The Stormy Drake: or, my return to the world of yarn will be delayed

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,


I was meant to finish up my Antarctic contract and fly home from Punta Arenas, Chile on August 4 but the Southern Ocean has been a bit stormy of late and we are delayed.  Currently we are hiding in Gerlache Straight area near the tip of the Antarctic Penninsula,  in fairly calm seas but high winds.  It is snowing sideways.

All of us are missing something at this point, weddings, birthday parties, planned vacations, but to a person we all looked at the weather forecasts, and the strength of the storms roaring through the Drake and said, "yup, let's stay here".

And so we are. But that doesn't make missing events planned for months in advance any less frustrating.

I still have hopes that I will make to it the Wool Scout retreat hosted by Sarah Hunt of FIberTrek, but it is beginning to look like it might be a stretch.   My best hope at the moment is to fly out from Punta Arenas on the 10th, which has me (if all connections are on time) in Boston the afternoon of the 11th, but that leaves me with the wrong luggage for summer (even in Maine) and no indigo supplies, so a quick dash home to Worcester, and then the drive to MIllinocket to meet the float plane on the 12th.  All doable in theory if I forgo sleep.

We are making the best of our delay, following in the long tradition of mariners waiting out Antarctic weather.  A cribbage tournament was promptly arranged, and a lecture series quickly followed.  Attempts are being made to form a band.  Yesterday morning a nuclear physicist and I worked together to make bean bags (using beans generously donated by the galley) for a game of corn hole, tournament to be organized shortly.  No one has started a newspaper yet, but if our weather window doesn't materialize on the 5th I suspect that might be next.


ANTARTICA!!!!!

by Sarah Lake Upton in


After a blessedly uneventful crossing, last night we tied up safely alongside Palmer Station.  Today will be spent unloading the cargo we carried down for them, including a resupply of fresh food stuffs and various scientific supplies.  They were very happy to see us.  (Hopefully we didn't freeze the lettuce).

 

The crossing down was beautiful and much like being on a boat often is, a bit more rolly, and a bit colder than I am used to, but fundamentally not much different from being offshore anywhere else.  And then yesterday morning I woke up and felt like I had wandered into a nature documentary.  Antartica is utterly its own place, unlike any other place I have ever been, and completely unmistakable.

 

Ship's internet here is actually worse than ship's internet on the Sea Lion, so I can't post any of the photos I've been taking, but I have been managing to get a photo or two out over Instagram (@uptonyarns).  Posting involves being a bit more stubborn than our internet, which means that it sometimes takes me a while to get things to go through.  For some reason the ship's internet will eventually let me post photos, but it has decisively beaten back every attempt I have made to reply to the comments people have left.  So, if you have commented, know that I have seen it and very much appreciated it, and probably spent 20 minutes trying to get the internet to send my reply before heading back to work or otherwise giving up. 

 

I fly home on August 5, so any and all yarnish stuff will be dispatched sometime shortly thereafter (I may need to catch up on some sleep).


October Highlights

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,


So the election happened.  

This morning I find that I need to concentrate on all the positive things that happened in my creative world while I was home.  (On Monday I met the boat in Alameda, California, for our annual shipyard period; currently she is in dry dock).

As I mentioned in a previous post, the gansey yarn spun from the 2016 Coopworth fleeces from Buckwheat Blossom Farm in Wiscasset, Maine was there to great me when I arrived home, and the yarn is lovely.

Many people on the 2016 Coopworth Gansey yarn wait list were entranced by the yarn in its two undyed colors, but I did get to do some very satisfying dyeing:

 From left to right; Light Gray (Undyed), North Atlantic (custom blue/green), Nordic Tug Green (custom green) Medium Blue, and Dark Gray/Brown (undyed).

From left to right; Light Gray (Undyed), North Atlantic (custom blue/green), Nordic Tug Green (custom green) Medium Blue, and Dark Gray/Brown (undyed).

I am still working through the wait list, but I ran out of time at home.  If you are still on the wait list and you haven't heard from me to talk about your yarn needs, fear not, I still have 2016 Coopworth Gansey yarn, I am just out of time at home.  I will be back in my yarn room in early January, and will be in touch to discuss individual orders. 

 

One of the highlights of my time home was getting to vend at the Highlands on the Fly knitting retreat at the New England Outdoor Center near Millinocket, Maine.  I had a lovely time catching up with knitters I met there in years past (I missed last year because of my boat schedule) and meeting new knitters. 

 This year the great Mary Jane Mucklestone spoke about her travels and interest in the Shetland Islands, Ellen Mason of Doc Mason Yarn gave a class in Mason Jar dyeing, and I finally got to meet Michelle Bye of ByeBrook Farm (we've been Instagram acquaintances for a while - she has lovely sheep).  Other venders included Jani Estelle of Starcroft Fiber Mill, Casey ff Port Fiber, and Jodi Clayton of One Lupin Fiber Arts.  Mary Jane brought her knit swatches from her recent books:  150 Scandinavian Motifs and 200 Fair Isle Motifs (link takes you to a page about Mary Jane's books on her website, scroll down a bit for the titles). I have spent many an hour pouring over the photos in those books, so it was actually a bit surreal to see them in person.  The photos do manage to capture the spirit of the swatches, but seeing the swatches in person I found that some motifs and color combinations possessed an extra dimension of energy that just didn't quite come across in the photos, while other samples that were stunning in the book, though still lovely in person, didn't quite draw my eye the same way they had in two dimensions.  It was an interesting reminder that knitting is not a static medium, and that different light, different pairings of swatches, and just getting a change to pick up a piece, can completely change how one feels about the same piece of knitting.  (I was too sidetracked by getting to actually look at them to remember to photograph them for a later blog post - for which I appologize).

