The Seas and Us… a Paddler’s adventures and about how we can stop harming the oceans

1:Introduction/ 2: The Oceans/ 3: Early Encounters/ 4: Chodotka, Russia

5: A Little History/ 6: Comox Harbour Fish Trap/ 7: Back to Chodotka

8: The Fishing Business/ 9: Bottom Trawling/ 10: Drift Nets

ll: Noise/ 12: Cape Horn/ 13: Warming Oceans/ 14: Kyushu/ 15: Jumentos

16: Sea Level Rise/ 17: East Greenland/ 18: West Greenland/ 19: Ocean

Acidification/ 20: French Polynesia/ 21: Ocean Anoxia/ 22: Exumas

23: Oil Sands

Doug Simpson, July 29, 2020

1. Introduction

I first started paddling kayaks when I was eight years old. My family had rented a small cabin for the summer on an island near Vancouver. Our neighbour, old Mrs. Sweeney, had two kayaks that she let me use, as long as I stayed within her sight. That was the deal, anyway, but she was near sighted and forgetful and I had more freedom to roam than she imagined. Or maybe she understood that all along and it was I who was fooled.

The kayaks had canvas skins wrapped around wood frames. When you eased into one you heard creaking sounds of wood on wood. The frame seemed like the skeleton of an animal and when it moved within the skin the whole boat came to life. I imagined I was riding some big sea mammal, following the fish and whales to far off lands. The boats moved through the water with very little effort. There was no bashing of waves against hard fiberglass or wood. Just a gentle cleaving of the water as the skin absorbed some of the energy of the sea. This was the intention of the early Inuit who developed and used these boats for their survival. They needed a stealth boat. At the time I thought that these kayaks were original Eskimo hunting kayaks. Maybe I imagined this or maybe somebody put me on. Years later I learned that they were wood and canvas kit boats from England. But I was hooked early on.

During my university years I spent summers in the Canadian Arctic, working for gippo mining exploration companies. If we found some obscure deposit our company would exaggerate and publicize the find in order to run up its share price. Things were wild in the Vancouver stock market back then. Most of the areas that we worked in had been scoured flat by glaciers that had weighed heavily on the land, forming a vast peneplane. The country has almost as much water, in the form of disconnected lakes, as land. We needed a transportable boat. It was during the long days of Arctic summer that I started thinking about folding kayak designs.

The first crude kayaks that were made by Aleuts in the Bering Strait area over 4,000 years ago were likely used just to recover seals, otters or birds speared from shore. Over time hunting kayaks were developed and their use spread across the Arctic as far as Greenland. The Aleuts and Inuits developed sophisticated models designed for various hunting tasks in different conditions and environments. Some of the very best, most beautiful designs were made in West Greenland: long, narrow, low and fast. The earliest commercial fiberglass sea kayaks were modeled after one of these remarkable crafts in the 1970s.

Folding kayaks were developed in the early 1900s. These had heavy wood frames with canvas and rubber skins, were designed for river use, and were considerably shorter and wider than the sleek Greenland boats. My interest was in the sea kayaks. I studied the drawings of Greenland kayaks and was also influenced by the burgeoning development of fiberglass sea kayaks in Britain and North America. Instead of wood I chose aluminum magnesium aircraft tubing for my framework. I had learned a little about the tubing during pilot training I had undertaken in Edmonton, Alberta. I received my first patent on the kayak design in 1977 and began making Feathercraft folding kayaks with my new partner, Larry Zecchel, in 1979, on Granville Island, Vancouver. Although the skins of our kayaks were made of rubberized nylon and later welded urethane-coated nylon, they have always shared the performance characteristics of the early Greenland boats: unlike fiberglass they are silent on the water and paddlers feel the gentle flex of frame and skin gives them a more intimate feeling for the water. Many people experience a lightness of being unattainable in any other craft.

Our timing was good and sea kayaking was starting to take off. Feathercraft Kayaks were the first folding kayaks to be designed specifically for sea touring and they became the standard by which other brands were judged. By 1990 we had a staff of about 20 and were selling our premium folding kayaks all over the world. Our main markets were in North America, Europe and Japan. We continued to make our boats and accessories on Granville Island until we shut down in 2017.

Even before we made our first kayak we had started exploring our local coast in cheap fiberglass river kayaks. We didn’t know much. The journey we took across the Strait of Georgia, across its shipping lanes in dense fog was just plain stupid.

At first we limited our paddling to the local Gulf Islands or the myriad islands just to their north between Vancouver Island and the mainland. We learned our sea lessons slowly, by osmosis. That is the best way. When we later started going to the outer coast we at least knew how to handle our kayaks and set up camp.

The eventual success of the boat business led to a problem for us: we had no time in the summer to go paddling! This led to winter paddling trips and it was during these that we really sharpened our ocean paddling skills. The seas off the west coast of B.C. are relatively benign during the summer months. In winter the Pacific High, which dominates in summer, retreats with the sun and is replaced by large low pressure systems that blow in from the Pacific. Storm winds exceeding 40 to 60 knots are not uncommon. Even hurricane force winds occur occasionally. We spent a lot of time huddled under tarps, sheltered in the forest, in the rain. Learning when to go, and when not to go became key for survival, as did paddling in challenging conditions when we eventually did set off. We rationalized this extravagance on the assumption that the kayaks we were designing and making would become stronger and more seaworthy. And they did. It was lessons learned on these crazy trips that prepared us for paddling in exotic places far from our own coast.

In this book I describe my early paddles along my local coast as I slowly began to realize the effects of humankind’s massive assault on the oceans. I describe how clear cut logging and overfishing affect the health of salmon runs. Following a chapter on our attempted Bering Strait crossing there is an outline of how indigenous people migrated from Asia across the strait and down the Americas, and why their successful maritime culture has long been underestimated by westerners. Chapters on the fishing business are followed by an expedition around Cape Horn where we found a surprising lack of fish. A chapter on sea level rise is followed by paddling trips to West and East Greenland where the ice cap is melting faster than scientists predicted even five years ago. During a crazy adventure in French Polynesia and journeys in the Bahamas and the Okinawan archipelago I witnessed the desolation of coral loss and the scourge of plastic in the near shore and on beaches. I sat through two category 4 typhoons while my partners and I were trying to paddle and sail our kayaks from Japan to Taiwan, grounded by these increasingly intense storms.

There are many things we can do to prevent and in some cases even reverse the worst effects that we have caused. I outline why we must control the great industrial fishing operations that span the globe and also protect 30% of the oceans from fishing and resource extraction. I describe how my home province of B.C. is actually a leader in plastic recycling and how this knowledge could be useful in third world countries. Ocean warming and acidification are two of the most intractable changes that we face and yet there are still things we can do to limit their effects. If we act now.

I have relished my journeys on the ocean but often understood little of the harm that I and the rest of humanity, especially in industrialized countries, have inflicted on it. This must change. Hopefully, in this book you will enjoy some of the adventures that a few friends and I have been lucky enough to experience over the past forty years. You will also learn of the threats that all marine life faces. I’ve included suggestions on how we can repair our relationship to the planet’s diminished oceans. But we cannot wait. More than anything, this book is a call to action.

Today millions of youth all over the world are demanding meaningful change. We must listen, and act. When I started writing this only a small minority of people were alarmed about the climate emergency and even fewer had concerns about the damage to life in the oceans that our actions are causing. Even now most of the talk is about issues on land. And there is still precious little action. The vast seas that cover 70% of earth sustain us. If we truly understand this we can start to heal this blue, watery orb we all call home. Because we can and we must.


It’s June 17, 2020. Evening, 8:40 pm, still light on D’Arcy Island. I left Victoria mid day and paddled here with the current and slight following breeze. 13 nm, just over three hours. Off to Pender Island tomorrow and feeling detached from the ongoing tragedies as I watch a big coal ship glide by the international marker that juts up like an extended finger just offshore from this bay. The global covid-19 virus has stormed humanity and BLM protests have played out mostly peacefully around the world. Most of us have been surprised about how vulnerable we and our societies are. Perhaps we can’t control the natural world after all. Yet, people are pitching in. In Victoria over 200 homeless people have been living in closely packed tents beside one of the main thoroughfares. To their credit, the city and province have bought a couple of older hotels and motels and are now helping many move in. It has taken a raging pandemic for society to finally offer these folks some dignity and a place to live. There has been much kindness and respect offered to front-line health workers and other essential service people. Volunteers are providing food and services to scores of people who have never faced financial ruin and hunger before. I have been keeping busy sewing heavy-duty cloth face masks and donating them to seniors in care homes. They really appreciate them and I have benefited from feeling useful too. It is easy to be virtuous when you have family, a full belly and a secure home.

Pundits are talking about how the economy and, indeed, life can go on from here. How people who have lost family, friends and businesses can possibly recover. Two broad views have been presented. On the one hand governments and most companies will be tapped out of cash and resources. In a classic example of disaster capitalism, corporations will push hard to lower environmental standards while attention is elsewhere. They’ll also work to source more production offshore and introduce more automation in order to cut costs. People will avoid transit and buses and drive more. Fossil fuel companies will demand even higher subsidies. Emissions will rise and the natural world, which has been given a brief respite, will suffer. Climate change will accelerate. Racism will remain unchanged.

On the other hand, people have been surprised that huge money has been found (mostly through government debt) to finance our response to the pandemic. It is likely that the role of states will become more important going forward. Historically politics have moved to the left after wars and large emergencies that required government support. There have been transformative changes in who we think essential workers are: health workers, grocery clerks, truck drivers. Not corporate executives. If these groups get together and organize a new social contract could evolve. The lobbying power of corporations might be dampened. Such a transition could lead to more concern about environmental issues, fewer cars, more bicycle and pedestrian routes, less consumption and a more inclusive society. Certainly, the shocking failure to protect vulnerable seniors in care homes (in Canada 81% of Covis-19 deaths have occurred in care homes) should lead to major changes.

Recent studies have indicated that people who breathe polluted air are more likely to be adversely affected by the virus. This applies especially to people living in poor neighborhoods, including black and indigenous people, and immigrants. These days I can look south from Victoria to Port Angeles on the U.S. Olympic peninsula and see actual buildings- which I’ve never noticed before. I’ve even been able to make out Mount Rainier, on the other side of Seattle, 212 kilometers from here. Cities are expanding cycle and e-scooter networks in order to both minimize bounce-back in air pollution and reduce the number of commuters who have to squeeze into buses and trains. The UK is proposing to invest 250 million pounds on this. Milan is transforming 35 km of road to recreational space and cycle travel, Paris is building a new cycle network, and other cities including New York, Mexico City, Bogota and Barcelona are offering car-free days and planning to open roads for recreation. “All you need is a bit of authority and paint on the road” said Prof Kim Dovey, chair of architecture and urban design at Melbourne University. Quoted in The Guardian.

This authority to slap “paint on the road” was exercised by DC’s mayor Muriel Bowser. To protest against George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police she had BLACK LIVES MATTER painted in huge yellow letters on 16th Street. His death has set off big protests in the U.S. and around the world. In Canada the RCMP’s continued overuse of force against indigenous peoples and racial minorities has set off similar protests. The tragedies seem to indicate an unraveling of Western Societies. Or could it be the beginnings of a rebirth?

The fiscal and health challenges governments are experiencing may increase humanity’s impact on the oceans. Already Canada has pulled observers from commercial fishing boats due to corona virus concerns. Having observers on the boats has been of mixed success due to the prevalence of bullying by some skippers. Now they will have a free hand. If, around the globe, governments reduce or eliminate fishing constraints due to financial and food security concerns overfishing will increase. Will strapped governments cease programs to reduce the amount of plastic waste that ends up in the oceans every day? How about CO2: could the pandemic-induced reduction in fossil fuel demand and resulting oil glut signal peak oil and the beginning of long term reductions in emissions? These are interesting questions that will only be answered in the coming years. People are organizing on both sides of the partisan divide and it is important that those concerned about people and the environment, including our oceans, are not sitting on the sidelines. We humans are not good at looking more than five years ahead. We have to do better. Because there is no vaccine for racism. Or climate change.

Some of the locations mentioned have been indicated in decimal degrees of latitude and longitude. You can plug these into Google Maps or Google Earth to follow along.

2. The Oceans

4.5 billion years ago the proto earth was still a seething mass of dust and gas. There probably was a lot of water mixed in because hydrogen is the most common element in space and oxygen is the third most common. (Helium is second). Then, a mere 30 million years later disaster struck big time. A proto-planet the size of Mars rammed into earth, smashing debris into space that later coalesced to form our moon. Any water that had existed near the surface would have been blown away in the blast. So was the atmosphere.

We know that water exists in surprising places. In 2015 the Cassini spacecraft spotted water vapour and frozen particles erupting from the south pole of Enceladus[1], one of Saturn’s many moons.

One theory has it that planet earth’s oceans came from comets or asteroids that rocketed down after the moon coalesced. Early on, there were an awful lot of icy bodies banging around the solar system. The gravity of the large gas giants that were evolving had a tendency to fling smaller bodies such as asteroids and meteorites from outer, icy orbits onto the rocky planets that were forming closer to the sun. Think of a god bowling in 4d, erratically tossing rocks, gasses and ice at earth and other proto-planets. Sometimes strikes were made. Comets or asteroids? The obvious choice would seem to be comets, with their long icy tails that show up easily even to the naked eye. But that theory ran into trouble when it was discovered in the 1980s and 1990s that the deuterium/hydrogen ratio on observed comets did not match that of earth’s oceans. Deuterium is a heavier isotope of hydrogen, and if the oceans were made of comet material the ratios should match.

That leaves asteroids. Or does it? Many asteroids, especially those far out in the solar system, are made of hydrated rocks. Ceres is the largest remaining asteroid in our solar system, at 900 kilometers wide, and probably half of its mass is water. If just five Ceres-size asteroids once collided with earth, all the water in the earth’s oceans would be accounted for.

Unfortunately there is a noble argument against this theory. Xenon and argon are called “noble” gases because they are essentially inert. The proportion of these gases in asteroids is different from that found in oceans on earth. They should be similar. A counter argument to the falling-from-the-skies theory has it that the water was there far below the surface right from the start, in the form of separate hydrogen and oxygen molecules and also as hydrated rocks. Over eons this water was pushed to the surface and formed the oceans. Volcanoes puff out water and CO2 even today. Oceans from rocks. Who knew? It’s a mystery.

An amazing thing — the oceans that cover roughly 70% of the surface of planet earth seem vast, but compared to the volume of the earth they are extremely tiny. Surprisingly, the earth, including all of its oceans, is 100 times dryer than an old bone. Think of a giant ball with a very thin, increasingly fragile, film of water covering its surface. What a film, though. Life on earth began in the oceans with single-celled prokaryotic cells about 3.8 billion years ago. Half of the oxygen that we breathe came from the oceans. The ocean supports a vast variety of life ranging from tiny marine viruses to giant blue whales, the largest creatures that have ever existed on our planet. Millions of people draw their livelihood from the sea and over a billion depend on the oceans as their primary source of protein.

[1] Enceladus (/ɛnˈsɛlədəs/; en-SEL-ə-dəs) is the sixth-largest moon of Saturn. It is about 500 kilometers (310 mi) in diameter, about a tenth of that of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Enceladus is mostly covered by fresh, clean ice, making it one of the most reflective bodies of the Solar System.

3. Early Encounters (entered on Aug 31, 2020)

My first inkling that things were not totally fine on the outer coast of south-west B.C. came in February, 1980. A friend and I were paddling our kayaks down Zeballos Inlet, towards Nootka Island located on the west coast of Vancouver Island. We had waited in the Zeballos Hotel for a couple of days, listening to the deafening sound of the rain beating on the metal roof above us and the raspy voices and numbing music of the bar below. Eventually the downpours had seemed less intimidating and we had headed out.

Roughly 400 millimeters (15 inches) of rain fall every winter month in this area and to us it seemed that it was all coming down that very day. The mountains on each side of us were steep and the water was cascading off every rock and mossy outcrop. It was exciting. But, one thing was very odd. When we looked into the water at our white paddle blades we couldn’t see them. The water was muddy. We only had to look at the land to see why.

Much of the coast had recently been stripped of its coastal Douglas fir, hemlock and cedar trees. The blocks of logged clear-cut descended from mountaintop to shoreline and the soil was being washed into the ocean. We were paddling in water that was being muddied by soil that had taken hundreds, if not thousands, of years to accumulate. I would later learn that the next generation of trees might be marginally acceptable to commercial loggers, but by the third generation the soil would be too thin to support much growth. I would also learn that the muddy water affected the life below me in myriad ways. Kelp, which acts as a nursery for fish and crustaceans, grows less slowly in murky water. And when the sediment sinks it smothers benthic sea life.

At the far southeast corner of Nootka Island is the small village of Yuquot, “the land where the wind blows in all directions”. (49.594, –126,617) It is also called Friendly Cove, and is thought to be the site where the first Europeans made landfall on the west coast of North America. Captain Cook apparently received a warm reception. Here in 1778 he entered a small bay looking for fresh water and a place to overhaul his small ships. The local people shouted “Itchme nutka, itchme nutka” to Cook and crew, meaning “go around” to a better anchorage. Cook mistook this and named the island Nutka Island. It was just the beginning of many misunderstandings.

The history of the people who Cook encountered at this place began at least 20,000 years ago. Based on evidence supplied by archeologists, geneticists and linguists, their ancestors came from the headwater regions of the Amur and Lena rivers east of Lake Baikal, in northeastern Asia. These people made their way to the mouths of these rivers and started to establish maritime economies there. By the time the great ice sheets began melting at the end of the Pleistocene, at least 14,000 years ago, it appears that their navigation, boat-building, and fishing skills were already advanced enough to enable them to survive on and off sea and shore.

As the ice melted and the land opened up to them they would have found a bounty of shellfish and finned fish. It is not known exactly when the first salmon appeared, enriching the forest on their upriver migrations, but perhaps the humans and fish evolved together as the ice melted and the land became forested and welcoming.

The First Nation peoples of the north Pacific, from the Ainu and Jomon of Japan across the great arc of the Aleutians and down the coast of North America are some of the oldest pure fishing cultures on the planet. All of the oral traditions of coastal First Nations consider the salmon sacred, always there, and integral to the land. When did indigenous peoples first arrive in North America? Recent discoveries indicate that some of the Americas may have had human occupants 40,000 years ago, or more. Oral histories of First Nations say ‘since time immemorial’. There are outlying places on the west coast of Canada that were never glaciated. This is where the oldest remains have been found. My mother’s ancestors came from Scotland. The oldest human remains there date back about 9,500 years. Before that glaciers covered the whole area. Perhaps the terms “Old Country” and “New Country” need to be reevaluated.

With the arrival of Cook to this village on Nutka Island[1], the intensely spiritual relationship of the people to the land, sea and salmon began to break down. The local Nuu-chah-nulth people, who had lived well at this place for at least 13,000 years, received metal knives and other valuable objects in trade for their sea otter pelts. But, they also succumbed to European diseases, the rule of distant kings, and the eventual loss of their lands, culture and even their children.

Early seafarers made fortunes selling sea otter pelts in China. Sea otters do not rely on fat to stay warm. Instead, they have the densest fir in the animal kingdom. Word of these luxurious pelts got out in Europe, and between 1785 and 1825 three hundred thirty ships converged on Nootka and nearly exterminated the sea otter population. The sustaining, spiritual relationship of indigenous people to the land and sea was broken and was never learned by the newcomers.

In some ways this early paddle in Zeballos Inlet is a story of rejuvenation. Until the 1980s few people knew or cared about logging practices on our coast — except the local indigenous people, and they were ignored. But once recreational sailors, paddlers and others started visiting the coast an outcry was raised. In 1993, 12,000 people showed up in Clayoquot Sound to support the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations in their protest against industrial scale logging. This became the “War in the Woods”. Logging was halted in Clayoquot Sound and this also led to an agreement to greatly reduce cutting in what became known as The Great Bear Rainforest. (The agreements in place are too restrictive: 80% of old growth on Vancouver Island has been logged and the big companies are rushing to get most of what remains.) Nonetheless, logging practices have improved and the industry’s affects on our sea coasts have been significantly reduced. It shows what can be done and provides some hope.

Although still listed as an endangered species, sea otters have been successfully re-introduced into some of their former range. A small population had managed to survive off the coast of California. Between 1969 and 1972 some of these were captured and released in Queen Charlotte Sound. At the time of this writing they are found in two-thirds of their former range, although they are struggling for survival in some of these areas. This is an important success because these otters are a keystone species. They feed on sea urchins and other creatures that survive on kelp forests, which provide essential cover for herring spawn and other fish. These amazing mammals can dive to 330 feet and use rocks to pry shellfish from the seabed. More otters mean more fish.

Years later, my son, Evan; friend, Dan Elliott and I had a weird and fun experience with a sea otter. In the spring of 2002 we were paddling north up the mainland side of Queen Charlotte Strait. We had camped further south at Shelter Bay, on the mainland, and were headed up towards Cape Caution. I felt a heavy pull on my paddle. When I looked down, there was this big sea otter chewing madly on my paddle. Alarmed, I pushed it off. Then it climbed up on the aft deck on one side of my kayak, dived off the other side and suddenly jumped up onto Dan’s boat. That’s when we understood that this guy wanted to play. He dove from one boat to another, tried sitting on our spray skirts, climbed on our backs, and jumped around for at least an hour. After a while we paddled ahead, as we still had a long way to go. It wasn’t until we stopped at Skull Cove (51.049,-127.563) for lunch and got out of our kayaks that he finally swam away. We never saw him again.

[1] Nutka Island later came to be called Nootka Island.

Provideniya, Russia
Tom, Gennady, Louise

4. Chukotka Autonomous Okrug 1994 (Entered on Aug 31, 2020)

This trip was planned and organized by Tom, Dick and Louise. Originally there were four involved. They had ordered two double kayaks from my company, but when one person dropped out they had considered cancelling the trip. Their plan was to fly with the kayaks from Boston, Maine to Nome, Alaska and from there to Provideniya, Chukotka, which is on the Chukotka Peninsula, in the Russian Far East. From there they would paddle the 240 miles or so north up to the Bering Strait, cross the Strait to Alaska and then follow the coast south-east back to Nome. Apparently they had permission from the Russian authorities. When I learned of their trip plan I knew right away that I had to go. They were planning to follow the path of peoples who, over 14,000 years ago, had crossed over to North America and foraged all the way down to Patagonia. Our trip would include crossing the Bering Strait from the Russian side to its Big Diomede Island, (also called “Tomorrow Island”, because it lies right beside the International Date Line) 20 nautical miles away, across the date line to Little Diomede Island, in the U.S., just 2 1/4 nm from Diomede, and then over to the North American continent, another 20 kn. The area is hugely prolific, especially once the sea ice melts, which triggers a spring phytoplankton bloom. Thousands of sea lions and walrus compete for salmon, pollock, halibut, sole, and red king crab with beluga, blue, sperm, sei and right whales. There are massive flocks of tufted puffins, short tailed albatross, eider, auklets and kittiwakes. This, too, is where kayaks and their larger cousins, umiaks, were first developed and have been used for thousands of years for travel and for hunting. There are people living on Little Diomede who I would be keen to meet. Wow. I suggested that I join them and supply my own double kayak. I had never met them. They agreed.

I first met my future paddling partner, Louise Masaillo, very briefly on July 14, 1994 at the Boston airport. I was on my way to a three-day kayak symposium at Bangor, Maine, and she came to meet me during my stopover. She had a warm smile and easy-going manner. She was a successful kayak racer in Boston and I could see why. She was a lanky bundle of energy.

