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Fishing Between Storms

April 14, 2014

April is a difficult month for us in Alaska, not because the sun is returning at an alarming rate, but because the weather is so darn unpredictable. In determining whether or not we should go sailing this time of year, we glance at the NOAA forecast, Weather Underground, Passage Weather, and Sailflow to try and get some idea of what the weather might actually be doing. Usually, all are wrong.

That has how the past few weekends have been. We scrutinize the weather forecast then look out our window and see the opposite. This past weekend we had a weather window of one day followed by a massive storm the next. We took the opportunity to do something we do quite often in the spring: go fishing. And with use of our friend’s C-Dory, we’ve been restocking our freezer ever since we munched on our last bit of bottom fish from last year.

Naysayers will tell you that you can’t fish in the spring. That’s not true. Fishing in the spring is a bit more logistically complicated with a lack of water in the harbor for fish cleaning, timing the weather, and sleepier fish, but spring fishing also allows locals a first crack at nearby fishing before the charter fleet spools up. Come May, droves of fishing boats start leaving the harbor with Alaskan and tourist alike, and we prefer to escape on Carpe Ventos at that time.

With one good day forecast over the weekend, we opted to go fishing at a new “secret spot” we’ve been glancing at on the chart. We loaded up the C-Dory, grabbed the Doppelgangers, and headed out on glassy seas to our new spot in question.

Bixler is a very vocal fisherman as opposed to his Doppelganger, whose semi-silent, “there we go” is a sign that something is on his lure. With halibut rod in hand, Bixler was casually talking when the entire rod bent down in a semi-circular shape. He practically screamed as the fish shook the hook. Bixler sat back in the midst of a heart attack and said, “there’s something big down there!” In his quest to catch said fish, he pulled up the first fish of the day, a huge yelloweye rockfish.

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Bixler with the great, great, great-grandfather of all yelloweye rockfish.

We spent the rest of the afternoon pulling up cod, a fish with no daily limit and is usually discarded  by the charter fleet. Unbeknownst to them, cod pulled from Alaskan waters are buttery and delicious, and we were delighted to have giant, healthy-looking cod in our cooler.

The wind freshened and the swells increased towards the end of the day as the tail-end of the storm moved closer to our fishing spot. For the last fish of the day, Bixler let out another scream when he hooked up to something else large. It fought, it took drag, and when we got it to the surface, we were surprised: a 35 lb halibut! We hardly catch halibut early season, so we were delighted to replace the missing halibut in our freezer. With four fillets, a halibut of this size produced numerous delicious portions.

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A delicious, spring halibut! Also, a Doppelganger’s tuft of hair makes an appearance on the left side of the picture.

We rode the large swells back to Seward with the storm on our tail. As we cleaned and packed up everything that night, it started to snow. Soon the weather will become more predictable and sailing will be easier. In the meantime, let’s go fishing!

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A decent haul to help fill up our freezer before bear hunting season!

Three-in-One Companionway Cover

April 7, 2014

Our weeks of sunny, spring-like weather have finally come to an end. We’ve been stumped on sailing for two weekends now. Last weekend was filled with nasty cold northerlies off the Harding Ice Field and this weekend the south end of Resurrection Bay was heavy with snow. While we were sad to not be sailing (but we were fishing!), we keep reminding ourselves that it is still technically winter for at least another month, and that winter was bound to return after so much sunshine.

So to pass the time, we’ve started catching up on some pending boat projects. This year’s major project is insulating Carpe Ventos from the elements to keep the heat in and the moisture out. The v-berth is halfway to looking like a spaceship with the reflective insulation and only a fraction of the 70′s-era wall-to-wall carpeting remains. While laying contorted in the v-berth is loads of fun, we took a break from that project to do a more pressing project on our ever-long boat improvement list: a companionway cover. Since we don’t have a dodger, keeping the rain out can be a pain when entering and exiting the boat. The current panels offer no insulation and a sizable gap between the panels and hatch allow every mosquito in Alaska to make its way into our boat – not so much fun in the summer months when one is trying to get to sleep and a mosquito comes buzzing in your ear. The solution to all of this is to create an all-season companionway cover, which we finally crossed off of our list.

