its song. We are surrounded and serenaded by choruses of whale song. Their calls pulse deep through the black water and resonate in our bones. In their world, even in a large boat we are comparatively very, very small. Thank goodness they tolerate us and allow our intrusion into their life. The sonar and depth sounders are silenced, these waves can kill sea life, yes especially whales. Turn off you sonar around sea life and especially Whales.

The whale songs remind me of when I was a child. I would swing apiece of garden hose through the air for sound effect; it’s a close second to the sound of these humpback whales. I touch Audrey’s hull and the vibration of their songs carries through the wood and in to my hands and vibrates to the tips of my fingers. I have contact.

The majority of the halibut we are catching are chickens, (roughly 40lbs and less) and in my opinion the best eating. I tell our boys at moose hunting season, you don’t eat the antlers; try to shoot a nice young bull. The smaller the horns, the younger the animal and the better the meat. With some of the big old bulls I believe that the horns would be better eating than the tough old critter it came from. I believe that the same applies to halibut. Mercury levels in fish rise as the age of them increases the longer the time frame of growth, the more the toxins accumulate in the flesh of the fish.

With all of our concentration focused on hauling in halibut we don’t notice that a sleeping giant has slipped quietly into the neighbourhood.

One by one we notice our visitor, we need to pay attention and pull in our fishing lines. Everyone tip toes and whispers as we edge closer to the port side of the boat. There, a few feet from the gunnels is an incredible sight, a sleeping whale. This giant male is suspended beside us in the sea and is very close to the same size as the Audrey Eleanor. We are in awe, we whisper to each other in amazement. Then we begin to worry, he hasn’t moved for a long time, is he hurt or possibly dead?

We’ve never seen a sleeping whale before. The whale is drifting with the tide. It is getting closer and closer to the Audrey Eleanor. The Captain decides that we need to pull anchor, if the whale wakes and is startled we don’t know how he will react. One quick flick of his gigantic tail could be the end of us all. We have been told that the few disastrous whale encounters have usually been while they are asleep or they are startled out of sleep. The clank of the chain and anchor wake him and with no effort he moves his colossal tail and leaves us to wonder.

The captain now begins to wonder about his crew. I have put Audrey in reverse and begin to slowly back away…holy shit! Our day’s catch of halibut is tied under the swim grid off the aft deck. I cut the engines quickly and we all rush to see what kind of damage has been done. The screws (propellers) have perfectly cut off the tail of one fish and slightly chewed the tail of another. Tonight’s supper is intact and I am singing with whales, hallelujah!

Elfin Cove is located on the northwestern corner of Chichagof Island, west of Juneau, Alaska. This is just on the outside edge of the inside passage, still in fairly protected waters, the outer edge leads straight to Japan. We have been repeatedly told that our boat will not be able to navigate the narrow and shallow dredged channel that leads into the protected inner harbour of Elfin Cove. ‘God hates a coward’ are what the Captain responds with, his war cry. Audrey is soon safely secured to the dock, in Elfin Cove, in the inner harbour.

What is this place? We have entered another world. Crooked little houses in bright colours hang off of the rocky cliffs. Flowers are being grown in anything that will hold dirt: an old boot, hollowed out log, rusty teapots sprout beautiful blooms. There are no cars or trucks, there are no roads! Boardwalk webs connect house-to-house and house to dock. Fly here or boat here, lack of access keeps the crowds down in this place of magic. Halibut are caught off of the dock, still. Who could have discovered this tiny harbour tucked into this remote Island? What a jewel was uncovered with the discovery of this tiny harbour, they first explorers must have been elated to discover this magical space.

Monsoons in Alaska. Ask anyone who has boated here and they will verify the truth of this. Tonight it is pouring, a deluge. Our 32-volt chest freezer onboard is loaded with the last few days catch of halibut. Dinner is in the saloon of the Audrey Eleanor; packed wall to wall with steaming people our house lights slowly fade and are becoming dim. The heat from the oil fired Dickinson stove in the galley is competing with the chill and wet of this down pour, setting off its own clouds of condensation. Lights are fading into black and it is getting harder and harder to see, we think it’s from the steam of soggy people, but begin to realize that the lights are dimming from some other sinister reason.