I met up with Tom and Dick a few days later at the same airport in Boston. Tom strode through security as if he owned the place. He’s large. Not taller than me, but built up. The man lifts weights. What’s left of his yellow hair was just left straggling around his broad face. One of his eyes is glass. He reminded me of a cross between Hulk Hogan and a pirate. He looked me up and down like some men look at women. I guessed he was checking for muscle mass. I’m slim, scrawny maybe. I think he found me wanting. Although he races kayaks successfully he relies on raw power. My old friend, Ken Fink, once confided in me that if Tom “ever got a real [paddle] stroke he would be unbeatable”.

Then Dick came through. What a curious duo! Whereas Tom was large and muscular; Dick was short and slim. Tom was 34, peak age for this type of trip; Dick was 72. Tom was direct and forceful; Dick was engaging and warm. He was also a competitor. He and Tom had raced double kayaks many times. Dick was an expert ice-boat racer and had competed in the States and Russia. He had run a boat-building and tending business for about 20 years and before that had been in the merchant marine. About 15 years before I met him, he had sold his business, gone back to university, earned a PhD in psychology and started playing the violin. An aging Renaissance Man. Instantly likeable.

I learned on the plane that there were problems with the trip. It seems that the permission to cross the strait had been rescinded, or maybe had been previously issued by the wrong person. Permission not granted.

Once again, Tom and Dick considered abandoning the whole thing. It turned out that my three mates had agreed to raise money for a charity funding epilepsy treatment and just paddling down the Bering Coast wouldn’t be a big enough deal for fundraising.

There was also the cost. Both Louise and Tom had borrowed for this trip.

We pulled all of our bags from the flight to Homer and talked again. I figured, “Hell, we’ve come this far. Let’s go paddling.” Tom wanted to paddle up to the strait, wait for fog and then sneak across. That seemed crazy to me. The Russians have radar. I think that Louise, being more diplomatic, sided with me. Five minutes before the plane took off for Homer we told them to put our gear back on. We hopped over to Homer and then a couple of days later to Provideniya.

Journal, July 22, 1994, Provideniya (64.4,-173.22)

Provideniya, 5am. With all this light we haven’t been sleeping more than 5 to 6 hours each night. Trying to sit on a spring bed that looks like a chain link fence. It has an amazing amount of sag. In same room as Louise. We were going to give her a break from us three guys and sleep 3 guys one room, but she didn’t want to sleep in this place alone.

In N.A. this would definitely be a dive. An underlying scent of poo and must dominates. The rooms are narrow, with faded off-pink wallpaper, brown lino floor, these 2 or 3 spring cots, a radiator, one table with pink cover full of holes, one wood chair. Light bulb hanging from ceiling. That’s it. We thought of putting the mattresses on the floor, but wanted separation from the many cockroaches. I can hear outside the powerful pumping of the central power station that heats this whole town, when it’s working. Beside it is a tall brick chimney surrounded by a huge mound of black coal. Black smoke belches out.

The town has gravel roads, very rocky. There are large chunks of concrete and pieces of steel lying around everywhere amongst the concrete block and pre-formed concrete tenement buildings. No private homes. Because this is not a consumer society there is no plastic litter as we know it. Just monumental state junk. 4000 residents, but seemingly less because they are concentrated in these dilapidated buildings. I suspect, though, that inside these buildings there are some comfortable suites. No one has much here, but it looks as if everyone eats. This place is very sparse, like the land.

Flying in was spectacular. Above the low clouds across the Bering Sea in a Navahoe. The clouds parted as we reached the coast, revealing scenes of raw splendor. Rugged mountains drop precipitously to the sea. Snow in the valleys. Rocky headlands, some beaches. And nobody. We can’t wait to get started.

Getting through customs was O.K. They X-rayed everything. Their machine worked. It found our flare guns, but not Tom’s 3-inch army issue knife. Nor mine, nor my smaller flares. We had eleven 70-pound bags, plus carry-ons. Customs took about 45 minutes.

Oleg met us. Dark hair, 5'10", strong nose and eyes, wiry. We shoved everything into a small bus and bounced to his office. Like all buildings here, no attempt has been made to pretty the place up. His building is wood plank (most are concrete). Inside was O.K., though.

Roman and two other guys came by. We all sat in a small room and discussed our situation. They smoked. Roman is the mover here. He organizes the tour boats, gets his cut. He supplies food and other things brought over from Alaska to local merchants. He broke off our conversation and talked repeatedly on his VHF radio, emergency channel 16, while we were meeting. They all use these things because nothing else works. He and his wife have a part-time store, which they open after working hours, after their regular jobs. He is not to be trusted. Still, he is, we hope, on our side.

Still no clearance to cross the strait and very unlikely to get it. Roman said he will send a telegram to Moscow, over 6,000 km away. Great. He said that there is a new commander here who is taking no initiatives, no chances. Provideniya is the only “official” exit point in the Russian Far East. To leave from any other point such as Uelen, on the Bering Strait, 240 nautical miles north, is an exception. We won’t pay for privilege.

We went to the only bar/restaurant in town with Oleg. It opens at 9pm. Looked like a 1950s party room. Delicious dinner. But first, vodka, multiple times, “here’s to your family, here’s to your ancestors, here’s to friendship, here’s to…”.Bottoms up, pickled cucumbers with mayo. Then smoked salmon with cucumbers rolled up inside, followed by hamburger steak, potatoes, more cucumbers. Smokey place. Russian music, jazzy. Surprise: Leonard Cohen, one of his more depressing songs. Dancing, including men with men. Oleg’s new girlfriend came by. Pretty. Older than Oleg. He’s crazy about her. She has a daughter by another marriage. There was a guy in a suit and black hat at the back of the room who Oleg deferred to. Hard look, just stared at us. A cop? It all got a little blurry.

We never got permission to cross. After much negotiation it was decided that we would paddle from Provideniya around the south end of the peninsula to Mys Chaplino. There we would wait for a small Russian tour ship to pick us up and take us up to Uelen on the Bering Strait. From there we would paddle south back to Provideniya. We would also have to take with us an English-speaking guide.

The next morning we set up our kayaks beside a junkyard, loaded everything and waited all day for our guide. He never arrived.

The following day Gennady Khokhorin did arrive, with a fiberglass kayak. We set off.

It was obvious that Gennady had not kayaked before. Partly it was because of his kayak — something called a McNulty, a British boat, narrow, soft chines, tippy, that had been abandoned nearby.

On the first day his rudder broke and jammed sideways. He couldn’t steer. I was able to dismantle it while we were underway with tools from my fishing gear, but without a rudder he had a lot of difficulty. He almost kept up with us in calm seas, but when the weather came up he fell far behind. This was not the kayak for a beginner.

On the second day we had to surf over a gravel bar and make it into a stream. Louise and I led. Gennady was edgy, missed the entrance and slammed into the rocks onshore. I caught him before he capsized and he was O.K. but we knew that we had to be more careful after that. Soon we realized that he had never been in this area before either. Some guide.

But here’s the thing about Gennady: he’s tough, strong, can fix anything, speaks good English, is great company, is an excellent fire maker and is generous to a fault. He offered us a window into the people, customs and, of course, the bureaucracy that we encountered as we journeyed along the coast.

Journal, July 26, 1994 Mys Chaplino (64.42,-172.36)

On board Fodor Mattison. Small ship. Fog. It’s very hot in this cabin. We leave tomorrow at 6 am or earlier. Tom and I paddled 4 miles up the lake at Chaplino for better water. Paddled hard, in thick fog. Climbed up a beautiful hill above the fog. Exquisite. When we got back Gennady was waiting. The ship was here! Big hurry. More later.

Journal, July 27, 1994 Uelen, (66.16,-169.81)

If you described this town as a face it would be one that only a mother could love. Lonely wood shacks on a windswept gravel bar. It looks as if an angry sea could sweep the whole town away in a moment. Why here? Only for strategic reasons. It’s right at the entrance to the Bering Strait. We saw Chukchi or Yupik people arrive here in a large skin umiak. Not a museum piece like I’ve seen before, but a real, sealskin boat. They didn’t stay long. No local people would live here unless a white Russian told them to.

The ship dropped us off right on time at 6 am. The kayaks and gear were put onto the skiff and we proceeded against pitching waves and strong wind to shore. Water shipped over our faces, we in our dry suits, the three crewmen in increasingly soggy wool. Nobody said anything. 4 uniformed soldiers with large guns met us at the beach and demanded passports. I bought a couple of small ivory pieces from a big jolly Russian woman. Really nice pieces — seals and a round necklace. We set off.

66.119, -169.675

We find ourselves in a curious place. It’s a very small bay with the opening almost blocked with ice pans. A fast stream and boulders. Steep cliffs behind. There’s no flat land. We will be sleeping on the boulders because we have to be here. Coming around an ice flow in 25–30 knot winds Gennady capsized. He was being swept towards the ice, under an overhanging pan. Tom and Dick were closest. Tom righted the kayak and steadied it while Gennady got back in. Dick paddled. Louise and I found this place to pull in. Fortunately, with Tom holding and Dick paddling they were able to get him here. Gennady has a dry suit. He was O.K. No more big winds, please.Gennady and I went up a talus slope onto a ridge for a great panorama. The sweep of the land and sea was vast. We could see the clouds, just above the water, blasting by like a freight train. On the way down I stepped on a large boulder, similar to countless others, except this one started to roll. Over and over, with me climbing like a hamster on a wheel, trying not to get pinned. I couldn’t quite jump clear because other rocks were now being swept down, so I kept climbing. Luckily, the slide ended and I was fine, though scared. Haven’t had a close call like that for a long time. Tom and Louise saw it, said I was rock surfing. Not to be repeated.

We get gusts in this bay. As we were setting up a tent it got away from us and flew up in the air beside the cliff about 50 feet. It hovered there for a while. Gennady and I ran and intercepted it on the way down. So, tomorrow at 4 am we rise and check the wind. We’ve got to get out of here.

Journal July 28, 1994

Up at 4:30, out by 6:30. A little wind from the south greeted us, but as we rounded Mys Petek (southern cape on Mys Dezhneva[1]), the wind abated, the fog cleared and what could we see, incredibly clearly? O. Ratmanova (Big Diomede). There it was, an island in the middle of the Bering Strait, with Little Diomede no doubt just on the other side of it, in the U.S. Still yesterday for them, as it’s on the other side of the date line. It was a beautiful, flat, clear sunny day, perfect for the crossing. No wind, no waves.

We rafted together and had an interesting discussion. A mad dash to Alaska and damn the consequences? Or continue south, against the prevailing winds and current?

Tom would have gone for Alaska. Louise was against. Dick was prevaricating. Gennady wanted to visit his kids, who lived in Alaska, and he seemed to want to go even without a visa. I was against. Crossing the strait: a private goal of five adventurers. We would put Gennady in jeopardy back in mother Russia. What sort of jail would they put him in? Our Russian friend would be punished, the Epileptic foundation would have to disown any connection, the kayaks would be confiscated, etc. etc. Sanity prevailed.

We headed south. Shortly after that a big Russian military helicopter buzzed us. It’s hard to outrun a chopper in a kayak. An hour later we saw two orcas, an adult male and younger male. Then later, grey whales. As fascinating as that morning was, we had no way of knowing at that time what an incredible sight awaited us, just around Dezhneva.

[1]Cape Dezhnev is a cape that forms the eastmost mainland point of Asia

Evan Simpson, age 3, near Triquet Island, 1992

5. A Little History (Entered September 30,2020)

Historians and archaeologists have long thought that the migration of early peoples from Asia to America must have happened when a land bridge connected the two continents. The idea that masses of people could have paddled across in skin or wood boats or even rafts was not given much credence.

Years ago I wondered about this. Didn’t these academics know that travel by boat is much easier than over land? You can even carry your stuff with you. I’m no historian, but I’ve hiked coastlines and paddled them and it sure is easier to paddle.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that there was already a pretty lively debate about this. Proponents of the Bering Land Bridge theory suggested that early migrants walked across the bridge and down an open corridor of ice-free North America, poking sticks at mastodons as they went. Recently, though, this theory has run into trouble. Studies have found that the open corridor was too barren to support much life before 12,600 BP and the date for the earliest arrivals keeps being pushed back.

In April, 2017 it was reported that an ancient village on Triquet Island, 150 miles north of Port Hardy, was found to be over 14,000 years old. This was particularly interesting to me, because I’ve visited that island a few times over the years, and camped on it. It is a small jewel, with two well-protected beaches and lush surrounding forest. There is an obvious shell midden there, but as usual, I was totally ignorant about how old it was. The Heiltsuk have long said that its people have lived on the island for ages. In their stories they tell us that the island remained ice-free during the last ice age. Since much of their land was covered in ice they huddled there. Geological and archeological studies support that.

Just before I first camped there in the fall of 1987, a kayaking acquaintance of mine built a tiny cabin on the beach. Later it was taken over by some fishermen who put in a rug that was soon moldy and left garbage around. Years later my friend said that he wished he had never built the cabin. Triquet Island is now managed under an agreement between the Hakai Luxvbalis Conservancy and the B.C. Provincial Government which allows the Heiltsuk Nation to use the resources on the island. On April 4, 2019 the island was closed to the public.

Early hunters really did poke spears at mastodons on the west coast. In 1977 a farmer named Emanuel Manis discovered a mastodon on his Olympic Peninsula property while digging a hole. He called in an archaeological team that found a spear point made from another mastodon embedded into a rib bone. There was marrow growth over the spear where it entered the bone, indicating that the spear was not the cause of death, nor had it been inserted after the animal died. This point has since been identified positively as being chiseled by human hands, and has been dated at 13,800 years ago. People lived along the coast even during some of the last ice age. Historians have long said that migrants started coming into North America after the ice sheets started melting. But some of the coastlines on the west coast, including the Brooks Peninsula on Vancouver Island and outer islands, including Triquet, were not glaciated. Maybe they were already there.

In 2004, Dr. Albert Goodyear, a highly respected archaeologist, published a report indicating he and his team had found human artifacts in sediments in South Carolina that are at least 50,000 years old. This was long before the last ice age, 20,000 years ago. The finding jibes well with the known date of early habitation of Australia by boat 50,000 to 70,000 years ago, but it upends the theory that humans came to America only about 14,000 years ago. 50,000 years ago there were still Denisovans, an early hominin, as well as our own species, Homo sapiens, wandering Siberia and Tibet. We still have some of their genes. These were early humans. If indigenous people did live along the North American coast during the last ice age their coastal settlements would have been far off present day shores. As the great ice sheets melted the rising waters would have flooded their homes, erasing all signs of their lives. They would have migrated and washed up on the shores of islands such as Triquet. Perhaps their situation was similar to Greenland today, which is melting very rapidly. They would have been boxed in by the rising sea on one side and the ice sheet that weighed heavily on the land just inshore. Maybe they obtained their protein from turbot and seals, just like Greenlanders today. If there were coastal inhabitants living before the ice age perhaps one day archaeologists will find evidence of them at higher elevations, just as our grandchildren and future generations will be forced to move to by rising sea levels. The oral traditions of people native to the West Coast do not speak of migrations down the coast. They say that they have been there “since time immemorial”. Their records have often been verified to be accurate. Perhaps this is what the term means: “Since the beginning”.

The indigenous way of life was based on a marine economy first developed in Asia and since adapted to local environments over thousands of years. Indigenous people understood how to trap fish using the flow of the ocean tides and how to build clam gardens on an industrial scale to harvest shellfish. Remains of these structures have been found in many places along the west coast of North America. These early inhabitants exhibited a profound understanding of dozens of plants used as food and medicine. They never took too much from the sea, which was bountiful. Boats were made from the skins of sea animals and from great logs. They traded widely from Alaska to California.

Even 14,000 years is a long time. Starting from then it would be over 4,600 years before the Egyptians built their pyramids in Giza. The Greek and then the Roman empires rose and fell. Genghis Khan’s broad empire, the Ottoman Empire, the British, French and Russian Empires, Chinese dynasties all peaked and declined. In the “New World” (to the Europeans) the Mayan civilization, the Olmecas, Incas, and Aztecs thrived for a while and then disappeared. During all of this time the many nations on the North Pacific Coast lived and thrived. Surely this is an indicator of remarkable success.

The earliest European explorers depended on the indigenous people for survival in a new (to them) and often harsh climate. In their journals they paid respect to the intimate knowledge of the land that the local people had accumulated over millennia. Then came the fur traders, merchants, and land developers. Imagine what would have happened if this second wave of arrivals had thought “Yes, we’ve got bigger boats, better weapons, the wheel, but these people have prospered here for eons. What can we learn from them about how to live on this land and sea?”

Of course this never happened. If the Europeans had asked, they might have learned that one of the most important keys for long-term survival is preserving the relationship of the people to the land and its life. One term often used is ‘stewardship of the land’ versus the European concept of extraction and exploitation. But it is more than that. There is a spiritual dimension to belonging to the land and surrounding sea and all the life they support. Indigenous people, who have lost so much, are working at reclaiming that spiritual connection and teaching it to the rest of the world.

Back when I was about 16, I read Genesis and other Old Testament stories. I was startled to learn that, according to these stories, the world was created 6,000 years ago just for us. We are not a part of nature. We own it, and have dominion over all the land and animals. This view of nature and land ownership is so ingrained in our culture that we don’t even recognize it. I had spent endless days tramping through the forest and dipping in the ocean. Like children everywhere I didn’t want to dominate. I wanted to belong. When we are children if we are lucky as I was, we get to play in parks and forests and form strong bonds with nature. Then during our working years these bonds become distant memories. I didn’t want this to happen to me and never could accept the story of Genesis. Recently, Pope Francis, in his Laudato Si, insisted that this was the “wrong interpretation”. Maybe nature is back as part of the whole human story, finally, and none too soon.

The Europeans brought this odd concept of land ownership to the “New World”. They divided it up into plots and bought and sold it. The earth is 4 1/2 billion years old, give or take. Humans live for about 80 years. But we claim that we “own” outright the land we stand on — to use or abuse. Can we really own land that is billions of years old and will continue to exist for billions more? Indigenous cultures have a more basic and ultimately more sophisticated approach to land use. It is held in common, as a source of life, both physical and spiritual, and when one generation passes, the next generation will seek nourishment from and sustain it.

The early Europeans were mainly interested in the fur trade. They formed “joint stock companies” in which a small number of grandees controlled companies such as the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Northwest Company in North America and the East India Company in India. None of the high British Lords and proprietors who initially backed “a Speculative Voyage to North America”, including Sir George Carteret and the esteemed scientist, Robert Boyle, had interest in going to the “New World”. They financed the project, bought a boat (Nonesuch) and sent Pierre Radisson and his brother-in-law, Medard Chouart Sieur des Grosseilleres back to Canada in 1668. They returned in October, 1669 with valuable furs and were granted the Royal Charter the following year. These promoters were noblemen who were only interested in profit and the prestige that came with the project. Visits to the New World were optional. Over time these companies evolved into modern corporations that were given the same legal rights as individuals, but lacked any attachment to the land or local people. This is vastly different from the sustainable practices of First Nations developed over 14,000 years. Yes, materially we have made fantastic progress over the last two centuries. But many people, especially those belonging to First Nations have been left out.

While the power and influence of corporations has reached new heights inequality is growing even for the middle classes. Pollution is increasing, the planet is warming and oceans are acidifying. We and the planet are at a tipping point. We can’t go back to pre-industrial times. We must go forward. Perhaps there is a way of combining science and technology with the teachings of First Nations. Here in B.C., First Nation Guardians, including the Heiltsuk, Haida and Kitasoo/Xai’xais have become essential in preserving fisheries. As in other parts of the world the knowledge-keepers are mentoring youth about the land and surrounding seas and reporting on overfishing and pollution. They are re-establishing traditional fishing practices and providing useful knowledge to boaters and other visitors. The Guardians are using traditional knowledge combined with computers, GPS and modern science to make a major contribution to our coast. This is something that we all can benefit from.

In the Gulf Islands, on Russell Island and near Fulford Harbour on Saltspring Island, people from the Hul’q’umi’num’ and WSANEC First Nations, along with Parks Canada, are re-establishing clam gardens that have been lying idle for hundreds of years. It has been only recently that these structures, some quite large, have been re-discovered on diverse coasts from Alaska to California. In the Gulf Islands, Coast Salish elders are teaching younger people how to create these habitats for clams, crabs, urchins, kelp and fish. These habitats can produce up to four times more than the amount of edible marine species that would normally exist.

6. Comox Harbour Fish Trap Complex (Entered September 30, 2020)

K’omoks First Nation, 49.673, -124.976

About 100 kilometers north of B.C.’s Gulf Islands there are remains of a large, industrial-scale fish trap complex.

There were two basic trap designs ranging in age from 1300 years ago until 100 years ago. The ‘Winged Heart’ trap apparently used the falling tides to catch herring. About 800 years ago, during the little Ice Age, it is thought that the colder waters brought salmon to the area. During this time the traps were changed abruptly to a different, ‘Winged Chevron’ trap. 323 individual traps have been identified, which could have been worked individually or networked with other traps. These were seriously large scale. The number of vertical stakes has been conservatively estimated at between 150,000 and 200,000.

When you consider the planning that must have gone into these traps — construction, maintenance and the processing of fish — you have to wonder just how many people were involved? This was an abundant coast inhabited by a prosperous people.

Early estimates of just 80,000 people in B.C. before contact have been disputed. Oral histories of First Nations report that European diseases such as small pox and influenza decimated populations even before the first Europeans appeared on the coast. The diseases, which the locals had no immunity to, had traveled up from more southern regions, including from Central America, through trade and contact. Estimates now put pre-contact populations at between 200,000 and 1 million. This may be conservative. A 1963 study of the !Kung Bushmen in Botswana determined that they “worked” (by hunting or gathering) an average of two and a half days per week. This was in a harsh environment. Life would have been considerably easier in the rich coastal environments of the Pacific Coast. First Nations people had ample time to create art, stories, legends, and these large-scale fish traps which were designed to catch exactly the desired fish. There was minimum by-catch, no ghost nets to be lost at sea and no damage to the environment. Along the great arc stretching from present day Korea and Japan, north up the coast of Asia, across the Bering Strait and south down the North American coast to California, marine societies grew and flourished. Unique cultures developed but they all had one special thing in common: they harvested most of their protein and nutrition from the sea. European settlers didn’t understand this deep physical and spiritual connection to the ocean. Historians have tended to ignore civilizations such as these that hadn’t developed monoculture agriculture on a large scale. But these were successful, long lasting societies. Understanding this may be key to developing more just and sustainable modern societies.

There is a new sea farming concept developed by a company called Greenwave that is very similar to First Nations’ historical practices. It is called ‘vertical ocean farming’ or ‘3D ocean farming’. Vertical ropes are anchored to the seabed. Attached to them are floating horizontal ropes. From these lines seaweed grows down towards the seabed next to scallops and mussels hanging in mesh. Below them are oysters and then clams buried below. The farms can occupy a very small footprint. Greenwave claims that they can grow 25 tons of greens and 250,000 shellfish per acre in five months. Kelp, one of nature’s fastest-growing plants, soaks up prodigious amounts of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous. Oysters filter nitrogen from the water, which is a leading cause of anoxic waters and fish mortality. Seaweed contains calcium, vitamin C, Omega-3s and many other useful nutrients.

Contrast that to modern fish farms. Open net pens hold up to a million fish. For carnivorous fish such as salmon much of the feed comes from wild fish caught off South America. There are huge concerns about mining the world’s feeder fish stocks in less developed areas in order to provide food for wealthy buyers in richer countries.

In the summer, when salmon are most active and hungry, a large salmon farm can go through 18 tonnes of feed every day. Fish farms are perfect breeding grounds for sea lice, which attach to passing wild juvenile salmon. Infection rates can be vastly increased in wild salmon up to 30 km from open-net pens. Diseases such as Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA) and Furunculosis can be endemic in farmed fish pens. Treatment requires vaccines and antibiotics, which can pass into the environment. This is a very controversial way of producing fish that has been embraced in Washington State and B.C. but rejected in Alaska. Now only the Alaskan wild fish stocks are reasonably healthy.