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Companionway cover drawing on engineering paper, Sunbrella, Sailrite Hotknife (unplugged, of course), and miscellaneous sewing stuff - things that cats thoroughly enjoy.

This project was also an excuse to use our new Sailrite Edge Hotknife to finally cut Sunbrella fabric properly to extend the life and prevent fraying. During the upholstery project, we primarily used a soldering iron to cut fabric or scissors followed by burning the edges with a lighter. Neither one really produced a fine, sealed edge required for any synthetic fabrics. So we were giddy to try out the hotknife for the companionway cover.

The first attempt resulted a slight burn spot in our carpet. That’s okay, its a rental. We placed a piece of cardboard beneath the fabric to prevent carpet burns. The hotknife does have a bit of a learning curve as to how long you need to hold the button to send the current to blade to produce a slice in the Sunbrella. But luckily for us, Krystin messed up the sizing for the companionway so many times she became an instant expert at using it. The moral of the story: if you do a lot of work with Sunbrella, get a hot knife. Like all of Sailrite’s products (including our LSZ-1 sewing machine), the hot knife is awesome.

After much fiddling with stitching and sizing, the companionway cover reached completion after a week or so of picking away at the project. The cover consists of a large piece of Sunbrella sized to the companionway hatch that rests on the tops of the slanted slats on either way of the companionway. The bottom has banana fishing weights sewn into the Sunbrella to keep the cover down over the companionway.  A hole was cut in the large Sunbrella piece to allow a screen to be sewn in. We added a flap on top of screen to keep the water out which is sewn along the topside, but has Velcro on the bottom. The backside of the cover has Velcro attachment points for a large piece of insulation inside of the cover. We designed it for use in rain, sun, and cold – hence the three-in-one!

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The final cover in all its glory. Due to the Cal 34′s off-center companionway, the cover doesn’t sit quite as plumb as we alike, but it still does the job. Note that even stitching is still a work in progress, especially for box stitches.

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The screen cover rolled up and tied off. This will be useful during the summer months to keep all of Alaska’s many, many biting bugs out of our boat.

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Detachable reflective insulation will keep the heat in during the winter months. Right now the majority of our heat from our stove escapes mostly through the companionway and hatch.

Also, we made an important discovery: Cats love Sunbrella. If you leave your project on the floor, your cat will likely play with it all night. Ah, the joys of sewing in a tiny apartment!

First Sail to Thumb Cove 2014 Video

March 26, 2014

As you probably read in our last post, we had our first night at anchor in 2014 at Thumb Cove! Besides the awesome pictures we took, we made a video of it too. Watch us shoot a ptarmigan, sail, and catch fish in the same weekend off of the boat! See it here!

First Overnight at Thumb Cove of 2014

March 25, 2014

Alaskans seem to be emerging from all corners of Seward to embrace the warm weather. Daytime temperatures are topping the mid 40′s with crystal clear skies and 14 hours of sunlight. In March, this is unheard of, and we took advantage of the weather gods smiling upon us and went out overnight on Carpe Ventos. Our destination was Thumb Cove, the closest anchorage to Seward for just the night, as we had the quarterly Kenai Fjords Yacht Club meeting Saturday night at the Breeze Inn Bar. So we geared up Carpe Ventos with provisions, wood, and plenty of warm clothing for the evening (temperatures are still dropping to the high teens). Friday March 21st marked the earliest overnight ever aboard Carpe Ventos in the sailing season.

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Thumb Cove in March!

Apparently we weren’t the only sailors heading outWe coordinated a rendezvous with the doppelgängers on Storm and the Sailing Inc. crew on Yebo and Conquest. All of us headed out to Thumb Cove at varying hours, but Carpe Ventos was the first to speed out of the harbor.

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Dall’s Porpoises greet us as we sail south down Resurrection Bay.

