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Antarctic Dreams

Antarctica, Justification of Zen, Lucky Me, Oh, Yeah 2 Months in Argentina

semi-overcast 56 °F

Antarctic Dreams
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It was somewhere near ten in the morning when my friend busted into my dark man cave. She beat my leg and announced, “Thom! THOM! Wake up. WAKE UP! I got the email! I GOT MY TRIP! WE‘RE GOING TO ANTARCTICA!“ At this point, I sat up in bed, and mumbled, “Wha? Grgup deer. Diggumrifits johberglubs. Okeh okeh.. Greibits.”

My friend realized I probably wasn’t comprehending this information. She hurried out saying, “Sorry to wake you, now go back to and dream about Antarctica.“

My friend later told me that I didn’t say anything coherent during that conversation. I thought I was communicating clearly, but I guess I was wrong. I was very agreeable. I figured the faster I agreed, the sooner this person would go away. Before I passed out, I thought to myself. “You might be going to Antarctica.”

At one-thirty p.m. the same day, I woke up from my sleep and one word popped into my head. Antarctica. At that point, my head exploded.

When I say my head exploded, I mean that I immediately began to think of the things I was going to need for the trip. What did I have to do before November? I had to get tickets, maps, accommodations, and timetables. How long was I going for? There was no way I was going to sleep anymore that day. This was a problem, because I was working night shift that night, and I had only gotten a measly 5 hours of sleep.

With my mind aflutter, I still didn’t quite trust the fact that I was going to Antarctica. After all, I may have dreamed the whole thing. After an hour of laying in the dark, I flipped on my computer and began to make tentative lists of things that I needed to do. After another half hour, I went up stairs to get a cup of tea, with a muffin. I wanted to verify what I believed was true.

I walked into the galley where my friend was working, and asked her, “Is it true?” She jumped into my arms, and yelled, “WE’RE GOING TO ANTARCTICA! We got the 21 day trip, including South Georgia and Falklands!” I smiled. I’m from the Midwest. I don’t know how to show enthusiastic displays of excitement in public. I was very excited, but it had not really sunk in yet. I had my tea, and watched a movie, I tried to sleep, but it didn’t happen. I went to work, and somehow made it through a very long night.

Zen Flow = Antarctica and Argentina
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Since July, I’ve been running without a plan. I think I’ve talked of this before (see Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Nebraska July 2012). In short, I had such an enjoyable time driving through Nebraska without a map that I decided to apply this concept to my life. This is not easy. I’m a man of action, of plans, of adventure. It was hard; I even turned down an offer to go to Morocco, because it didn’t feel right. Many people have asked me, “What are you going to do after your contract?” My best answer was, “I don’t know. I’m just going to let the Zen flow and see what happens.”
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Well, the Zen has flowed.

This is happening fast. In three weeks, I’ll be in Ushuaia, Argentina (the southernmost city in the world). I have made many decisions already concerning this adventure, but there are many that I have yet to determine. The biggest decision I’ve had to make was, “how long are you going for?” I figured that since I’m going to be in Argentina, I might as well spend some time there. However, that still didn’t answer the original question. I looked at tickets, and decided that I would fly out of Buenos Aires two months after I got back from Antarctica. My mind exploded for the second time in a week.

How Did You Get So Lucky?
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The obvious question is “Why do you get to go to Antarctica?” I’ll tell you. I work for an expedition based touring company that runs small cruise ships all around the world. One benefit to working for this company, is that they offer some of their trips to crewmembers when there is space available on the ship. In order to qualify, one has to complete a four-month contract or work full time, and one has to sign up for a space on the waiting list for that trip. My friend heard there were cabins available on this Antarctic trip and put her name on the list. Three weeks before any trip departs, they fill any open cabins with crew applicants. For this Antarctic trip, my friend was at the top of the list. The cabins are double occupancy, so she can bring a guest if she chooses (for a price), and she chose me. We’ve signed the paperwork, bought our plane tickets, and paid our ship fees. It’s a done deal, at least on paper. We still have to get there.

I feel like the luckiest man in the world. Who takes a romantic getaway to Antarctica? This guy does.