Imagine that instead of these fish farms there were small, community-owned vertical-ocean farms dotted all along the coasts of our blue planet. Some could be in indigenous communities and could provide traditional food sources plus economic benefits. If the farms were kept small, local communities of all types could participate in growing sustainable food and nurturing the oceans at the same time. There is great potential here. A researcher in the Netherlands has calculated that sea farms covering a total area equal to Washington State could provide protein for the entire world population.

Cows emit a lot of methane[1]. A Japanese study found that the production of 1 kg. of beef releases as much CO2 as the average European car emits in 250 kilometers. A recent Australian study found that an addition of less than 2% of a special red algae seaweed, which possibly could be grown in vertical ocean farms, can reduce methane emissions by 99 percent. Methane is at least 28 times more potent than CO2 on a 100 year time scale, so this is important.

The best thing about vertical ocean farming is that large quantities of high-quality food are produced with zero inputs while enhancing the health of the ocean.

In October, 2017 a study was released that measured the decline by volume of insect populations in Germany at 76% over the past 27 years. The decline was even higher at 82% during the productive summer months. These declines were in non- agricultural areas set aside to preserve nature. This shocked researchers.

This decline of insect populations could have massive effects on food production in the future. The collapse of bee populations due to mites and neocon pesticides is in the news these days, but there is a die-off of all insects and birds. During cycle trips across the Canadian prairies and especially through vineyards in France I became aware that there were no bugs and few birds. We enjoyed the sight of beautiful waving wheat fields and green grape vines, but other than people trimming and spraying the crops, no life. Everything is related. If you encounter few bugs on monoculture crops you have to suspect that lots of fertilizers and insecticides have been used, which eventually will leach into rivers and surrounding seas, causing vast dead zones.

When you combine personal memories such as these with what scientists are telling us, the stark message becomes more real, more urgent. Mankind’s monoculture food production is becoming increasingly tenuous and also dangerous for life on the planet. We need to shift towards sustainable farming practices. Ocean farming based on First Nations sustainable principles could help. However, this is assuming that raising shellfish will continue to be viable. Ocean chemistry and temperatures are changing. Already shellfish are dying in some areas due warming water and acidification. We urgently need to cut back CO2 emissions and other pollutants. More on this later.

These changes are already being felt where we had our discussion 25 nautical miles off Big and Little Diomede in the Bering Strait in 1994. Walruses have long hauled their huge bodies up onto the sea ice near the islands to dive and rest and the Inuit on the Diomedes depend on them. However, in 2014 only one animal was taken, and in 2015 just 10. The ice has gone and so have the walruses.

[1] I was surprised to learn that the vast majority of it goes out of their mouths, not their back ends.

7. Back to Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, 1994 (Entered October 31, 2020)

Journal, July 28, 1994 Puoten, 65.857, -170.53

Great day. We had rounded the peninsula, well past Mys Peek. Had been paddling steady for 8 hours. Heading east, the afternoon sun in our eyes, couldn’t make out what looked like a fuzzy rock. We were tired. So we pulled in. Straight in. Louise and I hit the beach first and then we saw what it was: a dead, beached whale with a huge Kodiak bear on top. It seemed to have eaten out a cavity in the whale, gorged itself, and then dozed off.

Startled, the bear heard us, stood on its hind legs, front paws up in the air and roared at us. It was massive. We had been so dumb, and now so vulnerable, maybe 20 feet away. We back-paddled as fast as we could.

The bear went back down on all four legs, turned, jumped off the whale and ran away. Tom managed to shoot a photo of the back of the bear heading over the nearest ridge. Wow.

We got out of there. Oh yah. Earlier we had seen a mother brown bear and three cubs scurrying up the ridge. We should have been more alert. We didn’t camp there.

65.86, -170.538

We ended up at a place that to our untrained eyes looked like an old homestead. But Gennady knew it for what it had been: an old military post. There were trenches for practice, and a sunken bomb shelter. A most beautiful place, with a lagoon out back and a nice stream. My topo map says it is, or was, Puoten.

I was just getting the cooking fire started when we heard a rifle shot, loud, close by. Men coming up the beach. Two close, two following. With the glasses I could see that they were not military, all had rifles. So what next? Turned out they were Chuckchi locals, out fishing. They net migrating fish on the rivers to feed a fox farm out of Uelen. Yikes.

Out of view they had a tracked vehicle. The rifles were for the bears. Did they fire the shot to announce their arrival? Some had on skin jackets with fur lining. Asian faces. Good looking men. We served them tea. They talked in Russian to Gennady. The youngest, about 15, eyed us suspiciously. The other three were more relaxed. The youngest one was most interested in our gear and our kayaks. When they left we cooked up some pasta over a few bricks and a grate. And went to bed content. 37 nautical miles.

July 29, 1994 65.627, -170.847

Headwind, misty, rain, a tough slog. We kept rounding point after point. Confusion as to our location. No visibility. Up to now I hadn’t been involved in navigation because Dick was doing that. But he didn’t know where we were. So I started checking our headings. When we managed to get ashore through some surf at lunch I borrowed Dick’s parallels and calipers and from our headings determined that we were not nearly as far along as we had thought. Now we are going to work out our times and headings each day in advance. We are dealing with a topo map that covers a huge region, including a good chunk of the Alaskan coast, Saint Lawrence Island, all of our route. No details. Further south we have better charts. (of Arakamchechen) Camped just west of Mys Nunyamo, another abandoned military place.

July 30, 1994, Lavrentiya, 65.587, -171.0

Fog cleared, with glasses you could make out Lavrentiya.

The town seemed a little nicer than Provideniya, though it is smaller. Gennady looked in all four shops for things that we couldn’t get in Provideniya.

The shopkeepers were mostly Chinese. He bought a soldering gun. The kids were a lot of fun, they swarmed us. A little girl gave Louise a leather bracelet with beads that she had made. Her brother, Sasha, gave me one, which I will pass on to Evan. The kids made up their own games.

Of course, when we landed on the beach two military types drove up to check our passports. The stores were very sparse. Whole cupboards bare. The town again has big chunks of concrete and steel lying around, junk everywhere, dirt, no pavement. Large apartment buildings, plain, a bust of Lenin.

Yesterday at Nunyamo I had luck. Walking around the deserted village I felt a rusty nail go through the sole of my boots and right between my toes. Not a scratch!

Journal: July 31, 1994, Akani, 65.492, -171.176

We left Lavrentiya, still on the 30th about 6:15 PM, arrived here at Akani at 10 P.M. Another long day.

As we approached the beach of what we thought was another deserted village a couple of people came down near shore and waved us around the point to a more sheltered beach. We were invited to stay in a little portable cabin with a coal fire last night, had tea and dinner and talked until 1:30 am.

Alexander, an old man, and Nina, an old woman, live here full time. Alexander told us that a storm is coming and that we will be here for three days.

The whole village of 50 families had been moved to Lorino about a decade ago. Displacement has been government policy. Alexander and Nina couldn’t stand city life and moved back here three years ago. Their two children are here for the summer. Tatiana went to high school in Leningrad. Rusylan attends school in Lorino, has worked for a while in Provideniya. She teaches school somewhere. Maybe she said Vladivostok. Mom looks wonderful, has a big broad face. They look handsome in their leather and fur. The portable cabin we are in is sometimes hauled overland and used by reindeer herders.

At 6 AM two guards came and demanded passports. Gennady is now walking back to Lavrentiya to pay some fee for passing through this area. Passing through fiefdoms. Three hours each way. It’s blowing south and we are comfortable (except for Gennady) and can use some rest. We are four in the cabin right now. Tom, who, like a predatory animal, is either full on or off, is asleep. I feel I’m more like an herbivore. I need to forage. Dick is writing, Louise cutting off some of the neck of her dry suit (it ripped, was repaired in Lavrentiya by a guy with a motorcycle, but the patch material was too heavy and it tore again beside the patch).

Tom and Louise spar quite a bit. It turns out that maybe they have some history. Now he wants her to paddle harder. Says she’s lily-dipping. She claims she needs to conserve some energy for the next day. Perhaps her racing skills with light weight crafts did not prepare her for our heavily loaded doubles. I’m paddling very hard. As far as I’m concerned, though, she’s my paddling partner, we’re at least keeping up with Gennady and she’s good company. No problem.

Everyone has aches and pains. Dick: quite a blister on his palm, Tom: a swollen wrist from impact during Gennady’s rescue, Louise aches all over. My arms are good. My fingers are tired. They feel aflame, especially in the morning. On my right wrist are several open pus sores. No Band-Aid is possible, so they are not healing. I’m not sure but maybe the dry suit neoprene cuff wore into it. The pain in my neck and shoulder blades stops as soon as the paddling stops. The right wet suit boot has worn off the skin on my foot, so now I wear a sock on that foot. I cut off the end of the other sock and wear the rest of it over my wrist, to cover it and keep the cuff off it. Considering how hard I am paddling, and for how long each day, I think that my body is holding up well. I am in good spirits. Because I am a little faster, I am doing the cooking, morning and evening. Tom takes down the tent and often washes dishes, as does Dick. Louise takes down the other tent. She’s good at that now. I don’t think that she had tented from kayaks before. Dick and I handle the cooking tarp it if is required. Gennady does fire.

Aug. 1, 1994: 3 PM and still wind-bound at Akani

Blowing 30–40 knots from north. Walked today. You cannot see the wind much because there are no trees or large plants to bend over. Just short grass and flowers. If you kneel down, you notice that there is much less wind. In this country it is more windy if you are a human than if you are a ground squirrel. Most of the land is soggy but some of the higher ground dries well. This is ground squirrel country — light brown, quite large animals with a call like a squirrel, except louder, and more aggressive. The tops of most of the hills are rocky.

Through the mist I could sometimes make out the hook extending out around the next bay. Sometimes I could see no more than 10 meters. This encourages you to observe close in. There is a surprising variety of small flowers. My favorite is a small cupped blue flower, like a hooded face. Camas? The most common flower is dark pink, five petals, open like a daisy. There is a stem with a white fluff puff on the top. An interesting purple snap-dragon-style flower with fern-like leaves alternating down the stock (many flowers per stalk). Small yellow daisies, some with blue stamens. Tiny pink, 6-petal flowers. More. Very common: stocks with many pink parts.

Down in the valleys you can watch water ooze out of the moss and head downhill; the beginnings of creeks and rivers. Further down the creek spreads out, reeds indicate more depth than my gumboots can handle. A short distance later the river has become swollen, the water, now brown, flows very quickly. A pile of rocks offers me shelter from the wind. I crouch down and ponder this land and my own ignorance of it. Lots of caribou poo and antlers. Spongy footing. Small flowers. How do the huge brown bears survive? Rusylan says ground squirrels, any dead animals, fish. Those bears looked enormous, healthy, successful. The caribou antlers were old but the droppings fairly fresh. There were a few small kill deer-like birds with brown back, yellow belly, black line above eye, white line below, forked black/white tail feathers.

On a hill were three coffins lying on the land with sides filled in with rocks. A beautifully preserved skull lay beside one. At another, just some bones and an Orthodox cross, written: 1923–1962. I couldn’t read the Russian, of course. Yesterday on another hill I came across a number of mounds. Curved bones and wood curved up over pits dug about 1 ½ to 2 meters deep. Up to 2 meters in length, maybe 1 meter across. I asked Rusylan- these were used by his Chuchchi people to store meat on the permafrost. They covered these pits with sod during summer, dug them up for food in winter. The bones supported the sod.

This family is special. Rusylan is living here full time over the summer. He attended school in Lorene and also Anadir. Tatyana graduated from high school in Leningrad, will be staying here only one more week. Lina and Alexander must have lived through some very difficult times. But what I see in Lina’s broad creased face is radiance and laughter. She makes you feel good.

Alexander is the patriarch. One of his jobs is to count whales for a centre in Barrow, Alaska. You can see him often looking through his glasses. He is also a hunter. This winter he shot a polar bear. One bullet. The skin is now draped over a large, Russian-made ski-doo. I wondered how he paid for it. Then, oh yes. We saw a dead walrus on a beach. It was huge, whale-like. Tusks cut off. The bear skin. China close by. He is very handsome. White hair, sparkle in his eyes, a little shy, but he is warming up to us. When we arrived he invited us up right away.

Gennady has learned that they knew we were coming down the coast. They have a radio telephone and heard the news from the four hunters we met. News travels.

There was a genuine respect amongst all the family members. It was good, spacious. We were their second visitors this year. I hope that we didn’t eat all of their bread. It is not the custom there to bake your own. I tried whale meat. It was good, like bland cold cuts.

Alexander loves this place, couldn’t stand being in a town. Lina calls it home too. Last year she flew to Resolute and Pond Inlet for a native language conference. This September Alexander will be flying to Barrow, Alaska. Tatyana is teaching. Full lives.

I wonder how Rusylan will do? I can’t see the direction yet. He showed me photos of his stay in Provideniya and in the army. His companions were white. He is not like his dad and the other four hunters, his education comes from books, not from the land. I don’t see him staying there.

The wind was still howling. When I returned from my hike my four fellow travelers were asleep. Gennady, Rusylan and Louise are now playing a card game called “Polish Fool”. Dick returned from a walk. Tom hadn’t budged from his bag. He is not a hiker. He was “saving energy, getting ready for tonight’s paddle.” Tom has less interest in the land, keeps his sight on the goal. When we were at Cap Chaplino and hiked into the hills, a fog bank enveloped us. He was very nervous about getting back, even with a compass. All we had to do was walk against the wind and turn left when we hit the water. Perhaps he was more worried about our schedule and missing our pickup.

Aug. 2, 1994

Still stormed in. 20–30 knots. We were starting to be concerned about our schedule. Someone has some pressing engagement, I guess. I was enjoying this stay and getting a glimpse of these people’s lives, and of the land.

Birds on the sea cliffs: gulls, black and/or red-legged kittiwakes, mew gulls, northern fulmar, arctic tern, common eider, pelagic cormorant, double-crested cormorants, common murres (big colonies), pigeon guillemot, crested auklet (I think), horned puffin, tufted puffin, bufflehead. Birds on tundra: semi-palmate plover, sharp-tailed sandpiper. I’m no expert birder, have a bird book with me.

August 3, 1994

We woke to a bright foggy day, no wind. Said good-bye to the family. Many farewells. Rusylan was attracted to Louise, Nina gave her seal mitts.

Last night was amazing. Alexander and Gennady worked hard to wire up a gas generator. At 9:30 they got it going. The lights in the house went on. Alexander sat down and started shaving with an electric razor. Rusylan fired up his reel-to-reel tape deck and we had salty Russian pop music. Rusylan took photos of the group with an old SLR camera with electric flash. Tea, whale meat, crackers. Quite a time. They asked us to stay on.

The next morning, as above, we left in fog towards Lorina, but then decided to set out for a direct, 33 nm crossing to Mys Kalyustkina. As usual, Louise was the only one who didn’t want to go the extra distance, and it was Tom who was pushing for it. As usual, we went anyway.

We projected 11 hours in the boats, but did it in 10, which was decent. Towards the end the wind picked up and we were again concerned for Gennady’s safety. I must admit, that after about 8 hours I started to resent Louise. She was so tired, wasn’t pulling at all and I had to work even harder. And she was whining. I resented it because this was a long slog, I was tired too and hadn’t peed all crossing. But, O.K., when I joined up I expected some tough days. I joined willingly, and have no reason to resent her.

August 4, 1994

Today we paddled only 12 miles into a strong headwind. Gennady finally could take no more of the strong seas. He usually says nothing, but after a number of questions when he was falling far behind, he finally admitted he would rather be on the beach.

We came in at Mys Nygchigen. Surfed in. The beach wasn’t much but we camped up above on the tundra where it was open and green. It was raining. Saw bear poo.

August 8, 1994

Four days since the last entry. The time flew by. Early start on the 5th, good weather, so we paddled to Yanrakynnot (64.91, -172.493, 18 nautical miles in 5 hours) and then on to the north end of Ostrov Arakanchechen.

Yanrakynnot is a mostly indigenous village. A holiday, lots of drinking. I was offered a ride on the side car of a motorcycle by an obviously inebriated Chuckchi and decided, O.K. We sped off over the dirt and gravel roads and tundra. Fast. The suspension on those things is surprisingly good. It was comfortable.

Near here is the island of Arakamchechen. A huge number of Walrus haul themselves up on the beach. We were looking forward to visit, but authorities allow very few onto the island. Unfortunately for us, the Discovery cruise ship had just been by and we were not allowed to visit.

We visited a family living in a yuranga for the summer: a round home with a frame of wood poles and scavenged tubing covered with reindeer skins. The three winter in Yanrakynnot. Tend reindeer and fish and hunt. Basic inside. The man gave me a beautiful, freshly caught salmon after I asked him how the fishing was.

We camped nearby and fed the small boy (maybe 4) four large bowels of pasta, fillet salmon and broccoli. It was a beautiful spot. A corral for herding reindeer appeared to be in working order. A cousin who lives with the family visited our camp. He had lost his reindeer, was hoping to locate them somewhere. Apparently on the other side of Arakamchechen there is a polar bear wandering around. Missed the sea ice, I guess. Wonder about its future.

On the 6th we paddled to the north central coast of Ostrov Yttygran, to a place called Whale Alley. (64.635, -172.605) There are a number of huge whalebones there, from an old village. Only one shack stands now. This site is on the Discovery ship’s itinerary. Some bones standing up, some pits semi-covered where meat was stored. When we arrived at the beach the weather was beautiful and warm. Went for a dip in the dry suits. You float like the Michelin Man.

We decided to paddle farther, to make the next day a short one. Louise wanted to stay put. Tom and Dick were in favor of going on. I could have been persuaded either way.

Going by one lowland the wind was blowing so hard Gennady was forced to go ashore. A very windy place, not too comfortable. We thought about camping. I noticed a fresh bear print. Tom definitely wanted to go on. To relieve Gennady I paddled his kayak. Damned uncomfortable. Once we had rounded the northern point the wind hit hard. Gennady and Louise wanted to quit. We continued to make for this mountain on the mainland, for protection from the wind. 25–30 knot headwind. Very slow going. Took forever. But we made it and set up a good camp with a cheery fire. Louise started screaming at Tom that she hadn’t gotten her way the whole trip (true). They had a good fight.

(Looking back I wish that I had backed Louise more. For her sake, and also, maybe we had no need to hurry so much. I understand that she had a commitment to get back to work at a certain time. But how important was that? We should have talked about that more. We will never go back and could have seen more. I did develop admiration for qualities that Tom brought, though: His single-mindedness, his focus and his physical strength. And I think that he was O.K. with the ocean experience I brought to the group.)

On the seventh we paddled just 6 miles and got picked up at Pilliken’s base camp at Rumilet. (64.57, -172.97) The truck broke down a lot. The driver would get out, lie on his back underneath and pound on something with a sledge hammer. Something about the clutch, I think. This seemed to work, for awhile. “No parts” he said.

We had quite a good ride on the back deck through the mountains. There were a lot of abandoned stone buildings and fox holes and fortifications: all old Soviet military, long gone. On a hill near Provideniya is a large scratching on the rocks: “Hail to the Soviet military men”.

Yesterday while riding into town I noticed a boat that I am familiar with: the Dagmar Aaen. It’s a 52 foot Norwegian sailing vessel captained by Arverd Fuchs. A couple of months ago this boat was tied up at the Maritime Museum in Vancouver. The crew took a tour of Feathercraft and Arverd bought a K1C Expedition kayak, which is now on deck. Last year they sailed from Norway across the N.W. Passage, then south to Vancouver. This year they hope to sail the N.E. Passage across Russia, back to Norway. But just like us, it seems that they can’t get permission to carry on. Soon they will be too late to start. It’s a beautiful boat. Oak construction hull, steel places reinforced, extra beams inside. 180 hp diesel, 1500 litres of fuel, with full barrels on deck they will have enough for the whole passage. They carry an ultra-light plane on board for ice reconnaissance.

8. The Fishing Business. (Entered October 31, 2020)

Of all the effects that our mass consumer society has had on the oceans, over-fishing has inflicted the most damage.

During the early 1980s I used to paddle out to an island up the B.C. coast off Campbell River and visit my friends Margaret and Eric. They were caretakers of a delightful old log cabin overlooking a pristine bay. I don’t know if they liked the term, but most people would have called them hippies. They had few possessions and preferred to live simply. Often Eric would catch a salmon for dinner by dropping a line off his kayak. It was easy for him. One day a seiner fishing boat came into the bay and stayed for a number of weeks. The crew wasn’t friendly; they told us to fuck off if we came close by. They must have been fishing illegally. Years later Eric didn’t bother fishing in the bay because the fish were all gone. This surprised me. I thought the fishing would recover, but it didn’t. It seems a new equilibrium had developed which didn’t include predator fish. This story has been repeated all over the world.

Recently Callum Roberts, an esteemed marine conservation biologist, and his graduate student, Ruth Thurstan, combed through old European fisheries records and compared them to catches being recorded today. They used a methodology developed by a nineteenth-century scientist named Walter Garstang. He divided the catch by the amount of power expended to get an estimate of availability of fish. He estimated that “steam trawlers had more than twice the fishing power of sailing vessels”. More recent developments of sonar and satellite imagery have increased “fishing power” many times more.

Roberts expected a decline, but was astonished that what he found was: “near annihilation”…”a fleet that in the 1880s consisted mostly of sail-powered boats open to the elements was far more successful at wrestling fish from the sea than we are now. For every hour spent fishing today, in boats bristling with the latest fish-finding electronics, fishers land just 6 percent of what they did 120 years ago.” Basically, 90 percent of the world’s fishing stock has been wiped out since industrialized fishing began. This finding has since been verified by other scientists. I remember seeing and catching more fish in my youth than now, so that’s my baseline, but my experience cannot encompass the catches that came before me, going back to pre-industrial times. Scientists call this a moving baseline. A century ago it was a gentle decline of abundance, but now we see it going off a cliff.

Industrial fishing is causing destruction on a massive scale. The biggest fleets are heavily subsidized by national governments and would not be profitable without them. And it’s happening globally. European authorities have ignored their own scientists and approved overfishing for decades. In Japan inshore fisheries are well managed but the offshore fleet is the most heavily subsidized in the world. China has by far the biggest fleet and is the worst offender. During August and September, 2020, 340 boats of China’s vast, 17,000-strong fleet were just offshore from the biodiverse Galapagos Islands. In 2017 Ecuador seized the Chinese reefer Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 within its Galapagos marine reserve. In its hold were 6,000 frozen sharks, including endangered hammerhead and whale sharks. In just one boat! Often these boats “go dark”. They turn off their transmitters so following them is difficult. Increasing numbers of “ghost” fishing boats from North Korea are washing up on Japanese shores, with bodies of fishermen still onboard. These have been pushed out of their traditional fishing grounds by aggressive Chinese boats and forced to fish illegally in much more exposed and dangerous Russian territories, where they have perished. There are now ways to possibly limit this destruction. Until recently once these fleets “went dark” they could not be traced. But in the past two years satellites have enabled researchers to accurately track all of these boats. If countries can agree on sensible fishing policies they can also follow the movements of all of the world’s fleets and hopefully shame and control the worst offenders.

In B.C., whether it has been hunting sea otters to near extinction or cutting down old growth forests, when large, corporate, for profit enterprises have been ceded control of non-renewable resources, over hunting or over extraction has been sure to follow. This is the case with our west coast fisheries. Until 1991 the vast majority of fishing was done by owner-operators working from their own communities. But then the federal government, in a bid to get increasing returns from a diminishing resource, brought in Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs). Fishermen were issued or bought quotas which could be sold to the highest bidder. Today the quota for over 90% of halibut and other species has been bought up by local and foreign owned corporations operating through shell companies. Quotas are now more valuable than fish. Fishing communities from White Rock in the south to Bella Bella on the mid coast and up to Prince Rupert in the north have suffered enormously, boats have been left idle and rotting and the fish are disappearing fast. Private fishing corporations benefit only a few company shareholders. For them foregoing harvest for sustainability reasons is money lost, down the drain. Better to get it all now. This systemic problem of running down the resource is happening world-wide. There are better ways to manage fisheries. More about this in later chapters.

