On our voyages we often run big tidal rapids. Yeah, in the big boat, not just in the skiff. And you’re saying “is that safe?” Of course it is.
If you’re wondering what tidal rapids are, here’s the explanation: As the tide rises and falls along the coast, the water is forced into all the bays and inlets and generally, the wider the inlet, the calmer the flow. Narrow entrances, on the other hand, make for much more dynamic (that means “scary”) flow, especially if there is a large area beyond the narrows that tidal water has to fill and drain. Add to that, higher tides mean more water is shoved through the constriction. On the West Coast where we operate, we have the perfect combination of big tides and lots of narrow passages. Most of them have huge whirlpools and boils and some of them run 12-14 knots or more (that’s 16 mph!)
So back to the “is that safe?” question. The reason it’s safe is because we go through at “slack water”. “Slack” is the moment that the current stops flowing one direction, and turns and flows the other, usually about every 6 hours, and it’s super predictable. We look up the time in a published current table, do our planning to show up just a little early, and motor right through. All in calm water.
I know, I kind of let you down, because you were probably expecting great stories of surfing the David B through a huge 14kt tidal bore. But that’s actually it. If we show up at the right time nothing happens. In the beginning of running the David B, we used to tell the guests all about how strong the current could be, and show them pictures of boats getting sucked sideways as they tried to transit during the peak of the flood, and then we’d get there at slack water and… nothing. It was a let down for more than one guest on more than one occasion. We’re now careful to tell everyone what the peak flood is like, but that we’ll be going through at slack.
Right now, I feel like we’re headed for the tidal rapids. If we all do the right thing and do our planning right, nothing will happen.
All in calm water.
Stay Safe and Stay Well,
Dreaming in Glacier Bay
A Visual Meditation
Take a few minutes to escape into John D’onofrio’s beautiful photography set to haunting flute music. He put together this short meditation to inspire those of us who dream of great landscapes in distant lands. John is one of our photography instructors and this slideshow video is from several years of trips with us in Glacier Bay National Park.
Humpback Whale Diving
Sometimes we will be sitting in an open area watching whales when one will surface and swim towards us. There are so many beautiful sounds: the whales’s breath, the sound of water cascading off its body, and the laughter and joy from our passengers.
Taken on one of Marine Ecology of Southeast Alaska trips.
Ice calved from a glacier is the essence of ephemeral. As you move around an iceberg, it changes in color, it glows, its shape reveals other shapes. You see birds taking off, or flames frozen, then without warning, it capsizes and you realize that moment has gone and something new is in its place.
Taken in 2019 on one of our Glacier Bay Photography Workshops in Alaska.
Lupines at Lamplough Glacier
When I graduated from college, one of my mentors gave me a children’s book called Miss Rumphius. In the book, the main character sought to make the world a more beautiful place by planting lupines. Every day I’m reminded of that story and each day I hope to make the world a more beautiful place with kind words, a smile, a photograph of a pretty place, or a shared experience.
This pretty place is in Glacier Bay National Park where there’s a short hike next to Lamplough Glacier. We like to visit this trail as often as possible and especially on our photography workshops where we can spend hours exploring the beauty of nature.
Black bear in Fords Terror
While we were at anchor in Fords Terror we got to watch this female black bear who had a couple of cubs. They ate grass and barnacles and crawled over rocks. While we were anchored in this spot we also got to watch two other bears on the opposite shore.
Watching a tidewater glacier
There is nothing better than a cool sunny day with a fjord filled with ice and a tidewater glacier. Join us in Alaska for 8-day as we explore the fjords, islands, and forests that make up the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska.
Photo Workshop in Alaska
Spending time ashore in remote areas is one of the best things about our trips. On our Landscape Photography workshop with Matt Meisenheimer last year, we wandered along the side of a large waterfall at North Dawes, which is a beautiful anchorage just off Endicott Arm in Alaska’s Tracy Arm /Fords Terror Wilderness. There were numerous side streams and wildflowers like this river beauty. Even though it was pouring rain, Matt helped us set up shots and create photographs. He answered questions and guided us among boulders. It was a pretty awesome day. Our photo workshops are really fun and creative. It’s also nice knowing that on cold wet days, the David B has a wood-fired cookstove with warm galley and hot soup waiting for our return.
Hummingbirds in Alaska
We started keeping a hummingbird feeder on the David B a few summers ago. We often had hungry birds coming to the boat and checking out all the red things on deck. One time a tired one arrived that was too weak to fly up to the feeder. We set the feeder on a chair next to the bird. It regained its strength and a few minutes later it buzzed off. We love these small visitors and appreciate the way they help us connect with nature and care for the world around us.
For more information visit any of our Alaska itinerary pages like this one for our Juneau to Petersburg 8-day tour.
WEATHERING A STORM
As another week passes, and the outside news gets crazier and crazier, with travel bans at the forefront, and big cruise lines canceling, we continue to evaluate how our summer is shaping up.
As a captain, I feel like this is very similar to how I plan for weather and storms. There’s a lot at stake. Every day I make multiple decisions about the voyage, the vessel, the weather, the guests, the crew. It’s what I’ve been doing for 29 years as a captain. I’m continually checking and updating my decisions, and trying to use as much new information as I can. One of the biggest hurdles is to avoid weighing one’s prior decisions over new facts. Just because it was forecast to be calm when I left the dock doesn’t mean that continuing into big seas makes sense. Checking and rechecking myself doesn’t make me wishy-washy; it’s how to make safe decisions.
I make a lot of decisions by playing out the consequences in my head and thinking about how I would explain it afterward if it didn’t go well. It’s part of my training and experience. If I can finish the sentence that begins with “Well, your honor, the reason I was doing that was because…” in a way that seems plausible, it’s probably not such a bad idea. I use a risk/reward model as well. In this case, the reward (the grandeur of Alaska) is high and the risk is still low.
At this point, like before, we’re still operating as if our summer is going to go as planned. Right now, I still feel like it’s safe. Each new piece of news or information makes me re-evaluate the decision and each time I come back to the same decision: We’re still going unless it becomes unsafe or impossible for our guests, our boat or us.
In a lot of ways, I feel like this decision is like all the nautical decisions I’ve made in my career. It takes a lot of thought, a lot of hand wringing and a lot of worry. There are big stakes. I feel like I’ve been training my whole life to make this decision.
We’re still going. Things may change. I’ll reevaluate then.