A Two Headed Monster

It’s very hard to live in the moment right now. I still have three weeks to work on the ship, which includes a four-day positioning trip down to Los Angeles. Every other thought revolves around either Antarctica or Argentina. This is a huge two-headed monster of a trip. The first half is very structured for the most part. Our ship will visit the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica making stops at known locations. The second half is completely free forming as we speak. The only thing I know for sure is my flight out of Buenos Aires on the 31st of January (unless of course my plans change).

I have a few ideas, but my mind tends to wander. I’ve looked into taking Spanish classes in Ushuaia. I also plan on hiking in Patagonia. Maybe I’ll learn to Tango, who knows? The world is my oyster.

Amundsen, Shackleton, Ross, and now Miller. Holy shit, I’m going to Antarctica!

Posted by Rhombus 15:35 Archived in Antarctica Tagged friends ships argentina planning antarctica Comments (0)

In The Raw: Journaling From Alaska to Washington

A Look Into My Travel Journal, My Writing Process, and Photos

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I decided for this week’s entry to offer you my journal entries in their rawest form. These entries are the starting point for what will eventually become another thrilling edition of this blog. In a given week, I’ll head out exploring and recap the days adventures in my trusty journal. I’ve been writing a journal since 1997, and have filled up twelve notebooks of a variety of size. The entries are usually a quick recap. I try to write about what really struck me throughout the day. When I have time to write, my journal more thought out and thorough. There are often diagrams, maps, sketches and doodles added to the mix. Using these scribblings for inspiration and facts, I let the writing process flow. Often, I will get inspiration at strange times, and I have to try to remember what it is I want to say for most of the day before I get a chance to write it down. Somehow, the system works, and I'm able to occasionally write something thoughtful and coherent.

I realize I haven't updated my blog in the last couple of weeks. My apologies. I’ve been very busy of late spending my free time getting reacquainted with my slack line, my camera, and my friends. I've been depriving myself of needed sleep in order to enjoy my life, and something had to give. However, I think this small sabbatical has been good for me, but perhaps, not my blog.

The following are journal entries ranging from the inside passage of British Columbia to Clarkston, Washington on the Snake River.

9-10-12 BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA
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I’m in B.C. these days. It’s our phase day (deckhands switch shifts once a week giving us 18 hours off in a row). I took advantage by going on a short hike into the thick forests. The moss is quite spongy, and comfortable to lay upon. We found a black banana slug, some shells and whatnot. I enjoyed it quite a bit. I wrote my blog. I ate some cheese and crackers. I also collected a few plants to add to my terrarium. Mostly moss, but another limpet shell pool and the like.
Peanut butter , Honey and Cinnamon sandwich for lunch. Tea with Miss Tiffany. Pretty Beautiful. Pretty nice.
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9-11-12 TO BREATHE
Lido. Sunshine. Coffee. Orca. Watts. Dolphins. Stretch. Then I sat in the shade and exercised my breath. Alternating Nostril, deep, shallow in and out, deprivation, inflation. So good. Then I let my voice flow in a chant and it was lovely. I had all of the air I wanted and my voice was very, very low and rich. Satisfaction.

9-16-12 A FOUR DAY RECAP: POSITIONING, AMELIA, SEATTLE, PORTLAND
Well. Here I am in Astoria again. To get here, I went to Seattle. We dropped off our photo nerds and I went to sleep. I awoke to Amelia in the dining room. We talked, catching up and sat in the sunshine. She brought me a giant burrito from our favorite food cart. We compared notes, we had a good time.
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Positioning was a dream. I love positioning (this is when we take the boat from one port to another without guests). I was working nights, as usual, and hung out with Lofall (my deck partner) in the night. Decent seas. I love a good roll.
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I forgot to mention as we rolled into Seattle, I watched bioluminescent bow riding dolphins. It was AMAZING! Pacific White Sided Dolphins slowly doing barrel rolls in the bright white biofeed. Beautiful. I love the ocean. It felt so good to be back on it, rolling, riding and moving in flow.