The Cod Collapse in Atlantic Canada

In 1497 the English explorers only had to lower baskets into the ocean to pick up cod off Newfoundland’s shores. Local Canadian fishermen using traditional near-shore methods had a bonanza until the 1950s when large international factory ships began fishing off the Grand Banks. In 1976 the U.S. and Canada extended their marine jurisdiction to 200 nautical miles. Canadian factory ships replaced the international ones and continued to fish down the resource. The Canadian government, although warned by local fishermen, and acting on the behest of the large corporate fishing lobby, did not introduce a ban on cod fishing until 1992. By then it was too late. The situation had been worsened by the introduction of trawlers dragging the ocean floor, destroying the underlying eco-system, and catching young cod and other sea life that was a food source for the cod.

It has surprised many that the cod have not recovered. One explanation offered is that the smaller fish that used to be food for the cod have become more numerous and are now feasting on young cod. Another possibility mentioned is that the copepods (tiny crustaceans) that the cod used to feed on have moved north with the colder waters and have been replaced by smaller, less nutritious copepods. It is indicative of how little we know that even after the cod’s demise we cannot explain why they haven’t come back.

Chinooks and orcas on B.C.’s southern coast

The southern resident orcas that swim in my region of B.C. depend almost exclusively on chinook salmon (over 80% of their food intake). Chinook are the biggest salmon on the coast and the most nutritious. They are also in serious decline globally, in diverse areas such as Russia, Alaska, B.C and Washington State. In B.C there is only one population that is considered stable, and that is the Thompson River run. The rest are endangered, threatened, of special concern, or unknown.

There are only 76 whales left in the pods and recent autopsies of dead whales indicate starvation and disease, which is an indicator of malnutrition. Whales off the west coast have some of the highest levels of DDT and PCBs of any animal because they are at the apex of the food chain. When food is scarce and they have to live off their stored fat they begin to metabolize these and other poisons.

Because the decline of chinook salmon is global it has been suggested that they are especially susceptible to changing open sea conditions, such as warmer temperatures, toxic algae blooms and anoxia. Other species, such as pink salmon, which grow faster and return to their natal streams within two years, have not been affected as much.

There are also local contributing conditions. The Fraser River once had the biggest salmon run anywhere. It has long been the largest Canadian producer of chinook salmon. But, salmon need cold water to spawn and the Fraser is getting too warm. This will only become worse. A study by Prof. Garry Clarke in Nature Geoscience predicted that by 2100, 70% of glacier mass in B.C. and Alberta will be gone. Another study noted that before then 90% of glaciers that feed into the Fraser watershed will have disappeared. When water temperatures exceed 20 deg. C, fish have great difficulty reaching spawning grounds. This has already been happening. Without glacier melt chinook will have an increasingly difficult time.

There are things that we can do to give the chinook and the whales that depend on them a chance. A study done by Simon Fraser University found that of the multitude of floodgates along the 1,400 kilometers of salmon habitat in the lower Fraser Valley, only 10% were open, even though there was no threat of flooding at the time. Many were inoperable. It found that the faulty floodgates severely impacted the survival of juvenile salmon. No one has been checking on this for years and no one is accountable. Repairing and opening these floodgates can be done right away. Other habitat issues, such as the destruction of gravel spawning bars and over-development need to be addressed.

Surely one of the most important ways to preserve the chinook and the whales is to reduce the catch of salmon heading into the Fraser River. In 2018 the chinook fishery was finally closed in some areas. But it had little effect. Although the Canadian Federal Government has promised to manage the fishery more conservatively, in one of the most important areas — designated as Area 20 — off the southwest coast of Vancouver Island, the catch has increased from 18,000 in 2014 to 28,000 in 2018. Conservationists have no confidence in how the Department of Fisheries & Oceans (DFO) is managing this crisis.

In October, 2012 the much anticipated Cohen Inquiry on the B.C. salmon fishery was released. The 1,100 page document provided many recommendations to improve the salmon fishery, especially for sockeye, including reminding the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) that its primary mandate was the conservation of wild fish, not the promotion of open net fish farms. It stated: “I therefore conclude that the potential harm posed to Fraser River sockeye from salmon farms is serious or irreversible. Disease transfer occurs between wild and farmed fish, and I am satisfied that salmon farms along the sockeye migration route have the potential to introduce exotic diseases and to exacerbate endemic diseases that could have a negative impact on Fraser”. Justice Cohen recommended the permanent closure of fish farms in the areas where wild salmon are most exposed to fish farm pens unless the operators can verify their industry is having “minimum impact”.

Most of its recommendations have not been acted on.

The fish farms remain.

However, In May, 2019, in response to massive public concern about the sad plight of the local fish-feeding orca population, the Canadian government issued new rules, including:

; requiring ships to stay 400 meters away from whales

; a voluntary slowdown of commercial vessels through Haro Strait and Boundary Pass, (which are favoured routes for the whales)

; closing some areas to vessel traffic and fishing.

One of the areas to be closed is along some of the Gulf Islands, including my sighting area directly below me, where I have witnessed dozens of boats, large and small, harass the orcas as they make their way west through Swanson Channel. This may be too little too late. Photos captured in early May, 2019 show one of the prime matriarchs, Princess Angeline (or J17) and her youngest daughter, Kiki, are starving. The photos show the telltale “peanut head” that indicates a loss of blubber. Her ten year old son, Moby, still relies on her wisdom for fishing and family matters. No restrictions were indicated for the commercial seine and gill fleet, which includes the largest commercial operator on the coast. The harvest of the last healthy run of herring, which the chinook feed on, was allowed to proceed.

There is a big shift coming in where the fish will be. Fish are adapted to limited temperature ranges. With a 2 degree warming by the end of the century fish stocks will migrate north 236 km along the North Pacific coast and 100 km on the Atlantic coast. If it remains business as usual and climate warms by 4 degrees (which is the path we are on) on the Pacific side fish will migrate 1,500 km north, while on the Atlantic coast it will be 600 km. On the Pacific coast the temperature difference from north to south is smaller, so the fish have to travel farther to find cooler water. Cold water species such as salmon and pollock will have severely limited range.

Chinook salmon migrate up the Yukon River and its tributaries over 3,000 kilometers. This is the longest migration of any salmon. In Teslin, the Elders of the Tlingit Nation were long warning about the decline in size and abundance and over 20 years ago they stopped fishing for them. Today when people of the Tlingit Nation want a salmon for feasting they have to fly it in. Now the Teslin Tlingit Council is working on a novel way to re-start the runs, called in-stream fertilization. Fertilized eggs, sourced from nearby Morley River, are put into Deadman Creek, a tributary of Teslin Lake. It is thought that this will be more effective than hatchery practices which keep fertilized eggs until they grow to fry stage, and then release them. This new process will ensure that only the strongest survive. It may take eight years to see if the chinook salmon return.


Known as a foundation fish of the West Coast, herring used to be hugely abundant. Until the 1960s they were caught in the hundreds of thousands of tonnes annually and rendered into fishmeal and oil. Then came the great herring collapse.

Most are now caught in gill nets for roe to be used in Kazunoko, a delight for sushi lovers in Japan. The roe is stripped from the female fish with the males and the rest going for fishmeal. Traditionally the Heiltsuk and other First Nations have pulled the roe off sea weed and eel grass. They still do. As they point out, the herring, which live up to 15 years, are not harmed and will be back to lay more eggs the following year. Ironically, the main market for the roe is in Japan, and their tastes are changing. Demand is way down and profits are meagre.

In 2015 the Heiltsuk, realizing that the herring in the Central Coast were in serious decline, stopped their own fishers from fishing with gill nets off Spiller Channel and protested against opening the fishery to others. In a tense standoff the Heiltsuk occupied the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) office in Bella Bella until the government agreed to a joint management agreement to reduce quota to just 215 tonnes. They also got the right to be on DFO boats during herring season.

Many observers wonder about the justification for fishing herring. So many species, including predatory fish, seals, sea lions, gulls, cormorants and orcas rely on them for food.

In an odd symmetry, 80% of the orcas’ diet is chinook salmon and 80% of the fish chinook eat are herring. There is only one viable herring roe fishery open to seine and gill nets left along the entire coast from Washington State to Alaska. Despite warning from numerous environmental groups the DFO opened this fishery, located between Nanaimo and Comox in March 2019. Roe was removed from the females and most of the rest was ground up for fishmeal and pet food. The DFO allocated 20% of the estimated biomass for the catch. However, such estimates are notoriously difficult to do and they badly overestimated the size of the run.

According to reports from Russia and other cold water areas, herring are in serious decline throughout the North Pacific. This may suggest a common cause. We know that warming waters inhibit the growth of phytoplankton and copepods, on which the herring feed, and reduce the amount of oxygen in the water. The number and size of anoxic dead zones in the North Pacific is increasing. Another cause is the decline of various types of seaweed throughout the Salish Sea and along the west coast to California. Herring lay their eggs on seaweed and eel grass. Clear cut logging may have diminished growth by muddying the waters, reducing photosynthesis. Perhaps the biggest losses besides over-fishing are caused by voracious sea urchins that eat the stems and holdfasts seaweed. Unfortunately the population of sea urchins has exploded lately. In northern California purple sea urchins have increased by 10,000% since 2014 and destroyed 90% of the massive kelp forests. These urchins have expanded up to Oregon where 350 million urchins were estimated on one reef alone. It seems inevitable that they will make their way up the coast to B.C. In Howe Sound, B.C., green urchins have decimated the kelp forest, leaving an “urchin barren”. This explosion in the numbers of urchins was preceded in 2013 by the demise of their main predator, the sunflower sea star. In what has been called one of the worst wildlife die-offs ever recorded, millions of sea stars from California to Alaska succumbed to a “wasting disease” that caused them to rapidly dissolve into goo. Sea otters eat sea urchins too, but they prefer the larger red urchin, which is meatier and has commercial value. Scientists have found that the healthiest kelp forests are in habitats with sea stars, which will eat almost anything, and sea otters.

There is hope. In 2006 members of the Squamish Streamkeepers Society noticed dead herring roe on government pilings near Squamish. They surmised that creosote on the pilings was killing the roe so they started covering the pilings with landscaping cloth, which is safe for the roe. They had no budget and worked on their own time. In 2006 work also began on cleaning up the nearby Brittania copper mine which was one of the largest metal pollution sources in North America. Over 4 billion litres of water were treated and 255,000 kilograms of heavy metals were removed. Also in 2006 the Woodfibre Pulp Mill, which had been contributing to the pollution of Howe Sound, was closed. With these actions the water quality in Howe Sound began to be clean enough for herring to thrive. The following year the streamkeepers were astonished to find nearly 100% of the roe had hatched. By 2014 dolphins were seen in the sound feeding on the herring and in 2019 orcas made a big splash. The Streamkeepers have also installed nets for herring roe in False Creek, in the heart of Vancouver, and the herring are returning there too. John Matsen, one of the members of the Streamkeepers, has said that the herring eat phytoplankton and just about everything else eats herring. He stated that herring need just two things: a protected spawning area (they will lay their eggs on just about any surface, not just seaweed) and a rearing area. I would add to that: unpolluted water.

In March, 2019, after seeing reports that herring were making a comeback, members of the Skwxwu7mesh (Squamish First Nation) anchored hemlock boughs secured to long maple poles in water across from Stawamus Chief. In their language the word for March is “Temlhawt”, which translates as “Herring Time”. It had been a century since they had harvested herring and they had to reach out to elders and members of nations farther north to learn the traditional techniques. About a week later they pulled the boughs out covered in herring roe. They celebrated and feasted right there and then brought the treasured catch to the homes of the elders. Below is a quote from Charlene Joseph:

“This experience highlights the importance of rehabilitating our lands and waters, and shows how resilient our Mother Earth is… In the words of Margret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” (

A few years ago, just as the herring were starting to return to Howe Sound, the Streamkeepers were startled to see commercial fish boats scooping them up. Word of the herring return had reached the DOF and they immediately approved the fishery. Unfortunately, this has been the pattern for years. In March of 2019, DOF approved the herring fishery south of Nanaimo based on catching 20% of a projected population biomass of 122,291 metric tonnes, but only 85,700 tonnes returned. According to First Nation and conservation groups, the biomass has declined 60% since 2016. The DOF also approved the same fishery in 2020, despite a petition signed by a hundred and fifteen thousand people demanding the fishery be closed .

The Department of Fisheries relies on a baseline measurement of populations from the 1950s. Unfortunately, decades of industrial fishing before that had decimated the herring. First Nations and groups such as Pacific Wild, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and Conservancy Hornby Island tell us that there used to be major spawn all up and down the coast. Near Victoria, the Gorge, Ross Bay, James Bay, and Odgen point all lost their fisheries by the end of the 1930s. Other areas in the Gulf Islands, including Pender Island, where I like to hang out, were fished out during the 70s and 80s.

The DOF has long favored large corporate fishing interests over communities and individuals. One company, Canfisco, owned by the Jim Pattison Group, has more herring licenses than anyone else and would lobby strenuously against any curtailment of the fishery. Although the company clearly has the ear of government, (its chief operating officer was once Premier of B.C.) it does not have history or science on its side. The first step to bring back herring, the main food source for Chinook salmon and ultimately sea lions, orcas, and people, is to stop the killing.

Other steps would include making the environment safe for herring roe by covering creosote and pressure treated pilings and installing nets for roe in areas where herring used to spawn. It is really exciting that this worked so well in Howe Sound. In addition, I wonder: if some hemlock boughs or netting were anchored in the waters off Denman and Hornby Islands just before the March spawn (as the Squamish people did) and then a very small portion of the spawn was transported and immersed in other parts of the coast, could these areas be effectively re-seeded? Could traditional knowledge help us recover our Eden? This could be a true path of reconciliation if members of First Nations, local communities and marine biologists worked together and succeeded in helping nature restore lost abundance.

Herring Whisperers

In early 2020 I got the bright idea that maybe herring could be enticed back to Victoria’s inner harbour, a bay that once had a big population. Most of the spawning grounds, including eel grass and seaweed, have been ripped up or built over. I teamed up with Jim Shortreed and another guy. The other guy disappeared once real work had to be done but Jim turned out to be golden. He lives full time with his girlfriend on a sailboat, whom he met while sailing in the South Pacific, and is used to hard work on the ocean. I sewed seventy-six, 8-foot long nets that hang from aluminum rods and are weighted down with rocks in a sleeve sewn onto the base. The idea is that if herring happen by they might spawn on your nets. This program did work in False Creek, Vancouver. However, much like a spider on its web there are no guarantees. Jim figured out where to put the nets and we installed most of them at four locations. We even got some funding for the nets from Joachim Carolsfeld of World Fisheries Trust. Unfortunately, Jim, who is a helicopter mechanic, and claims to be retired, got called to B.C.’s hot, dry interior to service choppers used for fighting forest fires just as the Covid-19 pandemic started. That left just me and my long-suffering wife to clean the nets. Guck grows on the nets and this inhibits herring from spawning so each net has to be cleaned at least once a week. Every other day, for two months we spent hours bending over docks and brushing off the green slime. Theresa says that next year she will definitely not be playing. One location for our nets was the Harbour Air Seaplane Base. As the pandemic worsened they closed their Victoria operation and dock access to the nets was barred. This meant that to service the nets I had to paddle over on one of our sit-on-top kayaks (a Java). I didn’t ask for permission. One day a guy wandered down the dock and started watching me cleaning from the other side of the strong glass barricade. He introduced himself as the CEO of Harbour Air. “Oh, oh,” I thought to myself as I envisioned what he must be looking at: a skinny old guy bending over the dock, covered in green slime. But he said that I must be one of the herring guys and thanked me for our work, which he supported wholeheartedly. This is also the company that is pioneering the use of electric motors on its float planes and hopes to convert the whole, short-range fleet to electricity. I like this company! (More on this later). Although we call ourselves the Herring Whisperers we have yet to whisper in a single herring. Jim is now busy looking into new initiatives that might improve our chances. Maybe next year.

Reverence, Resilience, Rejuvenation

In our mass consumption society we have lost our reverence: for this incredible blue planet we call home and all of its life within. Hopefully, there are signs that we are regaining this. Environmental groups everywhere are teaming up with governments, industry and First Nations to chart new, beneficial ways to organize our societies. Despite the harm that we have done to the oceans there have been few extinctions. In many areas once a Marine Protected Area (MPA) has been created and enforced, abundant and diverse life has returned and flourished. Along foreshores marshes have been re-introduced. Clam and oyster beds have been cultured and increased. Even coral reefs are starting to be re-seeded. There still is time and hope but we must act quickly.

9. Bottom Trawling (Entered December 1, 2020)

For over 25 years I commuted to work three days a week in my kayak. Rain or shine, all seasons. This is the perfect way to start the day. If it was a calm day I’d just ease into the kayak and push offshore. Slowly the susurration of the sea would tell me what currents lurk beneath, and smells wafting in the air would indicate what seabirds and other creatures are nearby. This information would drift in without any conscious thought. I would often be mesmerized by the feel of the water pushing quietly against the soft skin of my kayak. A very gentle awakening. On stormy days I would have to be instantly mindful of the waves buffeting me, and the wind pushing against me one way or another. In both cases I would feel energized and alive by the time I reached the narrow inlet that separated the open bay from False Creek. But often, as I was approaching the bridge, a fishing boat would come towards me and disrupt my reverie. It wasn’t the rough, unpainted ugliness of the boat that upset me, nor the black smoke funneling out of its never-tuned diesel engine, which made me choke, nor even that it would often come at me on the wrong side of the channel, forcing me against the pilings. No, it was what was on the deck: a large pole running diagonally from above the wheelhouse down over the transom. It was a bottom trawling fish boat and it was off to do a day’s serious bottom-dragging.

A bottom trawl is a large, funnel shaped net held open at the large end by a beam or rectangular shaped “otter boards” that are dragged along the sea bed. The trawl digs up to 15 cm of the seabed, creating a turbid cloud, which attracts fish. The fish tire at the front of the trawl and end up at the small, or “cod end” of the net. The trawl scars and damages the seabed. 90% of the fish caught may be “by-catch” and are thrown away. Trawling along the sea bed destroys the complex environment that nourishes marine plants and fauna, leaving the bottom smooth and lifeless. This doesn’t just damage the bottom, benthic layer of the sea. The whole water column up to the surface is affected. Studies have shown that after a few years of a moratorium on bottom trawling in a defined area, the overall catch there increases substantially as the sea bed starts to recover. (Callum Roberts, The Ocean of Life, pg. 295) That is not always the case. A deep sea study off the west coast of U.S. found almost no recovery after several years because the sea floor had been permanently damaged. (“Ploughing the deep sea floor”, Nature, September 5, 2012) The UN estimates that up to 95% of global ocean damage is due to bottom trawling while landing just 27% of the world’s fish catch.

The following is a quote about bottom trawling:

During the reign of Edward 111…a petition was presented to Parliament in 1376 calling for the prohibition of a “subtlety contrived instrument called the wondyrchoum”. This was an early beam trawl with a wooden beam, and consisted of a net 6 m (18 ft.) long and 3 m (10 ft.) wide,”of so small a mesh, no manner of fish, however small, entering within it can pass out and is compelled to remain therein and be taken…by means of which instrument the fishermen aforesaid take so great abundance of small fish aforesaid, that they know not what to do with them, but feed and fatten the pigs with them, to the great damage of the whole commons of the kingdom, and the destruction of the fisheries in like places, for which they pray remedy.”

Footnote: Collins, J.W. (1887) “The Beam Trawl Fishery of Great Britain with notes on Beam-Trawling in other Countries”.

Even in medieval times, the effects of trawling (as well as small net size, and feeding fish to livestock) were understood by people connected to the sea. Yet, industrial-scale trawling has been expanded worldwide. Callum Roberts[1] considers industrial fishing to be the most destructive activity done by man, and bottom trawling to be the worst of the lot.

Progress is being made in some countries. In Norway, where trawling has been estimated to have damaged or destroyed 30% to 50% of the lophelia coral, the Sula and Rost reefs are now closed to trawling. In the U.S., the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has banned bottom trawling off most of its Pacific coast as well as restricting it off its other coasts. (In New England the Trump government has since reversed some of these closures.) There are restrictions in sensitive areas in Scotland, Australia and New Zealand, and in Palau all trawling is banned. Kiribati announced in 2006 the formation of the world’s first deep sea marine reserve area, but the country only has one patrol vessel. Chile recently announced a ban on trawling over seamounts. Hong Kong and Belize recently enacted a ban. Although some progress has been made in these and other countries, a proposal by Palau and other South Pacific nations for a UN ban on all trawling in 2006 failed to gain sufficient support and was blocked by nations with large industrial fleets, including Canada.

West Africa’s coast has long been one of the world’s richest fisheries. Traditionally, fishing has produced up to a quarter of the jobs and two-thirds of all animal protein in the region. But these days giant Asian and Russian trawlers routinely catch 250 tonnes of fish a day while ripping up the sea bed. This is more than 50 local pirogues[2] would catch in a year. Local leaders are easily corrupted by the fishing companies and traditional fishing is dying out. It is contributing to the mass exodus and migration of people from this area and to the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. Trawlers routinely under-report their catch by 50%.

Bottom trawls represented 26% of the catch in BC and 28 per cent of the total landed value of fisheries in eastern Canada, about $500-million, in 2001.(April 23/18, Globe)

It began in B.C. in the 1990s, initially in fairly shallow water. But, as the fishing declined due to seabed disturbances the fishers moved farther offshore. Here is a quote from a study published by Ocean Networks Canada in 2016:

“Bottom trawling represents the most pervasive human impact on the world’s continental margins, even when compared to oil and gas exploration, waste and litter disposal, and mining. As fish stocks become depleted in coastal areas, its footprint is steadily descending into deeper waters. Direct effects of bottom trawling have been extensively reviewed in scientific literature and include scraping and ploughing of the seafloor, sediment resuspension with a smothering impact on the seafloor fauna (benthos), destruction of non-target species, and organic loading from the dumping of waste from at-sea processing. Indirect effects include post-fishing mortality and long-term, trawl-induced changes in the benthos, such as reduced diversity and biomass, and changes in ecosystem structure and habitat heterogeneity.”

In response to this and other studies, a voluntary agreement, based on European standards, was reached with the trawlers association in 2012 to limit the maximum trawling depth to 800 meters and ban it from impacting coral and sponge reefs. (Ocean Networks Canada, “The cumulative effects of bottom trawling and low oxygen on marine life”, Jan 30, 2017). This is difficult to enforce. A better strategy would be to just ban all bottom dragging.

A UBC study found that globally trawling accounts for 60% of all discarded bycatch. It also noted that bottom trawlers are expensive to operate and generally receive generous government subsidies to survive. On the other hand, small scale fisheries employing traps have a higher landed value, do not require subsidies and employ far more people.


(UBC, Science Direct, Fisheries Research

Volume 206, October 2018, Pages 57–64

“Reconstructing global marine fishing gear use: Catches and landed values by gear type and sector”)

Dredging. A fishing dredge is similar to a bottom trawl in that it is dragged along the sea bed. Although it generally covers a smaller area than a trawl it digs deeper. It is constructed of heavy steel in the form of a scoop, often with teeth on the leading edge and is especially effective at catching clams, although also used on oysters, scallops and other bottom dwellers. In some cases hydraulic jets are used to create a slurry of sand and clams which can be scooped up with a metal mesh container or brought to the surface continuously with a type of escalator. Damage to the ocean floor can be even worse than that of trawlers.

