Breaking blogging silence

Breaking blogging silence

Our last Rocinante blog was way back in June 2016, and a few people have emailed asking about our blogging (or nonblogging) plans. For the record: the only plan is to blog once in a while, sometimes more often and sometimes less often, with nothing remotely resembling a schedule.

We left Rocinante (our boat) last June, on the hard (that is, out of the water, in a ship yard) in the Rio Dulce. Why? Because June is the start of hurricane season in the Caribbean. And because we wanted to see family and friends in Europe. So, we flew to Mexico, hung out for a couple of days, and then flew to Holland for 6 weeks with family, but also with a week-long break in Spain walking a coastal trail north of Barcelona—a great walk, village to village, with interesting country in between and a pitcher of Sangria available for rehydration at the end of each day.

From Holland, back to Alaska…. Bill’s new book, And Soon I Heard a Roaring Wind, came out, and he had to be on hand for promotional work, including some nice interviews with Alaska Public Media, Terry Grose of NPR’s Fresh Air, and a few others. There was also the matter of packing up and shipping most of our few remaining belongings in Alaska, and seeing lots (but not all) of our Alaskan friends. On the downside, it seemed to rain pretty much nonstop during our stay. So, a bit sooner than originally planned, fed up with rain, we drove away in our camper, headed in the general direction of Whitehorse.

Why Whitehorse? To canoe on the Yukon River. We unfolded our canoe (it is a folding canoe that, when not in use, lives in a bag behind the passenger seat of the camper), filled it with food and camping gear, parked the camper, and headed downriver about 460 miles to Dawson City. Cruising by canoe has its limitations, but compared to sailing it is simple and fairly certain. No matter what the wind does, the river flows downstream, and there are great camp sites every few miles. This route is heavily traveled (we usually saw at least one or two other canoes every day) and is an easy trip for anyone who has canoe camped in the past—consider that a recommendation. For two weeks, our days were all about paddling and camping. The river is varied and often awe inspiring, with a reasonable amount of wildlife, lots of evidence of gold rush history, and interesting geology that includes towering basalt cliffs. And, along the way, we read Deb Vanesse’s Wealth Woman, an excellent history of the gold rush told, in a sense, from the perspective of Kate Carmack, who was the wife of the man who claimed to have been the discoverer of the Klondike’s gold.   There is no better place to read a book about the gold rush than the banks of the Yukon. (The Klondike is a tributary to the Yukon River, and the Yukon River was the transportation corridor into the gold fields for decades after the Klondike discovery.) The mosquitoes, by the way, weren’t too bad.

Once off the river, we continued toward the US west coast, stopping along the way to hike, bike, and, of course, dive.   There is excellent biking along the AlCan Highway—not on today’s highway itself, but on abandoned stretches of the old highway that run parallel, more or less, to today’s highway. Also excellent hiking, with walks ranging from less than 20 minutes to several days. Saw lots of bears (brown and black), bison, sheep, deer, coyotes, and one wolf.

[fancy_images width=”260″ height=”175″]
[image caption=”Canoeing Yukon”][/image]
[image caption=”Yukon steamship remains”][/image]
[image caption=”Bison blocking road”][/image]
[image caption=”Stonesheep blending in landscape”][/image]

As to the diving: Thanks to a very friendly diver in Whitehorse, who provided tanks and took us out in his boat, we dove a gold-rush era steam-powered paddle wheeler in Lake Labarge (which is really just a wide spot in the Yukon River). The wreck sunk around 1902 and was found by divers in 2008. It was the first boat to be carried over the White and Chilkoot trails (in pieces) to service the Klondike stampeders. It stayed in service for two years before sinking in a storm, taking with it three of the five crew.

Continuing on the diving theme, we dove around Vancouver Island, then crossed into Washington state, saying goodbye to the almost always polite and friendly Canadians and hello to the rude bully working for the US government at the border checkpoint. (Trump should build a wall to separate normal people from rude government bullies.) There were two guys working the check point, and it seemed something like bad-cop/good-cop, except maybe like bad-cop/embarrassed-to-be-working-with-this-jerk cop.   Once past that minor hurdle, we headed out onto the Olympic Peninsula. Diving around Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula is excellent. Cold, yes, but very interesting and, in places, surprisingly convenient. One highlight: While overnighting at a Washington state park on the coast, a good hour’s drive from the nearest dive shop, another diver—a stranger who we talked to when we saw the dive flag on his trailer—loaned us two scuba bottles. And no, he wasn’t a government employee.

