A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about ocean

A Week on the Sea of Cortez

Beach Combing on Isla Montserrat, How Puffer Fish Thwarted Death, The End of My Day, San Juanico

I made my first island landfall on south side of Isla Montserrat. It felt good to be one of the two humans standing on the large desert island in the balmy winter waters of the Sea of Cortez. I had never been to this particular beach on Montserrat, having made several landings on the north side of the island last year. See Time Management and the Modern Explorer

I jumped off the zodiac into knee-deep water and walked ashore letting my senses make the initial investigation. I was tired having worked all night from 7 pm to 7 am, but I find when I get tired, I am more in tune with the details of life. That is a good thing. The beach subsisted of hard packed compressed sand with lots of ancient seashells mixed in the particles. It created shelves of hard earth that I stepped onto like humongous stairs as I walked along the jutting shoreline I had no real intentions of walking far, I was tired, but happy to be ashore.
We walked northwest along the beach amidst the harsh protests of the gulls. I believe they had some eggs hidden amongst the rocks, and seeing their distress, I chose to give them a wide berth walking across the gravel desert plain covered in familiar desert plants. It was kind of like meeting acquaintances from your past, “Hey, I remember you, Mr. Sour Pitaya. And there is a Chain Link Cholla.“ I zigzagged my way around the desert garden, assuming the wandering path of a snake to lead me through.
What I Found On The Beach
Climbing down a rock shelf I found myself once again on the shore and surrounded by the white skeletons of sun dried lobster. I wonder why so many lobsters die here? The beach offered no clues, but the lobsters themselves, and they were not talking. I wandered back to my friend and looked at what she had found. She showed me quite a few vertebrae, shells, casings, invertebrate homes and the like. It was quite a feast for the eyes. It wasn’t long before I became totally absorbed into digging around the bone bits and fragments of shells that made up the top layer of beach. It was a fine way to spend a couple of hours of the morning.

How Puffer Fish Thwarted Death
I found a medium sized Puffer Fish fighting for its life, caught on the edge of sand that separates water from land. It was beached, and a fish on land just does not do very well for itself-- compared to a fish in water. I decided to document its struggles, rooting for the little guy to make his escape, and snub Death for another day. I pondered how came to be in such dire straits: I think it lost track of the receding tide, and one big wave pushed it onto the beach. The tide still in the early stages of flooding taking some time before more waves could reach the fish.

This puffer fish was lucky. It hung in there, conserving energy and making the best of it, waiting for a wave to reach it.

The fish was gulping for air, and to be honest, its odds didn’t look that good. It looked happy, but that was just the shape of its mouth, and not necessarily its disposition. After a few minutes of dry gulps, a single wave came far enough ashore to submerse the head of Puffer Fish, allowing for a few breaths at first, and then as a few more waves reached it, a few kicks of the tail (but still to no avail).

As the tide began to rise, more and more waves made it far enough ashore to reach the puffer fish, allowing for a few important breaths. I began to root aloud, and my friend looked at me quizzically, but said nothing, as she has been around me long enough to accept my eccentricities. Finally, a strong wave washed up and sucked the puffer fish back into the intertidal zone where it makes its home.

The End of the Day

I love the six o’clock hour. For one thing, it marks the end of my day and I can usually ease through the last hour of my workday with ease, having completed all of my chores and projects by that time. It also marks the start of the day for everyone else, and I enjoy the feeling of winding down while others are winding up. I’ve always enjoyed being a nonconformist.

I love watching the sunrise. It begins subtle, a slight lightening of the sky to the southeast. Clouds, islands become more distinct from the dark of night. The stars wink out, one by one, fading into the beautiful dark blue of high atmospheres (from my vantage). As the sun nears the horizon, it trumpets its arrival with an intensifying shade of gold appearing around the breaking point. Often this heralding also highlights the clouds far above the scene adding to the dynamics. The air is fresh and flowing. It immerses me with coolness before the coming of the heat of the day. It is kind of like wading slowly into 70-degree water. It is neither too hot nor cold, but refreshing all the same. It is comfortable to be in a tee shirt in the balmy weather of the region.

Finally, the sun breaks the surface, and for a few minutes, the encompassing golden glow holds all of us on deck entranced in its beauty.
I just realized it is only day two…

Morning Recess At Punta San Juanico

I was dragging ass all night. I was tired, weary, but functioning, and definitely not ambitious. The dawn came as it usually does, and I regained some energy catching a fourth wind. Then seven o’clock rolled around, and I checked out for the day. The sunlight had once again revived me from my nightly occupations; that of cleaning, fixing, and patrolling the ship I work on and call home.

I arranged a ride to shore with our bosun and soon I was once again standing on a sandy beach with my good lady in tow. It was good to be back at San Juanico, Last year I went for a long ridge walk high above the bay to a secluded little cove. I didn’t have the energy for that this year, and I wanted to explore some of the beaches on the north side of the bay.

We walked into the desert wanting to traverse around a high rock bluff which would’ve required us to rock climb, scramble and most likely fall down the other side. The desert was quiet. Deserts have a sublime silence to them, which I appreciate. I tried to be very quiet, and added no sound except that of our footsteps.