Power is being lost. Oh no, the freezer is full of everyone’s halibut, how long will they stay frozen? Salmon and crab cakes are forgotten as everyone throws their solution in the melting pot of ideas. On board one of the fish boats the electrical repair guy, he knows nothing about a 32-volt system. He recalls that his grandfather had one on his fishing boat, but that’s extent of that. By process of elimination the Captain has narrowed the solution down to; we need to go to Juneau for parts, quickly, before the fish thaw.

Kurtis heads over to Pelican Cove the next afternoon, we have to wait for flood tide to leave the inner harbour. Audrey and the crew make waves for Juneau, possibly Hoonah. Old systems can be fixed; this is why we have maintained our 32-volt system. Over all it mostly works and if it doesn’t replacement parts can either be found or made. Basic mechanics puts things right again. 32-volt light bulbs are expensive; on the other hand I have not had to replace a bulb in years.

We experience our first real Ocean swell as we leave Elfin Cove. Open to Russia and Japan the sea rolls into the mouth of Icy Straights. Swells are telling you that there is a storm out on the open ocean somewhere distant. Pay attention, it could be coming your way. Swells warn you to take cover on the inside. As fast as our 8 knots can go we are heading to Hoonah. The rise and the fall of the great swells underneath us are exhilarating, this is fun. It makes it difficult to see the whales.

Great greys are slapping giant tails on the Ocean; they breach and fall back into the mighty sea with huge waves that ripple mini tsunamis. These giant whales are in their home element. Dahl porpoises zip in rings around each other, looking like baby killer whales; they remind me of puppies chasing each other’s tails. I love their grace and ease as they slice through the water with smiles on their porpoise faces. I now realize the reasons that salmon begin to spring in the air for no apparent reason; someone underneath them wants them for dinner. They are trying to escape.

Manoeuvring parts of this and bits of that the Captain has managed to coax the compressor on the fridge and freezer to produce cold again. With the freezer crammed to capacity the halibut maintained its temperature, so no spoiled fish.

P.S. The morning that we finally left Hoonah, I woke to find an incredible gift sitting on the back deck. Richard Boyce’s daughter that we were supposed to be spying on in Haines was in Icy Straight commercial halibut fishing with her father…she left me a giant barnacle as a going away present. The size of it is hardly believable. Almost two years later we ran into her in La Paz, Mexico. She was working as 3rd mate onboard the “Sea Lion” a National Geographic ship that was doing exploration work in the Sea of Cortez. You just never know, where are you now Lucy?

The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 7

Behind Sullivan Island

Our friends from Texas, Lubor and Tena lounge on the flying bridge of the Audrey Eleanor, the Captain Rick Cousins is in the background.  We are leaving Sullivan Island.

For a quick escape into the wilder, wilderness of Alaska aboard the ‘speed demon’ Audrey Eleanor it takes approximately 2 hours and is roughly 30 K.  We love to cruise behind Sullivan Island, south of Haines, Alaska and swing on the hook for few days of solitude.

The warmth of friends who came along for the ride enhances memories of these excursions; they were all shanghaied as willing crews.  David brought his guitar and sang ballads about the Yukon and Northern B.C. that he had written himself.  My favourite is still the one about being “up behind the mine in Faro,” where’s the C.D. David?

On this particular trip we have a large stash of fireworks aboard.  Shooting off fireworks in the Northern summer has always been a bit of a conundrum to me.  I think the fireworks that we shoot off on July 01 could be saved for the winter so that we can actually see them.  Fireworks are visual; it is supposed to visual is it not?  The venue changes if you are sitting in a harbour that is encased in huge snow capped mountains.  These create a perfect backdrop and reflector of sound, these mammoth stonewalls create the perfect platform for an echo, an echo, an echo, echo.


David and Don go ashore to light the entertainment.  Diane, Jean and myself sit on the flying bridge waiting to see what the results will be, it is June in the land of the Midnight Sun after all, a summer solstice month.  The Captain is on the bow with the binoculars watching the whole procedure.  “It’s lit”, he calls, and even with our naked eyes we can see the little puff of smoke on the beach.  A thin trail of smoke follows the tiny, tiny light that straggles into the sky and dies out with a disappointingly small bang.  A collective breath escapes the audience, oh well; we have all had this experience before.

But what is this?  An echo begins to build in the mountains.  It sounds like a gunshot in the distance as it rolls around the mountain rim and grows in volume.  The little bang has grown in strength and begins to echo back and forth between the rock walls.  This is very interesting, now the fireworks do have some entertainment value.  The guys are excited as they set off a combination of rockets.