9-17-12 CASCADE LOCKS ZEN
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Such a lovely place. A shroud of pines protects me from the sun and wind. I’m in a pocket. Cozy, but breatheable. The carpet is tan of dead grass silky to the touch. Chickadees roll through. Time to forage. In the center of the grove is a picnic table which I’m quite attracted to. So I stop and take it in. This is my second spot to stop. No, my third. My first were a wind swept pitch of grass under an ancient oak tree. Good air forced into me. My second was a slack line session with a lead of forty feet. It was awesome to feel it all. Warm sun, strong wind, slick slack line, freeness of accumulated crap I collected all night. Gone. Smiling.
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I could use one more stop, a visit to a tree I know on the south end of the island. I think I’ll let that one stand as a fine memory of last year. I love seeing the cusp of a shadow. The upper branches of a broad leafed maple are green. Glowing. Beautiful. And here I am.
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“He who understands the Tao in the morning can die in peace in the evening.” ~ Confucious

When I’m this tired, I can stare at anything for long periods. When I’m this tired, my blinks take longer, sometimes several seconds.

9-19-12 PALOUSE RIVER STATE PARK, WASHINGTON
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Well, I’m here again. At the falls, though this time I chose a shaded grove of trees and grass to slack line in, rather than hike around to the falls. It’s nice. It’s quiet. The wind in the trees, soft, warm, and fragrant. Slacklining has been good. So far, I’ve managed to slack line everyday this week. Each time at a different place.
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Yesterday, was at Maryhill. A typical session involves a couple of beers, walking the line, friends, shade and trees. The smoky clouds mute the intensity of the sun. It’s still out, but obscured by wildfires.

9-23-12 SEPTEMBER FLYING
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Whoa. Time is hauling ass. Made it to Clarkston. Three days of smoky skies, friends, slack lining, a bit of work, and walking around.
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On the first day, I went slack lining when I finished work. I went to the doctor who told me I had strained my shoulder. Seems about right. It takes six weeks to heal, and I’m on the 4th week. Ah weel.

On the second day, I visited my old friends Eva, Ada, and Faith. We caught up and hung out at the pool. Eva and I went slack lining. What a fine lady. On our way back to our ships, Tiff calls and I rush off to an antique store and buy a bike. I asked the lady in charge if she had any bikes. “ Just the one out front… or we do have an old one.” I told her I wanted to see the old one. “Really? Ok.” It was an easy sell. It’s a seventies tan cruiser. It had two flat tires, but I can fix it. In fact, I’ve already put on a fixing session. I put on an inner tube, pumped up the tires, adjusted the seat, de-rusted the rims and so on.

It’s going to be a sweet ride.

Day three.
Smoky. Real smoky out. Mountains obscured. I went to the Nez Perce County Fair in Lewiston. It was hot, muggy and smoky. Every type of person you can imagine was there, a walking display of humanity, most of it kind of appalling.
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We went on rides and they were very fun. Part of the scare of these rides is wondering if the contraption they lock you in is going to hold together. Then the fun speed of flipping upside down and screaming. I was having a ball. We went on the Kamikaze, the Zipper, and the Tilt a Whirl. My body didn’t know what the hell was going on. I flipped it, spun it, rotated it, and shook it. It’s sleep deprived, sun baked, dehydrated and sweaty. The tilt a whirl was too much. I felt sick halfway through the ride.

Then we waited a long time for a ride back to the ship. Stupid Purser. I felt like a kid though, exhausted, sticky, tired, and a little sick. Don’t count fat people at a fair. It might depress you.
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Hot shower. Cold Beer. Comfortable bed. Ahh.

Now, you are back up to speed. Look for more adventures along the Columbia River until early November. My plan of riding the Zen flow has already proved very interesting. Instead of leaving this ship in Portland, Oregon, I’m now leaving it in Longbeach California. Big Smile!

Posted by Rhombus 16:59 Archived in USA Tagged islands rivers rainbows friends sunsets canada ships sunrises forests philosophy zen slacklining Comments (0)

Sublime Times in Mexico

Red Eye Flights, La Paz, Beaches, Kissing Whales, Punta Colorado In Pictures, and a Sunset

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I gave up my long johns for my adventure pants, and I’m back on the southern Baja Peninsula. My reasoning is that March is one damn fine month to be in Mexico, and a poor month to be anywhere in the northern United States. With that bit of logic, I agreed to work for four weeks on the good ship Sea Bird, my floating home of the last year and a half.

I took a red eye flight down to get here. When I agreed to fly the red eye, I didn’t know that it was going to stop at nearly every airport along the way. I flew from Spokane to Seattle. Then from Seattle to Sacramento to Guadalajara to Culiacan and finally to La Paz. I didn’t get any sleep at all on the plane, and by the time I landed in the bright sunshine of mid-morning in La Paz, I was a zombie. True, I was a smiling zombie, but a zombie all the same.