(I also felt immense admiration for the photographer - yarn is maddeningly difficult to photograph accurately, or even consistently).

 

Time was my biggest challenge when I was home.  I lost two of my six weeks of time home to classes necessary to maintain my boat life, and while both were worthwhile, and the fire fighting class was downright fun at times, I resented the intrusion of my boat life into my yarn life.

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But I have now officially fought fire (under controlled conditions) wearing my At Sea Gansey (pattern by Beth Brown-Reinsel).  The increased range of motion and ease of wear that make ganseys so lovey to wear when working on a tall ship are equally lovely while moving a fire hose.


A Few More Southbound Photos

by Sarah Lake Upton in


This rotation on the boat took me from Juneau, Alaska to Clarkston, Washington, just across the river from Lewiston Idaho (which as the airport).  A hair over three years ago I flew into Idaho to meet up with the boat for the first time.  Until I started working on the Sea Lion it never occurred to me that one could meet a boat in Idaho but that first rotation I did basically that, starting in Idaho and ending in Costa Rica.

 

Alaska is my favorite season, and much as I hate to leave, the way down from Alaska to Seattle is always one of my favorite trips. We hit the highlights of our normal week long trips (Glacier Bay, Tracy Arm, the Inians, Petersburg) and then we turned left instead of right when we pulled off the dock in Petersburg.  As usual, I took a gajillion photos.

Here are some of my favorites:

 Sitka

Sitka

 Bubble netting humpback whales enjoying breakfast

Bubble netting humpback whales enjoying breakfast

 Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay

 And a coastal brown bear looking for something tasty to eat in Glacier Bay

And a coastal brown bear looking for something tasty to eat in Glacier Bay

 Steller Sea Lions, Marble Island, Glacier Bay

Steller Sea Lions, Marble Island, Glacier Bay

 South Sawyer Glacier (just around the bend) Tracy Arm

South Sawyer Glacier (just around the bend) Tracy Arm

 Memorial poles at Sgang Gwaii

Memorial poles at Sgang Gwaii

 Diving with Ashley on the pier, Alert Bay BC, Canada - my new favorite dive spot

Diving with Ashley on the pier, Alert Bay BC, Canada - my new favorite dive spot

 Leaving Seattle bound for Portland (Oregon). Someday I will actually get to walk around on land in Seattle instead of popping by just long enough to load supplies. 

Leaving Seattle bound for Portland (Oregon). Someday I will actually get to walk around on land in Seattle instead of popping by just long enough to load supplies. 


Home!

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,


Much as I love my job, there is nothing quite as wonderful as my first week home.

This time, amongst many other things, I slept late (okay, as late as Nell would let me) took long walks (starting later than Nell would have liked, but far earlier than I would have liked) and raided my inventory for more 3 Ply Romney > Cotswold so that I could keep working on Fantoosh.

 I love the color of milkweed flowers, and the smell is intoxicating,  but I never realized until I looked at this photo how much they resemble something a special effects department for a creepy sci-fi movie would create.  Huh.  Let's just enjoy the color and move on. 

I love the color of milkweed flowers, and the smell is intoxicating,  but I never realized until I looked at this photo how much they resemble something a special effects department for a creepy sci-fi movie would create.  Huh.  Let's just enjoy the color and move on. 

 Nell, patiently waiting while I photographed the now-creepy-seeming milkweed flowers.

Nell, patiently waiting while I photographed the now-creepy-seeming milkweed flowers.

I have been living the life of six weeks on the boat, six weeks home for nearly three years now, and one would think that I would have packing down to a science by this point, but one would be wrong.  Packing for the boat generally involves me semi-resentfully throwing things at the last possible moment into luggage that I never quite managed to unpack, pausing only to consider whether I am going to Alaska (and will therefore need sweaters and long underwear) or Costa Rica (shorts).  My knitting gets a little more consideration, but only a little.  I have several project bags that contain short skeins of cone-ends and yarn seconds and gloves that I will someday (maybe this rotation on the boat?) type up the patterns for.  Into those project bags I will generally throw yet more yarn seconds and cone ends from whatever batch of yarn I was working with during my time home, with the intention that I will swatch and maybe design (and write up) another glove/mittlet pattern.  (I am coming to resent gloves and mittlets). This system has worked okay so far, though I wish I could be more organized about the whole thing. 

Except. 

I left for my last rotation on the boat thinking that I had about three skeins worth of 3 Ply Romney > Cotswold in Sitka squirreled away in my project bags.  Believing this to be true, I started my Fantoosh knowing that I probably wouldn't have enough knitting time to get though more than two-ish skeins. For my first three weeks aboard I merrily worked through my first Fantoosh skein, enjoying the pattern and the result greatly.  And then, down to my last nubbin of yarn I calmly searched through my project bags, looking for the next skein of yarn that I knew was there. 

