A Travellerspoint blog

A Celebration of Green

A Day Hike Along the Indian Creek Trail

overcast 55 °F

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I grew up in the woods. The wilds of northern Michigan contain a thick forest of hardwoods and pine. I spent many days wandering through the trees with my friends, dogs, and by myself. There isn’t much of a horizon up there, just more trees. If you want to see far away, you must visit the shore of Lake Superior.

My background lends me comfort in other woodlands that I may visit. I still enjoy a good romp among the tall trees of the forest wherever I can find them.

I felt that familiar pull to head into the forest several days ago. I was in Sitka, Alaska recuperating from my latest working stint. I knew a walk through the woods would be good for me.

With my friend Annie in tow, we started walking towards the trailhead of the Indian Creek Trail. I used to frequent this trail when I called Sitka home. It had been two years since I had last seen it, and I wanted to reconnect with it.
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Before we got there, Annie spied a couple of gravestones from the sidewalk. We stepped into the dark woods to investigate. One grave led to another. We found perhaps ten graves with stones from various decades ranging from the late 1800s to the 1950s. The graves were spread throughout a little patch of spruce. The graves weren’t in a designated cemetery. They didn’t look like they were cared for anymore. Some of the stones were chipped and leaning. Some of the graves had sunk into the earth.
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I like old cemeteries especially when I find them in an obscure place. They have character, and tell a silent tale of the rise and fall of humanity. I thought it was a very peaceful place.

We stopped briefly at the trailhead to look at the map. I remembered the way, though not the particulars of the trail. The Indian Creek trail is well marked (at least up to the waterfall). I didn’t have any worries about finding our way there or back. We walked on.
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The temperate rainforests of southeast Alaska are among the prettiest I have ever walked through. If I could only use one word to describe them, I would use “green.” The Sitka spruce dominates this stretch of forest. They stand thickly together, towering above the trail. These are old trees, some of them dating back five hundred years or more. The trunks of these old ones are huge - far bigger than I could put my arms around. They remind me of the redwood trees of northern California, though these spruce are not as big as the largest giants down there.
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A thick green mat of moss covers the entire forest floor and fallen stumps below the canopy. Swampy taiga areas dot the forest floor with heads of skunk cabbage growing from them. Tall whips of devil’s club grow everywhere - their broad leaves just beginning to unfurl. Various types of ferns grow from fallen stumps.
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The forest floor is a jumble of fallen limbs and massive trunks scattered all over the place. Some of the newly fallen trees ripped their roots out of the ground when they fell down. The black twisted root system easily stands over ten feet high.

It is a great forest.
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Throughout this forest runs Indian Creek. The melting mountain snow and continuous rainfall feed the river in an unending supply of cold clear water. Several smaller brooks also feed this creek and we crossed several of them by bridge.
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“Stand Still Like a Hummingbird”

Annie and I stopped to take a break after crossing the first major bridge over the river. We sat down, ate some tidbits, drank some water and chilled out for a few minutes. As a photographer, I always am looking for a good photograph. It was here that I made some of my favorites of the year.
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Overhanging the creek was a small mossy patch that looked like a perfect seat. I had Annie take an easy pose that she could hold for several seconds at a time. She needed to hold completely still, because I had my shutter speed set at three seconds. A long shutter speed will blur moving water for a silky effect. I took a few photos, recomposing and trying different speeds until I found the right spot.

I wanted to try to see if both of us could be in the picture. I had Annie sit down in her spot and I looked over the scene to see where I would fit. It was obvious that I had to be in the river. I set my camera up to take a picture every ten seconds for ten pictures. I climbed down a stump put my feet into the icy cold water. It was painful. My feet started to go numb almost instantly, but I hustled as fast as I could to where I thought the composition was right. I turned and held my pose for the camera. It was imperative that I held still. This was not easy, because my feet were in agony. The water was frigid, and it took all of my composure to hold still. I held as long as I could stand before lunging back to shore. I happily yelled out in pain as I climbed out of the water. Cold isn’t strong enough a word for the temperature of that water.

We looked at the results as I warmed my feet. My positioning was just a bit off, but the pictures were great. I had created the effect I wanted to in this picture. To make it perfect, I’d have to do it again. This time, I made mental notes of where I had to be. The water wasn’t any warmer on my second attempt, but I was satisfied with the results.
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I put my boots back on, and we continued along the trail.