I took a cab from the airport down to the malecon along the waterfront of downtown La Paz and stumbled into the Crown Seven Hotel. The good people at the Crown 7 perked up when they heard I had arrived, as our agent in La Paz had told them of my “nightmarish flight.” They welcomed me, grabbed my bags, led me up to my room, practically tucked me into bed, and wished me a comfortable rest. It was sweet relief to plummet into a coma at 11 am in the morning with the soft breeze of the air conditioner lulling me away.

The advantage of taking this flight was that I had two days to spend in La Paz before traveling across the peninsula to San Carlos where I would join the ship.

La Paz
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I love La Paz. I should say I love the Malecon located in La Paz, as it is the only part of the city where I have spent my time. However, it is very charming. I woke up after a four-hour nap. I was still half out of it at first, but woke up enough to realize I was hungry. La Paz has several good restaurants, and I had plans on visiting two of my favorites while I was here. I decided on pizza. I stepped out into the cooling evening air, and walked two around the block to the restaurant. It was still too early for most diners, and I had the place to myself. I ordered a green pepper and onion pizza, and it was delicious.

The sky darkened with the setting of the sun, and I walked back to the hotel. I sat out on the fifth floor patio and looked over the Malecon. There were people walking along the boardwalk. The decorated streetlights winked on, and then grew brighter. The small waves lapped at the shore. Two dozen sailboats bobbed in the harbor, their dinghies tethered to the stern. The sunset left the western sky a dull orange smudge, definitely not the best sunset (that came later in the week), but still added to the scene. It was peaceful. It was another tranquil evening in La Paz.

I climbed back in bed, and slept a very satisfying sleep.

The next day was very enjoyable. There was no hurry to my day, as the bus to San Carlos didn’t leave until 5 pm. I had breakfast on the seashore, followed by a leisurely stroll. I had lunch at Rancho Viejo, and ate the best fish tacos I have ever eaten in my life. I went back to the hotel and met up with the guy who I was replacing. We had coffee and talked of the ship. The ship is a constant topic of conversation, among boat folks, and there was a lot to catch up on.

The ride across the peninsula was fun. I was a bundle of nerves, being both a little bit nervous, and quite excited about seeing my friends and the boat once again. I sat far back in the bus as we whizzed through the inky desert night. It was kind of like being on a plane with a lot of turbulence, but for some reason since I knew I was connected to the ground, I wasn’t concerned about it.

Finally, we arrived in San Carlos and I saw the bright lights of the Sea Bird. My nervousness and excitement grew, and a smile began to grow on my face. I stepped off the bus and into the melee of luggage, crew, guests and hubbub. I was back onboard. I spent the evening giving hugs, catching up, handing out chocolate, and staying up late. It felt really good.

As with all choices one makes in life, the outcome is never clear or certain. I figured to make the best of my time here in Mexico.

Sublime Times in Mexico
I had the morning off. I like to ease back into work, and I spent my time on the west side of Isla Magdalena at a place called Sand Dollar Beach. I sat for a long time, just watching the rollers curl and break on the sand. There were dolphins in the distance, and the warm sun baked into me. I stalked a small crab that was skittering along the shore. I took its portrait. At last, I could not resist it anymore, and I shuffled my way into the ocean. It was time to catch a few rides on the waves. The water was a perfect temperature, reminding me of Lake Superior in July. It was not too hot or cold. It was refreshing, it was rejuvenating, and it was good for my soul.
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On Kissing Gray Whales

I’ve talked of my first experiences of kissing a whale in "To Kiss A Whale" (March 2011 I am a fortunate man. I’ve done it again.

As part of our itinerary down here in Mexico, we spend a couple of days watching the gray whales of Magdalena Bay. Our captain, complete with his heart of gold, called the whale watching guides in Lopez Mateo to get a crew boat to go out and watch the whales. I was on the second tour, and several of my friends were gushing about their experiences on the first. TTwo of my friends kissed whales. I was beaming too. It’s funny, everyone is extremely happy when other people have good whale experiences. It is such a great moment.
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There were seven of us in our group as we cruised out to the Boca Del Soledad. The Boca is a small opening to the sea from Magdalena Bay. The gray whales frequently use this as their entrance to and from the bay. The crew cracked jokes and told stories, vented and relaxed as we looked out for spouts from the whales. We followed a mom and her calf around, but they didn’t want to play. It was great to be out among the whales again.

