Sunday, December 23, 2012

Tornado, Whales and Tows


Last Thursday Mobile, Alabama where Next To Me awaits our return soon, experienced a winter storm that included being hit by a tornado.  When we read about it in the news we called Dog River Marina to inquire how they fared there.  “No worries, Honey! We’re just fine here. It hit a couple miles north of us. You just go on and don’t worry about a thing, hear?”  Sweet Southern reassurance!


Something we particularly enjoy about the Loop is the many animals, but especially those not native to our home cruising grounds including pelicans, alligators, bottlenose dolphins and manatees, all of which we’ve seen on the Loop in 2012.


Here at home where we’re spending the holidays on Puget Sound (near Seattle) we have Dall’s porpoises which look like small Orcas but are generally only seen in summer months.

Orcas Bella Bella BC

Thursday we were thrilled to see our favorite mammal, the Orca Whale! These waters are home to 3 pods of resident Orca whales, called the J, K and L pods who live mostly a bit north in the San Juan islands and Canadian waters. But there are also “Transient Orcas” who migrate through here during winter months, and we’ve seen them once or twice most winters as they come into Puget Sound looking for salmon to eat. They’re usually hard to spy because in the winter the sky and water are dark, there are often waves from stormy weather, and they move fast!


One of the Loop challenges we learned about this Fall was traveling the Midwest rivers with the busy tow and barge traffic on the Illinois, Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. We didn’t fully appreciate this issue until we experienced it. As you see above and below, we also have tow and barge traffic on Puget Sound where we live.


But here, the channel is never less than a mile wide (usually wider), the water is deep (100-500 feet), and there are no red and green markers designating a narrow, dredged channel. Further, the tows are almost always pushing (or pulling) a single barge, not the loads that are 3 barges wide and 4-5 barges long as in the Midwest. So passing a tow with barges in Puget Sound is no big deal. In those Midwest Rivers we gained a great deal of respect for our AIS equipment which alerted us to the presence of big loads (before we could see them coming around a bend in the river), and the protocols for properly and safely passing them in the narrow, shallow, dredged channels of the rivers. Nothin’ scary about our Puget Sound tows with barges!


Remember that seal pup from last week’s post? He’s taken up residence in our neighborhood. Friend Jim R reports this seal pup has been seen every day for several weeks, and each day for the past week we’ve seen him on shore, resting for most of the daylight hours, but he leaves late each afternoon. Bets are on that he’ll become a full-grown seal and spend the summer sleeping on the swim step of our boat (as above, last summer) on the buoy in front of our house! Cute now, but messy and smelly on a swim step as they often leave fish guts and poop behind.

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