The scientific case against bottom trawling and dredging is overwhelming. Scraping clean the ocean floor impacts the whole water column above it. This effect is hard to measure and is often conveniently ignored by supporters. Trawling is hugely destructive and fisheries would be healthier if it was banned. This one act, although difficult to achieve given corporate and national interests in short term profit, would, over time, be hugely beneficial to sea life worldwide. It is an issue that should be demanded regionally, nationally and internationally. Where is the UN on this? Or Canada?

[1] Callum Michael Roberts is a marine conservation biologist, oceanographer, author, research scholar at the University of York, England.

[2] In French West Africa, pirogues refer to handcrafted banana-shaped boats used by traditional fishermen. In Madagascar, it also includes the more elaborate Austronesian lakana outrigger canoe. Pirogues are usually propelled by paddles that have one blade (as opposed to a kayak paddle, which has two).

10. Drift Nets (Entered December 1, 2020)

Drift nets are long (up to 90 km) free-floating nets supported by floats at the surface and weights below that cause the nets to hang vertically for up to 30 meters. All sorts of marine life, from fish and birds to sea mammals such as sea lions, seals, dolphins and sperm whales get caught up in these massive nets. Up to 90% of the catches are viewed as by-catch and thrown dead back into the sea, hence the term “walls of death”.

In 1987 the U.S. placed a limit of 1.5 nm (nautical miles) on net length, and in the early 1990s the European Union and UN banned nets longer than 2.5 km (1.35 NM). Mainly as a result of Japanese drift net fishing in the north Pacific in the 1980s, in 1992 the UN banned drift net fishing in the high seas (international waters). However, in the open ocean there is little or no enforcement and many countries continue to deploy massive nets.

Economics plays a big role in this slaughter. As countries become wealthier their populations demand more and better protein, in this case, from the sea. Countries expand their fishing fleets to cover the globe. This happened in the Atlantic as European countries prospered from the industrial revolution, in Japan after the 1970s, and is happening in China and other Asian countries now. China has a huge fleet that plunders the waters off its client states in West Africa. The industrial drift net industry is still mining the Mediterranean Sea of its marine bounty, although with diminishing returns. It is common for drift nets to be abandoned or lost at sea due to inclement weather. These nets, which are made of synthetic, non-biodegradable materials, are known as “ghost nets” and continue trapping and killing animals for decades or longer.

A recent study calls for a complete ban on fishing outside of nations’ exclusive economic zones (EEZ): “Only about 0.1 percent of fish live exclusively beyond the 200 km boundaries. Fishing stocks would benefit from the replenishment gained in non-fishing zones. Banning high seas fishing would especially benefit tuna, swordfish and many species of sharks, which roam widely. [1]

In 2014 The European Commission proposed to prohibit all types of driftnets in European waters. This proposal met with disagreement from individual countries and fishing organizations such as Britain’s National Federation of Fishermen’s Organizations, which pointed out that local, small-scale fishers using drift nets would be caught up in the ban and actually are no more harmful than fishing with other fishing techniques. It seems that the main problem, and the one that the Commission should be trying to address, is the scale of the fishery, which is increasingly industrial, corporate, and driven by short-term profit.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) has issued a “Code of Conduct” concerning fishing, but it is too often ignored. Many countries do not regulate properly boats carrying their flag. About 30% of fish caught worldwide are thought to be by illegal fisheries. 30% of pirated fish are from one country: Indonesia. However, most of the boats there are from other countries. The fish they catch can end up in the supply chain of North American supermarkets.

Recently, Associated Press has reported that thousands of fishermen in Indonesia are slaves, mostly Myanmar citizens taken by Thai syndicates. About a quarter of these slaves are locked up in the town of Benjina and forced to live and work in cruel conditions.

When you look at the problems associated with industrial fishing, such as bottom trawling, drift nets, and the capture of regulating bodies, it is easy to see that they stem from a common cause: big corporations together with corrupt governments are pursuing short-term profits at the expense of long-term sustainability. Until these operations are reined in, the plunder will continue.

[1] “(Scientific Reports, Feb 12/15)

From Pender Island cliff looking south-west across Swanson Channel. The island above the deer’s back is Portland Island, which, like much of the Gulf Islands, was homesteaded by Hawaiians in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The apples from that era are still delicious.

11. Noise (Entered December 1, 2020)

When I was 17 my sister got a job greeting people at the local Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) for a real estate firm that was promoting building lots on one of the southern Gulf islands situated close to the south east shore of Vancouver Island. My dad became interested and the company flew us in a float plane to Pender Island. There he paid about $2,800 for a small, but spectacular, property on a cliff overlooking Swanson Channel to the south. They had a tiny cabin built and made plans for a real home but things were falling apart for our family and money was tight. They kept the property though. Years later my sisters and I pooled our resources built a small house here.

Below the cabin rocky terraces that support Gary oak, arbutus, Douglas fir and grand fir trees are connected by steep deer trails to the sea 80 meters below and it’s ever changing tidal currents, birds, otters, seals and whales. In spring the walled terraces that the deer cannot get to are covered in purple camas flowers which are one of the 91 plants and animals that live in this unique ecosystem that are on the province’s species at risk list. This whole Gary oak ecosystem is rare and blessed with a mild, almost Mediterranean climate with the longest frost-free season in Canada. Although you can take a ferry and drive to our place, I like to paddle my kayak. In summer when the weather is good and north westerlies prevail I can paddle right up to the rocks below our place, haul my kayak up onto some logs and hike up. In winter, which is when I tend to come more, I put in at a nearby cove because our shore is totally exposed to a south east fetch, which is where the storms come from, and the winds can be severe. For over 50 years I’ve marvelled how fir trees once small sprouted up way above my head. I’ve witnessed arbutus trees turn pale and fall, moss brighten from brown to iridescent green with the coming of winter, guillemots and cormorants paint the steep conglomerate cliffs white with their guano and seals alternatively thrive and almost disappear. People of the Tsawout First Nation lived on the island for at least 5,000 years. Then European diseases decimated their numbers. For them the smallpox epidemic was much, much worse than Covid-19. They had no defence. There may not be a record of how many people perished, but in other communities the death toll exceeded 80%. The fractured community moved with survivors of other villages to nearby Sannich Peninsula. When I think back about my sister having that obscure job one summer and my father buying the property on a whim, I realize that this was one of the luckiest things that ever happened to me and my family, and it is still ongoing. Although I don’t live here full time I am grounded here. I do wonder how much more connected to this land and surrounding sea the Tsawout people must have been living entirely off the bounty that exists here.

Looking south across Swanson Channel at Moresby Island in Canada. On far left is Stuart Island in the USA.

Swanson Channel — Journal, August, 2016

I am sitting on a bench on a bluff high above the south-facing shore of Pender Island, B.C. Looking south, across Swanson Channel, I can see the low, symmetrical hill on Moresby Island, which is in Canada. To the southeast, across Boundary Pass, I see Stuart Island, which lies within the American San Juan Islands Group. On a clear summer day I can spy through my telescope and watch Americans sitting around a picnic table at the lighthouse at Turn Point, eating lunch. This is where the big south-bound tankers and freighters turn to enter Haro Straight.

Below me, on terraces stretching down to the water are gnarled Garry oak trees, Douglas firs and arbutus trees with ever-peeling red bark that reveals smooth, creamy surfaces underneath. You cannot walk by an arbutus tree without running your hand over these luxurious, cool, polished surfaces. I often see deer: so many, in fact, they are threatening the growth of arbutus trees in many places. They enjoy munching on the young shoots.

With my telescope I check for orca (killer) whales. The orcas that I am looking for are part of the J,K, or L pod members that frequent Georgia Strait in the summer months. They often head westward from Stuart Island across Haro Strait, along Swanson Channel and around the south west end of Pender. It is easy to spot them. You don’t look for fins or spouts. No, just look for a huddle of power boats, which reminds me of a flock of seagulls zeroing in on a boil of herring or patch of garbage. The whales will be amongst them. Professional whale chasers and amateurs alike claim that their activities are not harmful to the whales. But, how do they know that? They seem to be loving them to death.

There are presently 76 whales, including two babies. (Note: as of Oct., 2019, there are 73). Biologists say this is not enough to be sustainable, especially since there are few breeding females left. These orcas hunt salmon, especially chinook, which are the largest and have the richest meat. How could these whales hunt the diminishing number of chinook amidst the racket put out by the power boats?

I have noticed that when the Orcas are being tailed by a swarm of boats they tend to swim in a pretty straight line, like in a procession, and not dive much. Sometimes, though, one or a few laggards come closer to shore and are unnoticed by the boats. These ones often behave differently. They pause more, dive more and change directions. I don’t know if this is a deliberate strategy on the whales’ part to spring a few hungry members, or just chance. You wouldn’t even notice this behaviour if you were not situated above the fray.

Brain scientists (or is it brainy scientists?) regard a high degree of folding in the cerebral cortex to be an indication of high intelligence. The only animals to have more folds in their cortexes than humans are dolphins. Orcas belong to the dolphin family and are their largest member. So, what, with their big, folded brains, do they think about?

They communicate and hunt with sound, which travels much faster and farther in water than in air. It is thought that at certain depths whales can communicate for over a thousand miles using SOFAR (Sound Fixing and Ranging) channels. Each orca pod has its own style of call and also individual member calls. They can problem-solve, engage in abstract thought and remember details of their environment over long distances and time. Their communities are complex and supportive, with old mom, the matriarch, leading the way. They hunt as a group using echolocation. Orcas process sound as visual images and can readily identify family members and prey. What their thoughts are is anybody’s guess, (I can’t even surmise my wife’s thoughts) but surely they must be at least thinking about family, their marine environment, and hunting. One thing for sure, is that because they rely on sound for everything from hunting to vast distance communication, they must be extremely sensitive to loud noises. There is a rare condition called hyperacusis in which humans experience intense ear pain whenever there is any loud noise. These people can become so isolated they become hermits. There is no known cure. It may be that dolphins and whales, with their highly evolved, acute hearing, are suffering from a form of mass hyperacusis.

Rare snow cover on Pender Island. On left is Stuart Island, USA

Seismic testing is done to prospect for offshore oil. During these tests exceedingly loud, 200 to 300 decibel air guns are shot off simultaneously every 20 to 30 seconds. The tests can last for months. Shortly after a series of seismic survey tests were done in January 2015, off Farewell Spit, on the north shore of New Zealand, 110 pilot whales beached and at least 59 died. Symptoms reported by of sound damage on whales beached off Peru included bleeding in the middle ear, fracture and cracks in mandibular fat, air bubble invasions, pulmonary emphysema and massive destruction of lung tissue.

According to a study published in Nature, international journal of science, in order to meet the target of global temperatures not exceeding 2 degrees C above the average before the industrial era and thereby reduce the chances of disastrous global warming (and, incidentally, ocean acidification) most coal, oil and gas reserves and all unconventional reserves must stay in the ground. This includes all oil and gas that might be found under the sea. Since all proven reserves amount to three times more than what can be safely burned (and a study by The Carbon Tracker Initiative indicates that it is five times more, and a safer goal would be 1.5 degree C.), it is reasonable to ask “Why are the oil companies still seeking new reserves?”[1]

It’s all about profits and share price. The values of coal, oil, and gas company shares are still dependent on the size of their strategic reserves, even though it would be collective suicide for us to burn more than a fifth of them. Since the easily extractable fuels have already been found, the fossil fuel companies are going after the hard-to-get ones, such as deposits under the sea. They have to increase their primary assets in order to justify their high salaries and “enhance shareholder value”. This is what managers of these corporations are paid to do and no amount of public relations campaigning or lobbying will change that. Should fish, whales and dolphins die so that the fossil fuel companies can keep exploring for fuels, which, if burned, will speed up global warming and acidify the oceans?

There is some progress on this and it concerns respecting indigenous peoples’ rights to traditional practices. On July 23, 2010 a judge in Iqaluit, NWT ruled in favour of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and granted an injunction against seismic testing in Lancaster Sound, the gateway to the Northwest Passage and home to prolific sea life, including beluga whales and narwhals. In August 2017 an agreement was made establishing the Tallurutiup Imanga/Lancaster Sound Marine Protected Area. It covers an area twice the size of the Province of Nova Scotia and is Canada’s largest marine protected area.

How did this agreement come about? In the 1960s Canada’s federal government granted 14 million offshore acres in Lancaster Sound to 12 oil companies, without consulting local Inuit. They protested against this for years. Finally, in 2015 Shell signed off on their claims. The agreement calls for a special federal cabinet to work with their Inuit counterparts in a “whole-of-government approach”. A key part of this success is that there has never been a large-scale commercial fishery in the area, because of the sea ice. So, there are no well-funded fishery lobbyists straining to catch the ear of government. And searching for and extracting oil and gas in the high arctic can be prohibitively expensive. In other parts of Canada, and indeed all over the world, there are competing interests for ocean resources. By far the richest and most powerful are the fossil fuel and fishing lobbies. And that is the problem. These companies are bound by their charters to produce maximum profit for their owners and shareholders on a one, two or five year time table. They fish down the resource. They pay to influence governments to work in their favour. They pay to elect malleable politicians and to influence media. Today that power is directly opposed to the health of life in the oceans. 90% of predator species have been eliminated and these large companies are going after the rest. Only by breaking this power can we start on a path of regeneration. The great regional and global fishing corporations must be brought to heel.

[1] (Christophe McGlade & Paul Ekins, Nature Journals, 517, 187–190, 08 January 2015

Rounding Cape Horn

12. A No Fish Story: Cape Horn (Entered January 1, 2021)

In the fall of 1969 I took a year off university studies and hitchhiked to South America. I had been spending my summers working as a prospector for small, gypo mining exploration companies in northern Canada and had managed to put aside enough money for an eleven-month trip. While in bush camp I had also been able to study elementary Spanish, just enough to get by on.

My most southerly journey was to Puerto Montt in Chile. It was a frontier town and reminded me of places I had worked out of in Canada, such as Whitehorse and Yellowknife. It was also the jumping-off point to Patagonia, that great wilderness of mountains, glaciers, deep bays, islands and seas. Over time the place called me back. For me, a return visit would be a chance to compare my own beautiful coast, although scarred by many logging clearcuts, to a more pristine, forgotten land with many strange, endemic species.

The southern tip of South America juts into the southern ocean like a great extended middle finger. It impinges the western flow of seas that pass between it and the Antarctic Peninsula across Drake Passage. The incessant westerlies force the seas up over shallow ground and against unseen currents moving in the opposite direction. Huge waves are not uncommon, with some over 30 meters (100 ft.) high.

In 1994 in the Bering Strait Tom, Dick and I had talked about my idea of “rounding the Horn” by kayak. We had discussed scenes from Mutiny on The Bounty where the ship, after a month of trying to round the horn from the east in terrible seas, had been forced to turn back and go all the way around Cape Hope in Africa. Captain Bligh had worried about being too late in the season to make the passage, and I wondered about the actual conditions off Cape Horn in summer months. At any given time there are perhaps four storm systems generating very large wave formations zooming in a clockwise direction around the Antarctic. If your timing is unlucky and you run into one of these systems you will fare no better than Captain Bligh, and perhaps much worse. The key to success is to be as close as possible to the Horn and wait for an opening in the weather conditions. This sort of planning is easy to contemplate sitting in front of a computer or chart. It is much different when you are camped on an open slope in a land with 278 days of rainfall, 120 inches a year, in a tent that is in danger of being blown away. But, compared to being offshore on a wooden sailing ship, it is better. Since you are traveling by kayak you have the unique ability to haul your craft ashore and wait near the action in relative safety (if not comfort). When you judge it is the right time you go fast and hard. Things change really quickly at the Horn.

When I outlined to Gerry, my new paddling partner, my proposed trip around Cape Horn, and the conditions we would likely encounter, he jumped right in. He had gone on some coastal kayaking trips but this would be his first open ocean experience. What he brought to our team was enthusiasm and a lot of diverse skills based on his hiking and climbing experiences, including first aid. He also offered to cook! As a professional photographer for a major newspaper he would be able to document our progress. I designed a special frame for holding his waterproof Pelican case so he could mount his cameras on the deck of our double kayak. He wasn’t going to be a powerhouse up in the bow cockpit, but I knew that he was fit, knowledgeable in a lot of areas, articulate, and would be a good partner.

Gerry and I met up with our teammates at the Santiago airport, Chile on January 1, 1997. First out of the gate, as expected, strode Tom. He greeted us with a wide smile and extended his big paw out for a crunching handshake. Dick followed. He was the same gregarious, warm guy I remembered.

The next day Dick and I headed to Chile’s main port, Valparaiso, to get charts for south Patagonia. Following instructions from our hotel staff we first took a subway to the Universidad de Chile and then walked down a fine, tree-lined street to a nice, modern bus depot. There we got on a bus for the coast. We passed by some estancias, some shacks, with much of the land too dry for anything. As the bus came down through the barren hills we could see numerous navy ships out past the docks, tidy houses and old colonial buildings.

We started asking around for the address of the Servicio Hydrografico y Oceanografic de la Armada de Chile. We had no address number.

Eventually an attractive, middle aged woman overheard us and told us to take the Rioja (red bus). Tequalda was so friendly, she decided to go with us. We went up the steep hills (like “San Francisco”, she said, although she had never been there). All this time she talked nonstop, which was music to my ears, because I was trying to resuscitate my rusty Spanish.

The Servicio at the top of the hill was the wrong place, but we were given another address back down to where we had started. We actually did find the charts. Success. To celebrate, Tequalda wanted to take us to her home for lunch, but we insisted on treating her in a restaurant. She led us to a fine, swank place on the water above the docks. She talked to Dick, who was loving this, even though he didn’t understand a word. They both used the old technique of talking louder and louder to make someone understand, but this didn’t work this time.

After lunch she invited us to take a collectivo up the hill to her home, and there we met her number three husband, also a collectivo driver. The first two husbands had been navy men, “gone eight months a year” she said, and the marriages hadn’t prospered. This guy, who treated her with great respect, was golden.

After the visit he dropped us off at the bus depot and we purchased a ticket for Santiago. “Santiago” was printed on the ticket, but also “Cholloum”, which I interpreted as a stop along the way. We arrived at an old station surrounded by low, dilapidated buildings, none of which looked familiar. We stayed on the bus. More people got on. The bus pulled out, and only when the conductor came to ask us for tickets did we realize that we had entered the same bus depot, but by a very different route. Embarrassed, we jumped out of the bus, found the University de Santiago subway, bought tickets, and went through the turnstiles before realizing that we had left the charts in the bus. We went back to the bus depot, reported our loss and were told to come back the next day.

When we got back to our hotel we found Gerry and Tom packaging up a mountain of food for the trip. It had to last up to five weeks. At least they had been successful. The next morning we returned to the bus depot but nobody seemed to have been notified, or cared, about the charts. In broken Spanish I managed finally to get through to the supervisor who phoned Valparaiso and found out the bus number. We came back two more times, and to our astonishment, on the third visit in late evening the charts were handed to us.

That night we went out for dinner at a possibly sketchy restaurant. Dick, Tom and I had fish and meat while Gerry had the best looking dinner: a juicy salad full of ripe tomatoes and cucumbers. After dinner we were strolling down a main tourist avenue when a guy whispered to us that the beer was good “down below”. He led us down some stairs and into a subterranean grotto.

As soon as we got to the entrance a number of heavily painted, short-skirted women escorted each of us past a bar full of other women. I will always remember Dick, in his 75th year, being led by his women, one on each arm, to a seating area.

Gerry came to his senses first. In his usual articulate way he said: “This is going to cost us big time just to ogle some tits”. Unfortunately, by this time Tom was already sitting between two women with their arms on his lap, being served beer and grinning from ear to ear. You might be able to separate Tom from two hookers, but not from two beers. To our great shame we left him there to his own devices. I feared the worst.

Fortunately, he came back late that night. He said that they tried to charge him 40,000 pesos for two beers. When he balked he said the biggest bouncer he had ever seen suddenly appeared and became quite persuasive. Tom just gave them all of the money he had — 17,000 pesos — and managed to get out of there.

That night Gerry became very ill. He had diarrhea, was heaving, sweating, groaning, vomiting, and looked ghostly pale. We suspected it was the salad. The next morning after booking a van that never came we managed to get ourselves and our ten large bags, (totaling 320 kg.) including two double kayaks, food and gear to the airport in three taxis. I have a photo of all our gear sitting outside the terminal and poor Gerry lying on top it.

When we got on the plane he was so sick that the stewardess asked us what was the matter with him. I was worried that they might kick us off as health risks and told her that he was scared sick of flying. Too hard to explain about the salad. That seemed to work, as soon we were in the air, heading for the southern town of Puerto Montt.

Puerto Montt had that frontier look and feel of the northern towns that I used to work out of, but with a decidedly Spanish influence. We didn’t want to hang around there, though. Gerry was still ill and I thought that maybe our best option was to fly directly to the Chilean town of Puerto Williams, on the Beagle Channel and rest up until Gerry recovered.

However, the airline and the ferry were both heavily booked, so we went to the bus depot. There we were told that they wouldn’t take our baggage. At the tourist office we explained our predicament and they told us of another bus company operating out of the Hotel Cabot de Horno. There, the young ticket guy, in true bureaucratic fashion, said no, they couldn’t handle our stuff. Fortunately, after more enquiries, the woman who actually ran the office and even spoke English with a deep, masculine voice and a twinkle in her eye, said we could load the bags ourselves if we purchased three extra seats for our gear. Each seat needed an occupant, so we named ours Susy, Marie and Isabel (para las mujeres). We loaded our bags and the still mostly comatose (when not erupting) Gerry into the bus and motored off for the Argentine town of Ushuaia.

Our route took us to the Straits of Magellan, where all the passengers got out as the bus drove onto a small ferry with loading ramps at each end. There were no piers or docks. Perhaps the wind is just too strong to justify maintaining them. The gusty, 35 knot westerlies that we encountered during the crossing reminded me of how remarkable the early, upwind passages through this unmarked channel by Magellan must have been, and for those who followed.

As late as 1900, when Captain Joshua Slocum sailed through these passages on the first solo circumnavigation of the globe, there were still locals paddling canoes with fires blazing both as a source of heat and for signalling. Hence the name: “land of fire”. When he dropped anchor and slept here he was advised to put tacks on his deck to ward off the local Yahgan people. He did so, writing: “now, it is well known that one cannot step on a tack without saying something about it”. One night locals did try to board his Spray while he was asleep, but howled when they stamped on the tacks and fled into the water and to their canoes[1] .

Unfortunately for the Yahgan people, whose ancestors had lived in this unforgiving land for 10,000 years off fish, sea lions and wild plants, they did not survive the onslaught of European diseases and greed. There are apparently very few Yahgans living today.

As we headed south on the gravel road towards San Sebastian, at the border with Argentina, the soil appeared to become tenuous, the land more rocky and barren.

In Ushuaia we stayed at “The Casita” which was a dumpy, separate cabin with three rooms and its own entrance to the street through a falling-down gate and a door with no knob. It had character and suited us perfectly. There was a large table in the kitchen where we could organize our huge pile of food and gear. Our hostess, Senora Fernandez, had character too, much like a communal mother. She was very helpful with our organizing, although frugal — and especially not generous with the TP. I think that she had housed numerous climbing expeditions around here, although ours was the first kayaking event for her.

We left Ushuaia heading east down the Beagle Channel towards Puerto Williams, with a 35 to 40 knot tailwind. Gerry, being only slightly recovered, could offer little help in the paddling. The following seas were tricky for me to handle the big double kayak on my own. Bare knuckle paddling.