 That little nubbin of yarn was the end of what I had on board

That little nubbin of yarn was the end of what I had on board

It was not there. 

Instead, I found a complete-but-for-the-last-two-rows-of-the-thumb mittlet based on the original gates of one of the locks in  the Panama Canal, knit out of the yarn I was looking for. I remember knitting the thing, but I really thought I had only gotten halfway up the palm.  Apparently there was some fugue state knitting in Panama (which happens - I am a stress knitter). 

And then I remembered what happened to the other skein. 

 Somewhere off the coast of Costa Rica. 

Somewhere off the coast of Costa Rica. 

Not visible in the above photo: the carefully wound ball of 3 Ply Romney > Cotswold in Sitka bobbing somewhere in our wake.  

I was sitting on the fantail taking a break after dinner, preparing to cast-on for the afore mentioned mittlet based on the lock gates, and I just dropped it. I dropped my perfectly wound ball of yarn onto the deck, and we were in just enough of a seaway that rather then stop, it rolled right under the rail and off the side of the boat.  I did not expect that to happen, but I should have known that losing a skein of yarn overboard at some point in my boat career was inevitable. 

I mourned my inability to continue Fantoosh  for a few days, and then I began a glove/swatch in honor of the Cordova Gansey Project. 

I very much enjoyed working on my little gansey glove, but at times I felt like the landscape was mocking my poor yarn planning.

 

 


In which I am ridiculous and perhaps alarming to a guest

by Sarah Lake Upton in


Yesterday evening while doing my rounds I noticed a guest wearing a very lovely version of Mary Jane Mucklestone’s Stopover Icelandic sweater.  Being the overenthusiastic knitter that I am I stopped her and without any lead-in said, “That-is-a-lovely-Mary-Jane-Muckleston-Stopover!!” 

The guest looked very confused and a little bit alarmed (I was in my engineering uniform of crew coveralls, which I’m sure only added to the non sequitur of the thing).  So I tried again, but more slowly. “Your sweater, that is a lovely Mary Jane Mucklestone Stopover”.  To which she still looked confused, but less alarmed.   As it turns out, the guest is not a knitter, but her daughter is, and so knowing that her mother was planning to head to Alaska the daughter joined in the #bangoutasweater Instagram knit-along in February.   

 I asked her to send my complements to her daughter on her knitting, apologized profusely for being alarming and weird about her sweater, and feeling quite embarrassed about the whole thing, went on about my business. 

And now I’m not even sure why I’m blogging this story except that I am still excited to have come across a sweater from the #bangoutasweater knit-along in the wild. 


On Gray Whales; or, my favorite part of my boat year

by Sarah Lake Upton in


This post is a bit after the fact, because as slow and expensive as our ship's internet is normally, for reasons never fully explained it is even slower and therefore more expensive in Baja California.  I feel sure that it was laughing at me on several occasions as I tried to convince it to let me see my email. 

I am home now, bracing myself to open the door of my yarn room but excited to start working with yarn again.  I made a farm visit up to Buckwheat Blossom Farm in Wiscasset last week, had a lovely time catching up with Amy, and bought lots of her gorgeous coopworth fleece.  Photos and the full story to follow.  In the mean time, gray whales: 

The Sea Lion spends most of the winter going back and forth between Costa Rica and Panama, and most of the summer in Alaska, but in between the two seasons we have a magical three weeks in Baja California.  My favorite trip of the entire year is the two week photo trip, marketed under the name “A Remarkable Journey” in our literature, but known to all of us as “the trip when we get to visit the baby gray whales”.   (Our sister ship the Sea Bird spends their entire winter in Baja, and no, I am not at all jealous of them at all… really….civilized weather, whales, never once having to be at the mercy of the Panama Canal Authority, why would I be jealous?). 

After a little over a week’s travel from Costa Rica without guests, we stopped in the fishing town of San Carlos in Magdalena Bay on the Pacific side of Baja to meet the guests and naturalists for the two week trip.  Then we moved up the coast a bit to Laguno San Ignacio, one of the shallow lagoons where gray whales go to give birth and let their calves grow a little before making the long migration up to Alaska.

Like many species of whales, gray whales were hunted nearly to extinction.  The whalers would often kill the calves first.  This makes the current behavior of the gray whales in San Ignacio even more puzzling.  In the early 1970’s mother whales began approaching the small open fishing boats (known as pangas, the panga drivers are pangueros) and encouraging their calves to interact with the them.  This is not a subtle behavior; the mother whale gently t’s the calf up towards the panga with her nose.  In the version of this story told to me by a panguero last year, the first few times this happened the panguero was rightly confused and scared by the encounter.  Gray whales had a reputation among whalers as “devil fish” because they defend their young quite vigorously.  Accounts from whaling ships in the 1880’s in San Ignacio liken them to “hospital ships” because so many crew were injured by mother gray whales (which seems only fair).  

Eventually an eco-tourism industry formed around the lagoons, and access to the lagoons when whales are present is limited.   In 1979 the Mexican government established by decree a "marine refuge zone" for whales in San Ignacio Lagoon.   In 1988 the larger area of El Vizcaino was created as a biosphere preserve, which was then recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in  1993.  This has not stopped attempts at development.  In the 1990's there was an attempt by a multi-national company to build a salt production facility in San Ignacio, which was thankfully defeated. 