Sounds start small and grow with a crescendo of deep booms.  Bursts of staccato gunfire shots engulf us.  We are yelling in excitement but can’t hear each other.  The vibrations are felt through the deck and climb the legs of our chairs.  This is the three dimensional effect that Disney has been trying to duplicate.  Round after round of fireworks rattles the chairs. We are sure that they must hear it in Haines and are preparing for the much-anticipated invasion of Terrorists we keep hearing about from our Southern neighbours.  The homeland security gang wasn’t here this weekend thank goodness.

The pyro crew climbs back into the zodiac on the beach we can barely see them for the gunpowder smoke.   A distant echo reaches further and further, and finally climbs back over the last mountain.  We are silent; shadows of the thunder from the rockets are still reverberating in our empty cranial chambers.  Sound, loud sound empties the mind. With a great sigh, the top level of silence is broken; David will have to sing his heart out to top that…he does.

Tides in Alaska are stronger and much larger than in Texas.  The Texans would never agree to that, but it is reality.  Friends of ours from Texas will have to attest to that.  Lubor and Tena wanted to go ashore to explore the Alaskan wilderness.  The zodiac and kicker are heavy; you can sort of drag them along the beach if there are no barnacles or such to tear and rip out the bottom of this rubber boat.  On a wet tidal beach the boat sucks down deep into the muck and it is impossible to get it to move without removing the kicker.  When we told them about the tide, I believe that they thought that nothing could be bigger then anything in Texas.  This simply wasn’t possible or the concept didn’t register.  They teach them that in Texas you know.

The Captain and myself stayed aboard to clean up and re-organize and to let the couple have a bit of a run away.  They often visit the Yukon and Alaska to re-charge and escape the crazy pressures of life in Houston, Texas. Sometimes in day-to-day conversation with our friends I wonder how they survived their lifestyle in that wasp’s nest.  They in turn could not understand our priorities.  I only know that if I wanted to relax and regroup I wouldn’t be going to Texas to do it.

This couple would show up in Whitehorse stretched to the limit and looking like they could not spend another day in their world.  When it was time for them to leave, the light was back in their eyes and they souls were re-charged.  I often wondered what would happen if they just stayed.  Simply stepped out of their other life in the big city. What type of people would they become with all of the material fluff removed from their lives?  I wanted them to know that most of us already knew about that “other” life and we had chosen to leave it behind.  We chose to be Northerners.

The tide rises 26 feet some days and it drops 26 feet some days.  Today was one of those days.  They caught it about half way out and pulled the zodiac on the beach so it wouldn’t leave.  This was very thoughtful for sure. With the tide going out though, getting the zodiac back to water was going to be HARD!  After a leisurely walk on the beach they returned to find themselves with the zodiac high and dry.  Tena is not a very strong lady and the weight for Lubor to pull alone was simply too much.  They tugged and pulled and made no headway.

We can see a momma grizzly and three babies off in the distance.  Now we are feeling a little excited.  We don’t want to scare these southern people just yet. Lubor removes the kicker and heads towards the ocean.  He doesn’t set it close enough to the water, I’m sure he is considering that the tide should now return…it would be in Texas.   He returns to the zodiac and without the weight of the kicker he and Tena can now drag the zodiac to the water.  The water is now further past where the kicker is set.  The zodiac is left at the water’s edge and the whole procedure is repeated, a few times over.  They start their return to Audrey exhausted.

In the meantime, momma grizzly and the three cubs have gotten to the spot where the initial parking of the zodiac took place.  Momma is agitated because from the opposite end of the beach a big Black boar bear is approaching her and her family on a collision course. Plus she can smell humans on her beach. We watched from on board, the Captain with his hand on his rifle.  Our two Texans are rowing toward the boat unaware of this whole other drama going on, we never did tell them.

Tena must have had an extra sense about the whole thing though.  She stayed on board the next day and was sitting on the flying bridge in 27c sunshine with her jacket on.  She kept trying to call out on her cell phone, finally in frustration she yelled, “the damned thing won’t work, what am I going to do?”  I told her that it was unlikely that the cell would work behind this Island and that was one of the great things about this area, NO CELL service, life slows down when you get rid of the cell phone.  She gave me a variety of reasons why she had to stay connected.  The reasons were all rationalized away. When the truth finally showed it’s naked face there really was not much I could say, she blurted,  “ Well when the bears swim out to attack us how can I call 911?”