This walk had no parameters. Time didn’t matter. Distance didn’t matter. There wasn’t any destination. We turned around when it felt right to do so. When we were hungry, we pulled out our lunch and put our one beer in the creek to cool. Trail beers get cold in just a couple of minutes in Alaskan streams. As we ate, it started to rain. That didn’t matter either. We were content to enjoy the walk for what it was.

The Fascinating Banana Slug
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Annie is good at seeing banana slugs. She found this one eating a leaf right next to the trail. Banana slugs thrive in the temperate rain forests of the Pacific Northwest. They come in a variety of colors, waxy pale to jet black. This one was a handsome dog turd brown color.

Banana slugs leave a slime trail wherever they crawl. They move slowly, and it’s interesting to see how far they have crawled over the moss carpet.
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I put my macro lens on my camera to see if I could get any close ups shots of the slug. It was hard to get the lighting right in the gloom. With a little experimentation, I was able to get the right combination of physics and art.

End Game

It started to rain harder. We grew weary with our efforts. The walk turned into a slog, but we made the best of it. We finished our day by stopping at the grocery store for food before heading back to the hostel. We put on dry clothes, cooked a healthy dinner and relaxed. This is one of the best ways I know of to end a good hike.

Author’s Note:

The Sitka Trail Association has done a marvelous job with its trail system. The Indian creek trail is a shining example of what happens when a group of good people gets together and create a good trail system. To find other trails in Sitka, volunteer or support them find them at: www.sitkatrailworks.org
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Posted by Rhombus 13:16 Archived in USA Tagged trees rivers hiking green alaska photography trails forests sitka Comments (0)

Waking Up In Sitka

Lounging In Dandelions, Photos of an Alaskan May, Complacency, Waking Up

all seasons in one day 65 °F

I remember very clearly lying on a picnic table in Petersburg, Alaska. I said to my friend, “I wish we could do this all afternoon. We could get a bottle of wine, maybe do a crossword and fall asleep.” She agreed. Then we checked the time. Our sunny revelry was over. We had to go back to work.

Well, my life has changed since that sunny afternoon. A week has passed by and I’ve fulfilled my contractual agreements with that ship. It left me behind in Sitka, Alaska and I’ve been happily unemployed for the last four days.

I spent my last week on the ship working a very odd schedule. I started my shift at 9 pm and finished it at 9 am. It’s not a good schedule to have, especially if you have any desire to be social. But, I did it without complaint, as that was what they asked of me.
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I was in a sleepy torpor for two days as I tried to shift my sleeping schedule to more traditional patterns. I spent a lot of time lounging in sun strewn dandelion patches. Sitka has great dandelion patches. The flowers are bright and robust - nestled into the thick mat of fresh green grass. I thought back to my afternoon siesta with my friend back in Petersburg and I knew that lying around in a sunny park is everything I thought it could be.

At one point, I thought to myself that I should really write about my last week on the ship. I had a lot of fun teaching some new deckhands the tricks of the trade. I enjoyed the Alaskan seascapes in full bloom. I knew it was a passing thought, when I looked up at the clouds. I was just too tired.

The following photos will be my voice for the past week. They ring loudly and true about the supreme beauty in which I live, work and play.

Alaska in May

The Waterfalls of Tracy Arm
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Midway Islands
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Three Shades of Gray
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Point Anmer, Point Styleman and Grave Point

Sunrays Over Taku Harbor
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South Sawyer Glacier Explorations
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Arctic Tern Taking Flight
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Harbor Seals and South Sawyer Glacier
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Icebergs
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Davit Crane Fancy Work
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This is the best piece of fancy work I have tied so far. This sling holds the hook of our davit crane to a rail. There are two different types of chain sinnets, two different types of whippings, and a four strand star knot atop the wooden button I made out of an old piece of wood. Look for another article on knot tying in the near future.

Early Morning in Glacier Bay
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I love working the night shift in Alaska because the sun rises so early in the morning. I saw this scene around three thirty in the morning. It is a very peaceful time.

Afternoons in Front of the Marjorie Glacier
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I’ve been spending a lot of quality time watching the Marjorie Glacier. Glaciers, like whales, often require many hours of patient observation before they will do anything of note. More often then not, they will remain motionless for hours at a time before rewarding the persistent with a grand show. Even if nothing happens, the suspense and pleasure of watching glaciers is time well spent.