But still, no one knows why the gray whales are friendly.  Gray whales are baleen whales, which means that even if we wanted to there is no way that we could offer them food treats (their idea of a food treat would be hundreds of gallons of very small shrimp, which is impractical). They are not spending time with us because they hope we’ll feed them.  If they aren’t in the mood for our company they can, and do, easily swim away from the pongas.   

And yet they come up and say hello. 

  Photo credit Millie Clarke

Photo credit Millie Clarke

  photo credit Millie Clark,   astute observers will notice the Engineer's Armwarmer keeping my camera hand warm.  

photo credit Millie Clark,  astute observers will notice the Engineer's Armwarmer keeping my camera hand warm.  

    Maggie figured out that she could hook her heels under the bench seats of the pangas to keep herself steady and increase her reach when she leaned out.  Her enthusiasm seemed to call the whales, or perhaps they were just as worried as the rest of us that she was going to go overboard. 

 

Maggie figured out that she could hook her heels under the bench seats of the pangas to keep herself steady and increase her reach when she leaned out.  Her enthusiasm seemed to call the whales, or perhaps they were just as worried as the rest of us that she was going to go overboard. 

We have decided that gray whales feel a bit like eggplants, and that like most baby mammals baby gray whales are just a little bit softer and floppier than their adult counterparts.  None of us managed it this time, but apparently baby gray whales are a bit mouthy and like to have their baleen plates rubbed.  They are so well insulated that their skin temperature is barely warmer than the surrounding water, which makes intellectual sense but still feels weird.  For people used to touching fish, marine mammals don’t have a slime layer, though they are constantly shedding the outer layer of their skin, which is one of the reason they are covered in whale lice (which are not lice at all, but rather a type of amphipod - the relationship is considered commensal).

At one point we had three mother/calf pairs hanging out around our pangas, playing with us and each other.  The babies like to gently bump up under the pongas, which is a bit disconcerting given that they are bigger than the boats, but in that that gently bumping against each other seems to be how whales show each other affection it’s possible that this is the babies’ version of patting us back.  So perhaps I can say that I have patted a wild baby gray whale, and also been patted by a baby gray whale. 

 photo credit goes to a generous guest on the trip who put this photo on the shared drive.   I am the idiot standing up in the panga to get a better view.  In my defense, I am also trying to balance the boat out a little, despite Maggie's best effort to join the whales. 

photo credit goes to a generous guest on the trip who put this photo on the shared drive.   I am the idiot standing up in the panga to get a better view.  In my defense, I am also trying to balance the boat out a little, despite Maggie's best effort to join the whales. 

The preceding bit is me trying to put the experience into words, but word are utterly inadequate to describe the experience.  “Magical” is such an overused and ultimately meaningless descriptor, but it is really the only thing that fits.  Friendly gray whales belong to the mythical realm of selkies and sea monsters, and yet I have scritched the nose of a wild baby whale (actually I have scritched the nose of several baby whales, and also several mother whales, and I have had several baby whales hold their breath until I was very near their blow hole, at which point they exhaled forcefully, which feels too deliberate to be anything but a baby whale joke, at which point you can almost feel them go “tee-hee-hee” as they duck below the water).

 Their tales look like the sea monsters on old charts. 

Their tales look like the sea monsters on old charts. 

 and sometimes they exhale rainbows

and sometimes they exhale rainbows

The whales will hang out in the lagoons a little longer while the calves gain strength and size for the long migration to Alaska.  It's a scary journey.  Along the way there will be fishing nets and large ships and killer whales, who drown the babies (an episode of the documentary Planet Earth includes an instance of this).  Some of them won’t make it, but most of them will.  Gray whales are one of the rare success stories; humans drove them to near extinction, and now the population size is approaching our best guess for what is was pre-whaling.   I wish them all the best on their travels. 

 I don't know who to credit for this photo

I don't know who to credit for this photo

While I am home working with yarn the Sea Lion will be making her own migration up to Alaska.  I will meet back up with the boat in Juneau at the end of May. 

 A view of the  Sea Lion  from my hotel room in La Paz.  Shortly after this was taken she headed out for another week long trip. Very very early the next morning I found my own way to the airport, and four flights later I was home. 

A view of the Sea Lion from my hotel room in La Paz.  Shortly after this was taken she headed out for another week long trip. Very very early the next morning I found my own way to the airport, and four flights later I was home. 

And now to yarn. 


And the World is Green

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,


Our internet has been so bad of late that for the last two weeks we have been given free shipboard internet (which, when we've had it, has been faster than our normal expensive internet - which is weird).  I'm worried that this may be coming to an end, so I'm posting as many photos as I can before we return to slow, bad, expensive, internet. 

This Wednesday we made our weekly stop at my favorite botanical garden.  I was caught up on sleep and the morning was quiet so I put on my favorite blue dress, grabbed my camera and a mug of iced coffee, and spent the morning in a world of green. 

 This Venezuelan Rose is actually the height of an apple tree.  The flower is the size of a hat.  I would actually like to wear this flower as a hat. I shall have to learn to make hats. 

This Venezuelan Rose is actually the height of an apple tree.  The flower is the size of a hat.  I would actually like to wear this flower as a hat. I shall have to learn to make hats. 