The Captain had his first hummingbird experience behind Sullivan Island.  No, this is not code for something else.  Hummingbirds move so quickly that it’s hard to see them the first time, especially against the water.  I am trying to explain to my hard of hearing Captain what they sound like, not a chance.  In the state of Michoacán, Mexico there is an ancient archaeological site with a village called Zinzunzan.  These ancient peoples named the village after the sound that a hummingbird makes.

My Captain is lying on the front deck, shirtless in the sunshine; I am climbing up from inside the saloon and call to him.  He sits up just as a hummingbird decides to check out this strange flower.  There they are.  The hummingbird suspended in mid-flight with his needle like beak, maybe an inch away from the Captains beak.  They both try to focus on their opposing obstacles to no avail.  I can’t tell if the hummingbird is cross-eyed, but the Captain sure is. The hummingbird gives up trying to figure out this cross-eyed flower and whirls (zinzunzan) off into the sunshine.  Now the Captain knows what Hummingbirds sound like…and look like.

P.S. Lubor now you know, the” Rest of The Storey.”

The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 6

Nude Whale Observation

I am glad to have my clothes on, the author Dawn kostelnik at the helm of the Audrey Eleanor motoring from Juneau Alaska to Haines Alaska


It is a beautiful HOT spring day as we leave Juneau, Alaska (the capital city of Alaska) heading for Haines on the last leg of our trip to home moorage in Haines, Alaska.  We are crewing our 1948 wooden Yacht, the Audrey Eleanor from Prince Rupert, B.C. Canada

The sky is a brilliant blue that is matched by the swells on the ocean.  Without the snow tipped mountains as a break it would have been hard to tell where sky ended and sea begins.  The gentle rolling of the swells is rocking us to sleep as the heat builds; the sun is finally radiating some warmth. The golden rays are penetrating our bodies, wave upon wave of warmth.  Equally, layer-by-layer our clothing is coming off, it is finally summer.  The flying bridge on Audrey is portioned off from most views by a two and a half-foot barrier of blue canvas.  If you are lying on the deck on a lounge mat as I am, you cannot be seen by anything less than a cruise ship at close range.  There is no chance of that.

The warmth of the sun feels wonderful; my inner core may actually be defrosting after another long winter.  Both the Captain and I have little left on in the way of clothing. We are cruising through isolated Alaskan waters, who would want to sneak up on middle-aged nudists. The Captain is at the helm clad only in his boxers, I think he could remove the hat. I must have dozed off in the comfort of the sun; I wake startled from a deep sleep to “starboard, starboard!” I roll over to the rail and pull myself up to take a peek overboard.

A Grey Humpbacked whale mom breaks the surface of the sea with a gentle sway of her giant tail; her baby energetically celebrating its new life by jumping for the sun.  It circles its mother and leaps skyward ‘grabbing air’ and landing with gigantic baby belly flops.  The residual waves are large enough to sink a kayak.  This is a good-natured mother.  She slows down to allow for the special playtime.  You can feel the joy of the baby as he tries again and again to reach the sun.

I am totally focused on the baby whale. My concentration is broken by an evil little chuckle vibrating in the Captain’s chest.  This is the sound of a deviate, I know this sound, this sound means that somehow I am about to be embarrassed; someway, somehow.  Being so absorbed in the whales I hadn’t noticed the cruise ship approaching us directly from the bow, it appears to be on top of us.  This is one of the smaller ships that offer a more intimate cruising experience.  Their experience with the Audrey Eleanor and its crew is way too intimate for my liking.

Whales are now swimming off towards the Icy Strait ‘aquarium.’  The happy family is hedging out of view of the binoculars wielding crowd that hangs over the rail of this ship.  This little ship sits higher in the water then Audrey Eleanor does.  They will soon have a direct line of sight into our flying bridge.  With the whales gone they are looking for new material to query with their privacy invading extended eyeballs that hang by black idiot strings from their necks.

My clothes are hanging over the back part of the rail on the opposite side of the deck.  I am trying desperately to meld with the blue canvas wall that is my only source of cover from a hundred prying eyes.  The passengers are waving enthusiastically at this classic lady (Audrey).  As her bow slices through these brilliant blue waters, she creates a magnificent picture.  They are probably trying to figure out what that disembodied head is doing crabbing along the rail behind the blue canvas.

