Polar Bears

We arrived in Churchill, Manitoba for a few days during the 6 week “season” when polar bears congregate on the shore of Hudson Bay waiting for the sea ice to form.  Polar bears are creatures of the sea ice – that’s where they find their primary food source (ring seals), and it’s where they are most comfortable – they’re designed to thrive in the extreme cold.

It’s interesting to note that Churchill, Manitoba is only 200 miles north of the same latitude as our home in Petersburg, Alaska.  The Japanese Current keeps our part of Alaska temperate, while the currents feeding Hudson Bay bring colder water and weather that will freeze salt water.

20161021-2502-young-male-polar-bear-10-rDid you know that a polar bear’s skin is actually black?  And their fur is clear, specially designed to help keep them warm in extremely cold temperatures.  The week we were in Churchill the temps were pretty warm – right around freezing, so the bears weren’t as active.  They don’t have good food sources on land so they haven’t eaten much all summer.  At this time of the year they’re hungry and thinner, and they need to conserve as much energy as possible.20161021-2508-young-male-polar-bear-face-rPolar bears are apex predators, and although humans aren’t their preferred food source, they absolutely will hunt and attack humans when they’re hungry.  Unlike black and brown bears, these white bears are not to be trifled with!  Bear spray would just make a polar bear think “ooooh – spicy food!”20161025-3228-churchill-beware-of-bears-rWe were able to get so close to these predators by getting out on the tundra in polar rovers like these – with tires tall enough that a standing bear can’t reach the windows or the open viewing platform.20161025-3226-churchill-jim-and-polar-rover-resizeAnd to maximize our time on the tundra, we stayed in a tundra lodge – a small “train” that is parked out on the Hudson Bay shoreline in the midst of bear territory.  It had sleeping cars, a lounge, and a dining car, and no one sets foot on the ground.  There are steel mesh open platforms between each car, and occasionally a bear would hang out underneath.  20161022-2541-tundra-lodge-1-rThe bears are curious about the rovers and the lodge probably because they see them as big cans of meat.  If they could get one open, they’d have a pretty good meal.

In addition to the bears, we spotted two snowy owls…20161021-2528-snowy-owl-open-beak-2-r…arctic fox, a black morph of a red fox, snow buntings, and lots of ptarmigan.20161022-2688-ptarmigan-in-willow-2-rWe saw some solitary bears, but my favorites were the mothers and cubs.20161023-3146-three-sleepy-polar-bears-rIn one instance we spotted a mother with two cubs that ran from another mother and single cub, though we couldn’t see any overt signs of aggression between them.  20161023-2825-polar-bear-cubs-running-r20161023-2860-polar-bear-cub-prairie-dogging-2-rThe little family that napped and snuggled together was my absolute favorite, and we were fortunate to watch them for a nice long time.20161023-3012-polar-bear-peace-rAs a knitter traveling with friends to a chilly place, I had to make some appropriate hats to keep us warm while watching the bears, so I found a pattern for polar bear hats…20161024-2743-us-in-churchill-r…and they worked pretty well.  Our adventure on the tundra was much too short, but we had a great time and we met a number of exceptionally nice people.

Living in Alaska makes us more aware of the impacts of climate change – coastal communities in our state that depend on sea ice formation to protect them from winter storms are now pounded by waves and residents will have to relocate.  Warmer temperatures are causing plants and animals to move farther north, competing with native species and dramatically changing the balance.  Arctic species are threatened more and more literally every day, and as a nation we must take a leadership role in addressing the man-made impacts.  We have a responsibility to protect our planet so our children and grandchildren can see polar bears and other arctic animals in their lifetimes.

From Mansions to Bison

Spending time catching up with our boating friends Mary and Bill was a real treat, and we especially enjoyed seeing some familiar New England places through the eyes of locals.  After our perfect day at Mystic we headed to the corner of Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound for a picnic lunch.20161019-2390-newport-rocky-fishing-2-r

Fortunately the winds were light so the breakers weren’t too frisky, but it was fun to imagine what it would look like there on a stormy day!  We’re “water people” at heart, and it felt good to sit by the sea and look out on waters where we’ve traveled with ADVENTURES.  After our picnic we headed over to Newport, RI – a very pretty town, though on our previous stops we always found it to be too expensive and crawling with arrogant young racing sailors.  We were thrilled to have our friends show us a different side of things – the Cliff Walk.20161019-2403-newport-mansions-rNewport is famous for its mansions as well as for sailing, and the Cliff Walk is a public easement along the rocky shoreline in front of many of the amazing mansions.  20161019-2419-newport-cliff-walk-mansion-rOnce again we had a perfect day to enjoy the views since a more typical autumn day could bring cold wind off the ocean and crashing breakers that would get the trail wet.  The mansions were amazing – such varied styles and sheer numbers of them!  Many were under renovation now that the summer season is over and the wealthy families have retreated to warmer climes.  It’s a great trail – sometimes level, sometimes paved, sometimes comprised of huge boulders, even a tunnel, but always a great view. 20161019-2412-newport-cliff-walk-tunnel-rThe tide was going out so we could see all the rocks just off the shore – treacherous to navigate in the days before we had good charts!20161019-2414-newport-cliff-walk-rockweed-rIt was another perfect day, ending with a walk on the beach in Narragansett – amazed at all the locals who were swimming in that chilly water!