As we made it around the bluff, we found a small river banked in bright green bushes. What a contrast to the drab colors of the surrounding landscape. We disturbed the cormorants, herons, and ibis that were hanging out there, and they flew off with their warning squawks.
We passed into the bright sunshine once again, and I stripped off my tee shirt to feel the warmth of the sun that much better. I wanted to find a tide pool or at least a Sally Lightfoot, and so I hiked up onto a rocky point. Just beyond the rock shelf was another sandy beach perhaps a hundred yards long and arced beautifully to another jutting triangular point of rock. The beach was bordered by the large rock bluff that I had just walked around. The scene was inviting, and I knew I would soon be underwater.
I stripped down to my knickers, stepped out of my sandals and tested the water. It was perfect, not a trace of warmth to be found, and I commenced to sing my “frozen balls” song as I waded up to my knees, then my waist, and belly. I love wading into cold water, I really do. It’s very refreshing, and to do it slowly takes all the shock out of it, prolongs your suffering which in turn builds character. For some reason, I always hold my arms out of the water as long as possible. I’m beginning to think my armpits are actually calling the shots, and not my brain. Looking at the scene from there perspective, this seems logical. Anyway, I gave in and dunked myself under the clear, aquamarine tinged, salty tasting seawater.
Having no towel, I sun dried myself, and caught the next zodiac back to the ship. I ate a dinner of bacon and eggs, crepes, sausage and orange juice, took a long hot shower, and settled into my bunk for another “night” of slumber.

Good Night!

Posted by Rhombus 07:40 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches fish desert ocean rocks Comments (2)

One Week in Alaska: Why I love My Life

Twenty Four Southeast Alaskan Scenes of Grandeur

semi-overcast 49 °F

I’ve been re-inspired by Alaska. Close encounters with Orca whales will do that to a guy. Hell, just looking out at the wilderness landscapes of this state will re-inspire a guy. I’m glad to be back in Alaska. I’ve surprised myself this week by realizing how badly I’ve missed this untamed place. Here are 24 photos that are just a glimpse into the vast wildness that makes up this amazing state. I’ve seen all this in only a week. Imagine what a summer could hold…








Alaska is everything you've ever dreamed of. Go.

Posted by Rhombus 10:29 Archived in USA Tagged trees birds boats islands ocean fjords whales alaska glaciers forests moss icebergs Comments (2)

Positioning: Crusing From Portland to San Francisco

Crossing the Bar, Life at Sea, Entering San Francisco by Water, Troubled Waters

semi-overcast 59 °F

We crossed over the Columbia River Bar at about 2 am Saturday morning. I got up for the crossing, as I was very interested in being a part of crossing one of the more dangerous stretches of water in the Pacific ocean. The Columbia River Bar is known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific” There have been over a hundred documented shipwrecks in the area, and countless undocumented losses. The reason why this place is so dangerous, is because the 1200 (give or take) mile long Columbia River empties into the roiling North Pacific Ocean. Added to this mix are the strong winter storms that surge across the pacific in a continual salvo of oceanic and meteorological energy. The combined wind and current often brew up the wind into a gale of over 60 knots, and build the seas to over 40 feet. This is no place for the timid.

Our passage was uneventful. We rocked and rolled in the 9 foot swell, but by all accounts, it was one of the smoothest crossings that our veteran crew members could remember. There really wasn’t much to see, but the boat was definitely pitching back and forth in the moderate seas. I stayed awake watching our crossing on our GPS, but soon grew tired and returned to my bunk. Thus began our three day voyage to San Francisco.

Day One:
I awoke to the heaving swells of the open ocean. It was cloudy out, gray and misting. We were traveling south about 14 miles off the coast of Oregon. While I have driven this section of coastline several times, this would mark my first time sailing of the coast. Not that there was much to see. The heavy mists and fog made for a gray world with limited visibility. Inside the crew lounge, it was eternally dusk. The day before we left, we spent a lot of time “battening down the hatches”- securing everything on the boat for potential rough conditions. This included putting aluminum window plates on all of our main deck windows. It took away all outside light, and left us in a state of semi-darkness while we hung out in the main dining room.

We didn’t have many chores to do. Most of my time on duty was spent reading, writing, socializing, eating, and making the rounds to see all was secure. When my shift was over, we played games, Boggle mostly, watched movies, socialized, and enjoyed our downtime.

Walking around on a tilting ship is not easy, and it seemed everyone had there own technique for crossing the open areas of the dining area. Some would take baby steps, making short choppy steps to keep balance. Others would walk normally, and then make quick steps to curb the momentum that was sending them away from their destination. I liked to make long slow arcs, walking with the tilt to starboard, then using the tipping point and momentum back to portside to get me where I wanted to be. All of us looked silly, but that’s part of the fun of being onboard. I vacuumed the rug, and it was the most fun I’ve ever had vacuuming. I tried to do straight lines, but it was impossible, and the rug looked like a drunkard had haphazardly cleaned the rug.