When we got to Puerto Williams, back in Chile, we went straight to the Port Authority and presented our letter of permission for traveling around Cape Horn. “No, this is not possible,” said the superintendent. “You cannot go to the “Wollaston Group” (“Cabo de Horno” is in the Wollaston group of islands). He suggested that just maybe we would be permitted to go to Punto Guanaco, at the south east end of Navarino Island, and that then maybe they would change their minds. We did not know how to interpret that. Perhaps he did not want to approve our plans because something might go wrong and he would be held responsible? Did he expect money? We didn’t think that. If we went to Guanaco and just kept going, would they send the navy after us? Hard to say. I just decided to stay in his office during working hours and sit across from him. Mostly it was just me, because I could at least talk to him or at him, but Tom and Dick relieved me from my vigil when I needed food and bathroom breaks. I stayed there in that office for two and a half days. Finally he said that our “permission has arrived”. I think that he was getting tired of me. The agreement offered was that we would call in on our VHF radio every day and report our position and condition. We both knew that there was no way they would be able to pick up a VHF signal, with its short range, during most of our trip. I agreed readily. We made surprisingly good time early on.

Journal, January 26, 1997, East Side of Pto. Eugenia, Isla Navarino, -54.936, -67.29

Paddling down the east side of Isla Navarino: “Left camp just E. of Pto. Eugenia, light westerlies. These grew to strong 25 knot northerlies. We had a direct tailwind till Pto. Toro. But pressure falling: 1010 to 989 in a few minutes. Flat calm after a downpour. Lunch. Then 180 deg. reversal, strong 20 to 30 kn wind from the south, against us. Smokin’ out in the Strait. Evening now, pressure still 994. Clouds from the west, winds moderate.”

We could never make a connection between pressure and weather. Both were all over the place, and not in sync. Mainly this was topography: sometimes the prevailing westerlies would blow around the north end of the island and we would have northerlies, sometimes around the south end, especially as we traveled south and sometimes right over the hills and mountains, treating us, for our pleasure, to strong katabatic[2] westerlies that seemed capable of blowing our tents into the sea and our kayaks out to nowhere. The land changed too, passing from attractive beech and conifer forests in the Beagle Channel down to Magellanic mooreland at the south end of Navarino Island, featuring Magellans’ peat moss and poor drainage for the 5000 or so millimeters of rain a year that inundates this rocky land.

This was a desperate place, populated by few animals, although midway down the island we did see one of Canada’s famed national animals, a beaver, fifty of which were imported to this area back in the 1940s in an attempt to foster a fur trade. With no natural predators such as wolves or bears, these animals have flourished, while busying themselves, as only beavers can, decimating forests and causing widespread flooding.

We still had some problems. Gerry was still weak. If it was normal food poisoning he should have been getting better. We decided, somewhat belatedly, that he was the reason that he, the medical guy, had brought along a course of antibiotics. He started taking them.

I was suffering too, from tendonitis on my left wrist, which was swollen and sore. It had started on my first day when I was trying to handle the double kayak by myself in big following seas. According to my expert, Ken Fink, who has raced kayaks successfully for years off the coast of Maine, tendonitis occurs when you are holding the paddle too tightly. Perhaps I was. Fortunately, we had a solution at hand. Dick had brought along a bent shaft paddle, which was new at that time, and he generously lent it to me. It allows you to paddle with your wrist in a more open, natural position. Surprisingly, it worked incredibly well. As I used it each day my pain and swelling eased. When I tried going back to my straight shaft paddle, even with a loose grip, the pain returned.

We managed to make Guanaco Point, southeast corner of Navarino Island, (-53.322, -67.23) without too much difficulty. From there looking south across the Bahia Nassau we could see the hills of the Wollaston group of islands. Bahia Nassau is only 15.5 kn. across, but it looked formidable. There was a 30-knot wind blowing south down the east side of Isla Navarino colliding with westerlies barreling down Bahia Nassau. Roiling, difficult seas. At times like these I often think of an old song by a great gal, blues singer Ernestine Anderson’s “Never Make Your Move Too Soon”. We needed to see how this body of water ahead of us behaved. We stayed there for three days, just wandering around the bogs and moors, studying how the wind and waves behaved on the strait, and waiting for a weather opening.

It became clear to us that some of the wind was created by daytime temperature differences between land and sea. The wind never stopped, but it did pick up in the afternoon.

On our fourth day we were up at midnight and on the water by 2:30 am. It worked. The crossing took just four hours and soon we were closing in on Alcamar Wollaston, which is a small weather station at the northeast corner of the Wollaston Group. (-55.5855, -67.366)

We wondered why nobody answered our VHF request to land and soon found out why when we knocked on the door. Nobody was awake. Once they got up and shared their coffee with us, though, they were very friendly and seemed happy to see us. It was a relief for us to be welcomed by these men. There were five young navy guys there on some sort of training mission as well as the three regulars. We left after an hour or so and made our way to Hately Bay, another 4 nautical miles south.

In Hatley Bay (-55.629, -67.3765) I finally managed to land a fish. Its head looked like a rock fish, which generally have a large, dangerous looking head. But this evacuated fellow had no body, just a cavity. I threw it back and wished for it better times. Although I dropped a line at various times, this was the only fish I caught.

The next morning we got up at 4 am, were off by 6:45, crossed Franklin Channel to the Hermite Islands and made it to the south end of Isla Herschel (-55.8795, -67.199) opposite Isla Deceit. We had made 17 NM in pretty good weather, although Franklin Channel was a bit hairy. We had intended to stay the night on Herschel at the abandoned navy camp left over from the Beagle Conflict that had brought Chile and Argentina to the brink of war in 1978 over Isla Picton, Isla Lennox and Isla Nueva, just east of Isla Navarino.

We pulled in to the beach, didn’t like the look of the mildewed buildings and thought, what the hell, the weather is good now, let’s go. You go when you can.

It was exciting to round Isla Herschel and see our destination, the steep cliffs of Cabo de Hornos, just 6 NM away. We paddled the crossing in failing light, made the beach (-55.9624, -67.2241) and climbed the steep stairways up to the lighthouse.

January 31, 1997, Cabo Hornos,

We earned our official “Isla Hornos Correos-Chile” stamp, signed by our three hosts, in our journals today by paddling around Isla Hornos. We left at 6:45 AM, paddled hard and finished the 15 nautical miles by 10:35. Good paddle. It started off pretty easy, heading counter-clockwise up the east side of the island, but by the time we reached the north end and paddled into the Pacific, the wind had picked up and we had some real swells coming up and crashing on the cliffs rising up out of the very cold waters. Rounding the south end we were favoured by a strong current that took us back to the lighthouse. We were very lucky with the conditions.

That night we had a grand party, celebrating with our hosts’ pisco, Tom’s vodka, and the Johnny Walker whiskey that we expressly brought for the occasion. As Tom was our “designated drinker” he stayed up much later with our Chilean hosts than Gerry, Dick and I. All night, in fact: I have a photo of him laid out the next morning, half on, half off the couch, and still in his dry suit.

The next day we were late getting down to the beach. The tide was too high on the tight beach for us to launch into the big swells that were now coming into the bay.

Gerry, who by now was feeling better, and I decided to go for a hike. We couldn’t hike up the nearest hill because a sign indicated that there were still unexploded mines left over from the Beagle Conflict. Instead we went down towards a nearby beach. It was difficult to get around. We had to dance from one high, 2 meter hummock to another, while avoiding all the channels in between where dozens of Magellanic penguins lurked. Unfortunately, Bovey, the camp dog, had followed us and promptly started attacking the penguins. We got out of there and went up another hill instead. The trees were all bent sideways from the incredible wind. Sometimes it was easier to crawl on the top branches from tree to tree.

Occasionally we would fall through and end up crawling through the thicket. I had to wonder, how did Darwin get around? He must have gone somewhere else. I also had another question. By now I had thrown my fishing line in the water a few times, with different lures, and had just the one bite. What was the penguins’ secret?

We woke up the next day to strong westerlies, rising seas, and indications of more to come. By the time we got down to the launching bay the tide was high and the seas were washing right over the beach. We put off going.

The next few days were consumed with getting up early and rushing down to the beach, only to find that it would be impossible to set off. This gave us a chance to explore the island and watch the penguins, from a distance, without Bovey the hunter. They would slide down amongst the sheltering hummocks, waddle a few steps and then hurl themselves into the sea. I sat and watched them for hours and never saw them chomping on any substantial fish. Again I wondered how they could look so robust and well fed when I couldn’t get a bite? Later I learned that these birds feed mostly on krill, squid and small crustaceans. Not fish. This seemed like a great place to be for a penguin. No natural predators, good cover amongst the hummocks. Could penguins have evolved in places such as this and then headed south across Drake Passage to Antarctica?

One evening our hosts were getting hammered and a call came in from the captain of a freighter, “Request permission to come within two miles of the horn”. For some reason this stern request from an American sea captain caused confusion, so I was given the job. “Permission granted!” I shouted into the mike as firmly as I could.

Although our hosts seemed to genuinely enjoy our company, we didn’t want to overstay our welcome. One morning we left in very sketchy conditions. David, who was the head guy at Cabo, stayed on the beach and watched us patiently as we loaded our kayaks while surf was dumping on us. After Gerry and I helped Tom and Dick get off the steep beach, David steadied our boat as we got in. It was rough and he wondered why we were so eager to go. “Didn’t you sleep well in the house?” he said (in Spanish) and told us that “the sea doesn’t want you to go”. I loved that gentle, friendly statement and wondered at the time what the hell we were doing.

Hately Bay

Often in climbing expeditions, summiting isn’t the most dangerous part. It’s getting back down that’s the problem. Our trip was like that.

In big seas we made it back to Hatley Bay. But then we had to camp for several days as storms swept in. Wind whistled down off the mountains and threatened to flatten our fly and tents. Seas were grey and ominous. We set off a couple of times in driving wind and rain, but returned to camp.

Tom was reluctant to paddle in these seas because Dick, who had been strong a couple of years earlier on the Bering Sea trip, was having trouble keeping up. We did get off finally and made it back to the beach off Estacion Cabot Ross on February 4. There was big surf blasting onto the beach.

Gerry and I went in first and made it in O.K. between wave sets. We dragged our boat up as far as we could and waited for Tom and Dick. With a big loaded double it’s best to try and time it to come in between waves, not straight down them. This was no place for surfing adventures. But after Tom missed his first chance the next set came in much bigger and suddenly they were riding down a monster. I remember looking at that big wave and saying to Gerry, with a lump in my throat: “Damn, that wave is bigger than their kayak.” And their kayak was 20 feet long. The wave broke, Tom and Dick braced and somehow they managed to stay upright, but they slammed violently onto shore. They made it out all right and so did the kayak and we all breathed more easily. However, they never had a chance to raise their rudder so the fin was bent sideways and the pin that extends out of the main rudder block was torn off.

I wrestled with that rudder for two days before deciding that there was a better than 50% chance that my repairs would last for the rest of the trip. And they did, thanks to bailing wire, duct tape and a large bolt supplied by the crew at the estacion. When we got home I was able to improve on the design and strength of the rudder, lessening the chance of future failures.

The group at Estacion Cabot Ross was less disciplined than at Cabo Horno. They drank pisco very late and got up late too. It was no wonder that they never responded to our radio calls, both heading south and returning north. It was also very hot inside, and noisy with the generator and radio.

We were pinned down by bad weather for days and I found myself going for long hikes. Most of the bush was dense, like our windswept west coast. My hiking style, which combined crawling on hands and knees as well as scrambling over the tops of trees, proved to be unpopular with the others. So I was usually by myself. Only once did I glimpse an animal, which looked like an otter. There was also little in the way of animal droppings, which you tend to notice when you are on your hands and knees. The moss was luxurious and soft to the touch, though, and beautiful.

Journal entry, February 8, 1997:

“Sunny, NW 25 kn, morning

Got up at 2:00 am, checked wind. Didn’t look too bad, S.W. 15 kn,

but too much for night crossing. Got up again at 3:30 am, got dressed. Waited for light, 5:00. Paddled to point, wind had shifted to NW 25 kn,, returned here. It’s smokin’ out there now. Sitting on point, looking north. Old dog, blond mongrel, panting beside me. Waiting. Others sleeping in house. Too hot and noisy. Forecast tomorrow: 30 to 40 kn headwind. Not a lot of food left.”

Finally we made the crossing to Navarino Island on February 10. Gerry and I stopped for a quick snack mid-way across. Tom didn’t like that and berated us for stopping. With the wind and current pushing us offshore he wanted to get across quickly. Gerry said: “I’m not choking on my Snickers for nobody”. I said: “These kayaks can cross oceans”. Tom said: “But I don’t want to cross an ocean”.[3]

This was a hard trip for Gerry. First he was awfully sick. He got over that. But he was also having to deal with a pending divorce. When we were in Puerto Williams he was on the phone with his wife a couple of times and came back feeling very sad. I heard his story and commiserated with him. Damn woman.[4]

[1] Sailing Alone Around the World, By Captain Joshua Slocum, 1900

[2] A katabatic wind is the technical name for a wind that carries air from a hill or mountain down a slope under the force of gravity.

[3] In 2001 Tom rowed with a partner from the Canary Islands across the Atlantic to Barbados.

[4] I had no inkling that years later I would marry her. She’s outside raking leaves right now.

Cape Horn

13. Warming Oceans (Entered January 1, 2021)

Kerama, 26.186, 127.348

I first snorkeled off the shores of Kerama, a small group of islands in the Okinawa Archipelago in October, 1997. With me were my wife, Susan, and two kids: my son Evan, who was 8 and his nine-year-old friend, Jenna. They were hardy kids and spent most of their time floating in the water, entranced by the colours and astonishing beauty of the coral that stretched in all directions. It was awesome.

There used to be a feeling that when you see something in nature that is beautiful and bright you would be able to return sometime and be thrilled and uplifted again. Not anymore. When I returned to the area a few years later, the framework of the coral was still there, but the life within and the colours were all gone. Instead there was a vast expanse of brown and ghostly white. The devastation had happened in 1998, the year after our visit. A confluence of El Nino and high ocean temperatures caused the largest global coral bleaching ever recorded.

Coral reefs are home to roughly a quarter of the ocean’s 250,000 known species (there are perhaps 2 million unknown species) and are the genesis of much of ocean life. They are also endangered by ocean warming and acidification. The reefs are composed of coral polyps, which build the calcium carbonate structures and zooxanthellae (tiny algae), which provide food. It is the algae that give the coral its rich colors. Although coral is tough it requires water temperatures that do not fluctuate much. When temperatures rise by as little as 1C for one week the polyps expel the algae and the reefs starve, turn white and die.

Until the 1980s incidents of large-scale coral bleaching occurred once every 25 to 30 years. The intervals allowed enough time for recovery. In 1998 parts of the Great Barrier Reef off Australia and other reef systems off Madagascar, Belize and the Maldives bleached. Most recovered, but 15% died. Research from James Cook University found that in the Seychelles 40% of reefs bleached in 1998 have been replaced by weed and algae. This is “regime change” that is likely permanent. Reefs need about 15 years for recovery and only then if protected from pollution and fishing. However, since then there have been so many bleaching events the coral has not had time to recover. The worst happened in 2016 and 2017. The Great Barrier Reef lost half of its corals and 93% of the reef was affected. (Despite this the Queensland government continues to support the expansion of its coal mining industry).

In 2014 the World Resources Institute estimated that 75% of the coral reefs in the Caribbean were in danger, and 95% in South-east Asia. Today the situation would be worse. Baseline sea temperatures have been raised by climate change. Combined with the natural temperature variability that occurs, especially during El Nino events, safe temperature thresholds will be exceeded repeatedly in the future.

Phytoplankton are tiny microscopic plants that form the base of the marine food chain. Every other plant and creature that lives in the ocean depends on them. They grow faster in cold water and slower in warm water. Phytoplankton live in the euphotic zone of the ocean, which is the 80 meter or more strata of the ocean that receives sunlight. They depend on nutrients that come up from lower levels of the ocean, including the bottom benthic zone. In warmer waters this mixing does not take place as effectively, due to density differences between layers, so the planktons receive fewer nutrients. This one feature explains a great danger facing all sea life.

The oceans are getting warmer, caused by massive emissions of greenhouse gases. Effects of this warming have been verified in a NASA-funded study using the OrbView-2 spacecraft, which measured marine biological activity over many years. The effect is greatest in the polar regions. According to a NOAA[1]-sponsored study, in August, 2016 the surface ocean temperatures in the Barents and Chukchi seas, and off both coasts of Greenland, (places I have visited and cherished) were an astonishing 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) above the average for 1982 to 2010. This is extreme, but effects are being felt in all regions of the oceans. Hot waters affect mollusks too. Subtidal areas in the eastern Mediterranean, off the coast of Israel, which are some of the fastest warming areas, have been described as deserts, totally devoid of cockles, whelks and other species.

There is natural variability year to year. During El Nino events, when surface ocean temperatures rise, the total heat held by the oceans falls as heat is dissipated into the atmosphere. The opposite happens during El Nina times, when surface temperatures are cooler. Year over year temperatures show a steady increase since pre-industrial times, however. In a recent Chinese study researchers measured temperatures over many parts of the globe for the first 2000 meters of ocean depth. They found that 2017 had by far the highest temperatures. The next highest was 2015, followed by 2016, 2014 and 2013. The five highest global ocean temperatures were all in the last five years. The IPCC reports that the oceans have absorbed 90% of the heat caused by man-made emissions. This amounts to 150 times the amount of electricity produced each year and is 60% higher than earlier estimates.

This warming is not going away. Today global temperatures are about 1 degree C. above those before industrialization began. This is a delayed effect due to the increase in greenhouse gases. Studies indicate that even if all GHGs were to be stopped today the earth will still warm by another .5 deg. C. What does this mean for ocean life? Everything. 25% of sea life is generated on or near coral. This will die off. Warming waters will kill it in the sub tropics and tropics and acidification will cause it to perish in colder zones. It’s already happening on the Great Barrier Reef, in the Caribbean and elsewhere. Warm water holds less oxygen, so anoxia will increase, as will toxic blooms. Mass die-offs and displacement of populations will occur as fish migrate to colder water. Larger fish and predatory mammals such as dolphins and whales will find their food source disappearing.

Circulation of deep ocean waters is driven by differences in ocean density, which is affected by temperature and salinity. Hence thermohaline.[2]

Circulation from deep to surface is very slow. It takes about 1,000 years for a drop of water to rise from the deep to the surface and back again. This process is slowed down when surface temperatures rise because temperature gradients are increased. We are left with the uncomfortable conclusion that surface ocean temperatures are going to continue to increase and will stay higher for at least a 1,000 years and probably longer.

In late 2013 a huge patch of warm water started forming in the Gulf of Alaska. During 2014 and 2015 it morphed into an area larger than the continental U.S., stretching from Alaska down to California. A Washington climatologist named it “The Blob”. It fueled a massive outbreak of toxic algae. Thousands of sea lions, sea otters, whales, fish, and birds died due to the toxicity of the algae. Sea lion pups were left starving as their mothers had unhealthy or no food to feed them. It is likely that major schools of salmon were affected, although this would be difficult to determine. Was the Blob caused by climate change? Aided and abetted, probably. It is impossible to know for sure. But, this will be the future of our oceans: bigger storms, rapid change, warmer water, less oxygen, more phosphorous, more acidity, and fewer large fish.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) met in Paris in 2015. All of the countries in the world agreed that a safe goal would be to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 deg. above pre-industrial times. Since global temperatures have already risen by 1 deg. C. and will warm another .5 degrees due to GHGs already in the atmosphere, this is an almost impossible goal. Experts estimate the possibility of meeting the 2 degrees goal at just 5% — unless carbon is removed from the air. The agreement was voluntary and since then few countries have developed and implemented plausible and enforceable programs to achieve it.

Almost all of the IPCC’s strategies to keep temperature increase below 2 degrees require active carbon capture and storage. This entails scrubbing CO2 from the air and storing it deep underground. Very specific rock formations deep underground are required where there is a porous layer below a non-porous cap.

The best CO2-capturing systems required to neutralize today’s emissions would require roughly 60 million CO2 scrubbers around the world running on an extra 20% of world energy production. This is just removing the CO2 from the air. Most plans require pumping it miles below the surface of the earth and hoping it stays there. There has been little study of the financial and emission costs of manufacturing 60 million sequestering units, 60 million pumps and a few million miles of pipe to shove the CO2 underground and keep it there. Today no government is seriously considering it. Soon it may be too late. (sourced from David MacKay’s remarkably readable: “Sustainable Energy-Without The Hot Air”).

In Canada the federal Liberal government is initiating a comprehensive carbon reduction plan. However, it is also supporting pipeline construction and the expansion of the tar sands, even as major international corporations are retreating from it. Prime Minister Trudeau has stated that no government would leave carbon such as the tar sands in the ground. That is exactly what is required.

No respected independent researchers believe Canada can achieve its CO2 equivalent reduction obligations and grow the tar sands at the same time. Not even close. There is great fanfare, and talk, but no urgency and no action. The Liberal government’s proposal to raise the carbon tax to $170 a tonne by 2030 is a good first step, but unless tar sands emissions are drastically reduced Canada will still fall short of reaching its 2030 emissions-reduction targets.

The story of the world’s largest historical polluter and second greatest current polluter, the U.S., has been an incoherent mess. Coal vs wind and solar. Denial at the very top. At a global conference the U.S. was pushing coal and nuclear power as solutions to the climate emergency. The election of President Biden will change this. If the U.S. becomes a global leader in addressing the climate crisis perhaps we will have a chance at slowing and even reversing some of the worst harm that we are inflicting on this planet. We sure need the U.S. to lead on this.

While the U.S. has been mired in denial and ignorance, China has been publicly trying to assume the role of climate leader. But it currently emits more per person than EU members and is the world’s biggest polluter. It still plans to have its CO2 emissions increase until about 2030, although it may peak earlier. After that, in order to meet its modest reduction objectives, it would have to retire coal power plants at the same rate that it was building them prior to its peak growth phase: 2 to 3 per week. This is unlikely to happen. It is still building more coal plants.

The third biggest contributor historically to climate change is Russia. What is Russia’s biggest and practically only source of export earnings? Oil and gas. Does anyone expect that Russia would willingly cut back? India is a close fourth behind Russia and has now surpassed Russia in annual emissions. It may indeed be the only country of the gang of four to meet its intensity and emissions objectives, but they are very modest. More coal-fired power plants are still planned for both China and India.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected global temperatures to rise between 1.5 deg. C and almost 6 deg. C by 2100. Based on the above and more recent projections by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), it is almost certain that the rise will be closer to 3 or 4 degrees C. Scientists have stated for a long time that we cannot allow CO2 levels to rise above 400 ppm. Currently we are at 415 ppm and rising fast. CO2 levels haven’t been this high in 20 million years. There is great danger that the climate will pass multiple “tipping points”, leading to a mass extinction scenario midway through this century. IPCC’s own scientists have not accounted for this.

So, we have only 10% of large fish stocks left compared to pre-industrial times and ocean conditions are getting worse. What are we to do? There is only one answer. We double down on conservation and try to increase stocks while actively reducing our own GHG emissions. As Callum Roberts states, “we need to protect and increase diversity and abundance.”