But we were in Rhode Island to see Mary and Bill for another reason – to go to the shores of the Hudson Bay in Canada to see polar bears!winnipeg-churchill-mapThe title of this post mentioned bison, not polar bears… so let me explain.  One of the southernmost places to see polar bears is Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay.  Churchill sits at a little notch in the land where the sea ice forms earlier than on any other part of the Bay.  Polar bears live on the ice – that’s where they hunt for their primary prey (seals), and they congregate near Churchill at this time of the year waiting for the ice to form.  We’ve always wanted to see polar bears and happily discovered that Mary and Bill did too.  To make it more interesting, Mary lived in Churchill for 2 years as a young girl since her Dad was doing research for the Army there.

In order to get to Churchill, we have to fly to Winnipeg (the orange label in the middle of the map).  Winnipeg sits on the prairie and is a crossroads for trading, with the Red and Assiniboine Rivers converging there, as well as railroads.  We spent an extra day to tour the city and learn a little more about the area… and one extra day was not enough!  The Forks (where the two rivers converge) was interesting – a place where aboriginal people have been meeting and trading for over 6000 years, later joined by Scottish settlers, European fur traders, railroad workers, buffalo hunters, and many other immigrants.20161021-2426-winnipeg-sculpture-at-the-forks-rThe National Human Rights Museum is located in Winnipeg – a dramatic building that we didn’t have time to visit.  The Manitoba Museum is terrific – we could have spent several days going through it all.  We learned about the French side of town, and saw the edifice that remains from the St. Boniface Cathedral which burned down in 1968.20161021-2428-winnipeg-st-boniface-rWe stopped to see the Provincial Legislature building – very pretty, with huge bison sculptures in the lobby and a beautiful dome.20161021-2439-winnipeg-legislature-bison-1-r20161021-2441-winnipeg-legislature-ceiling-2-rAnd because bison were so important to the history of the region, we had to see some real ones.  This herd is habituated to a small bus that visits their field.  They really are massive creatures!20161021-2454-winnipeg-bison-rAnd I particularly liked this one – dare to be different!20161021-2459-winnipeg-bison-twisted-horn-r

A Porcupine on the Tarmac

As usual I’m running behind, but my latest excuse is that we’re traveling… and not in our usual way (taking our home with us).  This trip involves an actual airplane, though the flight from Petersburg to Seattle was slightly delayed because they had to chase a porcupine off the tarmac.  How very Alaskan.

We flew to the east coast for a multi-stop trip to visit some family and friends, and for some other adventures that I’ll save for the next posts.  It’s a mix of wonderful things and difficult things as we spend time with people very close to us who are confronting grim illnesses.  It’s hard to keep going forward with our plans and adventures while people we love are struggling so much.  We will be there for them when they really need us, and in the meantime we want to make as much of our own time here on earth as we can – it’s not an easy balance to find.  I’ll keep the blog focused on the upbeat interesting things, but our hearts and minds and prayers remain focused on the people we love.

Hurricane Matthew rearranged our plans and the plans of many other people, causing the cancellation of the DeFever Rendezvous.  Fortunately no one that we know suffered any major damage or impact from the storm.  Eventually we made it up to Rhode Island to link up with boating friends, and we got to spend a couple of days exploring New England with glorious fall color and unseasonably warm temps.  First stop:  Mystic Seaport in Connecticut.20161018-2368-mystic-lighthouse-rMystic is a living, working seaport museum focused on the whaling and trading history of the area.  I remember going there with my parents as a little girl several times – always a favorite place with great memories.  Jim and I have been there twice with our boat, which was beyond my wildest childhood dreams – so special.  We love it there, and we even spent time there the day after we got engaged.  Boats are in my blood.  Now we got to go there again with friends on a beautiful day – perfect.20161018-2363-mystic-brilliant-stern-horiz-rWe checked out various demonstrations, stopped by to see one of my two favorite boats there – the BRILLIANT (the other one – a Sandbagger, was already tucked away for winter), and we climbed up to the deck of the CHARLES W. MORGAN to see how the renovation is coming along.20161018-2353-mystic-sanding-the-morgan-rThe MORGAN is 133′ long, built in 1841 for whaling.  Imagine the challenges of maintaining such a huge wooden vessel!  She’s almost ready to go back in the water, and she recently had a successful test and short cruise in Long Island Sound.  20161018-2337-mystic-whale-boat-rThe other special treat was getting to see the Viking longship Draken Harald Harfagre that sailed across the Atlantic from Norway to the U.S. this past summer.20161018-2372-mystic-viking-ship-fwd-side-rWe missed the lecture from the ship’s captain about the history of the longships and about the Draken’s voyage, but it was still neat to see her and to get a closer look at the traditional clinker-planked construction.  There were carved designs at both ends, and the dragon on the bow was most impressive.20161018-2324-viking-ship-figurehead-rLiving in Alaska’s Little Norway and having Norwegian ancestors (my great-grandfather came from Mandel Norway), it was special to experience a little Viking heritage on a sunny day in Connecticut.  They also had a smaller longboat on display, and we noticed how similar it is in shape to the Tlingit log canoes.  The construction is completely different, but the length to beam ratio and high ends were remarkably close.20161018-2357-mystic-viking-small-boat-bill-mary-jim-r

