Saturday, August 27, 2011

A new captain, no trash and a lobster attack (or 2)

For the first time, rather than James, I was in charge of the boat. Of the engine. Of getting on and off docks and moorings. And finally of preparing the boat for a hurricane in whose path she sits. I feel completely confident with navigation and confident in interpreting multiple weather forecasts, but James had the helm for all of the tricky maneuvers this summer. He, however, got a great job coaching at the Canada's Cup and we had some exciting plans for Rozalia Project so it was time to step up.

To start with the end - we did it without any drama - other than the lobster boat and tug boat
racing in Portland and some crazy attack lobsters going after the ROV off Chebeague Island. No surprises or broken equipment. Docking was all smooth. And even better, we enjoyed some of the best sailing all summer for the trip from Kittery to Portland and then from Chebeague back to Kittery. This may sound dramatic but going into this summer James really had the majority of the really big boat experience and knowledge.

All of this is really thanks to the solid, calm, competence of our friends and crew, Ernie
and Bette Reuter as well as Sloane's great sense of humor, willingness to do whatever is needed and my dad coming in as the 5th crew member at the halfway point. Having Ernie next to me for some tight u-turns in high current and very little space was huge; having Bette, as reliable as ever, keeping the bow in the wind while we wrestled with the main to get it nice and neat while not running into lobster traps and having everyone work together to discover new and easier ways to accomplish everything from putting sails away to launching the dinghy to dining on some straight-up deliciousness was awesome. We are grateful for their help. I am not sure they realize how much it meant to me to have such a smooth first, James-less mission.

Though we did not have any boat-related drama, I am happy to say that we did get to have some adventures. We were in our first parade! We joined in at the back of the MS Regatta Parade of Sail (sailboats under motor). That was fun - we figure American Promise was recognized by about 1/2 of the fleet and she will feature in a lot of people's photos from the day. We did not race but put up the sails
and hammered around the harbor reaching back and forth to watch as what looked like a hundred boats or more started and headed out to the harbor entrance buoy and back. Afterward I was treated to a visit by one of my best friends to meet her baby (who clearly is going to be a sailor judging on his fascination with the boat and his total coolness on Promise) and spend some time with her husband and parents (some of our favorite people).

The next day was the Dodge Morgan 25th anniversary celebration (of his record-breaking circumnavigation). It did not start until 4 so we had some time to move to a mooring
(to avoid getting pushed up against the dock by the wakes of the race boats) and watch the festivities. The lobster boat racers were up first and they started showing up to register at Portland Yacht Services at around 9:15 beer in hand, friends onboard and boats looking spiffy. The racing was great fun to watch with the boats getting bigger and faster with every heat. The racing ended with the huge tug boats going head to head. I am a fan of tug boats. I think they are cool. They are not exactly meant to skim above the water and pushed a huge wall of water ahead of them when at full tilt. Luckily we were on the mooring as the wakes were almost surfable.

Sloane, Ernie and Bette did a spectacular job getting the boat ready for the reception and after coming back to the dock, we headed off to the PYS Room with a View to watch Around Alone, the video from Dodge Morgan's voyage. I have seen the movie many times but it was extra exciting to see it while living and sailing on the boat. The Maine Maritime Museum was
gracious enough to let me introduce myself to the crowd (around 150 people) and invite them to tour the boat and learn about what we do... when the skies opened. Full-on
thunder, lightning and torrential rain.

Despite the rain, we had around 60 people wait for a break in the weather to come aboard. We met some great people some of whom had sailed on American Promise when Dodge had her. People were genuinely interested in our work and we are excited to keep in touch with a lot of the people we met.

The next day we were off through a carpet of lobster trap buoys to Chebeague Island
in Casco Bay. This was thanks to Manny Morgan and her partner Chris who were excellent hosts. We had around 60 island residents come aboard American Promise for a marine debris program. But, there was no marine debris! This was our first location without any trash for us to pick up. We did get to look at (and get chased by) some incredibly large lobster and crab on the
lovely and clean sea floor off the Chebeague Boat Yard. After that excitement we went to Manny and Chris' lovely house on the water for a delicious and fun dinner then back to the boatyard so I could give a presentation about Rozalia Project. We had an engaged and fun audience (I love giving presentations) and it
was great to be able to include photos from the day including a video from one of our lobster attacks (on the ROV) and some photos of the local kids wearing American Promise t-shirts that Manny Morgan gave me to give away (the shirts were from Dodge's homecoming 25 years ago)!

The night ended with Ernie as chauffeur bringing us all back to the boat via dinghy on a beautiful, cool, star-filled night.

Tuesday was all about sailing back to Kittery and it was beautiful. Not much to say other than that - American Promise sails great and there were grins all around as we fetched our way southwest going anything from 5-9 knots.