We were in a continual state of swaying. I thought that reggae music should have been played over our sound system, to make all our swaying make more sense. It was pointless to do my usual stretching routine that I like to do, as the tilting of the boats axis put way more strain on the muscles compared to normal.

As it is, I’m not really designed for engine rooms, or the lazzarete. I’m of average height, five foot eleven inches tall. So far, I’ve managed to crack my head on the metal of the boat every day that I’ve been aboard. My head is beginning to resemble a golf ball with all the new divots it has acquired. My shins have faired no better, as I’ve raked them over the metal doorways countless times. I’ve gotten better about it, but I can’t wait until I finally learn to protect my head.
We began to see more wildlife. I saw albatross once again (a sign of good luck). I saw two different varieties and as many as five of them at once. They were sailing the winds, making long snake like arcs across the ocean, tacking their way southward. Their long wings were extended to full extent to catch as much wind as possible. I like the albatross, especially their size and for how close they fly to the water. Their wingtips seem to touch the swells as they bank and turn into the wind.
Day Two:
The second day of sailing brought better seas, and blue skies. We could see the shoreline once again, and the temperature was warm. We were somewhere off of the coast of California, and I like to think it was somewhere off of the “lost coast.” The lost coast is a hard to reach area, which remains one of the prettiest in California. I’ve never seen it myself, but it’s on my list of places to explore in California, should I be so fortunate.

The bow of our ship was the place to be on this day. Inside the ship, it was hot and oppressive, but outside it was beautiful. The warm sun was shining, and the seas were pleasant. A long fog bank could be seen off to the west, but staying away from us. To the east, the California coast was rugged, the coast mountains were glowing a golden green. A lot of the staff came outside to enjoy the sun, and we were all really digging our lives at that particular moment. To think we were getting paid for this was a pleasant thought. They could have paid me in sand, and I still would have come to work. I had some good conversations with some of my new friends, and it was nice to spend time getting to know them.
That evening, the dolphins came. Dolphins have been known to swim and play in the wake of ships for as long as men sailed the seas. I’d never seen dolphins before, and I was quite excited to see them. I’m guessing there was a group of eight or more that would skim just underneath the water, then course right into our wake wave, do a barrel roll, and then jump out of the water as the swell caught up with us. It was amazing! The light was fantastic from the warm luminescence of the setting sun. The dolphins were playing, very much in their element, and I was in mine. Many staff members came out, and we were all excited to take photos, videos, and just enjoy the amazing agility and playfulness of the dolphins. They were Pacific White Sided Dolphins, and we enjoyed them very much.
Day Three:
Our last day dawned warm and clear. We were steadily heading east, into the rising sun and directly towards the coppery orange span of the Golden Gate Bridge. Most of the staff came out for the moment. It marked the end of our first positioning, and an entrance to the San Francisco area, our temporary home for two weeks. As the sun rose, the air warmed nicely, and we were bathed in sunlight. It was glorious. It was the best entrance I’ve ever made into San Francisco. In years past, I’ve driven south over the bridge, pissed off, and tense, hating the intense flow of city traffic and writing off the city as a hell hole. It wasn’t a fair evaluation, and I regret my impatience and stubborn behavior. In comparison, the fastest speed we travel on our ship is around 10 knots (just over 10 miles an hour). It’s very relaxed, and stress free. It gives you time to take it all in, and since I wasn’t driving, I could take my time in composing some photos, and really, really enjoy the morning. A friend gave me half of her grape fruit, and its fresh citrus was a perfect compliment to the morning.
We passed under the impressive span, and I couldn’t help but remember the stories of the men who built this bridge. Specifically, the “Halfway to Hell” club, a group of guys who fell off of the span during construction- only to be saved by the safety nets that were installed underneath, designed for that purpose. The Golden Gate construction was the first that made mandatory use of hard hats and safety nets for bridge workers.
We cheered and posed for a group picture, and soon everyone drifted off to the dining area for breakfast. I was more interested in seeing the city-scape, Alcatraz, the bay bridge, and the downtown area. There were great views in every direction, and I took pleasure in the beginning of my day.
That was the last peaceful moment I’ve had. After we docked, we got busy getting the ship back in order. It was a long day of hard work in the hot sun. Later that evening, I finally checked my phone messages and learned of family emergency and terrible news from home. My mom had a major stroke, and it wasn’t looking good. It was if the floor fell right out from underneath me, and I had to get home. Everything else seemed completely pointless, and so I got the next flight I could to make it back home.

In this world, you can be flying high one minute, only to have your wings fall off the next and sent into a spiraling freefall. That’s life. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. It’s easy to enjoy life when times are good. In my experience, bad times are usually horrible to go through, but can give you valuable perspective into what’s truly important. I often learn more about myself, and others when times are bad, then when they are good. I wouldn‘t be who I am today, if I hadn‘t experienced the darker side of life. I’m hanging in there, often lost in my thoughts and contemplating how to face the unknown. It’s not pleasant, but I’m buoyed by my friends and family who have and will be by my side.

Posted by Rhombus 14:10 Archived in USA Tagged ocean wildlife ships photography pacific cruising coasts philosophy Comments (4)

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