Autumn Changes

It always surprises me to see how quickly the weather patterns change from summer to fall up here.  18+ hours of daylight at the Summer Solstice is now about 10 hours, and we’re losing daylight at the rate of about 5 minutes per day.  Strong weather fronts start coming in off the Gulf of Alaska, and it’s not the nicest time to be out on the water if you don’t have to.  The good news?  It’s now dark enough to see the aurora borealis on a clear night, and when the aurora activity is far enough south.  20160919-2159-sept-aurora-1-ps-rThe aurora wasn’t too bright this particular evening but it was still pretty to see, with Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) and the north star – the symbols on Alaska’s flag – just above the green light.

The end of the summer cruising season gave us a chance to make a change to ADVENTURES – something we’ve been considering for a long time:  a bulbous bow.  Without going into lots of technical detail, suffice it to say that a bulbous bow is a rounded protrusion under the water that helps break waves and improves efficiency.  It doesn’t look like it would do all that, but it does very effectively.

DeFever-designed boats perform very well in the ocean, though they are known to “hobby horse” when waves are directly on the bow – we get a lively ride in a head sea.  We’ve been interested in a bulbous bow to help dampen that motion, more than to improve speed or fuel economy but we never though we’d find someone with the knowledge and experience to scale a bulbous bow for a boat of our size… until we met Steve Keller in Wrangell.  We asked our commercial fishermen friends and they all spoke highly of bulbous bows and of Steve’s work.  Jim did his own deep dive into the science and math of bulbous bows, comparing his findings with Steve’s recommendations.  Everything matched up, so we decided to take the plunge.

Here are a few photos of the process and the final result – spare us the snarky comments about what it looks like.  Boats are known as “she”, and… we like to think of ourselves as more “transgender” now.

We started out with a 10′ long, 3′ diameter fiberglass cylinder 3/4″ thick and weighing 700 lbs. 20160906-1645-bulb-cylinder-alignment-resizeThere was a LOT of leveling, measuring, marking, re-measuring, test cutting, and more re-measuring before the final cuts were made to make the cylinder fit snugly to the curved sides of ADVENTURES’ bow.20160908-001-cut-down-cylinder-faired-resizeIn the photo above, the 10′ long cylinder is still 10′ long… but most of that length is on either side of the bow, and only a couple of feet extend beyond the bow at the top.

A large ball buoy was inflated to fit the end of the cylinder, and used to mold the dome.20160908-1673-ball-buoy-mold-resizeI’m skipping over a lot of intermediate steps, but here’s the cylinder and dome mated together and fiberglassed to our hull.20160912-2054-bulb-rThe overall weight of this addition is over 900 lbs, carefully calculated by weighing the original cylinder, weighing the big pieces cut out of it, and keeping track of the yards of fiberglass cloth and gallons of resin used to construct everything.  It’s important that the finished bulb doesn’t make the boat ride lower at the bow – instead we want it to be neutrally buoyant or very slightly positively buoyant.  There is a lot of math that goes into scaling and balancing a bulbous bow like this, on top of the skill to construct it.

Our bulb has both air and water chambers to achieve the proper buoyancy.  Steve constructed a bulkhead inside the bulb to trap enough air in the aft section to offset the weight of the fiberglass as well as the weight of the water that will be carried in the front section.  The dome end of the bulb has two 2″ holes drilled in it (top and bottom) to allow water in it so it’s not too buoyant.  This really was a fascinating project.

This is the final result, after sanding and fairing, epoxy barrier coating, and bottom painting.  The native style eagle head was Jim’s idea – he drew it, created a large-scale stencil for it, and painted it on each side of the bulb with black bottom paint.  Pretty spiffy!20160915-2126-bulb-proud-bulb-artist-r20160916-2135-bulb-emerging-from-the-shed-rThe whole process took about 10 days, and living in a boat yard shed with all the grinding and sanding dust was not fun, but the guys were great to work with and the project was a good intellectual challenge.  We’re very pleased with the result.

Now we just need lots of sea time with the new bulbous bow to see how the boat’s ride will change.  We cruised the 40 miles back to Petersburg, and it was the one time we were disappointed in having flat calm water!  The biggest wave we could find was a ferry wake, so we’ll have to wait until the cruising season starts in the spring to really give the new bulb a thorough workout.  We definitely saw a big speed improvement, and felt some differences in the ride.  Docking is a little different now – with the extension up front the boat doesn’t want to make sharp 90 degree turns the same as before, so it will take some practice to see how much more rudder to use and where to line up.  We’re really looking forward to the boating season starting up again in the spring, especially now that we have a new “toy” to experiment with, and an improvement in ride when the sea is on our nose (as often happens in the long channels that funnel the wind up here).