August 30, 2015

Hunkered-down in Ketchikan

After sitting out a blow at anchor with our friends the evening before they had to catch their flight, we made it into the airport in time the next day to drop them off. 

That was in-between weather systems. Today we are hunkered down in Bar Harbor taking 40-50 kt gusts on our 5 o-clock (SSE)

This is a good reminder that often the most dangerous thing aboard a boat is a schedule...

I think our departure toward Wrangell will be delayed a day or two…

[Special Statement from the National Weather Service, Juneau, Alaska:] 

Severe weather for Ketchikan, AK — via Weather Underground.
Special Statement

5:54 AM AKDT, 8/30,expires 4:00 PM AKDT, 8/30

... Storm to impact southern Panhandle today...

A fast developing and fast moving storm will move into the southern Panhandle late this morning near Cape Decision then across Kupreanof Island before weakening by evening. South winds will increase quickly this morning then shift to the west in the afternoon. Wind gusts of 45 to 55 mph and rain rates over one quarter of an inch per hour are possible. Rainfall totals of around 2 inches can be expected through this evening.

Ponding of water on roads is likely and small streams and creeks will rise quickly with the heavy rain but are expected to remain in their banks. A combination of heavy rain and strong winds on top of already saturated soils will increase the threat for mudslides near and along steep terrain.

And here is the marine version: 

Clarence Strait- 1108 am akdt sun Aug 30 2015
...Storm Warning today...
.Rest of today...Se wind 40 kt increasing to 50 kt in the early afternoon. Gusts to 65 kt in the afternoon. Seas 11 ft. Showers and slight chance of thunderstorms. .Tonight...S wind 30 kt diminishing late. Seas 8 ft. Showers. .Mon...Se wind 25 kt. Seas 5 ft. Showers and slight chance of thunderstorms. .Mon night...Se wind 20 kt. Seas 4 ft. Showers and slight chance of thunderstorms. .Tue...NW wind 15 kt. Seas 3 ft. .Wed...NW wind 10 kt. Seas 2 ft or less. .Thu...NW wind 10 kt. Seas 2 ft or less.

Ketchikan is the center of the bulls-eye above. Light purple are Gale warning areas, and the dark purple area [which includes Wrangell at the northern edge...] is Storm Warning...

Life is good in our floating teak cabin complete with heat and internet access...

August 20, 2015

Caring for cats onboard...

This post has now been added to our sidebar:

Stuff We Have and Use [and Do...]

Please read that version of this original post as it will be updated over time...


Original post: [20-Aug-2015]

Helping Landlubber Felines Convert to Life Afloat

How did we make sailors out of the two cats who adopted us over the years?  (11 and 4 years old. See their bios in our Crew Manifest.) 

I have considerable experience from the past raising a cat on a boat [he loved to travel in boats, automobiles, airplanes, etc. as a consequence] but little experience helping landlubber felines adapt to life onboard. 

We found some books written by a cruising Veterinarian who goes by Capt'n Dr. Dave

They helped guide us through the process with our feline crew.

Boat Litter Boxes
Our cats were used to clumping litter in large, enclosed litter boxes. Cruising with a cat in times past I've used everything from washed beach sand to potting soil [basically whatever I could get while cruising...]

This time around, we didn't want to store the weight and size of clumping litter needed to cover several months at a time. And remember it is actually a liability on a boat: it isn't waterproof and could potentially clog the limber (drain) holes in the bilge, not the mention what it might do to the bilge pumps...

And we especially wanted to eliminate the odors, airborne dust [I have asthma] and tracking of crunchy sand sized particles in the boat... Therefore, we shifted our 2 cats over to the TidyCats Breeze litter system in early 2014 [months before they became sailors] and have no regrets. [Nor do they...]
The Breeze litter system is often offered for $20 including shipping in the US. And the expendables [absorbent pads and ceramic pellets] are like ink for a cheap printer; we shop carefully each time for best deals. Sometimes that takes a few days as prices fluctuate often- like airline tickets. [The pads and pellets are 30-50% cheaper than good clumping litter- and don't take anywhere near the storage space. More below...]
The only scooping required is for solids. Liquids pass through the ceramic [i.e., non-adsorbent] pellets to the absorbent pad, below.
The Breeze eliminates dust and tracking because the litter is waterproof, ceramic pellets, and the [reversible] tray that holds the absorbent urine pad makes changing the 'diaper pad' painless. If you don't let solids accumulate, the box is odorless [unless you allow the urine pad to become over saturated...]
With 2 cats, we end up changing the pads on 2 litter boxes about weekly... [i.e., 1 pad/week/cat give or take...] The pads hold a lot of liquid and don't drip or leak [again, if not over saturated...]  when we fold them in thirds for disposal. There are cheaper, third-party pads available, but we have found they don't hold nearly as much liquid- necessitating more frequent changes- so they aren't really cheaper...)