The winds were fair except for a williwaw that shot across the bay. As we have become more seasoned sailors, we’ve learned to read the fickle winds in Alaska and quickly dropped the genoa to sail through gusty winds on just the main. We notified Storm of the impending winds and all of us sailed with ease down the bay.

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Krystin steers Carpe Ventos under main only under fickle winds. Note the coming gust in the background.

As we turned into Thumb Cove, Bixler dropped a jig in the water. Hopeful fishermen try to fish at various spots around Resurrection Bay and often come up empty-handed. However, Bixler landed a decent rockfish, the first of the season! He eagerly dropped it in the cockpit with hopes of having it as an afternoon snack to celebrate the sailing season.

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The day’s catch smothered in Asian sauces, fresh off the grill.

We approached our usual anchoring spot under engine, passing a very large steel ketch tied up to the mooring in the cove. After we anchored, we spied on the ketch, called La Belle Epoque, from Austria. Seward is a usual destination for many world sailors, especially those coming from either the Northwest Passage or Japan. It is not unusual to start seeing world-cruising sailboats during the early sailing season. A ketch tied up in Thumb Cove in March is quite the sight and the owners of the boat were surprised to see another boat out so early.

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La Belle Epoque at the mooring in Thumb Cove.

Bixler cleaned the fish and we started to fry it up on the grill as two crew members of La Belle Epoque rowed over to greet us. Apparently, they recognized Carpe Ventos from Boat, Beaches, and Bearsof which they were huge fans. Ironically, before this, Bixler mentioned, “Wouldn’t it be funny if someone shows up in a cove and recognizes us from our YouTube videos?” We guess that kind of stuff really does happen.

We invited the two crew members, Claudia and Manuela, aboard Carpe Ventos and offered them some rockfish. La Belle Epoque had just passed through the Northwest Passage the summer before and wintered in a cove outside of Homer. They are slowly making their way down to Mexico for next winter and taking in the sights in Alaska during the summer. As we chatted and asked them about their trip, we realized that this was the same boat that our friend Jesse, aboard Empiricus, had tied up to in Cambridge Bay in Canada and the same boat that bought his extra fuel and food. A few months ago Krystin peered out the window of our second-story duplex and wondered why there was a homeless (i.e. clad in wool with a large beard and disheveled hair) person wondering around the trampoline in the yard. It turns out that person, who wasn’t actually homeless – just rustic, was a crew member aboard La Belle Epoque who was visiting a friend of Jesse’s in Seward.

Boy, is it a small world up here!

After visiting with our new friends, the doppelgängers arrived aboard Storm. We piled into our new dingy and explored the beaches, meeting a kayaker from Seward camping out and getting a full tour of La Belle Epoque before a dinner of huli huli ptarmigan (huli huli is a Hawaiian-style chicken) and fried rice.

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Winter brings all sorts of surprises to Alaskan beaches, like trees piled along the shoreline from winter storms.

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Our shiny new dingy. Oh the places we will go in it….hopefully without completely destroying it.

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We explore the beach as the sun sets over Resurrection Bay.

 

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Huli Huli Ptarmigan parts on the grill!

We fired up the wood stove after dinner and piled under a mass of blankets and sleeping bags. The temperature dropped rapidly overnight and we forgot to tend to the stove, so the boat got extremely cold inside. However, the moonless sky was so clear and beautiful that it was worth trying to resurrect the stove just to peak outside!

The next morning, we regrouped with the doppelgängers and started to hike up the valley on the north side of Thumb Cove to look for ptarmigan. Every year we say we are going to snowshoe up to the end and every year we turn around, but with ample time to spare before the yacht club meeting, we headed up the frozen creek.

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Our destination: the end of this valley.

The creek bed started out wide and then narrowed into a rocky gully. The doppelgängers took the high route since they enjoy both bushwhacking and post-holing for some reason, while we preferred to climb up and over the boulders in the creek. Bixler stopped to admire the geology in the region and searched the deep recesses of his brain for information from his many college rock classes.

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We climbed higher to the tall, rocky outcrops that surround the valley.

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The view looking back to Thumb Cove from about half-way to the top of the valley.

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Geology!