Complacency
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A friend of mine asked me, “Do you ever get complacent about the views around you?” It was a fair question. Have I become jaded? Maybe I have, I don’t know. For example, I remember the awe I once felt about seeing a humpback whale from a distance and hearing its powerful blow. Now, after seeing hundreds of them up close for the last three years, I wonder.

I enjoy seeing a whale as much as I always have. It is fair to say I’ve gotten much more fussy about which whales I’ll choose to photograph. After sorting through thousands of boring whale pictures and deleting most of them, I know what I’m looking for: An interesting composition in good light of a whale. If it isn’t intriguing, I’ll set my camera down and simply enjoy them.

Speaking of which, another friend of mine came down to my cabin to wake me up. “Thom! There are twenty orca outside, right now!” I leaned on my left arm and sleepily replied, “Twenty, hunh? Twenty one is the magic number.” With that, I rolled over and feigned sleep. I thought it was a good line, considering she shook me out of a dead sleep. Now, don’t get any ideas. After a few minutes, I got up and went out to watch the orca. There were three pods with about six members in each group. There might have been a single or two swimming around as well. It was the most orca I have seen together in one big pod. I didn’t take many photos as the whales were far away, but I like this one.
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Waking Up In Sitka
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On the third day of my stay in Sitka, I started waking up. My friend Annie and I went for a long walk in one of the most beautiful forest settings I have ever found. I called it a “Celebration of Green.” I’ll offer more on that later this week.

Today, I woke up to a beautiful blue bird sunny day. I lay in the warm womb of an afghan blanket as cool air from the open window wafted over my supine body. It was the best night of sleep I’ve had this year. I felt totally refreshed and energized. I was a new man. I looked at my clock, which said 7:32 a.m. I knew in that moment I had my mojo back! I have left that sleepy torpor behind, and it is time to embrace my life projects with all of the energy I can give them.

I wish I could convey just how happy I am right now. Words can’t do it.

Posted by Rhombus 22:32 Archived in USA Tagged mountains flowers ice alaska oceans ships glaciers photography sitka icebergs fancywork Comments (0)

Under The Dock

Exploring the Dark, Mysterious World of Wooden Docks

overcast 54 °F

On Wooden Docks
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The tidal change can be severe in the Pacific Northwest. It is not uncommon for the tides vary by fifteen feet or more. Coastal communities have to build tall, beefy docks to counter the tides, which mariners call a hard dock. A hard dock has its structure embedded into the sea floor. The docks have to endure decades of abuse brought on by exposure to salt water, surging tides, docking vessels and wind. Heavy beams soaked in strong water resistant chemicals make up its support structure. The docks are tall, the better to cope with the differences in tide and swell. On the face of dock, they have skinny escape ladders set at intervals. These ladders serve two purposes. They allow a member of a docking vessel to climb on the dock to secure lines. They allow for someone who has fallen in the water a place to escape.

We moored our ship to an old wooden hard dock in the small island community of Alert Bay, British Columbia. On a whim, I put on a life jacket and walked along our rub rail on the dockside of the ship. It was cold, dark, and mysterious. There were large white cauliflower anemones attached just below the low tide water line. Barnacles stuck to everything. Bull Kelp draped from the crossbeams and ladders. The place had a life all of its own.
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I quickly retraced my steps and grabbed my camera. The angles of the beams, the swirling water and life forms intrigued me. It was difficult to shoot one handed while hanging on to the lifeline with the other, but well worth the effort.
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I was inspired. I began to explore some of the other docks of the ports we frequent. I remembered my visits to Astoria, Oregon whose wooden wharves and docks run the length of town. What other treasures could I find down there?
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Wooden docks have character. I like the angled beams. Look at the hidden artistry that goes into each beam. The master builders have done well. The longevity of these docks is a test to their ability.