In the near future I plan to modify a pad tray by drilling a drain hole with a short pipe underneath [that would fit into a shower drain...] I will position that drain hole over the shower drain [which has an isolated sump pump, and is flushed regularly with the fresh, soapy water from our showers...]  eliminating the need for pads when the litter box is located in a shower pan... Watch for updates...
Odors? None- as long as you:
  • Clean the solids out daily or per use
  • Don't let the urine pads get oversaturated
    • We have found that 7 days from 1st urination is about max before odors begin...
  • Keep enough pellets in litter box to completely cover the bottom
Cost comparison?
We find this system is 30-50% cheaper than good clumping litter if we shop very carefully [Prices are all over the place...] 

Since we converted to the Breeze litter system, 6 months worth of supplies for 2 cats have run between ~US$70-$90 every 6 months from Amazon [including shipping.] We find the pellets last 2-6 months, and in a pinch you can soak them to clean/sanitize and recycle them back into use. 

We have read of others using wood litter pellets [e.g., cedar] and small plastic balls [e.g, Airsoft balls] with purported success. We haven't tried this, and wonder if the wood pellets might soon become urine soaked and smelly, and whether the small spherical balls might be difficult to walk on and dig holes in? [for the cats...]

Storage requirements?
Storing 6 months worth of supplies requires about the same amount of space as 2 weeks worth of clumping litter... and is much lighter overall. That is another big win for us. 
This means by ordering ahead, we can carry 2+ year's worth of litter products for 2 cats in less space than 3 months of clumping litter would require... and the litter is waterproof...
Here is what we buy: [The best pricing we have found- and they fluctuate. Please share if you find something better...]

How did we get the cats to adapt to the new litter boxes? 

We put the Breeze litter box next to their old litter box and stopped cleaning the old box during the transition period [but always keep the new box spotless...] It took about 3 days before they stopped using the old box, at which time we replaced it with a 2nd Breeze litter box...

We always keep litter boxes well separated from their [and our...] food and water... We accomplish this on the boat by keeping one litter box lives in the master head shower [temporarily relocating it to the master cabin sole when using the shower] and the other in whatever location isn't in frequent use at the time; typically alternating between the forward head or forward cabin [when no guests are aboard] or sometimes under the lower settee table, laundry/work room, etc. They learn to look for it- which is good prep for travel off the boat [based upon my past experiences traveling with a cat....]

August 11, 2015

Preparing for two rendezvous's in Ketchikan

We will likely start heading back toward Wrangell today, shortening this exploration of Prince of Wales Is.… There is an 'atmospheric river' being diverted our direction by the jet stream and has the potential of dumping 2-4" of rain in the next 24 hours beginning this evening… possible winds too… Not much fun kayaking in that…

Besides, we have rendezvous's planned with two different sets of friends in Ketchikan later this month.

One is a former colleague and friend and his wife whom we will alternately entertain and torture for a week or so while visiting Misty Fjords.

The other are some very dear, long term cruising friends who have been making the rounds in Alaska this summer after shooting up from Japan in May. We have stayed in touch and they are preparing to make the voyage to Ketchikan from Cordova with favorable west winds in the Gulf of Alaska all this week… I haven't seen them in 15 years, so it will be a fun time… They spend a majority of their time in the southern hemisphere alternating between Patagonia, Antartica, and the coconut milk run. I tease them that they move faster than the internet…

It will be fun rekindling long term friendships…

August 10, 2015

Becoming part of the neighborhood…

[Sent via sat phone, so photos must be added later… or not… Perhaps these few words are sufficient? Let me know… Of course, regarding photos, see my "Death of Nuance, or Missing the Moment" essay…]

Some of my best wildlife observations have come after sitting quietly in an anchorage for a few days- becoming part of the landscape if you will…