[1] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce

[2] Cold water, in general, is denser than warm water. Likewise, water with a high salinity is denser than water that contains less salt. Surface ocean currents are primarily driven by winds. Deep ocean currents, on the other hand, are mainly a result of density differences. The thermohaline circulation often referred to as the ocean’s “conveyor belt”, links major surface and deep water currents in the Atlantic, Indian, Pacific, and Southern Oceans. (

Rollie and Umeda-san

14. Kyushu Nov, 1996 Izumi, 32.189, 130.104 (Entered Feb 1, 2021)

I first met Rollie in 1987. Noda-san, an adventurer and writer, had invited me to Japan. He had written about paddling the Yukon and other northern rivers and had become interested in my kayaks because the folding kayaks then available in Japan were very breakable. I had no idea what I was getting into when I arrived in Tokyo and was taken to a big ceremony. It turned out that Noda-san was revered and was receiving an award that evening. Later I would paddle with him on a number of rivers, starting with the Shimanto River in Kyushu. This would lead to the annual Feathercraft Owners’ Meetings that took place over the following 25 years. But that evening I was lost. To my surprise a tall white guy with a patch over one eye, wearing a big leather hat came up and introduced himself. As if he knew me. Rollie Innes-Taylor was born and raised in Whitehorse, Yukon. Somehow he had ended up in Japan some 20 years earlier and had married a beautiful Japanese woman. A motorcycle accident had left him with the loss of one eye and a severely damaged hip, causing him to walk with a cane. But this didn’t slow Rollie down in a kayak. In that society Rollie always stuck out, which didn’t bother him at all. He traded on his Yukon notoriety and was at his best sitting around a camp fire on a beach with a bunch of people telling dirty jokes in both languages. Always, he kept us in stitches. Rollie was a successful adventure travel writer as well as an advisor to Honda for car ads. His job was to take rough English translations and make them acceptable to North Americans. He even posed, as an outdoors guy, with a kayak on the roof of a car, for promotions in Japan. A couple of years earlier he had started on a multi-year endeavor with his good pal Masa Umeda-san. They would paddle a leg of the journey whenever they could get the time off and then leave their two-person Feathercraft at a nearby car dealership.

Umeda-san is a gentle soul and so soft spoken you have to lean in close to hear what he is saying. Quite a contrast to Rollie. He is a professional photographer and very successful in the outdoor world.

Like Rollie, he has kids and has to juggle work, family and his passion for travelling Japan by kayak with Rollie.

They had started a couple of years before from, I think, Rollie’s town of Kamakura and headed south, with the hope of circumnavigating, in a clockwise direction, all the islands of Japan. When I met up with them they were on the south coast of the south island of Kyushu. We paddled from possibly Izumi, around the south end of Kyushu to Fukuoka. (I was just paddling along with them, almost as a guest. Looking back I wished that I had taken more note of our route).

This was a whole new experience for me. They were not in a hurry. At each major point they would stop for a smoke break, and often a laugh, too. We carried a minimum of gear. At night we would usually pull in to a “gyoko”, (protected harbour for small fishing boats) and forage for food. If the village or town was sizable we might eat at a sushi or ramen bar. If not we’d find a small store and buy some rice balls and soup packages to heat up on our gas stove. We’d sleep right beside the fish boats on the concrete wharfs. There would be a wash room for the fishermen. Nobody minded us and we felt like hobos.

One afternoon we were looking at the chart and Rollie was wondering where to pull in for the night. I noticed a town called Kayaki and said lets go there. Then I asked Umeda-san what it meant and he said, well, literally: “Burning mosquitoes”. When we started pulling up our kayaks an elderly couple asked us what we were up to. Rollie and Umeda-san explained. They invited us in to their home for the night. We didn’t want to impose ourselves, but they were insistent. The woman didn’t say much but she served us a delicious meal and favored us with a beautiful smile. We learned that the man was a doctor. Nagasaki was quite close by and he had spent his whole career healing survivors of the nuclear bomb blast that had devastated the community in 1945. Early on he treated severe burns, broken bodies and radiation sickness. Then heart and liver diseases and leukemia and other cancers. Many people, maybe most, would have become hardened with all this tragedy. But it was obvious that Hiroyuki Fujinaga-san had opened up his heart and soul, offering up compassion instead of hate. His deep humanity touched me. They were two of the most remarkable, generous people I have ever met.

Umeda-san and Rollie eventually made their way as far as the northern island of Hokkaido. But by then Rollie had become quite ill. Eventually he succumbed to cancer, leaving behind his wife, Akiko, and his two young sons, Chris and Ian. Years later I ran into Umeda-san in Tokyo. I was glad to see that he was the same quiet, thoughtful guy. But he misses his great friend Rollie.

Map of Jumentos

15. Jumentos, Bahamas, May June 1999 (Entered Feb 1, 2021)

May, 1999: Jumentos: Long Island, 23.34, -75.123 to Duncan Town on Ragged Island, 22.198, -75.727 about 95 nautical miles.

May 18, 1999

On board the Bahamas mail boat: the “Sherice M” bound from Nassau to Long Island. Joining me was my old paddling buddy, Willi. He and I have made a number of journeys together up the mid-coast of B.C. Our plan was to paddle from Long Island over to the Jumento Cays and follow them south to Duncan Town on Ragged Island.

On this trip we found a fair abundance of small fish milling about amongst the coral. We carried spears which enabled us to supplement our meagre food supplies with fresh fish. As we neared our destination we did encounter increasing amounts of plastic, mainly bags floating in the water. Seven years later we paddled out of the same location and then toured northward along the Exumas. In just those seven years life had diminished in an astonishing way. Most of the coral was dead and there were so few fish we thought that it would have been criminal to catch any of them. Many of the beaches were soiled with plastic. It was hard to believe that conditions could have deteriorated so quickly.

The Jumentos are a chain of small dry cays that stretch about 90 nautical miles from the south end of the Exumas to within about 40 miles of Cuba. Most of the islands are uninhabited, fairly pristine, and not more than 15 nautical miles apart. Ideal, it seemed to me, for kayaking. If you are going, don’t depend on finding water at “Water Cay”. You will be disappointed. We took along a hand operated water desalinator for making fresh water.

Willi Turner, west coast of B.C.

Willi, especially, had to drink a lot of water to maintain hydration in the high humid, 35 C. days. He’s stocky, blond hair, blond beard, looks like a Viking. Doesn’t like the heat. Born and raised poor in Georgia, U.S. Was studying art, but the Vietnam War put an end to that and he exited rather hurriedly to Canada. He “paints” mostly with just coloured pencil crayons, in such complex detail that it’s hard to decipher how he does it. Like moss.

He never sells his work. I traded the kayak that he is in for one of his works and I think that we are both happy with the deal. It’s an amazing work on quite a large canvas. There is an old, bearded man with scruffy hair. He has a wild look about him. Above and about his head hover small children’s drawings of goofy animals and dreamy images, as if emanating from his fertile, though possibly deranged, brain. Willi is not that man, but I think that those thoughts are his own.

When Willi is up he is really up and the whole world seems to laugh along, and when he is down, look out. These mood swings have got him into some bother in the past. Moody man. He’s a great one for stringing long lines of puns together and it’s terrible when he does that. He is also passionate about plants. During our trips along the BC coast he would often dig up some obscure bog plants and carry them home in his kayak. His garden, on public land, is special.

I’m including comments from some of the cays we visited.

“Journeying about 10 knots. The Sherice is loaded. There is a sailing regatta this weekend somewhere. On board is a sailboat that will be in the race and the skipper and a few of his crew (of the “Barbarian”). Wilfred Bain is who I am talking to. Everybody calls him Uncle Willy. Lives now in Nassau, retired from taxi driving. Owns his boat, pretty contented, I’d say. Does the odd plumbing job on the side.

Just talked to the captain, who also owns this 120-foot boat. Apparently his contract to carry the mail and stuff is worth $10,000/week. Local call is “Batelco, Ragged Island”, on VHF 16.

Big Lady (really big) is going to run a concession booth at the regatta. Her first time, went to Nassau to get some of the supplies, the rest from Miami. “Booth #1”. She’s proud of this. Cuffs her 3-year-old quite a bit, he seems used to it. Worked for others at booths before. I gave her and the old lady there some graham wafers. She had to see the box, she liked them so much. From Deadman’s Cay.

Stocky guy in coveralls with the salesman’s smile: works during week as a prison guard. Says after work he does construction jobs. Flies to Cuba on Fridays, buys cigars “out the back door” for $40/box of 20. Sells them in Nassau for $28 each, cheerfully no doubt. In customs in Cuba, puts a $20 bill in his passport. “They don’t bother me”.

We’re nearing the southern, tail end of the Exumas, over shallower water, must be a light sandy bottom because the water is that gorgeous tropical blue. The Exumas are low, as we knew, and not treed much, mostly bush, as we suspected. Yes, I can see blurred details of the bottom. Houses dotted here and there.

The old lady in the galley hasn’t moved since yesterday. Lives in Freeport with family in Long Island. No supplies, I gave her water and a little food. There’s a big button with a photo of her granddaughter on her chest.

“Letter Fox” has a gruff voice for a woman. Talks with everyone. Lives on “Halfmoon Island” which is owned by Holland Cruise Lines. Used to be called “Little San Salvador Island” but the cruise line changed that. The ships left, last cruise late April, and are now operating out of Vancouver on the Alaska cruises. 10 people live there in the off season. She says it is boring at times, too quiet.

I believe that we are just off William Town.

May 19, 1999

Last night it got a little ugly. Some of the crew clearly doesn’t like Willi or me. Because we are the only white men on board? Or just foreigners? Willi was stopped from sitting in a couple of places and he’s fuming. I was prohibited from even standing in front of one guy’s view of the skiff that he said he was looking at. Lots of booze and tension, nowhere for us to stand or sit. Finally found refuge with a couple of women and a boy in a sort of open area beside the galley. Later the captain indicated that there were bunks for us. Problem solved.

We are going to Salt Pond, not Clarence Town. We might just launch from there. (Did land at Salt Pond, 23.351, -75.1274).

May 21, 1999 Grape Tree Cay, 23.1855, -75.29

This place: It’s gorgeous. Take away the no-see-ums and the truly high-intensity, fly-squishing thunderstorms and this could be your tropical paradise.

Birds: on the other side of the island are two oystercatchers, very beautiful with their long orange beaks, white underbellies and black tops. The white comes up around the front of their wings. Not like in B.C. Inquisitive, followed me around this morning. There is a bird, shaped like a plover, a little bigger. Brown and black with white chevron on the tail feathers. Normally makes a loud click click, click sound. But when they dive they sound like a jet engine-whoosh. Willi thought at the first campsite that it was a donkey braying. Today one started dive bombing me, I was near its nest? Just at the bottom of its dive it curves its wings down, whoosh. There is a pigeon that sounds like an owl. Bonaparte’s gulls, a pair. One screams the usual gull fare, always first. The other squawks as if adding an exclamation. Some pretty, light tan on underbelly, darker on top robin style birds, not shy. Another bird, similar, but with a white strip on the tail. Two herons, a little smaller than our great blues. One grey, the other white. Who are these strangers? Should have brought a bird book.

Willi and Brown Noddies

Yesterday, a hot heat hummer. We finally arrived here, boats on the beach. I looked out to sea and saw it coming towards us. A twister. We scampered away from the boats. It swept up the beach about 10 meters from us, went straight on, about 20 kn travelling speed and hammered the bushes beyond. Branches flying everywhere. About 6 meters in diameter, pulled up debris from the beach. Would have laid waste to our tent flies if they had been up. The day before, at Salt Pond, we saw a large water spout away a bit. Lasted maybe 20 minutes. Dangerous.

May 23, 1999

Last night at Pear Cay. A true seabird rookery. Bonaparte’s gulls, one tern, one Fulmar?” (note: on one of the early cays, I think this one, there was no beach. We had to lay down our storage bags over the coral and haul our loaded kayaks up over overhanging ledges, on the bags. Seas were calm. This would have been extremely difficult in rough weather.)

May 25, 1999

Interrupted my journal on the 23rd by the arrival on our beach of Christopher, Blue and his four other buddies from Spanish Wells. We first saw them out on the water: two in a skiff diving with a compressor and line. They came up to us: “Hey man, do you burn?” Of course Willi does, so everything was cool.

They were interested in our boats. Thought it was the neatest thing, all that camping stuff in there, and just taking off. These guys like their freedom. They’re here now because red snappers are supposed to be here in big numbers by full moon. They work from the small skiffs. Throw down a net, then go down with their compressed air lines and loop the net around the fish (It’s all shallow here) and the boat person hauls up.

Blue has Paul Newman brilliant blue eyes. Blond hair. No doubt the ladies love this guy. He described about 8 ways of cooking conch, how to spear grouper, eat whelks, eat eggs from the bird colonies on the coral cays. Although he has two kids, he is out chasing fish and shellfish most of the time, by the season.

They had been spear fishing that day- a grouper, triggerfish, parrot fish and two large crayfish, which they gave us. Men as hunters. The women, no doubt, are back at Spanish Wells holding everything together. Blue said that they are all white on Spanish Wells. It’s on an island just off Eleuthera. The people on Eleuthera are mostly black, he said. Sort of enclaves, it seems. Seems to be some money in all this, the skiffs are modern speed boats with big outboards. Blue showed me his fancy onboard GPS with electronic map. They don’t own the boats, though. At least not the mother ship, about 60 feet, wood. The guys go ashore to smoke weed. Can’t do it onboard.

May 27, 1999 Second day at Flamingo Cay

Beautiful beach facing to windward (to S.E.) Good diving (though not as good as Pear Island). Should catch a Grouper today. We burned the backs of our legs swimming yesterday, will have to wear long pants. Unfortunately too much plastic in the water. Often bags just floating by. It’s blazing hot today, just a small breeze. Speared a parrot fish today and yesterday, off the small island near the point here. Yesterday I saw a huge manta ray. Very beautiful in action, flapping gracefully. The skinks in camp here are very bold. They will even sit on our feet. Looking for snacks.

Flamingo Cay

Water: I pumped 10 litres both today and yesterday with the desalinator. About 2 hours per bag if you include setup. K-1 cockpit is the perfect size. I drop a big rock in the water, out from the beach, tie the kayak to it and hop in. One shock cord up front of the cockpit to hold the intake. Another to hold the water bag. Two shock cords on the same side at rear of cockpit to hold the water maker. With this setup you can pump with one or two hands. And time goes by. Willi drinks a tremendous amount. I’ll be pumping more today. Eating refried beans with triscuit crumbs. There are barracuda in our bay here; we can see them from camp. In the water they look fearsome.

Anchoring kayak to begin pumping water

May 28, 1999 Jamaica Cay, 22.719, -75.9068.

We need protein. Hence the fishing. I was just off, on the windward side of the north point here. The fish are small and skittish. I was underwater with my spear, trying to sight a fish. I couldn’t, and looked behind me. A shark, about 6–7 feet long had snuck up behind me. Who was the hunter? I wheeled around with my spear and the shark took off. No way was I going to spear a fish with that around. It was within 10 feet. Let’s have some pasta.

This isn’t like Kerama. Lots of brown and white coral, not much colour. Not so many fish.

We were met here by Percy Wilson’s son, Ramon, and his younger brother, who basically ignored us. Ramon was friendly, thoughtful. 26 years. Talked about following a dream, which is Jamaica Cay, which he has been associated with for 8 years. They want to build a whole bunch of single and double cottages. They have cleared a little land, landscaped it. Built a few rudimentary buildings. Two huge tanker trailers are near the beach. One never got driven up to high ground, and is rusting from the sea. They don’t have any more money to proceed. Looks like a bottomless pit. Who would come? What about the hurricanes? The situation reminds me of the book, Mosquito Coast. Strong intelligence. Great mechanical aptitude. Wrong dream. Anyway, Ramon is smart, says he’s just learning. Wants to fly planes. Dreams a lot, has confidence.

May 31, 1999 E. Side of Nurse Island

Yesterday we did our final crossing over open sea. About 20 knots on the beam. Breakers too. Not dangerous, though. I liked those cays.

When we finally got to this beach, surfing, unfortunately, onto coral, I felt a sense of let-down. The open passages are over and now — garbage. So much of it on the beach. Innocence passes.

When we left Jamaica Cay Ramon handed us 4 mangoes and wished us well. Wow, are they ever good. Way better than in Vancouver. They reminded me of my travels in Latin America.

Its still morning. My morning shower is rapidly approaching. It’s been quite a few days since it rained. So we will be glad to wash. I will step out naked into the downpour and wash!

The aftermath: just enough rain came to put the soap on, but not enough to get it off. Still sticky.

Since then I’ve read my book in a sea cave, out of the sun for quite a while. Finally went out and caught two fish for dinner. Not a great dive. A depressing amount of garbage is in the water and I’m swimming in it. Mostly plastic bags. Also, it’s blowing, surf’s up, so the visibility is poor. We got a decent dinner. But the sea — how can we as humans survive if the ocean dies? Perhaps the plastic isn’t so bad, just unsightly. But, a reminder.

June 3, 1999 Hotel Perseus Maycock, Duncan Town, Ragged Island

Old Perseus, downstairs, who owns this joint, must be pretty deaf. Latin music is throbbing, incredibly loud. At first unfriendly, he’s eased up a bit. We helped him fix his window, but what really made a difference — we offered to put on the sheets. He has nobody to help him and I think that old Cepheus regards bed-making as woman’s work.

This little town is full of cute black kids and trash. Emphasis on the trash. People around here complain about the noise but he doesn’t listen. So says Sheila, who made us dinner last night and breakfast this morning. You find her at home or by a neighbour and arrange to meet her at the empty restaurant at a specified time. The system works. Sheila is 57, short and stocky. Her dead husband used to captain the mail boat but Cepheus was the head honcho (councilman, or something) and he got it for his sons. She has the restaurant and her sister is starting to let an in-home suite. Hates Perseus.

I’m upstairs, facing east, under a balcony. A breeze is blowing, it’s not too hot. I see that the elderly (57?) drive everywhere on golf carts. The music is blaring.

Across the lot with the run-down shack, still suffering from the most recent hurricane, and past the rubble of concrete, is a tree, a “sea grape”. All the kids stop and eat some grapes before going on. The adults don’t. A little sour, but tangy. The music is blaring still. The mail boat, which is supposed to come today, isn’t in sight, can’t be seen down the long channel between mangroves. According to local information it is supposed to leave at 5 pm, but it’s always late.

Salt Ponds, Duncan Town

June 4, 1999 Aboard Etienne & Cepheus’s 85' mail boat to Nassau. The milk run, maybe 28 hours.

A different and much better experience than the trip to Long Island. These guys, including crew, are fine. Generally a little older. Such an accent these guys have, a lot of the time it’s a foreign language to me. These guys are, in sentiment, time honoured, freedom-loving sailors. On the boat they feel free, though I guess they don’t count the hierarchy of the boat itself.

The big tall guy beside me with the full bushy black beard told me this, as did the cook, he of the deep gruff voice but with a twinkle in his eye. Mr. Tall just left his old girlfriend because she wanted him to stay home while she worked. His new one is cool to his work, he says. The cook is married, sees the family every weekend and obviously relishes it. He seems to be the most grounded of the bunch. Told Mr. Tall to not worry about what a certain guy thinks of him. He’s a philosopher of the down-to-earth.

The cook’s brother is a friend of the Captain. While we were waiting for the tide at Ragged Island (the tide determines when and where you move — it’s barely deep enough in some of our ports of call, as we scraped bottom every once in a while), the Captain and the big bro. went off in a skiff, all the way to our last campsite on Racoon Cay, and shot a couple of wild sheep. Then, while we set off, he skinned and butchered them where we sat, stern cockpit. That was last night.

Tonight we just dined on, of course, fresh mutton. We are more accepted on this boat. These guys know we paddled from Long Island. They think we’re crazy, but not in a bad way. For dessert tonight: soursop. A fruit, good cooled, thick, white, fresh, lots of pits. Lunch: conch, steamed, and rice, of course, the staple. Not seen pasta.

I just finished my “Murther” book by Robertson Davies. His characters are often so literate; they quote favourite classical authors, even in their own thoughts. This can give your own thought processes a bit of a dressing down. Should I have aspired for more sophistication, more learning? I’m certainly proud of my accomplishments at Feathercraft and of my family. But has my focus been too narrow? Is it?

I often feel intensely spiritual during kayak trips, including this one. A cleansing of the soul. The land and seas wash into me. But, should I aspire for more? More literacy? Let’s face it. My most intense moment, and the one that I relish, was when I had to face off that large shark. Also, when I was spearing fish, I was totally alert, conscious, cunning. A hunter. Is this a spiritual action, killing fish? I’m rambling here. But I wonder if I’m yet “grown up” and even what that means. “Get serious, man, and hey man, do you burn?” Should I be able to plumb some obscure line from Shakespeare to express this sentiment? Or Browning? A journey into literature and reflection. I’d have to learn to read in bed without falling asleep.

June 6, 1999 Towne Hotel, Nassau

Louie was on the mail boat from Ragged Island. I had noticed him before, as his appearance was different from the rest. A Cuban. His father, a train conductor, owns a small “farm” with some cows and pigs. You are not allowed to kill a cow there, they are just for milk. Louie’s family was hungry, so he killed and slaughtered a cow. A neighbour squealed. Louie got 17 years in the slammer for this.

After about six months he was allowed to go visit his dad for the weekend, with a guard. They got the guard drunk and Louie jumped in a small row boat and made it to Ragged Island. He was thrown in Bahamian jail for eight months, but finally released, to be sent back to Cuba. But he immediately married a Bahamian girl, so he got to stay. A pact with the devil.

She is short, obese, and apparently totally devoid of humour. She never set foot out of her room except to go to the head, scowl and bark orders at Louie. It was hard to hear.[1]. They have a cute baby girl whom he adores. He is exactly her opposite. Strong, extremely fit looking, gregarious, a free spirit who couldn’t be bottled up. Like Papillon. Charming too. In the course of five years he has managed to buy two boats, fishes with locals, and makes a good living at it, he says.

I’m sitting in a courtyard at the hotel across from two parrots who say “Hello, hello, hello” from time to time. They wake up Willi in the early morning and he curses them.

One floor above, the old workman is washing the floors on the verandas in front of the rooms. The water pours down onto the umbrellas that poke up from the round picnic tables. And that is why the umbrellas are so filthy. I had wondered why.

[1] When I re-read this I wonder if I was being too harsh. Maybe she has a fear of boats or was seasick.


16. Sea Level Rise (Entered Feb 1, 2021)

A report in 2014 by the UN Environment Program indicated that “Small Island Developing States” (SDI States) are at immediate risk of sea level rise. The island of Kosrae (5.3, 163 deg.) and other tropical Western Pacific small islands have been experiencing a sea level rise of about 12 mm per year: “about four times the global average.” In 2005 the UN declared that the 100 inhabitants of Tegua (-13.25, 166.62 deg.) to be the world’s first climate change refugees. With their island slowly sinking and the ocean rising they were forced to flee to another island

On a larger scale, the entire 113,000 population of Kiribati (1.9, -157.4), to the north west of the Tuamotos, will soon have to be evacuated: “This is the last resort, there’s no way out of this one,” Anote Tong (president of Kiribati) said. “Our people will have to move as the tides have reached our homes and villages.” Mr. Tong is in negotiation with the Fijian military to buy 5,000 acres on the island of Vanua Levu.(-16.7, 179 deg.) Some of Kiribati’s 32 island atolls are already disappearing, as are islands throughout the south Pacific. (The Telegraph, March 7, 2012) These island people are the first to experience the effects of sea level rise.

Probably the first extinction caused by sea level rise is the Bramble Cay melomys, which is a small rodent that lived on a small island between Australia and Papua New Guinea. It was last seen in 2009 and was likely driven to extinction by rising seas. There will be many other coastal animals that will suffer the same fate in the future. It is humans who may suffer the most, especially in the large coastal cities.

In February, 2006, my wife, Theresa, and I hooked up with Ken Fink in southern Florida. I wanted to test a new sail rig system and thought that the prevailing trade winds would push us down the Florida Keys from Key Largo to Key West. This time I was right.

We started down the windy gulf side of the keys on water too shallow for motor boats. We had the place to ourselves. With the Florida Reef just offshore providing protection, the ocean swell was minimal and the seas were easy. The upper keys are too developed for camping but there were lots of small, mom-and-pop motels along the way. I had entered their locations and phone numbers on my GPS. When it was time to go in for the night we just called the nearest one on my cell phone.

Once we had passed the Seven Mile Bridge we put away the sails and paddled north through the lower keys. We passed from sandy shore barrier islands facing the Gulf of Mexico to sheltered channels amongst coral islands thick with mangroves and beautiful frigate birds, pelicans and warblers.

On the upper keys two things were noticeable right away. First, there was far more traffic on the Overseas Highway connecting the keys than we anticipated, considering that once you drove to Key West you had to turn around and come back. Sometimes it was difficult just to cross the highway, which made walking to restaurants at night a bit strange.