 A decorative pineapple.    I never realized that the body of the pineapple had blossoms, though in retrospect it makes sense. 

A decorative pineapple.  I never realized that the body of the pineapple had blossoms, though in retrospect it makes sense. 

 True to the name, there were orchids.  I love how alien this one looks.

True to the name, there were orchids.  I love how alien this one looks.

 And I love this very frilly frill.  Before this garden I was never all that fond of orchids, but seeing them in their native setting has won me over. 

And I love this very frilly frill.  Before this garden I was never all that fond of orchids, but seeing them in their native setting has won me over. 

 And there were mushrooms!

And there were mushrooms!

 I love this texture. 

I love this texture. 

 And also slime molds (or maybe sill mushrooms?).  This is one of the many little bamboo bridges that dot the garden.  

And also slime molds (or maybe sill mushrooms?).  This is one of the many little bamboo bridges that dot the garden.  

 And butterflies

And butterflies

 And several wild toucans.  I sat on a conveniently placed bench and watched this one for a while.  There are usually scarlet macaws around the place as well, though there were apparently elsewhere that morning. 

And several wild toucans.  I sat on a conveniently placed bench and watched this one for a while.  There are usually scarlet macaws around the place as well, though there were apparently elsewhere that morning. 

 And then (far too soon) it was time to head back to the boat and to start my workday. 

And then (far too soon) it was time to head back to the boat and to start my workday. 


Sitka to Seattle

by Sarah Lake Upton in


Another summer is over and like many creatures the Sea Lion has begun her long migration south for the winter.  I met the boat a little over two weeks ago in Sitka and over the course of a two week trip with guests we worked our way down to Seattle.  The weather was generally proper Alaska late summer, which is to say cold and always somewhere between fog and rain.  

Going though my photos just now I am amazed by how many of them I took (or rather, “made” according to the current lingo of our photo instructors, nothing has been “taken” when one “makes” a photo - I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that usage) though I do remember feeling like every time I poked my head up on deck I was struck by the need to photograph something. I am still relying on our ship’s slow and expensive internet system, so I can only post a few at the moment, but here are some of my favorites. 

Steller Sea Lions

 

And bubble netting humpback whales (working very close to shore)

DSC_0352.jpg

But even more than the wildlife, I found myself drawn to the colors: 

Icebergs calved from Dawes Glacier

And what I came to think of as “tree portraits”. 

And finally I got to take myself for a morning walk in Alert Bay, and fell in love with the green of the waterfront. 



Conrad and Cramer

by Sarah Lake Upton in


Not at all yarn related, but I was very pleased to discover a very sweet article about two of my favorite subjects in today’s New York Times.  

One of my favorite non-yarn-related authors is Joseph Conrad.  Most people know him, if they know of him at all, because of Heart of Darkness, which they were often forced to read in high school, thus leading them to heartily resent Joseph Conrad.  This is a shame.  Much as I love Mr. Conrad, Heart of Darkness is not my favorite work, and in any case it is mostly wasted on high school students.    Joseph Conrad was a sea captan for years before he started writing, and he manages to convey, more than any other author I have ever read, the joys and frustrations and intimacies and terror of working on boats. During his working life the age of sail was coming to a close, and while he often worked on steamers, his heart belonged to tall ships.  I love my current job but my sailing life began on tall ships, and like Mr. Conrad in his day, if there was any way I could afford to, I would still be working on tall ships. 

The article that so pleased me in today’s Times was written by a from Harvard history professor who is writing a book about Conrad and who sailed aboard the Corwith Cramer from Cork to Brittany.  This connection was especially lovely for me as I spent a season working on the Cramer (my first trip was this one)

At Sea with Joseph Conrad  - 


I am home.

by Sarah Lake Upton in


By which I now mean “I am in Worcester”.  We are still opening boxes and debating where to put various pieces of furniture, and we have another load to bring down from our storage unit in Portland, but; Sam baked bread this afternoon and our dishes are in the cupboard, so we are more moved in than not. 

I have many yarn-ish thoughts, and have much yarn news to share, but before I get completely sidetracked by thoughts of knitting and dyeing I wanted to share a few photos from my last week in Alaska.  

 Dawes Glacier, Endicott Arm Alaska

Dawes Glacier, Endicott Arm Alaska

 
 Buoy coming into Petersburg Alaska, a favorite place for napping. 

Buoy coming into Petersburg Alaska, a favorite place for napping. 

 
 Mamma brown bear and three cubs, Glacier Bay, Alaska. July 2015

Mamma brown bear and three cubs, Glacier Bay, Alaska. July 2015

 
 The face of Johns Hopkins glacier, Glacier Bay, Alaska. (The blobs on the icebergs are seals)

The face of Johns Hopkins glacier, Glacier Bay, Alaska. (The blobs on the icebergs are seals)

 Calving......

Calving......

Glacier Bay was Friday.  On Saturday I got to go diving again, and amongst many other wondrous things I finally got to see a Giant Pacific Octopus in her den.  I suspect that she was much less excited to see us. 