We eventually reached the top of the valley which opened up into a bowl surrounded by rocky ridges and hanging glaciers. Mountain goats greeted us at the tops of the peaks.

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We spotted two mountain goats at the tippy-top of a sharp peak enjoying the sunshine.

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Krystin walks towards the end of the valley (in the background) with snowshoes in hand. As the weather warmed, the snow became soft and snowshoes were a must.

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Our doppelgänger friend, already small in height, is dwarfed by the magnificent hanging glaciers and rocky peaks at the end of the valley.

We began to look for ptarmigan and as we reached the end of the valley, Bixler spooked a whitetail that took off flying. We saw another one on a hillside that the doppelgänger went after. He missed and passed his shotgun off to Bixler. Both men climbed a steep hillside in pursuit of a one-pound bird. Bixler eventually shot the bird – our first ptarmigan while sailing!

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We spotted some ptarmigan tracks among the bramble of alders.

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Spot the white bird in the snow. A ptarmigan checks us out…

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…and our nimble friend spots the ptarmigan.

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Bixler takes the final shot to get the ptarmigan. What luck!

We headed down the valley and back to our boats where we pulled anchor. As we headed out, Bixler tried his hand at fishing a different spot and pulled up more rockfish and remarked how he’s never shot ptarmigan and gone fishing in the same day.

We had to stop fishing at one point to sail quickly back to the harbor. We pulled into the slip, loaded the car, and headed straight to the Kenai Fjords Yacht Club meeting.

Whew! What a day!

Our new Austrian friends showed up for the meeting and beer at the Breeze Inn Bar. Bixler, the commodore, presented them with a burgee. They responded by showing us videos of their four years of travel the following night. We supplied the bear burgers – something they were eager to try after our videos. You can follow their travels at their website found here: Fortgeblasen.

 

St. Patrick’s Day Sail

March 19, 2014

Top of the afternoon to you! St. Patrick’s Day proved to be a fantastic day for some sailing between working and that night’s dish of corned bear and cabbage. Both Carpe Ventos and our doppelgänger friends on their Catalina 27 Storm went out to play in the bay. Check out our short video of that fantastic March 17th weather (minus the snow squall, of course)!

First Sail of 2014 on Carpe Ventos

March 16, 2014

It has been six months since we installed the new shaft on Carpe Ventos. Since then, we’ve been hesitant all winter about sailing, wondering, “what are we going to break this year?” Of course, if we worried about the little idiosyncrasies of our boat, we would never take her out. To start the season afresh, we rigged her a few weeks ago and tested the engine with zero problems. The Ides of March proved to be a perfect day for sailing with mild winds and cool 2oF (-7 C) weather. So we took our chances, fired up the engine, and broke through slushy ice to get out of the harbor to meet up with our friends on the Jan Maarit.

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Fresh snow blankets the higher elevations around Resurrection Bay.

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The Jan Maarit glides peacefully near Fourth of July Creek.

The Jan Maarit crew challenged us to a race. We were eager to get our sails up and get going, but found that we were rusty and most of our lines were frozen. Frozen lines are hard to deal with because they lose their malleability and are difficult to grip, especially when wearing mittens. Regardless, we got the sails up and coasted along at a few knots. We eventually reached the Jan Maarit, a much larger and heavier boat than ours that can carry an enormous amount of sail.

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We race towards the Jan Maarit under full sail.

Neck and neck with each other, we passed friendly insults and blanketed each other’s wind to slow down the opposite vessel.

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Hey! We recognize that curly-haired individual!

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The Jan Maarit stole our wind and got ahead of us, but not for long!

Eventually, the wind freshened and we sped away from the Jan Maarit and enjoyed six hours of glorious sailing.

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Krystin takes the helm, well-stocked with adult libations.

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Bixler looking suave in his new Filson wool jacket (a sailor’s classic).

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Krystin stands on the deck to take in the view of Seward and all the surrounding mountains.

