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Spring 2018 Newsletter

baby sea turtles

 It must be spring. Both Catalyst and Westward are in the boatyard, and are both are kicking hard in the final lap sprint that seems to accompany every boat project I have ever been involved in.

Catalyst has been in the yard in Port Townsend since last fall, with several major projects being undertaken. Chief among them was the replacement of her aging foremast. Bob Cunningham, of Cunningham Ships Carpentry, the same craftsman who was of critical importance in Westward’s 2015 major reconstruction, shaped a beautiful new mast which is now painted and rigged, and will be stepped on Saturday. Sadly, Bob won’t be around to help, having passed away after a very short battle with cancer a few weeks ago. Catalyst’s beautiful new mast was one of Bob’s final projects, and we will think of him each time we look at it (which is pretty much all the time).

We aboard Westward had a great winter Baja season. We are finding our “groove” in Baja, and are increasingly comfortable with both the turquoise waters and the ruddy islands we visit. Quite simply, we love it down there! It is in such contrast with the lush greenness of Alaska that it should seem alien, but it doesn’t. Each season we note more similarities between the fecund shores of SE Alaska and the similarly rich waters of the Sea of Cortez. There are many shining memories, but one in particular stays with me. We were approaching the northern end of our route and were passing between several pillar-like islets when we saw a flight of brown pelicans rise from their islet roost and begin circling a large disturbance in the dark blue sea. The water boiled when both common dolphins and cormorants drove a school of mackerel to the surface. As the fish erupted from the surface of the water, the pelicans were waiting, and they began diving on the now frantic school of fish. Thousands of pelicans tore the water to shreds as they feasted on the oily fish. The school sounded to escape this aerial assault, only to now be surrounded by deep diving cormorants and blindingly quick porpoises. The fish exploded to the surface again, this time a few hundred yards away from where the pelicans drifted, most of them still swallowing their earlier catches. The birds launched, wheeled and dove again and again. And the whole ritual was repeated.

We drifted, and watched, and photographed for an hour, and when we left so we could take our planned sunset walk on the ridge of Isla Danzante, the dance of survival was still going on in the gathering dusk.

Catalyst will sail for Alaska a couple of days after Westward’s May 9 departure. She will have the same crew as last year; Captains Paul Brown and Bernadette Castner will be in the pilothouse, chef Michael Neswald will once again produce his incredible magic in the tiny galley, Sarah Drummond and Kristin Currin will share the naturalist job, and rock solid Shane Blair will keep the engine and other engine room spiny bits moving as they should.

I am very glad to have this crew returning for their second season together!!

On Westward if will be the same crew as last season as well, with me covering the wheelhouse and engine room, Tracie Triolo in the galley and Caroline Olson as our kayak guide/naturalist. It is impossible for me to describe what Tracie does, or how she is able to do it, but I know that on every trip the guests are astounded the gourmet quality and variety of the food she produces meal after meal. Tracie pairs wines with every dinner, making every night an experience in fine dining.

We are looking forward to Alaska, it has been our home now for the last 14 summers, and we look forward to getting back to the neighborhood and checking on our favorite places. Did the square boulder that has been stuck on a tiny ledge in Endicott Arm finally finished its’ interrupted glissade to the ocean? Were the mother bears of Pack Creek successful in getting their yearling cubs through the long winter? Will “Stumpy” the badly injured humpback whale who is missing half of her fluke, be able to make another incredible round trip between Alaska and Hawaii, perhaps this year with a calf in her wet embrace?

This year, more than ever before, our thoughts and conversations in the evenings have been subdued, thinking of longed for things that we have put off, perhaps for decades. Trips not taken, skills not honed, art not pursued, people not embraced, and thought that it may be getting on toward time to get those things done. Perhaps it’s to write “that” book?  Maybe the thing not done was to simply spend more sunsets sitting in warm sand and quietly watching the colors flow across the sky as they are reflected in the faces of unbroken waves as they rise toward the beach. Whatever it is, my friends, it is time to do it! Don’t wait. None of us have a guaranteed “Best By’ date stamped on the back of our necks.

My somewhat melancholy mood is provoked by one our final acts before we left Baja. We anchored in a bay on the west side of Isla Espiritu Santo, a bay where this year there was an influx of sea turtle. These turtles were hatched in the sands surrounding the bay many years ago, and upon hatching made their way into the warm shallow waters, where they ate and grew until they were strong enough to begin one of the most incredible and epic life cycles I’ve ever encountered. These turtles head out to wander the Pacific Ocean, ranging as far as Japan, the Aleutian Islands and the South Pacific. They live their nomadic lives until they reach sexual maturity at around age 25, and then return to their natal bay where they will breed and lay eggs. They stay in the bays surrounding their birthplace for the remainder of their lives.

So, when we were asked to find a place in Baja to scatter the ashes of a dear Alaska friend, a lifelong adventurer, mountaineer, bear-whisperer and as solid a human as I have ever met, we chose this remarkable bay. Here his physical essence will be transferred to this winters’ outgoing turtle hatchlings and will accompany them on a 25 year long exploration to the edges of the Pacific Ocean. He will, at least some small part of him, be able to continue the adventurous existence that was his life.

And, just like we will think of Bob each time we look at Catalyst’s lovely mast, or take the resurrected Westward to sea, we will think of Ken each time we anchor in the bay we call La Gallina, where we listen for the puffing breaths of sea turtles in the starry quiet of a Sea of Cortez night.

Since this is a newsletter, I will insert some actual news! We now have our own page on Trip Advisor!! Finally, after all these years we have been able to find a niche of our own, amidst the cruise ships and day trippers. So, you can click on this link  and go to our page and say nice things about your trip with us.

We also have had a couple of magazine articles published about us over the last year, one in the Winter Edition of Cabo Living   and another in the Alaska Magazine. We have more articles pending and a writer or two joining us in the coming season, so be on the lookout for more publications carrying a story about Pacific Catalyst in the months ahead.

Speaking of the months ahead, there are still some cabins available aboard both boats for the upcoming Alaska season. If you haven’t already made your summer plans, please consider joining us for a voyage in SE Alaska this summer, or in the Sea of Cortez next winter.

Remember, as returning guests you receive 10% off of the regular retail price!