I’m beginning to see a reoccurring theme to my nautical pieces. I love the lore of the sea as much as the sea itself.
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Have you ever gone for a stroll on a wooden dock? The thumping sound of feet on the old wood rings true. It sounds like a heartbeat, but it is just one small sound of the orchestra. Go for a walk in an old marina early on a Sunday morning. Listen to the distant calls of gulls, ravens, and eagles. Hear the sound of lapping water against the hulls of the moored vessels. Smell that salty air. Feel that cool air on your face. Mooring lines creak as they take strain against the ship. Look at the old vessels - see if you can find a wooden hulled ship. There is probably a fisherman quietly gearing up for the day. Say hello to the harbor cat as you pass by. Walk to the end of the wharf and look out at the distant sea. Sip your hot coffee.
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Coastal towns thrived because of good harborages and docks. If you look at the layout of most ports, you will often find, ““Market Street.” or “Water Street.” These streets had bustling markets and often became the business district. That is because of the dock, and the importance of trade via water.

This is just the beginning to my explorations of these wonderful structures. I’m surprised I haven’t given them much thought before this, but I inspiration strikes as it will.

Author’s Note

As I’ve been working on this piece this week, Alaska has ripped open a bag of beautiful views and has thrown them all over the place. I’m sitting on some of the most gorgeous pictures I have to show you the underside of some old, dirty docks. Now that’s good blogging practice! Look for these photos and accompanying words within the week.

Cheers!

Posted by Rhombus 21:26 Archived in Canada Tagged towns oceans ships docks photography tides Comments (0)

Consider Alaska

Unique Views of a Sparkling Jewel

sunny 43 °F

Considering Alaska

Here are some things I’d like you to consider about Alaska.

Male Orca
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This whale marks my first orca sighting of the season. This male carries a fin that can grow up to six feet long. It was part of a four whale pod foraging somewhere near the border of British Columbia and Alaska.

Sunrise South of Ketchikan
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Sunlight arrives in the early morning hours in May. I love the energy that a new day brings. The sun removes any lingering listlessness I might carry after working through the shadowy night. This beautiful scene rings of cold air, placid waters, and good color.

It soothes me.

Bow Riding Dall Porpoise
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When I talk of “bow riding” animals, I am referring to dolphins and occasional porpoise that ride the cushion of water that our ship pushes as it makes way through the water. These animals ride this wave because they don’t have to expend any energy to move. In short, they are surfing a wave that lasts forever.

However, most of the animals that bow ride can swim much faster than the paltry ten knots our ship makes. They use us for as long as they want, before diving away. In my experience, dall porpoise don’t spend very much time bow riding.

The pod that rode our bow this morning stayed with us for twenty minutes -shattering my opinions. I took hundreds of photos of the porpoise, but really only liked this one. I like the color.

Aerial Views of the LeConte Glacier
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I’ve given up making prejudgments about experiences I’ve never had. When I learned that I was going to take a float plane flight above the LeConte Glacier, the crew kept telling me, “That‘s so awesome!” To which I replied, “Yeah, it might be. I don’t really know, I’ve never done this before.” My lack of enthusiasm bothered many people. My friend Eva really got her dander up. “Well, I think it’s f’ing awesome…” I don’t know how I do it, but I always seem to push the right buttons. I’m just being realistic. Yes, it sounds great and I’m excited to go. But there is a possibility I might hate it, and I’d have to retract my previous declarations. I’d rather not.
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It turns out, taking a low flying flight over a glacier IS f’ing awesome. I was blown away. I’ve seen many glaciers but I’ve never seen them from the sky.
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Glaciers are essentially slow moving rivers of ice. We spiraled from the top of the glacier down to its face. It was a gigantic jumble of jagged ice. We banked steeply over the main ice field several times, finishing each loop with a grand view of the broken face.
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Reflections of Endicott Arm
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This was my first visit to Endicott Arm since the late summer of 2011. I had forgotten how beautiful the reflection of the Dawes Glacier looks on a bed of perfectly smooth water.

Evening Over the Fair Weather Range
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I was having a great conversation with my brother Karl. You know the kind, where the topics are interesting, the one-liners are sharp, and the laughter rings true. Towards the end of our chat, the sun began its descent over the Fairweather Mountains. This range of high snow-capped peaks protects the western side of Glacier Bay National Park. I went downstairs to grab my camera, and warned my brother that I was going to take some photos while he talked. I’m a guy. Multitasking is something I cannot do very effectively, despite my delusions. While he talked on, I took this photo. When I look at it, it reminds me of him.

