Monday, June 12, 2017

Let's Get This Show on the Road!

May 22-24, 2017

On and off throughout the night, the engines started up, then stopped.  While most of us slept, gently rocked by waves in the sheltered harbor that the Puk-uk drifted in, it was clear that the crew were not getting any sleep that first night.  As dawn broke, the engines came to life.  When we got up for breakfast, the Puk-uk was underway, leaving where we'd left off the night before.

Captain Billy came to the galley and on seeing four of us eating breakfast, commented, "I'm very impressed." It sounded like a compliment, but in retrospect, it was really a warning. 

From my Antarctic experience, I was prepared for seasickness.  I had a plan.  In addition to medication, I was going to spend a lot of time out on the deck. I'd brought lots of cold weather and rainproof clothing.  I even had a nylon tarp with me.  I'd envisioned being all bundled up on the deck, finding a spot protected from the wind, fighting back the rain, and seeing birds, birds, birds!  I was prepared to go astronaut mode if I had to, to stave off seasickness.  It was all for nought.  When I saw how small the deck space was, and how low the railings were, I wasn't sure I could be out there in rough seas.  When I saw the waves crashing over the bow, I knew it just wasn't going to happen.

I managed to stay attentive in the pilot house for about four hours on the first day. There were masses of Northern Fulmars, dozens of Laysan Albatrosses, and good numbers of other birds like Short-tailed Shearwaters, puffins, and auklets, but I was starting to lose the ability to concentrate.
Northern Fulmar
I couldn't go outside, and getting into my bunk was going to be a commitment.  Once there, I knew I'd be there for a good while. Fortunately, Nicole had set out some nice garbage bags for us in the galley.  I knew what they were for!

Getting into the top bunk in our cabin required both acrobatic and gyroscopic movements--difficult in calm conditions, something of a miracle when the ship was bobbing around like a cork and you were queasy before you started.  One of the results was a linear bruise across my lower abdomen where I came into contact with the edge of the bunk.  Between trying to stand still in the galley or the head, and getting in and out of bunks, I think that many of us had bruises somewhere.

The good news was that the bunk was actually quite comfortable and I felt much better when I was lying down.  Clarice had the other top bunk in our cabin, and I don't think she was feeling any better than I was, but she lasted longer in the wheelhouse than I did.  The door of our cabin, although shut, kept swinging open and banging against the side of her bunk with every roll of the ship--and there were a lot of rolls! Fortunately, I'd brought a small inflatable pillow that served as a soft door stop and put the relentless banging to an end. It wasn't until the third day that we learned that we just needed to pull the door shut tighter to solve the problem.

I hadn't been in my bunk too long when I heard the call.  "Short-tailed Albatross!"   I sighed and rolled over.  Not today. Over the next two and a half days, I'd surface occasionally, last as long as I could, and then go back to my haven.  I didn't take any photos for two days, but I did see most of the species that were being seen. I briefly tried eating and drinking, but that proved to be futile.  Finally, on May 24, the day we originally intended to be at Attu, the seas levelled out a bit and I was able to join the rest of the group.  I'm not sure how many survived the crossing unscathed, but it all became worth it when a group of albatrosses came to call.   All of a sudden we had three Short-tailed Albatrosses together alongside the boat.  Laysans cruised overhead and a Black-footed flew along the other side.  Three species nearly simultaneously!

Laysan Albatross, Glaucous-winged Gull and two Short-tailed Albatross (adult and subadult)

I was in the wheelhouse when two Mottled Petrels flew in front of the boat and straight away at 1 o'clock (just to the right of the bow of the boat). Unfortunately for me, the ship's crane was also at 1 o'clock, so despite being in the right place at the right time, I still didn't see them.

I ate that night, a delicious salmon dinner.  It was great to have some food in my stomach.  It was enough of a shock to the system, though, that I didn't feel well at all and went back to my safe place, knowing that the next morning we would be at Attu!

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1 comment:

  1. Wow that sounded like a nightmare but amazing you got three STALs!