We have been exploring the west side of Prince of Wales Island these last few days, and on our 3rd afternoon in our present anchorage [see "Where's the Boat"…] I heard a whale taking a breath- right behind our boat. I stepped outside with my trusty feline crew and watched a humpback whale glide by, surfacing for air every minute or two. It is always wonderful when you hear them before you see them…

I had this happen once on a passage, late at night, on watch alone in the cockpit. It is rather startling when all is quiet, dark, and calm, and suddenly there is a loud whoosh of air next to the boat. No coffee was needed the rest of that watch…

Likewise for the time sailing in inside waters in the dark when a sea lion decided to sneek-up on the gliding boat and challenge it with a warning bark. Sleep was long in coming after anchoring that night…

We saw a pair of small porpoise do a couple of laps through our bay yesterday afternoon. The disappeared as quickly as they appeared.

Today we watched a sea otter feeding on mollusks he dove for right next to the boat in 90+ feet of water. I guess our decision not to deploy the crab and shrimp pots here was a good one… [Sea otters love a free smorgasbord too…]

From years in Prince William Sound I am used to seeing many sea otters, alone and in large groups, summer and winter, on the water and on the docks… In southeast Alaska, one has to approach the Gulf side waters to see them more than occasionally.

Once in the past- at anchor- while having my early morning coffee in the cockpit I heard squeaky baby animal sounds. It was a lone baby sea otter being fed breakfast. It would float around on its back while mama dove for food. After mama was underwater for about half a minute, baby would get nervous and start calling with urgent squealing sounds. When mom resurfaced with a chest full of mussels clutched in her forepaws, it was always a reunion like they had been separated for weeks. Munch, munch, munch, while floating on their backs, then roll 360° in the water to clean up the mess on their chests, then munch some more. ..

During one of mama's dives, baby seemed to suddenly notice my boat 30 feet away as though it just appeared, and started slowly swimming in my direction with big, inquisitive eyes. I was careful not to move or make a sound- even though my other thought was to startle it so it would learn to stay away from boats [and hence mankind…] Mom resurfaced and took things in her own paws: she called out her feeding chirp, but baby continued swimming my way as inquisitive as ever. Mom tried again to no avail, so she started to slowly swim over to her pup- clump of mussels and all- and gently swam between her starry eyed pup and me on my boat- shepherding the baby away to finish breakfast at a safe distance…

One evening I heard whale song resonating through the hull as though I was softly playing a recording over the stereo. I had to double-check that this wasn't the case… Sure enough, they were in the small bay where I was anchored, encircling the boat on their quest for food or…

Another time I was watching a black bear catch salmon in a stream only to watch her throw them into the brush on the embankment. A minute or two later, the fish would come wiggling out of the bushes and back into the water only to swim away. She would patiently catch another and do the same thing. Finally, after several cycles, she carried one up the embankment where I thought she was going to dine. Instead she was greeted by two cubs- who were hiding in the brush- whom she was apparently trying to teach to kill the salmon she caught.

She dropped the fresh catch at their feet. The salmon writhed and wiggled as fish do. No way, Mom. We aren't touching these wiggly things! Mom listened, grabbed the writhing protein and quickly dispatched it. The two cubs consumed it immediately… A lesson for another day I guess…

Today we are at anchor- now with a couple of other commercial fishing boats in front of us- awaiting the passage of a mild weather front promising to bring torrential rain. I'm guessing this is why our new neighbors stopped working and hunkered down as well…

We keep our eyes and ears alert for more wildlife. As I was writing this post, I noticed 2 more sea otters feeding on mussels harvested from the shallow rocks off the point just northwest of our position. Salmon jumping. Bald eagles, gulls, ravens, and arctic terns feeding and occasionally putting on the most provocative mock aerial battles… It is there if you look. It also makes me realize how much I must have missed over time…

And while I'm on the topic of birds, gulls- often referred to as flying rats- I have some gratitude for. Boating in areas like we are where mature trees line many shorelines [and where logging is still occurring- in ever diminishing volumes however…] there are occasionally trees randomly afloat in the same waters as the boat. When I say trees, I mean 1-2 foot diameter and 10 to 30 feet long. Not something you want to run into… Are they easy to spot? Somewhat if they are floating high and not yet waterlogged… Otherwise they can be tough to see until you are close. They can even be submerged just below the surface… Enter the gulls. When I see gulls on the water in the distance, I have learned to look closely. Are they floating/swimming or are they standing? [On a log, a rock, sandbar, etc…] However, when they are in a straight line I pay extra attention: most of the time they are doing us the service of highlighting the location of one of these logs… Thank you.