Then it happened. We were following a mom and calf pair when the calf started to come close to the panga. We all leaned over the side, almost, but not quite tipping the boat. We splashed at it, called for it, said hello, cooed, and welcomed the whale to come closer.

It came right up to the boat, and I said hello and touched the calf on the back of the head. I said aloud, “You feel just like an eggplant.“ No sooner than I had finished uttering those words, then the whale surfaced and blew its breath directly and forcefully into my face. I was no more than 15 inches away from the blowholes. It was kind of like being three inches away from a human sneeze. I begged the whale its pardon, and apologized. I wonder if a whale knows what an eggplant is. I can imagine it saying, “Why are you saying I feel like this thing I never heard of before?”

After that, the whales put on a show of affection. The mom and calf played around us, and the feeling of good will and kinship grew. I kissed both whales twice. That means that I have kissed three different whales in my life. The thought of that is preposterous to me. I whiffed on two other kisses though, and I ended up dunking my face into the water as the whale retreated.

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My favorite moment was seeing the mom’s eye up close, not more than six inches below the water. It was beautiful. To me, the eye was relaxed, full of compassion, maternal serenity and knowing. It was like being noticed by a grand beautiful queen, even for just a moment. It was beautiful, and I hope I never forget that moment.

Punta Colorado
I like to pick a high point and hike there. This one was very satisfying.
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Sunset
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The sunsets of the Sea of Cortez are consistently the best I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure there is much more I can say about them. They are simply amazing.
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What a great first week. I can’t believe my good fortune. I wonder what the next three weeks will hold?
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Posted by Rhombus 11:27 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches hiking mexico rocks whales deserts oceans ships Comments (2)

Anatomy of a Lock Toss

Navigating the Columbia and Snake River Locks, Tossing, Calling, and the Art of the Toss

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Each week, I travel up and down the Columbia and Snake rivers from Portland, Oregon to Clarkston, Washington. Along the way, I pass through seven different lock and dam systems that the US Corp of Engineers has constructed for hydro electrical power. The dam is for electricity. The lock is to allow easier navigation for shipping between upper and lower parts of the river.

The Columbia used to be a wild river, full of treacherous bars, sand shoals, rocks, waterfalls, rapids, narrows, not to mention salmon (I‘m not going to get into that topic). The late 1800’s was a golden era along the Columbia with steam powered paddle-wheels navigating these attention demanding waters, carrying cargo and people upstream and back down. I have seen pictures of these stern wheelers out in the middle of a series of big rapids, and it is impressive to see such shaky looking boats handle the rapids. I would love to see this with my own eyes, but alas, those days are long gone. Nowadays, a large portion of the Columbia and Snake rivers has morphed into a series of lakes with water levels controlled by the corps.

While I long to see what this river used to be like, and curse the “progress” of man, I must admit, I enjoy the challenge of navigating through the locks.
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Every deckhand running up and down the Columbia River needs to be skilled at “lock tossing.” Lock tossing, is an acquired skill that involves making a loop of heavy mooring line and throwing it cleanly over a floating bollard. This line is then whipped around the bollard another time, and made fast, thus securing the ship to the side of the lock. The water can then be pumped in, or out depending on where the ship is headed. Since the bollard floats, and is secured to the wall, the ship rises or falls along with the water level.

I first started lock tossing about a year ago, when I first joined the Seabird, and it is one of my favorite parts of this job. I like the challenge of relying on my judgment and athletic skill to get the job done. Not very many people get to do what I do, and this is another example.

The Anatomy of a Lock Toss

There are three people involved in successfully navigating a lock. The watch officer, who is driving the boat. The caller, who gives the watch officer distances to the bollard. Finally, the tosser, who is strictly focused on throwing the line around the bollard.

After setting up three fenders on the bow of the boat that protects the hull from the concrete wall of the lock, the caller and the tosser go to their prospective starting points. The caller starts out directly below the wing station which is where the watch officer will be operating the boat from. This station allows him to see the entire length of the side of the ship. This helps them maneuver when getting close to a lock, or a dock. The watch officer lets the caller which bollard they want, and navigates as close to the side of the lock as they can.