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[image caption=”Diving Lake Lebarge wreck”][/image]
[image caption=”Fisheating anemones Urticina piscivora”][/image]
[image caption=”Accessible Oregon beaches”][/image]
[image caption=”Very windy Oregon coast!!”][/image]

We drove down the coast of Oregon. Who knew that Oregon had such beaches? Down south, we met Don Walsh at his house a mile from nowhere. Don piloted the Trieste to the bottom of the Challenger Deep (the Marianas Trench) with Jacques Piccard in 1960. No one went back to those depths until James Cameron’s dive in 2012. Piccard has passed away. In any case, it was an honor to spend a day with Don Walsh talking about his dive and his life since 1960. Inspirational.

Not long after seeing Don, we dropped the camper at a friend’s house in Seattle and flew back to Rocinante in Guatemala. We spent a month on the Rio Dulce seeing friends and working on upgrades. We also helped a local organization called Pass It On with the distribution of solar-powered lights in a small Mayan village—an hour by boat followed by three hours walking on a trail to reach their village. The village had no electricity. The people seemed to live by subsistence farming and cash generated by villagers who worked outside but sent money home.

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[image caption=”Sailing with our Guatemalan friends”][/image]
[image caption=”Distributing solar lights”][/image]

We sailed to Utila just before Christmas. We did a 6-week plus Masters level free diving course with Freedive Utila, a Total Apnea school. (Freediving is breath hold diving—get a breath on the surface, and then submerge. No scuba tanks, no hose, just lungs.) I’ve had lots of dive training over the years, but this one tops my list. It’s not about depth, but everyone asks: Lisanne and I both reached 132 feet on a breath of air. There are various ‘disciplines’ in freediving, including swimming without fins, called ‘constant weight no fins’ or, as I prefer, Tarzan dives (remember those old movies, where Tarzan swam underwater and wrestled with crocodiles?). I reached 101 feet on a Tarzan dive. I was a little fuzzy when I surfaced (it seems that the conscious part of the brain is pretty demanding when it comes to oxygen), but it was a great little dive. Another part of the training involves very slow dives to say 80 or 90 feet, which helps the mind adjust to increased levels of carbon dioxide in the blood, but it also gives the diver a chance to see how sound changes with depth. The physicists of course know that sounds from things like boats tend to drop off at the surface and increase with depth, but experiencing that reality with our own ears was interesting. (The same thing can be heard on scuba, but the bubbles from scuba are loud and distracting.) After about 7 weeks of training, we dive back and forth comfortably and without much effort to depths of 60 or 70 feet. If interested, Freedive Utila has shorter courses for beginners and advanced students that can be done as part of a normal vacation. Highly, highly recommended.

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[image caption=”Preparing to go freediving”][/image]
[image caption=”Bill returning from the depths”][/image][fancy_images width=”260″ height=”175″]

From Utila we headed east toward Roatan, but about an hour out we decided to divert to Cayos Cochinos. What a place. There is an ecolodge there called Turtle Bay, with scuba diving and some short walks around the island, and there are two Garifuna villages and scattered vacation homes. We were the only traveling boat in the anchorage. We stayed a week, freediving and scuba diving, before sailing on to Roatan.

So what now? We’re waiting here in Roatan for a west wind so that we can head east. (By waiting, of course, I mean diving, stocking up from Roatan’s excellent grocery stores, seeing friends, etc.) The current plan is to sail east to Guanaja, and then north to Cozumel. We had hoped to go further south to see a friend in Providencia, but pirates have been active on that route so it’s not going to happen this year. There is a chance we will sail to Cayman before we go to Cozumel, but only if we get an exceptional westerly wind, which is rare here in the trade wind belt.

So, in summary, I guess we have lots to complain about but no one who would take the complaints seriously. Life is great aboard Rocinante!


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