On the other hand… there was a bay I enjoyed in Prince William Sound that had salmon streams at its head. Lots of bear (and gull activity…) You could tell the tides by the cacophony made by thousands of gulls returning to feed on the salmon carcases exposed on the mud flats at low tide. [Remember salmon die after spawning…] Of course, as nature provided, birds fly more efficiently when they are lighter. [Remember their hollow bones?…] Another way to lighten ones load in early flight is to jettison any waste one might be carrying. As the tide came in and they decided to leave their feeding grounds- seemingly all at once- it was best to stay below deck until the last of them passed… Thanks again, this time for your clean-up efforts… [but not for mine…]

Bald eagles are fun too. We enjoy watching the paired adults fledge their offspring this time of year. You can always tell when this is happening. You come into an anchorage and you hear eagles. Then you notice one whining and rarely moving. Junior is being kicked out. He is used to mom and dad bringing him food whenever he whines. Now they just fly to another high tree top. When he flies their direction, they take off for another tree just before he arrives. And so it goes for a day or two. A seemingly cruel game of tag. Then mom and dad are off on vacation enjoying the 'empty nest' and junior is left to fend for himself [as well he can as in his immature plumage he appears larger than his parents…] He will sit in a treetop for a day or three whining, wondering why mom and dad aren't heeding his beck-and-call. Finally [I suspect hunger takes over] off he goes to forage on his own, much to the delight of the ever teasing and tormenting gulls and ravens who relentlessly badger recently fledged eagles…

And speaking of being capable… I once witnessed a bald eagle dive head first into the bay where I was anchored. I had never seen this behavior in a bald eagle before. It came up about 10 seconds later and seemed dazed. It spread is wings [about a 7 foot span…] across the top of the water and just 'floated' there for a few minutes. I thought it must had injured itself. My fears were reinforced when I saw it using its wings to paddle toward shore. Slowly, awkwardly it made progress toward shore. Once it reached the shallows it seemed to be struggling to walk. I understood what was going on once it was fully out of the water: in its talons was an 8-10lb pink salmon… It fly-hopped on land keeping the still squirming salmon firmly in its grip. Once about 10 feet from the water, it put the salmon out of its misery and dined for an hour or more. When I last saw it it was standing on shore with its wings fully spread in the sun [drying it feathers?] The last I saw it took flight for its next rendezvous…

From where we are anchored today, we can see two sandy beaches with our naked eyes at the head of this landlocked bay overlooking Sumner Straight. Since this is the highest bear [black and grizzly] population area on Prince of Wales Is. [according to state fish and game…] our chances should be good…

Its great to be part of the neighborhood, and be fortunate enough to see the few animals we do…

Now where are my binoculars…?


August 7, 2015

Land Cats Converting to Boat Cats

The auxiliary crew, Elsie and Gus, are slowing making the conversion to becoming boat cats. They will scamper up the companionway and poke their noses outside without any coaxing. Gus, in his gray harness, and Elsie in her red one, have taken walks around the outside deck on leashes, and have been free to wander the back deck and cockpit.
Gus finds this perch interesting.

Which means, Elsie has to try it out as well.

Gus sits at the hatch opening, in case he has to make a hasty retreat.

The sun sure feels good here.
After an outing, a nap is in order....
We're beat!
And then it is nice to relax in the salon in the sun.
Gus takes a lap on leash:
This was in the evening, so the light is a bit muted.
The generator, and the engine don't faze Elsie, as she will continue to roam the boat underway, but she does prefer to sit (meatloaf) atop the shelf over the bed in the rear cabin. Gus, is still somewhat nervous over loud noises, and he prefers to stay nestled up in his shark. This gives him security, and he enjoys our occasional visits to give him a reassuring pat.
"I'll just stay here, thank-you."

Elsie, being the more social animal, has made friends with our guests, and has worn the life-vest, showing she is a certified lifeguard.
Elsie is wondering why she isn't being petted. 

"It's a bit tight...but I am styling in this."
They both like to play "kitty-race-track" at 3:00am, and that's really entertaining. We can hear them leaping, and jumping, as they start from our cabin, run forward to the v-berth, take a lap around the salon, on top of the chart table, and back to the shelf over our bed. 

"HEY, that was fun!" "Let's do it AGAIN!"