This is not easy. There are all kinds of factors involved in putting a ship right next to a lock wall: the wind/direction, the water currents, the speed of the ship, the skill of the watch officer. As you might imagine, it doesn’t always go according to plan.

Usually, the officers get us within about five feet of the wall, give or take, and it is up to the tosser to decide if they can make that distance. I like the challenge of a long toss, but I can appreciate the skill of the driver who puts us within six inches of the wall without touching it.
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When the target bollard is inline with the caller, they hold out there hand and walk with it, calling distances to where the tosser is waiting. This is usually mid ship at the number three cleat. The caller calls out, “30 feet, 20, 10, 5, 3, 2, 1, and Abeam,” meaning we are dead even with the bollard. When the bollard gets close, the tosser must decide when to go for the toss, and again, that is not easy. If the ship is close to the wall, it’s easier to make that toss then when it is nine feet away.
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There are different techniques used when tossing. The most popular is to hold two coils of line one in each hand with a “tongue” of line to throw over the bollard. Tossing is not about upper body strength, it is about technique, and the better throwers will have their technique down. You want your tongue to land over the bollard, which is roughly two feet wide, and two feet tall. In order to do this, you must throw the line not only outward, but spread apart to land over it. It takes practice.

I don’t use the popular method of coiling my lines. I hold two long curls of line in each hand between three fingers with the tongue hanging down. I don’t really think about the toss too much, I just let my judgment and athletic ability do its thing, and most of the time I’m successful on my first toss.

The following photos were taken by Clay Collins, and used with permission. You can follow his travels, at www.atlastrekker.com
Sequence Of The Toss
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If the toss is made, the watch officer will have you “make it” meaning securing the line to the ships cleat in a series of figure eight wraps, or will have you go for the second wrap. The second wrap is applied by pulling in all your slack on the line, and making a smooth wrap around the bollard making doubly sure that the ship will be secure to the bollard, and the lock wall. After the second wrap is on, I pull in all the slack and make the line fast.
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In adverse conditions such as high wind, or if we are locking with another vessel, it’s important to get the ship secured as quickly as possible. This added pressure sits pretty much on the tosser, and this is what separates the good ones from the average.

After securing the vessel, the deckhands stand by to make sure everyone stays away from the line, as there is an immense amount of pressure and strain on the line. If the line snaps, it is an extremely dangerous situation. A snapped line has been known to take peoples legs off or worse. I’ve never been around a snapped line, but I’ve moved far away from lines that have stretched.

The big doors of the lock will close, sometimes with a resounding BOOM! and the lockmaster will pump the water until we are at the right level to depart. It’s a good time to lean on the rail, and chew the fat. In the early morning, when the stars are out, and everyone is asleep, and I’m deep in the philosophy of the night, I realize that these are the moments I love about this job.

Posted by Rhombus 20:57 Archived in USA Tagged rivers ships columbia photography locks navigating Comments (4)

Infatuated With Isla Magdalena: Beware of the Stingrays

Exploring the Amazing Sand Dunes, Sand Dollar Beach, The Stingray Episode

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Magdalena Bay is located on the southwest coast of the rugged and beautiful Baja Peninsula. The town of San Carlos is the only real town of size in the area, and one can reach this small, dirty, fishing town by bus, auto or by sea. What San Carlos lacks in charm, is offset by its location. It’s a great staging point to access the beautiful natural areas that make up this unique and often bypassed region of Mexico.

Aficionados of good sand would do well to consider the splendor of dunes and beaches that Isla Magdalena has to offer. IIsla Magdalena is a long skinny barrier island that protects Magdalena Bay that provides a home to countless species of wildlife including a wide variety of birds and the gray whales. I’ll write more about close encounters with the Gray Whales in a future post.

I’ve been fortunate to make two forays onto Isla Magdalena (which I’ll refer to as IM from here on out) so far. You could have just as easily called it a jaunt, or stroll, or a ramble- They all end up the same. My treks of late have simply been open ended, spontaneous walk over places I’ve never been to before. My explorations rarely last longer than a couple of hours or a day at most, and they are very enjoyable. It’s a way to focus on a little slice of the big picture, an introduction to an area, but not covering everything there is to see. A mini-exploration if you will.
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On my last exploration onto IM, I started out by exploring the beautiful dunes that undulate across the eastern side of the skinny island. It was mid morning when I stepped ashore, took off my life jacket, stepped out of my sandals and looked out over the rolling dunes before me. “Where to begin?” I thought to myself. Initially, I started walking though the ankle deep moist sand towards a high point, but as soon as I crossed the main trail that leads to the other side of the island, I quickly chose a different tack. One that would lead me astray from the road more traveled, and onto my own path of serendipity and chance.

