One of the dividends of an Alaskan cruise is the fish we brought back. Processed, vacuum packed and frozen while on the boat, the fish was packed into a cooler and checked for the flight back to Hawai’i. It is a bit nerve-wracking, waiting for the cooler to appear on the baggage carousel in Kona. Appear it did, all of the contents still frozen solid as we loaded it into the freezer at home.
Thirty five pounds of coho salmon, halibut and picked dungeness crab. Light on the salmon, I gave much of it to my brother. Heavy on the halibut, on orders from my wife. We did well on crab, I pulled up full traps several times and we picked crab for hours on the back deck as we cruised along. Pick half a crab… eat a leg! It was a tasty way to go.
Last week I noted the market had frozen wild-caught dungeness crab, at $26 a pound. Halibut was a bit more expensive at Costco. Figure there was about $900 worth of seafood in that cooler. We will be eating well…
As our Sun continues through the current solar maximum we should have plenty of opportunities to view one of the most sublime of all natural spectacles, the Aurora Borealis.While traveling in Alaska and other northern regions there is always a possibility of a good showing. To make the most of the opportunity a little information cane be useful…
Solar activity waxes and wanes in an eleven year cycle. When active there are increased numbers of sunspots and solar flares. It is this activity that can have such a dramatic effect here on Earth. A strong solar flare can be accompanied by a release of enormous quantities of material from the Sun. Called a coronal mass ejection (CME) this material streams outwards from the Sun. If the Earth happens to be in the path this material will strike the Earth’s magnetic field, causing the field to distort and reverberate with the impact. Charged particles are channeled into the atmosphere along the magnetic field to create a glowing spectacle.
Our current solar maximum should run through 2013 and into 2014 providing excellent auroral viewing conditions for the next year or two.
This trip to Alaska offered an opportunity that I had not experienced on previous trips due to the confluence of two conditions… I would be visiting later in the year than usual, it would actually get properly dark. When visiting Southeast Alaska in June and July the amount of darkness is dramatically limited by long summer days. The second condition is even less easily arranged… Our Sun is near the peak of its eleven year solar cycle. This results in more solar activity including large sunspots and energetic solar flares.
Put the two of these factors together and there is a good possibility of seeing the Aurora Borealis.
It is only a possibility, not a certainty by any measure… This was not a trip to the far north, where the auroral circle usual sits. If one were to travel north of Fairbanks into the true arctic one is almost guaranteed to see the aurora during solar max. I would be traveling between Juneau and Anacortes, from 58 to 48 degrees north latitude. At these latitudes it would take a strong geomagnetic storm to bring the aurora south into view. The chances of such a strong storm were relatively good, we are currently experiencing an active Sun near solar maximum, averaging a decent storm every month or two. In any case the odds were a bit better than seeing the aurora at home in Hawai’i.
At least there would be no light pollution to deal with, significant outposts of civilization are sparse along the route we would be traveling. One complication would be weather… Of the twenty days I would spend in northerly latitudes, about half were clouded over, thus the odds of seeing a good auroral display were modest, maybe even unlikely.
We got lucky.
It took 3 hours to fly to Juneau, it took 18 days to get back.
The video is done. Shot with a Canon 60D, a Canon G11 and an iPad, the video documents the voyage from Juneau to Anacortes I took last month. Bears, whales, dolphins, and a whole lot of water. It was a great trip, I can only hope I convey a little of the experience in the video.
Compressing 1,800+ photos and dozens of video clips to three minutes is an interesting exercise. This is compounded by the thousands of timelapse exposures that needed to be assembled. It went surprisingly quickly this time, a mere three evenings of work. (As long as you classify evening as getting to bed before 2am.) Either I am getting better with the tools, or I just got lucky when it came to fitting the thing together.
I have produced several videos about these voyages by boat through the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. How do you keep each video from looking just like the last? This time I changed it up stylistically, opting for a much more driving soundtrack coupled with the frenetic pace of timelapse.
Does it work? I will await your judgement.
Some photo instructors advocate using only a fifty millimeter fixed focal length lens as a creative exercise. A nice idea for an exercise, but I really did not want to do this while on an extended trip along the Alaskan and British Columbia coast by boat.I did not get a choice in the matter.
Looking to pack light I had taken only three lenses to accompany the Canon 60D that would travel with me. This set included a Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens, a 70-200mm f/4 L series telephoto, and a 50mm f/1.8. The 50mm was almost left behind, I grabbed it on a whim while packing realizing that it took up very little room.
It was a few days into the trip when trouble appeared. I began to get occasional errors when using the 17-85mm, the camera complaining about a lens communication error. After a day this became a serious issue, the camera refusing to take photos with the lens. The other lenses worked fine, thus I was sure the trouble was in the lens, not the camera.Sitting down and experimenting, I discovered that the issue only occurred if I was attempting to stop down the lens, used wide open I had no problem. During a series of gray and dark days, this proved little issue, I just set for aperture priority and continued to shoot, with some loss of creative control.
A couple more days and even that solution failed, the lens just jammed up entirely, with the aperture stop about halfway closed.
I was down to the the telephoto and the 50mm… Time to get creative.
