One of the things that I believe characterizes my generation is a resiliency to change. It’s hard to believe but, just yesterday I found myself driving north, in the soft hours of the morning, to San Diego. This past week I had been working onboard the Nautilus Explorer who was on the hard in Ensenada and undergoing her seasonal refit. Common to all refits is a sense of organized chaos, improvisation, and allot of hard work. Beyond this however, there is a communal sense that you are turning to and investing in your home. It’s a process, but one gradually becomes attached to the vessel, eccentricities and all.
And so with this experience quickly coming to a close it was with pause that I said goodbye to the vessel and crew, packed my bags, and turned towards the horizon.
Three flights, and one exciting bush plane ride later I find myself in a cool grey nook of South East Alaska called Baranof. Indeed that’s where I write to you now. It’s here that the float plane touched down and I was greeted by Kevin Waldie another first mate who was about to embark on a similar experience as I rotated him off the vessel. Trading handshakes with Waldie I tossed my bags in a small blue kayak, which was subbing as my water taxi, and paddled out towards the Swell.
The Swell is a historic wooden tug which has been converted into a cozy live aboard that runs diving trips up and down the west coast of British Columbia. If she could talk I’m certain there would be many a story to share. Those stories however have left their mark on the Swell and can be seen in her rustic decks, wooden interior, and old but sturdy bronze parts. It is as if her aesthetic and charm has been shaped by the hundreds of hands and feet that have stepped on board, each leaving a subtle mark that they had been there.
It’s a special thing to step on board such a vessel. For starters there aren’t many of them left on the coast, but beyond the rarity however, is a window into a coast and way of life that are somehow intimately connected. Individuals come and explore the emerald waters of the inside passage while sharing in the history that has come to characterize this same coast.
And so with these first impressions of my new home I began to get my bearings and set up for our night passage north to the Indie Islands. Navigating the inside passage has become a task that feels familiar. The basic idea is to maintain a sense of vigilance, peppered with redundant checks. Well into my watch around three in the morning the Swell, and her sleeping guests, headed westwards in Icy Straights. Without warning the Nautilus Swell began to shake. It wasn’t a snapping or a dropping shake which is characteristic of a stay or anchor breaking loose, nor was it indicative of a engine running dry or a hydraulic line giving way. It was a loud shake that I hadn’t felt before. Needless to say, I jumped with a bolt in the wheel house, leaving my heart wedged in my throat. Glancing at my gages and double checking my position I ruled out mechanical failure, and or the seemingly impossible, contact with another vessel. Slowly as I continued my checks however, the shake began to abate. The detroit diesel maintained her steady hum and everything appeared normal. Minutes after my confused, rather startled relief, the coast guard came up on Ch 16 and spoke of an earth quake (6.2 on the Rictor scale) that had taken place not more than 20 miles to our north. A tsunami warning was waved off and I shrugged my shoulders as I entered the unusual occurrence into the log.
I suppose this is life at sea however, constantly looking towards the horizon and maintaining, to the best of ones abilities, a sense of vigilance. One of the great things about South East Alaska is that every day is fresh and full of endless possibilities.
1st mate on board the Nautilus Swell