Whales.

by Sarah Lake Upton in


One of my favorite things about the Alaska season (aside from the weather, and the mountains, and the marine mammals, and the ravens, and the glaciers - really I just like Alaska) is getting to hear Andy Szabo from the Alaska Whale Foundation do his talk.   His talks each week have the same outline, but like most very smart enthusiastic people he is easily persuaded by guest questions to go on tangents about killer whales (not his area of research, but clearly something he knows quite a bit about) and fishing techniques and random stories of human whale interactions up here. I try to listen to his talk every week, because every week I am reminded of something, or learn something, that totally reshapes my view of whales.

For example:  There are two distinct populations of killer whales up here, fish eaters and mammal eaters.  Despite looking basically identical to us, they have completely different social structure, “speak” totally different dialects, and have not interbred in a very very long time.  (To go an a tangent of my own, in the traditions of Pacific Northwest peoples there is an “killer whale - wolf” creature distinct from the killer whale, that is generally taken by modern folk to be mythical, but hearing about the two populations of killer whales I have begun to wonder if the folk up here had noticed the same behavioral differences in their killer whale population and named them accordingly).

 Killers whales, July 2015, Southeast Alaska.  I'm not sure where we were (Kelp Bay?) but we spent a lovely evening watching this pod go about their business.  

Killers whales, July 2015, Southeast Alaska.  I'm not sure where we were (Kelp Bay?) but we spent a lovely evening watching this pod go about their business.  

And; Humpback whales up here cooperatively bubble net for herring in groups of eight to twelve.  The members of each group are no more related to each other than to any other whales in the area, which makes their cooperative feeding a bit of an anomaly in the animal world.  The members of the group seem to be task specialists, with one member of the group acting as the “caller” who, through making a very distinctive noise at just the pitch that herring will apparently do anything to get away from, drive the ball of herring up into the net of bubbles blown by a different task specialist in the group.  The bubble net itself, being something deliberately shaped and external to the body, meets the definition of “tool”, which makes the humpback whales up here task-specialist cooperative tool users.  Which is just cool.  (Also, only a very small percentage of the whales up here cooperatively bubble net - most of them feed by themselves on krill, which is actually a better calorie source than herring). 

 

 Bubble netting humpback whales, Wrangell Narrows, Alaska,  September 2014.   -   

Bubble netting humpback whales, Wrangell Narrows, Alaska,  September 2014.   -   

When the herring are in season we often get to watch this group bubble netting behavior.   The group of whales dive in a specific order, do their flipper-flashing bubble-net creating thing, and then appear as a mass, all eight or ten at once inside the boundaries of the net they created, mouths agape and then quickly closed to expel the extra water with their tongues, straining out the herring.  They are so close together when they do this that from the surface it can be difficult to sort out one whale from the next.  They pause for a moment or two on the surface, then re-line up to do it all again.  Apparently when they are done for the evening, or when the fishing just isn’t that good, one of them will breach, then the rest will breach a few times, and everyone will go on their way.  Andy refers to this as a “disassociation ritual” in his talk. 

The Alaska Whale Foundation relies on college and grad students to collect a lot of the observational data they use.  They have just acquired land up here to create more of a permanent center for field schools.  I am very much wishing that they had been around when I was still college student.  

So, anyone with a college student who is interested in Marine Biology should maybe check them out.  (High school and college students interested in Marine Biology or Marine Ecology should also check into Sea Education Association - I worked for them for a bit and their programs are amazing). 

In other news, while I was home I got certified in dry-suit diving.  I am not a natural at dry suit diving, but I am practicing and getting better at it and I have now been diving twice up here.  

In a dry suit.  

In Alaska.  

About two years ago now, during my job interview for this position, the port-engineer asked me if I was a diver, and over the course of the conversation it became apparent that what he actually wanted to know was whether I was dry-suit certified so that I could dive in Alaska.  I managed not to say what I was actually thinking, which ran along the lines of “no, of course I’m not certified to dry-suit dive, and only really crazy people dry-suit dive in Alaska, I’m also not a certified pilot of float planes”. And yet here I am.  (And it was seeing the footage brought back by the undersea specialist last year in Alaska that convinced me to get my scuba certification to begin with - I am not thinking about what that implies).   

 

So here I am.  The gnome was brought along by some of our guests, who very nicely asked if we could get photos of the gnome with undersea creatures on our dive.  For some reason Ashely (our current undersea specialist) decided to take my photo with the gnome too.  The photo was taken at the end  of our dive, and I am very very very cold.  (And very happy).


Gloomy Knob

by Sarah Lake Upton in


I am back on the Sea Lion, and we are back to our summer season in Alaska.   On Wednesday we motored slowly through Glacier Bay, spending the morning along the aptly named “Gloomy Knob” looking for mountain goats.  We came up very slowly on this one, 

who I was worried might be dead, given how still she was. 

And then she lifted her face.

She was unimpressed by our presence, and decided to continue her nap.



In Which I Admit that Yet Again I was Wrong.

by Sarah Lake Upton in


If you had asked me about my opinion of boats and/or SCUBA diving when I was 26, I would have said that boats involved too many people living too closely together and anyway I get ragingly sea sick and taken all together boats were the worst idea ever and if I never went out it one again it would be okay.  I would have been likewise (though less passionately) negative about SCUBA diving; I probably would have said that the very idea of being under all of that water made my breath shorten and my adrenaline spike and it all seems like a Very Bad Idea.  

By the time I turned 27 I was madly in love with a fully rigged ship in New York harbor.

By my 28th birthday I was working full time on a traditionally rigged schooner and living on said fully rigged ship.  