The ‘head’ is cursing the laughing Captain who simply has stepped down into the cockpit; he quite frankly doesn’t care who sees him in his underwear.  He would not care if he weren’t wearing underwear either.  They haven’t realized that there is a naked, panicked first mate crawling along the deck behind the canvas trying to maintain just a little dignity.

Just as I am deciding that moments of misery by being exposed while I grab my clothes is possibly minor, compared to being pinned down nude behind the canvas indefinitely, their ship swings to Port side; something else has caught their attention thank goodness.  The Captain is howling in glee, I don’t like him sometimes.

We are now north of Auke Bay; we had spent three days moored at Douglas Island.  At full moon the tide can rip a bit in front of Juneau.  We are in the land of the Midnight Sun so visually being able to tell if the moon if full or not can be problematic. We appreciate the tide charts.

Approaching Juneau from the south we had timed our arrival to coincide with the flood tide to make mooring as easy as possible.  The wind had been howling and clawing at our backs for days prior to our landing.  We tried to raise the Harbour Master as we searched for transit moorage.  Call after call goes out, as we get closer to Juneau.  No one is coming back on the radio. We pass the U.S. Coast Guard; the crew on board jumps to attention to give us a full salute us as we pass.  This is an unexpected compliment; the hours of sanding and varnishing are paying off.

Audrey is now in the middle of the boat maze that is the downtown harbour.  Still no response on the radio, we will have to back out of this mess.  Bow spites on sailboats turn up as bow piercing spears where they shouldn’t.  The Captain is best at backing up. We are back out in the channel that is now a racing tidal river. The tide is ripping and the wind is whipping up water as it pushes and shoves against the running tide.  We head for safe moorage at Douglas Island.

The response we have been waiting for on the radio now comes through.  “Hey, are you guys in that classic old boat?”  “Would love to see her close up, sorry no moorage, we are moving boats out right now, try Douglas Island!”

Douglas Island is on our Starboard side, it’s difficult to see the entrance to the Marina.  There is a long rock wall that appears to run in a continuous line, we can’t see the opening into the harbour.  The Captain does not have the luxury of taking his time; the tide is running hard so we have to go in under full power.  He swings us blindly and hard to Starboard; common sense dictates that there has to be an opening at the southern point of the rock wall, we can see sailboat masts behind the wall, but where?

YES!  Right in front of us is the rather small opening.  It may only seem very tiny as we arrive under full power backed up by 30 tonnes.  I am standing on the bow with the ropes ready; I hate this part of mooring.  There is a 4-foot drop from Audrey’s bow to any surface.  Sometimes there are rails on the docks, sometimes-giant cleats and in Petersburg, Alaska; there is a solid length of pipe to secure your lines to.  I landed on that pipe once; it really hurt.  There is no one else, I AM THE CREW!  I ready myself for the jump to the dock and prepare to secure our lines.

Looming up suddenly and directly in front of me is a solid steel pillar. We are on a collision course with direct and immediate impact.  30 tonnes of ship will not slow down in this limited amount of space and time.  I drop and flatten to the deck; I can visualize my toes clawing through my shoes trying to anchor me to the strips of teak on the deck of the Audrey Eleanor.  I see me splatted against the steel pillar and sliding down into the water in classic Road Runner style. I wait for the impact…and wait, time has changed into slow motion and impact doesn’t happen.

Looking up I can see a man and woman standing on the dock watching this performance, I jump to my feet and throw them the rope in a flash, they quickly tie us up.   After taking a deep breath I look around trying to figure out what has happened. The Alaskan fisherman on the dock yells,” Man that was some bad assed boat driving!”

Audrey has her nose stuck into a 25-foot slip leaving 30 feet of her aft end blocking the entrance to the rest of the marina; the Captain looks a little pale.  My eyes query him, ‘how did you do that?’ He simply shakes his head.  The Harbour Master shows up, he has an amused look on his face.  “I’m sure you know that you’ll have to move your boat,” he says, “you are kinda blocking the harbour.”

I can see that he’s having difficulty keeping his laughter under control.  The Captain says “I think I should sit up on the top deck and have a beer before I do anything.”  The Harbour Master is a great guy, he throws us the keys to his car and says,” you might want to go into Juneau and buy a whole case.” We had use of his car for the three days that we were there.