A Birthday in Glacier Bay National Park
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Yep, I’m 32. I like the number much better than 31. I am now divisible, as where before I was an awkward prime number. It has been a good day. Glacier Bay was bathed in crisp sunshine. The mountains that surround this waterway were brilliant, wearing their snow shrouds proudly.
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The Marjorie Glacier tossed ice off its face. Most of the crew were high up on lido, laughing, hamming it up, singing and dancing. I like the camaraderie. The glacier liked our energy and responded in kind.
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It was a tranquil day of work. I didn’t over tax myself, that’s for sure. I stayed up late last night, enjoying the social scene, and I felt tired most of the day.

My friends presented me with the following:

3 types of chocolate in different shapes. My weaknesses are well known it seems.
3 awesome journals. I’m a writer, and therefore easy to shop for.
3 bookmarks, which I’ll put to use in my journals.
1 Sperm Whale
1 loaf of homemade pizza bread. How I love this tasty treat.
Lemon pound cake. I can’t wait for breakfast tomorrow.
Countless hugs and salutations

It occurred to me after work, that I wouldn’t be who I am today if it hasn’t been for all of the good people I have met along the way. Those experiences, whether good or bad has been important in the making of this Thom. For that, I thank you.

I would consider Alaska to be one of the sparkling jewels in my crown of travels. It continues to surprise me, to stun me, and to inspire me.

Posted by Rhombus 20:16 Archived in USA Tagged mountains alaska friends oceans ships glaciers Comments (0)

Deckhand!

An Interesting Look Into The Life of a Mariner

all seasons in one day 66 °F

If I were to write you a short autobiography about the last three years in my life, I would begin by telling you about my job. For those of you unfamiliar with my line of work, I want you to know that I am a deckhand. I am a proud member of the bottom rung of the maritime ladder. I’m not sure there is anything else I’d rather be on this ship, much to the chagrin of my superior officers. A good deckhand has no use for promotions.
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I truly started living when I became a deckhand. I‘ll never forget how it felt to be on the open sea for the first time. I’ve been in love with the ocean ever since.

On Deckhands
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Deckhands are wanderers. Deckhands don’t make decisions. Deckhands do the dirty work. Deckhands know how to tie knots, both practical and fancy. Deckhands appreciate a good officer. Deckhands despise a bad one. Deckhands live and work outside in all types of weather. Deckhands have strong backs. Deckhands carry sharp knives. Deckhands like to swear. Deckhands don’t spill their coffee when the ship is heaving in rough seas. Deckhands are silly in the early morning hours. Deckhands can throw a heaving line a hundred feet. Deckhands know how to coil rope. Deckhands have nicks and cuts in their hands. Deckhands are mischievous. Deckhands like to spend their money. Deckhands have friends in every port. Deckhands love to eat. Deckhands love to drink. Deckhands often have tattoos of a chicken and a pig on their feet. Deckhands save lives. Deckhands probably have had their life saved. Deckhands despise bad line (rope) and hoses. Deckhands despise sloppy seamanship. Deckhands expect good seamanship. Deckhands can cook. Deckhands can sew. Deckhands know who’s sleeping with whom. Deckhands are healers. Deckhands like passing tugboats and trains. Deckhands love to lean on the rails. Deckhands love the sea. Deckhands love the stars. Deckhands love to laugh. Deckhands have seen things you have not. Deckhands stick together. Deckhands are indispensable. Deckhands are proud to be deckhands.
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Dennis Puleston wrote about a certain deckhand in his book, Blue Water Vagabond. “…He was one of those men born of the sea who had lived on it his entire life. He could easily spend a morning forming an eye splice out of steel cable before heading down into the galley to make delicate French pastries.”

There isn’t much a deckhand cannot do.
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A Note on Rough Seas
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The ocean can be as docile as a sleeping cat or as ferocious as an attacking lion. It all depends on the wind. Two days ago, the wind swatted us with its lion paw.

Go to a set of stairs. Now picture yourself walking on the front side of the stairs instead of the top using the rails to pull yourself up. It feels like you are walking downward even though you are going up. This is what its like to move on a heaving ship in big seas. It’s difficult to keep your balance when the only thing you can trust is rocking unpredictably.

It makes mundane tasks challenging. It’s hard to pour coffee in a cup that is sliding all over the counter. It’s harder to carry that cup without spilling it.

The swells were hitting us diagonally just off our port bow. I estimate the swells to be at least ten feet with another three feet of wind chop atop them. These swells caused our ship to roll from side to side, pitching at steep angles. They weren‘t the biggest seas I have seen, but they were the biggest I have seen in a long time.