It has taken me a little longer to come around to SCUBA diving, but because we carry an Undersea Specialist who takes underwater footage every trip, and because said Undersea Specialist needs a dive buddy, getting certified to SCUBA dive is encouraged and the cost of classes is reimbursed, and being able to dive on the hull is a useful skill for an engineer and another skill to add to my resume.  So finally and with much grumbling I went ahead and took the classes to become certified in basic open water diving.   

I actually ended up doing the required open water dives to complete my certificate in Maine in November, because sometimes I am terrible at planning.  This occasioned much more grumbling, nay whining, on my part.  The water was 47 degrees. 

But, we are in the Sea of Cortez, and I have come up twice in the roster to be the Undersea Specialist’s dive buddy, and yet again I must admit to being utterly wrong.  I am now 37 and a few months old, and last week I was fifty feet down (after a small panic attack at the surface) looking for interesting sea life for Paul to film, being watched in turn by a curious and bored sea lion who occasionally entertained herself by nipping at my fins. 

Diving is the best thing since boats, which is to say, absolutely magical.  

 photo credit - Billy O'Brian

photo credit - Billy O'Brian





Shop Update!

by Sarah Lake Upton in ,


New yarn posted! 

After several delays due to weather and/or life events, the yarn hand-off between Sam and my mum has finally occurred (in a parking lot in Portsmouth NH near a large mural of a whale, which has become our traditional meeting place for yarn hand-offs). I have two new yarns listed, a 3-Ply Cotswold light fingering weight, designed to replace my 3-Ply Cotswold x Romney fingering weight, and a 3-Ply Romney > Cotswold fingering weight.  

Life on the Sea Lion continues to be lovely and uneventful.  We are in the midst of moving the boat, without guests, up to Baja California where we will have a short spring season. The weather has been perfect and calm (not always a given on these positioning trips - there is a reason we don’t have guests) and the dolphins have been plentiful.  The dolphins are clearly doing their own thing this time of year, which seems to involve lots of very high leaping and splashing, but every now and again a group will take a break from whatever it is they are doing and come ride our bow.  

And, a reader, M., has very kindly identified the moth in my previous blog post. It is a lovely Urania fulgens known more commonly as a swallowtail moth. These day-flying moths live as far south as Bolivia and migrate at seemingly random intervals.  I did a bit of research in our shipboard library (I should have just asked a naturalist, but we work opposite schedules and I always hate to bug them when they are off work) and found a journal article, sadly from 1983, about them.  As of 1983 the best guess as to the random timing of their migrations had to do with the plants they lay their eggs on.  Apparently  they only lay their eggs on one kind of plant, and over the course of successive groups of urania fulgens caterpillars eating its leaves the plant increases the level of toxins in its leaves, until it no longer tastes good/is good for the caterpillars, at which point the moths decamp for someplace where their preferred brood plant isn’t producing quite so much of the toxin. But again, this was published in 1983.  We may now have a more nuanced understanding of their reasons for migration. 

 


Back to the Day Job, New Yarn will be Listed Soon (thank you for your patience)

by Sarah Lake Upton in , ,


As advertised, I am back in my blue coveralls, at work aboard the Sea Lion.  Returning to the boat requires just as much of a mental shift as returning home does.  I’ve spend the last week pausing every so often to wonder if that thing has always made that sound, and is that rattle new, and does this space normally smell like that?  

Just as I apparently lose the first week home to the couch and my dog, no matter how well I plan or how strong my resolve to do better this time, I lose the last week at home to last minute dyeing/preparing to leave home for six weeks (or eight weeks this time).   This time I lost a whole day during my last week home to a week-earlier-than-I-expected shearing at Buckwheat Blossom Farm, which led to a lovely farm visit and a lot of fleece off to the mill (for my 2015 gansey yarn, and the return of my 3-Ply Coopworth Sport-weight) but also meant that I did not have time to meet up with my mom to give her my new inventory.  So, until my husband can coordinate a trip to Portsmouth,  which will hopefully happen soon, new yarn will remain unlisted.  This is probably a good thing, as the other item on my “to-do” list that I failed to tick off was the whole posting-new-items/newsletter business. I will now be designing a newsletter and posting yarn via the ship’s satellite internet system, which is a bit slow for photos.  I apologize for the delay, and am grateful for your patience. 

To offer a preview: 

I will be offering two yarns, one fingering weight and one slightly lighter fingering weight, both spun from mixed flock of Cotswold and Romney at Liberty Wool Farm in Palermo Maine.  My 3-Ply Cotswold fingering weight yarn is meant to replace the 3-Ply Cotswold x Romney fingering weight yarn of previous years.  I have dyed it two shades of blue, lots of pine green, and a dark gray, as well as leaving a fair amount an undyed natural cream color.  The second yarn is from a group of sheep with slightly more Romney than Cotswold in their lineage (hence the name “Romney > Cotswold” - naming yarns is difficult).  The fleece is a bit shorter and a bit crimpier than the more even Cotswold x Romney fleece, and the resulting yarn has a pleasing smoothness and bounce.  The yarn is spun to a more traditional fingering weight.  These fleeces were mainly mid-brown, and they blended to a dark gray/brown color that I am calling Bark.  Because the undyed yarn is dark, I could only create darker colors when dyeing, but using a darker yarn as my base added quite a bit of depth to the resulting color. I am quite happy with the forest green, dark indigo, deep brown, and oxblood red that the yarn achieved. 