Only when the sun disappeared behind the clouds did the cold begin to hit us, and we returned to the harbor. Our original plan for the weekend was to go out for the night, but with a low of 7F (-14C), we didn’t want to risk trying to crank our cold engine on cold batteries. This was a wise decision because when we restarted our engine to enter the harbor, the low battery alarm beeped at us due to the current draw for cranking.

Despite the nip in the air, the day was beautiful. The town seemed alive due to the combination of the weather, a small spring festival, and being the cusp of spring break. A shore-side friend of ours snapped a picture of Carpe Ventos under full sail. What a great way to start the season!

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Seward and Mt. Marathon looking alive in all this beautiful sunlight!

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Carpe Ventos under full sail. Thanks to our friend for the great picture!

We traditionally do a short video of our first sail, so here it is! Enjoy!

Ending Upland Bird Season on a High Note

March 13, 2014

March 31 ends the upland bird season in our area of Alaska. Grouse have been unseen since November since they prefer to roost high in spruce trees during the snowy months. Over the past few weeks, ptarmigan hunting has become increasingly difficult as the birds start enjoying the sunlight and disperse away from their winter flocks.

We attempted to take video of our usual ptarmigan hunt, but it turns out filming and shooting is way more difficult than we thought, especially when it is particularly cold out. Here’s the result of that day’s filming adventure:

Last weekend we browsed over the high winds forecast for Resurrection Bay and aborted our attempt to take Carpe Ventos out for her first sail of 2014. Instead, we gathered some friends and headed up to the Crescent Saddle Cabin that we re-reserved after our failed attempt to spend Valentine’s Day weekend there during a massive blizzard. (Nothing says “I love you” like trudging through knee-deep powder up a steep hill only to realize its blowing snow 40 knots in your face – while towing a chainsaw in a makeshift sled. Honestly, what do normal people do on Valentine’s Day?).

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A snowless, bare mountain across the lake from the cabin.

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A high-elevation view of the one of the valleys near the cabin. Boy, that sun was harsh!

Anyway, we headed up with three shotguns and a .22 with the hopes of seeing some ptarmigan in our usual haunts around the area. We were expecting maybe one or two birds a person, if we were lucky. We started the day off with one or two birds and decided to try another area. We didn’t just find a handful of birds, we hit the mother lode.

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The fuzzy white feet of ptarmigan allow the birds to live comfortably in cold temperatures and high elevations.

As we walked along in a particular area – three of us at lower elevation, one up a bit higher – we spooked a giant flock of White-tailed Ptarmigan, the smallest member of the grouse family that lives at very high elevations. White-tailed Ptarmigan are smaller than their Willow Ptarmigan cousins and less likely to bolt when faced with a predator. Bixler and one friend scampered up an avalanche slide to meet the other friend, all three armed with shotguns. “I’m out, they flew left,” where the typical phrases among a frenzy of excitement. They took turns shooting and gathering up birds in the flock, definitely adhering to the true definition of teamwork.

Krystin, armed with a .22, stayed at lower elevation while the three took the high road. During the volley of shotgun shots, she noticed a second flock tucked away on a cliff face. A single bird stood out. As she looked through her scope, a second bird was buried up to its neck in the snow. Several others were scattered throughout the cliff side. All were taken.

After the aftermath, we reunited. Bixler was concerned that with the way the ptarmigan were behaving, Krystin wouldn’t have much a chance. He was delighted to see a nearly-full bird strap when we reunited. In total, that day produced 22 ptarmigan between the 4 of us. Four of the birds were eaten for dinner that night.

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Wow! What a load of ptarmigan!

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Us in our matching hats posing over the day’s catch of ptarmigan.

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Our friends (the doppelgängers) posing with the birds. Check out that head of hair! No wonder people confused him with Bixler!

The rest were cleaned and stored outside in the sub-zero temperature. Bixler and friends did the cleaning, while Krystin tended to the beer defrosting station. Apparently it was cold enough to freeze all of our precious cans of Midnight Sun’s Sockeye Red IPA!

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We hauled up three six-packs of delicious local beer and put it outside to keep it cold…

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…and apparently it was below zero resulting in beer slushies. Now that’s a way to remedy all that frozen beer!

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