Q: How did you meet Harmon?
A: Located about 20 W of the Golden Gate Bridge are the Farallon Islands, rocky pinnacles of submerged mountains poised at the edge of the continental shelf. From a distance they are but barren outcrops but are upon inspection home to a staggering amount of wildlife, mostly avian and pinnipedian. The islands and their eponymous gulf are a marine sanctuary, are closed to the public, but are very much open to biologists. Biologists, it appears, don’t own boats, and so since the early 1970s a group of private, bay area boat owners have volunteered to ferry the biologists and their gear to and from the islands twice a month, rain or shine. This organization is called the Farallon Patrol and is now a part of the non-profit Point Blue.
I have known of the Patrol for many years but my boat was either too small (30ft Murre) or big enough but otherwise employed (Moli on the Figure 8). Once back from the Figure 8, I reached out to Point Blue and am now privileged to have made a few Patrol runs.
Harmon has been a part of the Patrol for so many years that he is approaching a record number of runs. And he is adored by the resident biologists because a) his boat is fast and thus his trips are short (biologists, it appears, don’t like boating) and b) he usually brings something special to top up the scant biologist ration—e.g. ice cream packed in dry ice on a hot October weekend run.
Harmon and I got to talking about future projects at a Farallon Patrol dinner. His was to circumnavigate the Americas, but he lacked the right vessel. I said I knew of a vessel that might do, but that I’d been around the Americas. “What about going the other way around?” he asked. And so here we are, pounding into a North Pacific head sea.
Q: What was it like to outfit Mo in such a short period of time?
A: Tough. Harmon and I only got serious in April of this year, which gave me but five months to prepare. Only that I had been through the process several times made it possible to meet the deadline. But there was a wrench in the gear from the start: Mo desperately needed a new deck (sand blasting to bare metal and the building up of new non-skid) prior to another number of years on the go. Where and how to get that done in such short order was a stumper.
Luckily, I told my friend Kevin McMullen, yard manager at KKMI Pt Richmond, of my problem and he suggested the job could be done at his yard for a reasonable rate. Frankly, I didn’t believe him at first given that KKMI is in the Bay Area and that the Bay Area is in California. It wasn’t my impression that either of these geographies would be eager to have a boat sandblasted in their back yard, and that’s before considering the expense.
But Kevin’s view was correct. The project got underway in June, was finished by July and was on budget. Many thanks to Kevin, Paul, and the crew at KKMI for another top-notch refit experience.
Q: Why Homer as a launch point for next year’s Northwest Passage?
A: Partly because I know it. I bought Mo there in 2016, spent the winter there refitting for the passage home, and grew to love the town. Partly because it has easy access to boat facilities, including an aluminum boat building yard. And partly because it is connected to the Anchorage airport by a road that is open all year, so flights to and from home are inexpensive.
Q: What kind of communications technology are you using?
A: Starlink Marine. The plan was to use Iridium GO, as I have done in the past, but Starlink prices are such that the differential in monthly cost doesn’t make up for the differential in performance. The GO download speed is equivalent to about one page of printed text per minute. Starlink is like having home internet, even to the use of smart phones as one would on land.
So far so good. It is undoubtedly fast and mostly dependable. It has dropped calls on several occasions, maybe one in five link-ups and usually in the first five minutes. The next link-up is usually solid and for hours at a time.
It requires AC power, so I’ve had to install a small inverter. Also a first for Mo under my watch.
The only downside thus far is the power it draws, 7 – 9 amps DC. This is twice and more Mo’s total load before Starlink. Moreover, it seems to have high starting power needs, like flashes of 20 amps and even 40 amps in the first minute, though for mere seconds. The result is that if the battery voltage isn’t already high, this draw can exceed the low voltage cutoff for the inverter. Thus, generally, we only use Starlink when we are making power and only for set periods of time.
Q: What do you miss most about being away?
A: When asked that question at Figure 8 talks, I tell a joke about Mark Schrader, first American to circumnavigate via the capes solo and non-stop. This was back in the 80s. Big press at his return; he’s standing at the podium with his arm around his wife when a reporter asks him what he missed most about being away. Hint: he’s standing next to his wife. Without batting an eye, he replies, “My dogs.”
During Covid, my wife brought home a puppy, our first dog as a couple, a poodle and newfoundland mix, by name Bodi. Two years and 95lbs later, and I am still smitten. My wife sends photos while we’re underway and my heart aches.
Mark, I now understand.