I am very thankful for my delight in finding artistic beauty in nature wherever I roam. One man’s sand dune is another man’s treasure, and on this trek, I found several satisfying scenes.
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Check out this Desert Beetle.
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Sand Verbena is quickly becoming one of my favorite flowers. They grow in clumps on bumps of sand, sporting thin ivy like connection over the sand. The plant produces tiny, vibrant purple flowers with yellow centers. While composing some photographs of the verbena, I noticed a few water droplets had formed and saturated the flowers. The morning dew that forms very thickly on the west side of the peninsula and these tender little plants take advantage of this phenomenon, enjoying a satisfying drink every morning.
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I finally crossed the dunes and made my way onto sand dollar beach. My co-workers had been raving about this place for weeks, and this was my first chance to see it. Usually when someone brags about a place, I tune them out preferring to make my own judgments about it. Yeah, I’ve been burned too many times with other people’s elevated opinion of places.
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Sand dollar beach lived up to its billing. It’s a wide, flat sand beach, caressed by the curling waves of the pacific. The air is fresh, and cool. The sand is home to many different types of animals, some preferring the dry sand of the upper beach and others burrowing deep under the tidal range living their life underground.
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I ran into my friend Ame, who had taken advantage of her free time as I had. We walked along looking at all the cool stuff there was on the beach. Including a hairy legged hermit crab , and other bits of interesting sea phenomenon that washes up on shore, and lives there. I think I could beach comb Sand Dollar beach everyday for a year, and not get bored with it.
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We met up with our friend Edd, who I had made a plan of meeting the night before, and we decided to go body surfing in the beautiful curling waves that were rolling onto the sand bar out in the water. Ame declined to join us, as she’d been up all night walking the decks. Ed and I bid her farewell, and ran out towards the water, turning cartwheels (sort of), and yelling out, laughing and jumping until we hit the water. Then our laughing and yelling turned to high pitched, voice cracking shrieks when the water hit various parts of our anatomy. The water was a bit cool, but once submerged I got used to it rather quickly.

It was some of the best body surfing I’ve ever done. I’ve been body surfing all my life, mostly on the fine sand beaches of Lake Superior. I was curious to see how the oceans curls would compare.

Comparing Lake Superior and the Ocean
What I discovered was that ocean waves are more consistent, and once you figure out the wave pattern and set, it’s easy to time your jumps.

Lake Superior is nice because of its fresh water. The ocean is nice because the salt keeps you slightly more buoyant. The ocean is nice because the waves are consistent and strong. Lake Superior often has a very strong rip that pulls you along the shore away from your starting point. The ocean (here at least) didn’t pull us in any direction. To get big waves on Lake Superior, the wind needs to be howling from the correct direction. On the Ocean, the waves are there regardless of wind strength and direction. Swimming in soft breezes is more enjoyable than swimming in gale force winds.

I made several successful rides of over 50 feet and more, just by timing my jumps perfectly to catch the wave. I don’t like to swim with the wave before surfing it. To me, it seems like a lot of unnecessary work and not true surfing. My technique is to simply wait until my instinct tells me to go, and dive horizontally with the wave. I flatten and hold my body in a flying superman style and try to think like a surfboard (I think it helps). My technique works very well for me.

Body surfing perfect waves is akin to skiing down mountain slopes with a foot of fresh powder. It brings out an adrenaline-tinged euphoria that leaves me smiling all day long.

Edd was having as much fun as I was, then he yelled out in pain. I asked what was wrong, and he said that he thought a crab had bitten him on the foot. Having not felt that experience before, I didn’t question him. After all, he grew up by the ocean, and I didn’t. However, he was having a lot of pain, and he held his foot out of the water to check it out. A big drip of blood burbled up thinned out by the salt water and dripped into the ocean. Not good. Not good at all.