On a slightly more boat related note - while fixing the hinge on the door to the laundry storeroom I noticed this lovely creature keeping one of the stews company.  



My Day Job - Tuesday

by Sarah Lake Upton in


I had a lovely idea of writing a serious of posts about a whole week in my day job, and all of the silliness therein, but clearly I write too slowly to carry that off, and anyway I’m home now (I arrived home on the evening of January 25th, just in time for the blizzard) but I managed to write most of the next post before I left the boat, and so I am going to post it anyway.  And even better, now that I am back in the land of reasonable internet, I can include photos. 

Tuesday. 

Still cranky about the previous day, and finding myself with a free few hours in the evening (I usually make repairs to guest cabins during guest mealtimes, but this evening there were no repairs to be made) I decided to rebuild a spare generator raw water pump, at least in part because the “stupid naturalist jerk can’t rebuild a raw water pump” (to put into words the amorphous annoyance that I was still in the grips of). Which is not the most grown-up reaction I will admit, but it was also work that needed to happen, and work that I really enjoy, so I told the deckhands that I’d be down in the engine room in case anyone needed me (deckhands, officers, and engineers all carry hand-held radios with us when we’re working, but I can never hear mine when I’m in the engine room) and set to it. 

 This is a raw water pump for one of our generators

This is a raw water pump for one of our generators

So, what on earth is a raw water pump? (Feel free to scroll past this bit)

Your car’s engine is cooled by via the circulation of coolant.  The coolant must in turn be cooled, otherwise it would get hotter and hotter until it was no longer able to cool your engine and your engine would then overheat.  In your car this is done by sending coolant to the radiator, basically a big flat plane that exposes as much coolant at a time to as much air as possible.  For reasons of stability and propulsion, engines rooms on boats are generally as low in the boat as possible and fairly contained.  There is no way to get enough air circulation in most engine rooms to cool the coolant from one engine, let alone the four that we have (two main propulsion engines and two generators).  So instead most marine systems use sea water to cool their coolant.  There are two general ways to do this.  The first involves piping sea water to the marine version of a radiator, referred to as the “heat exchanger”, which is basically a big tank filled with little tubes.  The coolant flows through the little tubes, which are immersed in sea water that is constantly being pumped through before being pumped overboard again, a few degrees warmer than when in started.  The second involves putting a network of little tubes into a protective housing on the outside of the hull, through which the coolant can then be circulated, and cooled as the boat moves through the water.  Both systems have their advantages and disadvantages, and I’m sure there are whole forums devoted to arguing over which system is better for which circumstance, but that is a much longer post.   We have heat exchangers, which means that we also have a pump that pumps sea water past the coolant. When sea water is used for cooling it is often referred to as “raw water”, hence the “raw water pump”.  In our particular situation, the drive shaft of the raw water pump slots into a set of teeth on the coolant pump, and from time to time the teeth on the coolant pump wear down a bit and grind the shaft of the raw water pump smooth, and eventually the raw water pump stops turning, and then the generator engine overheats and shuts down (and then an alarm goes off, the emergency generator kicks on, and the nearest engineer dashes down to the engine room to very quickly start whichever generator was offline at the moment). 

tldr: the drive shaft on our raw water pumps wears down and sometimes needs to be replaced. 

 

 Raw water pump drive shafts, bad and new.  Note how worn the teeth are on the one on the left.  This is not good. 

Raw water pump drive shafts, bad and new.  Note how worn the teeth are on the one on the left.  This is not good. 

Rebuilding a raw water pump for a generator is one of those rare utterly satisfying engineering projects, being right in the sweet spot of complicated-but-not-too-complicated, and a-little-messy-but-not-too-messy, and heavy-but-not-too-heavy.  The pump housing is about the size of a cantaloupe, and bronze.  The whole thing weighs about twenty pounds, which is heavy enough to feel like a real project, but not so heavy as to be really annoying.  Replacing the shaft requires also removing the impeller, shaft seal, slinger, lip seal, and the bearing, which in turn is held in place by two snap rings.  Strange tools are required, like snap ring pliers, and a large impeller puller.  And to remove or replace the bearing one must employ a mallet.  

 

 The grabby claw looking thing is an impeller puller.  As I tighten it, I am slowly forcing the shaft to slide out of the bearing. 

The grabby claw looking thing is an impeller puller.  As I tighten it, I am slowly forcing the shaft to slide out of the bearing. 

In short, rebuilding the raw water pump is as pleasing a craft project as anything I get up to at home.  On a boat it is made even better by the fact that the work bench is on the other side of the water-tight door, in a section of the boat that only engineers, and once an hour during their engine rounds the deckhands, ever enter.  True privacy is almost impossible to find on the boat and the spot by the workbench is the closest to real privacy that I have found on board.  Which meant that while I worked away with my obscure tools, listening to music that I chose, I also danced like a loon.  And sang along.  Loudly (because engines were running, and who was going to hear?).  

And at the end of the evening I had a rebuilt raw water pump, one more item completed on my ever growing ‘to-do’ list, and a restored sense of humor.  I feel incredibly lucky for my day job.