So we were rolling. It was my job to walk throughout the ship to make sure everything was secure and not falling over. As this was the last day of ten beautiful days at sea, the crew forgot that the ocean could get lumpy. Seamanship Rule #2: Never trust the ocean. There were objects banging into things all over the ship. I had a hell of a time trying to lash down those loose items. I went from room to room, deck to deck securing a weird and wide variety of stuff.

Thom’s list of stuff that needed securing

Two kayak racks (which pissed me off because whoever moved them should have done this after they had finished their work). Four outdoor tables (in which I had to roll across the top of them to get the line to the rail. This is dangerous.). Two stacks of chairs. I found a puddle in the bar and found that the refrigerator had moved off the drainpipe. A food rack came loose in the storeroom. A file cabinet started sliding across the bridge. The refer doors in the galley started swinging violently open, almost spilling meat everywhere. The wine cupboard in the bar needed taping down.

I did pretty good, but not good enough. I forgot to check the public head and while I was busy securing all that other stuff, a monumental mess was created.

It turns out our hotel staff was keeping one-gallon jugs of liquid hand soap, shampoo, and lotion on the shelf under the sink. With one good roll of the ship, they broke out simultaneously spilling all over the deck (floor). Since it is a small space, it spread evenly and mixed into a slippery ectoplasm an inch and a half deep. It was an awesome sight.

I sighed. I went off in search of a large stack of towels and a dustpan I could use for scooping. Deckhands do the dirty work. If I was malicious, I could have left it for the hotel department to clean up, as it was their mess. But, that’s not the nature of this job. It was the nastiest mess I’ve ever had to clean up. The worst part was that I really had to pee. That’s why I went in there to begin with, and it was too slick to stand on that deck until I cleaned it.

As I was rinsing off one of the bottles in the sink, I looked in the cupboard to see if anything else had spilled. I found a small puddle forming from the suds I had just rinsed off. The drain gasket was leaking. I called up our engineers on the radio and asked for help. Perry came up to take a look. It wasn’t a hard fix and he was about to go and get the tools needed. Our other engineer called up and asked if we needed anything, and I told him, “a cold beer.” He laughed and said, “Maybe in awhile.” He meant when I got off shift.
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The thing is, it was a truly beautiful morning. It was crisp, damn near cold. The air was fresh. Each breath was a pleasure. The sun poured over the scene - white gold rays of a dramatic intensity that a photographer would love. Sadly, this photographer was knee deep in slime, but I could still admire it from afar.

The seas eventually abated when we turned with them into the Straits of Juan de Fuca. What a night, I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
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Amelia
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When I come to Seattle, I call Amelia first. “A mariner has a girl in every port.” So they say. There IS a lot of truth to this, but don’t get any ideas about Amelia and I, we have been and always will be the best of friends.

I haven’t seen her in a half a year. That’s a mariner’s social life. When I saw her, I tackled her. I didn’t mean to, but our feet intertwined and I pounced a bit too aggressively, and shit… She cut both knees and scraped her elbow. I felt terrible. That’s not what I had in mind at all, but alas, it happened. Why am I such a jack ass? Anyway, I bandaged her up, apologized nine million times and made amends by buying pints of good beer at the Freemont Brewery. Eventually, we realized that we would laugh about this some other time. “Remember when I tackled you?”

We drank our pints at a likeable bench and talked the afternoon away. There was a lot to catch up on after all, and we took turns listening and speaking. We vented, listened, and helped each other think through some problems. We laughed. We were ridiculous. Why is there so much clarity when talking to some people compared to others? Amelia helps me think clearly.

We moved on and bought burritos from a notable food cart. We ate those burritos at a small park near the canal.

Thom’s definition of happiness:

I have a delicious burrito in my hand. My best friend is sitting on my left. Ahead of me blooms a warm spring park scene of green grass, swaying trees, azure sky, passing boats and gaggling geese. To my right sits a dude with the most outlandish sideburns I have ever seen. I am happy and content. Ah, yes. How I love these moments.
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If I were going to write you a short autobiography about the last three years of my life, I would end it like this: I love my life, the life of a deckhand.
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Posted by Rhombus 15:35 Archived in USA Tagged me oceans photography jobs deckhands Comments (3)

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