We started back to shore, and I was contemplating our situation. Edd was hurt, and we were a long way from the ship. I knew we had staff with radios somewhere on the island, but I wasn’t sure where. I knew that would have to be the first step: finding someone with a radio who could call the ship and the doctor.

Once on shore, the pain really started to hit hard. Edd sat on the sand, and I began to ask him the usual questions tapping his foot to see where the pain was. I wanted to keep him talking, as I didn’t know how bad it was, or if he would have an allergic reaction to the toxin. Knowing I’d have to go for help, I looked around and luckily saw our Video expert a couple hundred yards away. I sprinted over to him, and luckily he had a radio. He called the doctor, and I ran back to Edd. The doctor was only a couple of hundred yards further down the beach, and he made it to Edd and I relatively quickly.
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Edd had been jabbed by a stingray. He had a small laceration on his foot, but luckily there was no stinger in it. The bad news was that the doctor had left his medical kit on the other side of the island. He radioed other staff members who were already halfway across the island with our guests, and in no position to turn around. I knew I could get the kit faster than they could anyway, and I volunteered to go and get it. I’m not sure why the doctor left his gear on that side of the island when everyone was going to be on this side. I didn’t really think to ask, I just started running.

Isla Magdalena is roughly three quarters of a mile wide where we anchored and walked across. It’s covered in sand of varying consistency, from hard packed, so soft ankle deep mush and flowing dunes. There are beds of old sharp and brittle shells that occasionally peek out, unearthed by the strong winds. These are not ideal conditions for a jog by any means; running in sand is hard work, and exhausting. I was up for the challenge.

I figured Edd would be ok, but he was in some serious pain and that thought gave me all kinds of energy to make my crossing. I hadn’t run in a long time, but I took it as a test to see what kind of shape I was in. It was a trial by fire, if you will.

I have long legs, and I’m in good shape from all my adventures. I ran hard, pushed on by my task, and I made good time. I alternated between running hard where the ground was good, and jog/fast trekking over the bigger dunes and through the deep moist sand. I was wearing only my tan shorts, and I was moving fast. I’d like to think our clients (most of them European) only noticed a pale blur gasping into the distance, but I’m probably wrong. I reached the other side, grabbed the kit bag, and started back. I was tired, but game, and continued my fast pace back over the dunes. It was a little harder to run while carrying the bag, but it wasn’t too heavy.

I retraced my steps and made it back to Edd, the doctor, and a few crewmembers that had shown up to offer Edd support. The doctor got busy making Edd more comfortable, and I drank some water, and caught my breath. I deemed myself in good shape, passing my physical challenge for the day.
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After the doctor cleaned and bandaged Edd’s heel, it was time to try to get him back to the ship. With two people as crutches and two others carrying gear, we made a slow caravan over the dunes. I’m taller than Edd is, so I had to stoop to let him use me as a crutch. It probably looked fairly ridiculous, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Edd was really in some pain, and the toxin was spreading up his leg. We climbed to the high point on the dunes, before we stopped to let him rest. At that point, we decided to call in the cavalry.

We have a good emergency response protocol in place, and it was good to see that the system worked, and worked well. The ship was aware of our predicament, and standing by ready to assist as needed. They sent over a stokes litter, and five people to help us carry him. After we made the call, it became a waiting game. I had my friend Daisey stand on top of the dune as our guide, and I ran back across the dunes one more time to meet the reinforcements. My friend Daisey had the presence of mind to grab my camera and start taking photos. These pictures are hers, and used with permission.
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The cavalry and I trekked back to Edd, put together the litter, loaded him up, and started carrying him out. We knew he’d be fine, so we teased him as we went, cracked some jokes, and made the best of it. We loaded him in a zodiac, and brought him to the ship where the medical team was waiting with a big bucket of hot water. Stingray venom is made of heat-labile proteins. The hot water acts as a neutralizer, making the venom less effective, and keeps the toxin from spreading further. In a couple of hours, Edd was feeling a lot better, though he was a little gimpy for a day or two.

One final comparison between the ocean and Lake Superior: Lake Superior doesn’t have stingrays. Don't let this little episode scare you away. Isla Magdalena is worth the trip, and I wouldn't hesitate to catch more waves on my next visit. Even Edd said it was worth it.

Adios, amigos!

Posted by Rhombus 07:20 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches islands flowers medical waves oceans sand surfing ships photography dunes body emergencies Comments (0)

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