The 50mm lens is interesting. It is small. It feels like you have forgotten to put a lens on the camera. It is sharp! The lens may be the cheapest lens Canon sells, just over $100, but there is nothing to complain about in the performance, crisp and sharp photos from corner to corner. It is fast. The very fast f/1.8 ratio allows for photos in low light conditions as well as providing a wonderfully shallow depth of field when you want it.I really missed the flexibility of a zoom and the 17mm wide angle in the close confines of the boat. The ability to go from wide to a moderate 85mm telephoto in a flash was a major issue when something popped up unexpectedly, something that happens on a boat in the wilds of Alaska.
I did have my little Canon G11 along, giving me some capability with a zoom lens. But I really wanted to shoot with the DSLR and the higher photo quality offered by the big lens and larger sensor when the photo really mattered.
On an APS-C camera like the Canon 60D there is a 60% crop factor, converting a 50mm to a mild telephoto. With a fixed focus I had to control the field through positioning myself instead of adjusting the camera. I do wonder if I got better shots as I had to become more involved and plan the shot?
I did take some great shots with the 50mm. Going through the 1,800+ photographs from the cruise I am quite happy with a number of them. An unintentional creative exercise, but a successful one.
This small boat is no cruise ship, there is no insulation from the world we travel. We shop for supplies in the same stores as local folks, use the same harbors, tie up for the night next to the working boats. We are provided a view into a different world and the lives of people who live there.My father worked the salmon boats when he was a teenager, then left to find a another path. I may have had some odd jobs in my teen years, but never anything quite like that. I wonder what it is really like to live there, in a world that is more than a few steps removed from our tamed and civilized towns and cities found in most of the country. A place where most folks still wrest a living from what the natural world provides. A place where the vagaries of nature have such an immediate impact on everyday life.
I chat with a lady working on a gill net strung along the dock, performing the age old fisherman’s ritual of mending the net and lines. I see another life, of fish and water, where regulations and luck determine the results of the fishing season, whether the bills get paid and if the boat gets fixed.
I meet folks who have lived in remote communities much of their lives, places where they would like to spend the remainder of their days if economics and luck permits. A struggle made more precarious when a cannery closes, or a soft economy allows fewer sportsman to come fish local waters and spend money earned in the cities far to the south.
I see a fishing community remaking itself to provide a place interesting enough that the cruise ships will stop for a day. Floating cities with thousands of people and thousands of wallets full of dollars that can provide a better life for local residents. That money could create a future here for children that may not have to leave and seek a living elsewhere. There is a once closed cannery complex remodeled into a large visitor center, dozens of boats in the harbor for charter fisherman, whale watching excursions and eco-tours.
I spend a moment talking with a young woman, who has bet on the local economy and started a small cafe. Behind me are tables full of cruise ship passengers, watching eagles and ravens squabble overhead as they munch on salmon tacos. The character of the town has changed, will continue to change. I see that there will be both good and unfortunate aspects of what is happening. I wonder what I will find when or if I visit again in a few years.
Traveling the world with open eyes gives one a perspective into other lives. So often when I meet someone who displays intolerance or even bigotry towards other nationalities, I find they have never traveled or seen much of the world. Experiencing the world is an important part of any life. To travel, to see, to consider what it means to live somewhere else.
Any sort of water activities, fishing or scuba diving, off the Kohala coast in winter involves a chance of seeing a whale. Indeed, Kohala is not just the part of the island we call home, it is the Hawaiian word for whale. In winter the whales are here in large numbers… Boat or drive north of Kawaihae and the odds approach certainty that you will see not just a few, but a lot of Humpback Whales as they cruise the waters along this sheltered coastline. Rental cars are parked along the coastal highway wherever a pod can be seen. Just getting to a dive site can involve navigating around a pod or two as blows and fins are seen in all directions. Dive beneath the water and you can listen to the songs of the whales echoing eerily through the blue.During the winter these whales can be found around all of the Hawaiian Islands. They come here to mate and give birth in the warm tropical waters. The most sheltered areas in the lee of the large islands have the greatest concentrations, this includes the Kona and Kohala coast of the Big Island. Through January, February and March the whales can be seen all along the coast. Much of these waters have been designated the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary to protect these unique animals during their winter stay. Come spring the Hawaiian population of whales head north, to the food rich waters of Alaska. It is an interesting experience, in addition to regularly seeing these whales off the Kohala Coast, I regularly see them on the other end of the migration while boating in Alaska. The activity of the whales is different at either end of the journey, in Hawai’i they pretty much just hang out and sing, slowly cruising the coast or just hovering below the surface for many hours. In Alaska it is all about eating, here you watch whales circling through food rich areas over and over. Sometimes the whales cooperate to create bubble nets, encircling shoals of krill or herring.
In past journeys to Alaska I have had many opportunities to watch these majestic animals. We regularly stop and watch when we get the chance, drifting while whales feed around us. Hopefully this results in good photos to enjoy and post on the blog. At the end of the trip I fly back to Hawai’i to resume my usual life. But when winter comes the Humpbacks will follow, returning to the warm tropical waters around the islands to mate and give birth to the next generation. I look forward to seeing them off the Kohala Coast and listening to their songs while diving in those warm waters.
What are the odds of encountering the same whale at both ends of this journey? I wonder.