Wednesday was all about Irene prep. Sloane and I worked from 7am to 11pm to get Promise as ready as possible for high wind and a lot of water. We put on a bit of a show for the guys at Kittery Point Yacht Yard as we wrestled the main into submission getting it off the mast, folded and down below. It took a fair amount of pushing, pulling, crawling and then mercifully, halyarding. We also deflated the dinghy and put it down below with the headsails and everything on deck that could fly away including the paddleboards. We tied Promise to the dock with multiple bow, stern and spring lines, inflated the fenders, secured the halyards, dogged the hatches and left at 5am Thursday to get Sloane to the airport and back to her senior year of college.

So now, I am back in VT reunited with Hickory and Smudge. The house is about as far from the eye as the boat just on the west side (which is a touch better than being on the NE side of a hurricane where the boat is, though our forecast includes 8" of rain and up to 60 knots of breeze here in the mountains). I am confident that the boat is in as safe a place as it can be and in the very competent hands of the guys at KPYY.

The plan for our next mission (the last of the summer with the boat) is to do some research looking at accumulations of marine debris from the surface to the sea floor associated with the boundaries of the Eastern Maine Coastal Current. But, we will see how the next 48 hours play out. If Irene hammers the coast, we will change the plan and use our equipment to help coastal communities with debris clean up, locating and recovering anything big (or small) that might have sunk.

We are hoping for the best, not just for us, but for all the millions of people along Irene's path. I am guessing that includes many of you who are reading this... so, good luck. May you stay dry and have nothing more to talk about come Monday than your photos of some cool clouds.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Technology Starfish style and a beautiful place

After a week in the mountains (awesome) of not necessarily rest but a different kind of work (OK, yes a little rest) we are back in action on American Promise. The Blue Ocean Society (who are dedicated to marine conservation and do a huge amount of work in everything from marine mammal conservation to beach clean ups to awareness campaigns - getting people to clean up after their dogs...) brought us in to do some survey work as part of a NOAA Marine Debris to Energy Grant. The goal this week is to look for and identify derelict fishing gear off the NH coast.

This is exciting because it marks the shift in focus for us from the trash pickup/education part of the summer to trash pick up/research part. We are getting to get a little farther from the docks and putting the equipment through some different challenges. Yesterday was
all about the Starfish side scan sonar. Tritech is the company who makes the Starfish and who generously donated this unit for the season. This is a small, towed sonar that looks down and to the side. It 'sees' objects by giving us both bright returns and showing shadows (see photo right). The equipment is incredibly easy to set up and get running and the challenge is to learn to read the images. We are getting better and look forward to today when we do more with the Starfish and hopefully put the VideoRay down for some confirmation video.

This week is also cool because we have interns from the Blue Ocean Society aboard helping us. Yesterday's crew: Abby, Mike and Ben were great each contributing their expertise and experience from getting the GPS that goes with the Starfish to work to giving us lots of excellent info on the local marine mammals (they are in the photo at the bottom getting ready to set off for the day). We're looking forward to having them back and meeting more for the next few days.

As high tech as the Starfish and ROV, we found the iPad to be an amazing tool for our work yesterday. We used the Navionics chart plotting app to show our transects and then put in waypoints of areas of interest. Then, we were able to bring that info over to Google Earth and get some quick visual info. Even our interns (classically trained in handheld GPS units and GIS software) were impressed!

Lastly, but by no means least, I have to say how beautiful a spot we are in. James found the Kittery Point Yacht Yard by looking for a place to moor for the week that was protected and on the seaward side of the bridge that leads to Portsmouth proper (where the headquarters of Blue Ocean Society is located). It is beautiful and even better, the guys who run this yard are friendly, helpful, know their stuff boat-wise and are interested in what we are doing. They are psyched to be the hosts of the Trash Bash tomorrow and have allowed us to be on the dock rather than the mooring (yipppee).

Speaking of support, this week is also made possible with the help of Optima Bank. They helped us get American Promise in the first place and are enthusiastically supporting what we are doing with her. We even get Carol from Optima onboard to help with the survey work tomorrow.

So, as I head off for day 2 of the survey, I want to say thank you to Tritech, Blue Ocean Society, KPYY and Optima Bank and to invite you all to the Trash Bash tomorrow (Thursday August 4) from 5-7 at the Kittery Point Yacht Yard. Thanks to Boat US Foundation, we will have drinks, food and goodies to give away and the event is free and open to the public.

Watch the coming storms.


ps. I could have done an entire post on this... but on the way here from Boston we say 7 Minke whales, a seal and a jumping tuna! See the Rozalia Project facebook page for photos from that day.