The other thing was also a surprise. In many areas there were all sorts of furniture pieces, stoves, fridges and whatever floating around the keys, stranded onshore, and beside the highway. Just four months before, Hurricane Wilma, a category 3 storm, had hit the keys with a vengeance. A mandatory evacuation of all residents had been ordered. It was obvious that the storm had swept right over the low-lying keys. With rising sea levels and increasingly intense storms, how long will the Florida Keys remain habitable? More recently, on September 10, 2017, Hurricane Irma, a category 4 storm when it came ashore, devastated the entire chain of keys.

2007 estimates from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggest that global sea level will increase 8 to 16 inches above 1990 levels by 2090. The National Academy of Sciences predictions from 2009 suggest that by 2100 sea level could increase by anywhere from 16 inches to 56 inches, depending how the Earth responds to changing climate. Both of these estimates are probably way off because neither accurately studied the effects of ice melt in Greenland and Antarctica.[1]

NASA has been measuring Greenland ice cap for 11 years using satellite and laser altimetry data. The IPCC computer simulation models underestimate the rate of melt. Their model measures just 4 glaciers in Greenland, but the actual situation is more complicated. There are “superglacial lakes” — lakes that have been migrating inland, and the dark water is accelerating the melting. The water can also act as a lubricant, causing the ice to slide into the ocean. The UN study did not allow for this or for the different rates of glacier melting. If the whole ice cap melts, the sea level will rise over 20 ft. (7.2 meters). The team estimates a doubling of the 8.7 inches that IPCC estimated for Greenland contributing to global sea level rise this century. Whole countries, such as Bangladesh, and cities, such as Miami and Shanghai, will be inundated. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon flew to Greenland and declared that this threat is the greatest that faces mankind. In the last ten years the equivalent of 10 billion tons of ice have melted.

A similar situation is playing out in Antarctica.

On May 12, 2014 The Guardian reported:

“The collapse of the west Antarctic ice sheet has already started. It will be complete within 200 to 500 years. It would cause a sea-level rise of up to 4 metres (13 ft.) Most of the sea level rise we’ve seen so far is from thermal expansion [ocean warming and therefore expanding] and alpine glaciers melting.

“The collapse of the Western Antarctica ice sheet is already under way and is unstoppable, two separate teams (from NASA and Univ. of Washington) of scientists said on Monday.”

“The sea level rise caused by west Antarctica collapsing will change the coastline of the whole world. The rise won’t be even around the world — the coast of north-eastern US and along the south of China will see particularly high increases.”

“The study honed in on the Thwaites glacier — a broad glacier that is part of the Amundsen Sea. Scientists have known for years that the Thwaites glacier is the soft underbelly of the Antarctic ice sheet, and first found that it was unstable decades ago.”

A more recent study presented by Richard B. Alley in the February 2019 issue of Scientific American enlarged on the Thwaites glacier. This and the adjoining Pine Island glacier are massive ice sheets, extending one mile above sea level and jammed 1 1/2 miles deep onto the Bentley Subglacial Trench said to be “Earth’s deepest place not under an ocean”.

Floating ice shelves that occur at the foot of glaciers in protected bays slow down the flow of ice as it is propelled into the ocean. Warm air can cause lakes to form on these shelves. These lakes can cause the shelves to break up rapidly. When these shelves break up, the flow of the glaciers behind them can speed up.

In West Greenland I was able to observe the Jackobshavn glacier near Illulissat where it runs into the sea. It is a sight that sticks in my mind for its vastness and also its strangeness. Before its ice shelf broke up it was a fast moving glacier, but since then it has more than doubled its speed and become the fastest flowing glacier and one of the largest contributors to sea level rise on the planet. But compared to the Thwaites glacier it is a mere trickle.

There are signs that the Thwaites ice shelf is starting to come apart and could completely disappear within a few decades. Then it could start to melt rapidly. Alley could not say how long this might take but he compared predicting such a thing to dropping cups on a floor. You can tell on average how many cups might fracture a bit, or shatter or not be broken at all, but you wouldn’t want to bet your paycheck on what happens to the next cup. The report did indicate that the glacier could break up within a hundred years once the ice shelf is gone and that would raise sea levels by 11 feet. But he also said that they might be underestimating the rate of ice melt.

Last night my wife and I were admiring a flower and she took a picture of it. It was a gerbera daisy with beautiful, robust petals emanating from a long stock shaped like a sine curve on its side. Perhaps she will make a painting of it. She is very good at that. This morning the stock was barren and all of the petals were lying on the counter. It may seem strange to be comparing a glacier to a flower, but it’s no stranger than comparing it to falling crockery. It is a difference in time scale. Like flowers, glaciers have a beginning and an end. It can be difficult to predict when petals will suddenly fall off a flower. Perhaps by knowing how long the flower has been in bloom, or measuring the moisture in the petals and checking whether it has been pollinated or infected with thrips might help. Similarly, scientists have been studying the physics of ice fractures and the history of glacier melting to create computer models of how the great glaciers might melt under different climate scenarios.

Apparently it may take a few decades before the Thwaites loses its ice shelf. But then again it could happen faster. Just to the north of Thwaites, the much smaller Larsen B Ice Shelf astonished scientists by disintegrating almost completely in just five weeks. Like our gerbera daisy.

The report did not look into how a sea level rise of up to 11 meters from this one source would lead to knock-on effects on other glaciers in Antarctica and the Arctic, nor at the effects of increased permafrost melting as rising waters swamp low-lying areas. The whole process is driven by warming seas.

A research team from the University of New South Wales reported in 2020 that during the last interglacial period, between 129,000 and 116,000 years ago, the melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet caused a sea-level rise of more than three meters. This was caused by a rise of less than 2C of ocean warming.

In a CBC radio news interview on September 9, 2017, Harold Wanless, University of Miami’s Geological Sciences Chairs stated in his deep voice: “a two-metre rise in sea level by 2100 is likely, but it’s also plausible it could be as much as five metres by the end of the century, and it will continue rising for centuries after that.” Such a rise would submerge vast coastal areas. Wanless’s warnings are higher than most predictions. However, a study published on January 25, 2021 in the journal The Cryosphere found that the rate of global ice loss is in line with the worst-case scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It has accelerated by 65% between 1994 and 2017.

In 2008 the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) outlined the effect of just a 0.5 sea level rise by 2070 on highly populated areas. Calcutta, India, headed the list, with 14 million people and $2.0 trillion in assets at risk. Gangzhou, China, was next, followed in order by: Mumbai, Miami, Shanghai, Bangkok, Tianjin, New York, Ho Chi Minh City, Dhaka, Ningbo, Tokyo, Alexandria, Haiphong, and Amsterdam. The last on the list, Amsterdam, would still have an estimated 1.4 million people and $843 billion in assets at risk if sea levels rise by just 0.5 meters by 2070. Overall, at least 275 million people live in vulnerable areas, with 4 out of 5 living in Asia.

Rising seas will displace hundreds of millions people by 2100 or soon after. These effects are baked in — the glaciers will continue to melt for hundreds of years. But the effects on life in the oceans will also be dramatic. As the seas rise and overtake the land, many of mankind’s “assets” will be submerged, likely causing massive pollution. This will include agricultural land inundated with fertilizers, chemical plants, oil and gas refineries and nuclear power stations. Many of these facilities are built right at water’s edge in order to facilitate cooling and also shipping. A look at just a few of these can be helpful in understanding the scope of the threat.

In the U.S., the Port Arthur Refinery (29.88, -93.96) and the Marathon refinery near Galveston Bay (29.37, -94.92) are both sitting on flat land beside the sea, elevation about 2 meters.

An example in South Korea is the GS Caltex, Refinery (34.834, 127.67), also at sea level. Those are just two of many examples.

It might be comfortable to think that these facilities are owned by mighty corporations and when the time comes they will decommission them. But, by the time they are pressured to act they may not have the resources. Once the liabilities of the big oil and gas companies are known to exceed their assets, and there are profit warnings, money will flow rapidly out to shareholders. Nobody wants to be left holding the bag.

On a smaller scale this scenario is playing out right now in Alberta. There are thousands of abandoned and orphaned wells in the province. The big oil and gas companies have been selling off these wells to smaller companies. Many of these are underfinanced and cannot afford to close off these turkeys. Some have declared bankruptcy. A recent ruling has indicated that these companies are still liable, but how do you collect from a shell?

There is a considerable number of nuclear power stations positioned right at water’s edge. One in France is the large Gravelines Nuclear Power Station ((51.01, 2.13). Some of it appears to be on about 1 to 2 meters of land. The image on Google Earth has been scrambled, so it is difficult to determine where the actual reactors are. This is not reassuring.

In China most of the more modern reactors on the coast have been built on mounds 14 meters or more high. Two exceptions are the Quinshan Nuclear Power Plant (30.436, 120.958), which has a Canadian-designed CANDU-6 reactor, built in 2003, and the Russian-designed Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant (34.687, 119.458), which is right at water level.

Japan, of course, has a difficult history with nuclear power. As early as 1969 the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant (364.623, 138.141) was considered to be the most dangerous due to its low elevation and exposure to earthquakes. It was finally closed down in 2011 after the Fukushima tragedy.

On March 11, 2011 a huge 6.9 earthquake did not initially damage the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, but it sent a 14-meter tsunami wave that disabled its cooling system. Three of the cores largely melted and high radioactive releases happened in the air and also in the sea. Remediation is ongoing. TEPCO, the operator of the plant, has indicated that it will take between 30 and 40 years to decommission the plant. Radioactivity is still leaking into surrounding seas. Rising sea levels and powerful storms will put many nuclear, oil and gas and coal power plants at risk of failure, causing an unknowable amount of ocean pollution.

Miami could have 4.8 million people and $3.5 trillion in assets at risk. Even so, the Florida Power and Light utility is proposing to expand the aptly named Turkey Point twin atomic power plants. On May 12, 2014, Howard Wanless was quoted by the Sun Sentinel as saying that Turkey Point will possibly be: “sitting out in the middle of Biscayne-Florida Bay” if sea levels rise by 4 feet to 6 feet by the end of the century, as some studies project. South Miami Mayor Phillip Stoddard added, “You’d be hard-pressed to find a worse place to build a nuclear power plant than between two national parks on a hurricane-swept coastline, subject to storm surge and sea-level rise.” There is no guarantee that these concerns will be considered seriously.

Wanless in Miami points out that no amount of pumping can save large areas of southern Florida because the sea is intruding into the low-lying porous sand and limestone. You can’t pump out the sea forever. $100 million has already been spent on pumping and they are heading towards $300 million. He notes: “This is what global warming looks like. If you live in south Florida and you’re not building a boat, you’re not facing reality.” [2]

In a few years there will likely be water shortages in this region due to salt water intrusion. A similar situation exists in an area where I have paddled in Shanghai. The area is crisscrossed with canals. Some of the bridges that we passed under are beautiful stone structures up to 1600 years old. Fresh water is being pumped out of the ground to supply the region’s 24 million inhabitants, drawing ever more salt water into the area.

Most of the melting ice in Greenland has been on the west coast, and the rate of melt has increased dramatically in the last ten years. I saw that firsthand during two trips.

[1] Business Insider, Oct 12, 20012

[2] Huffington Post, January 24, 2015

17. East Greenland (Entered March 1, 2021)

Kong Oscar Fjord

In 1996 I paddled with a Black Feather tour group, capably led by company cofounder Wendy Grater, in the Kong Oscar Fjord region on the east coast of Greenland. The scenery is spectacular, with glaciers pushing down from the vast ice cap through craggy mountains down to the coast. Although we saw remnant rings of ancient stone dwellings, no one currently lives permanently in this area or in the rest of the huge park that covers most of northeast and central Greenland.

All along the coast we encountered herds of musk ox. Usually they eyed us carefully as we were hiking, and kept above us, on higher ground. On one occasion, though, I almost stumbled onto a couple sleeping as I came over a ledge. I was very close and could see that they were breathing heavily, perhaps due to the heat of the summer day.

One day a polar bear came into our camp, perhaps drawn by our lunch preparations. It pawed at our tents, testing them. I fired some flares at it while Wendy banged off a few from a badly rusted, borrowed shotgun that we were afraid to fire. The bear was curious about the flares, opened its mouth for a better whiff (polar bears have a special organ in the roof of their mouths that enhances their sense of smell) and pawed the phosphorous smoke from the flare. Perhaps the smell was unpleasant. It then sauntered by our camp, lay down on some boulders and went to sleep. The bang from the flares did not startle it at all. These bears are used to the boom and crack of giant icebergs breaking apart. Some time later it woke up, slipped into the water and swam away. We left too, in the opposite direction. The gun problem: in order to paddle into this big park that covers so much of Greenland, you must carry a gun, for bears. But, you can’t take one on an airplane. So, we borrowed that rusty thing.

Wendy had been using our double kayaks for quite a few years. I had the opportunity to work a bit on the old kayak frames during set-up. Originally she had suggested that I might help with her paying customers, but then her friend and guide Sally came along and I was left free to wander. As agreed I left the group for a couple of days and set off on my own. I didn’t have a tent. I had no concerns about the weather but after encountering the bear I did have some misgivings. While attempting to sleep in my bag I kept having thoughts about a cartoon that I had seen in a newspaper. Two bears are looking down a hill and spy a couple of people sleeping in bags. One bear says to the other: ‘Yum, yum, sandwiches. Soft on the outside, crunchy in the inside”. By the time I rejoined the group Wendy remarked slyly that I looked tired.

Bear unaffected by loud noise

On this trip we had easy access to glaciers and some good hikes on them. The days were long and warm. There was melting ice all along the sides and tongues of glaciers, with no shortage of drinking water. This will only increase as the permafrost continues to melt, the sea water temperature rises, and the whole arctic continues to warm up twice as fast as the rest of the planet.

18. West Greenland July, 2000 (Entered March 1, 2021)


About 4,500 years ago some hunters in what is now the Bering Strait region made crude skin crafts to retrieve seals harpooned from shore. Over time these crafts evolved into sophisticated kayaks.

The Inuit kayaks in the Bering Strait region feature seven or more longitudinal stringers secured in place to numerous crosspieces. These boats have rounded hulls and are proper seagoing craft. Farther east, in Central Canada, the kayaks are light weight and used mainly for hunting near shore. These have five longitudinal stringers. With just five bars the resulting cross section created is angular and allows a competent paddler to lean and turn very sharp corners when hunting. The kayaks in Western Greenland are of this style, but are in many ways more advanced in terms of performance and seaworthiness. They are also especially beautiful. Today Greenlanders no longer use these kayaks for hunting, but paddling and rolling activities have evolved as a sport and the building of these remarkable kayaks is flourishing.

When I started my first folding kayak design in the mid-1970s I had just a few basic ideas about what I wanted to do. I needed something transportable, preferably small enough when folded to fit into a large backpack. I had paddled a skin kayak as a young boy and loved the intimacy that you feel with the ocean as the soft skin reacts to every wave and ripple. Paul Theroux, who has one of our kayaks, has compared the skeleton and skin of folding kayaks to sea mammals. There is a sense of belonging with the sea that is lost with rigid hull boats. I had also learned to fly small planes and became familiar with the aluminum tubing used in their construction and realized that these tubes would be idea for my frames.

After building and paddling early boats with five bars and some cross pieces and then covering the frame with 6 ml poly I began to realize that I had no idea what cross section shape I wanted. They paddled terribly. Then I got the idea of having adjustable crossribs. I fixed the gunwales to establish overall beam width. I could move the keel up or down. The two chines on either side of the keel were totally adjustable. I was able to not only adjust the shape and then paddle the kayak but also look through the clear polyethylene sheet and see how the water flowed past. With these discoveries and many other developments we started making our first kayaks. Shortly after that my pal Eric gave me some pages that he had printed in the library from Chapelle’s drawings of West Greenland kayaks: “The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America”, by Edwin Tappan Adney and Howard Chapelle. I was surprised to find that although my cross sections were larger, the positioning and angles of my bars were very similar to most of Chapelle’s frame drawings. I had blundered on to the right track. These cross section shapes are still central to all of the kayaks that we have made.

It slowly dawned on me how important these Inuit kayaks are. I can be a little slow on the uptake. But I came to realize that there are few, if any, current products that have such a direct connection to indigenous designs. After introducing our first K-1 in 1980 we went on to produce a number of different models, designed for different purposes. Then in 1995 I felt ready to make a Greenland kayak based on a drawing by kayak historian, H.C. Petersen. (Just the shape. My construction technique was completely different.) I was surprised that the first boat didn’t meet my expectations at all, but after considerable tweeking the kayak worked well. I used these kayaks during both trips to Greenland.

Kayak poster, 1996. Compare to drawing at beginning of this work

I feel totally in debt to the astonishing Inuit kayaks, especially those from Greenland. This trip was my big chance to visit the “motherland” of skin-on-frame kayaks and maybe meet with some of the current builders. I was also going through some tough personal problems at the time and thought that I might be able to sort things out with time on the land and sea.

Eric, aka Migratory Man, is always on the move. Since visiting him on Reid Island, we had done a few trips together, including hiking in the Nahanni National Park in the Yukon and ski traversing in the Rockies. When I suggested that we paddle together somewhere off the coast of Greenland he jumped at the chance. On the west coast of Greenland a “polynya”, or open water, forms due to the warming effects of the upwelling Gulf Stream waters combined with high pressure winds streaming off the Greenland Ice Cap, which push the sea ice offshore. My plan was to paddle from Upernavik to Uummannaq and do a lot of hiking along the way. Then, if we had time, take a boat to Kangerlussuaq and hike to the Greenland Ice Sheet. We ended up doing just that.

The climate in West Greenland in summer is surprisingly moderate. Temperatures remain well above freezing and the high pressure system that hangs over the massive ice cap usually keeps stormy low pressure fronts at bay. The arctic is changing, however. We had the pleasure of experiencing unusually wet, cool weather. During the summer a huge amount of melt water drains off the massive Greenland Ice Cap. As the arctic warms and the melting season expands this is increasing exponentially. We saw massive outflows coming off the glaciers and impassible rivers separated us from the main ice cap.

July 6, 2000, Uummannaq, 70.675, -52.126

Up at 4:30 am, flew Dash 7 to Qaarsut, then Sikorsky chopper, 10 minutes to here. Beautiful. Rugged land. This morning: T –shirt, hot. Bergs floating by. Brightly painted houses plopped on the rocks, backed by the spired mountain. A wonder, this place. We hiked quite a bit, after we were told that we couldn’t chopper to Upernavik today, it’s foggy there. Went past Santa Clause’s house on West side. Sod covered, very tight and comfy inside. The Danes tell their kids that this is where Santa lives.

Got put up here in school rooms by the airline Gronlandsfly. Also dinner at the fancy Uummannaq Hotel. Talked with Dane who has dogsledded from Ilulissat to Qanaaq (Thule) 2–3 months on sea ice, works for fish brokers.

Some insights- why few large fish boats here? They are all off in the fjords near the glaciers, where the fish are. Turbots (like small halibut- “Black Halibut”). We see them hanging to dry all over the place. Smell them too. Main cash generator.

This town started as an Inuit hunting village. Fishing is much more recent. 3 fish processors in town and 2 factory ships in the fjords. The air is super clear. I thought that the island across the way was maybe a nautical mile off. Its four NM away, looks so close.

Man skinning kayak with nylon fabric

Today blundered into a shed where a guy was making traditional style kayaks, canvas or nylon skins. His paddles were functional but a little rough. Very small volume boats, well made. Great for rolling. About 9 or so outside on a rack. They used to have to hang them high because the dogs ate the seal skins. I brought two of my Khatsalano kayaks, Greenland style boats for this trip, but higher volume. Traditionally, Greenland kayaks were for hunting. Ours have to carry our stuff. Later, after dinner a few people went out in them and did some rolls. Beautiful to see. White boats and black ones.

Locals from Uummannaq, playing

Dogs- they all look the same here. Chained. Dirty ones and dirtier. You are only allowed to keep sled dogs from Disko Bay north, no other dogs. Keep the breed pure. South: other dogs only, no teams.

Off to Upernavik: “place of springtime” small plane tomorrow if fog lifts. 72.787, -56.147.

July 9, 2000, north end of Iperaq Island, 72.534, -55.684

This place is fantastic. The rocks, shear pink or grey cliffs, vistas out of storyland.

Me, playing

Left Upernavik day before yesterday at 7 PM. Paddled 8 knots or so. It was hot. Eric wasn’t used to the drysuit and left it half on. When the wind came up he got wet and cold. No complaints, though.

As I said to Eric: “if this place were accessible, this would be a classic route”. It’s so beautiful. So far, paddling conditions have been good. Maybe lulled us a bit?

Upernavik museum had some perfectly preserved kayaks, paddles and tuiliks. For me, like the second coming. Spent all day there. Gorgeous and inspiring. Crazy that I’m a student of these designs. I owe so much. Met Harvey Golden there, who is a keen student of Inuit kayaks. He was measuring all of the kayaks on display.

Admiring kayak in Upernavik museum

+You get a breeze in the evening, about 8 or so? Not sure exactly when because I’ve put away the watch. Just use it for the date. Till now we have had sun. Fog rolled in last night, it’s just above our heads.

Walking around last night, up the hill to watch the fog roll in. A few picturesque little lakes sculpted into the rock, amongst all the glacial erractics. They are warm! If they don’t have snow around them they have warmed up — we may find more for swimming/bathing. Murre and guillemot colonies, cormorants too. No seals. Some mosquitoes. I’ve been sleeping in the tent without fly. Eric outside with his bag over his head.

Last night the mist swirling around the crags reminded me of Wagner’s Valhalla. Based on Nordic myths, after all. The cliffs are massive, go right up from the beach. The first day we camped on the south end of Qaersorssuaq.. So, breakfast is over, off into the mists we go.

July 10, 2000

The realization is that we have too little time here. Too much to see, do and admire.

Today we left the fog behind a couple of hours in. Entered Proven (72.379, -55.55) and were immediately surrounded by curious children, all very young. “Qajak, Qajak”. Super looking kids. One had on a tie-very curious, but he was an urchin like the rest.

Kids at Proven

The store was closed so we had no reason to stay. Eric needs a new cup — his has split, and I thought that we would buy some fish or something to leave some money in their village. Just a bunch of colorful huts perched on a hill. A number of guys standing on the pier, doing nothing, some older gents sitting in front of a house, doing nothing. One couple playing, kissing, laughing.

Dinner: couscous flavored with beef stock, onion powder, dill, dried mushrooms, butter.

July 11, 2000 Just outside of Sondre Upernavik 72.168, -55.55

Breakfast: 12 tbsp. cornmeal, b.s.[brown sugar], coconut, pumpkin seed, butter, whole milk powder.

Lunch: nil

Dinner: Dried bell (red) pepper, dropped pkg Knorr spaghetti sauce mix into 1/4 cup powdered milk, onion powder, garlic, basil, butter, onto pasta.

Paddled a fair while today. Some wind at first, then calm. Colder, Overcast. Now rain and moskies. Were visited by about 7 people. 2 young boys, 1 girl, 2 women, 2 men. Again, most interested in our kayaks and gear. Short on teeth they were.

July 12, 2000

Still just outside Sondre Upernavik. Too windy to paddle.

Got up late, walked into town, saw a few people. Potato chips and apples, ate up a hill, in lee of boulder.

I mentioned to Eric the feeling of restlessness that we seem to share, him especially. Our ancestors were immigrants, do we feel less rooted because of that? Realizing that migrations of people have occurred since the beginning. What about indigenous people of NA? Do they feel restless? He answered that it is in his genes. I wondered: how would roaming through Scotland feel? Lousy weather, but it’s ancestral for me.

Sitting with my back to a tiny dilapidated shack, leaning towards the beach. The only shelter from the wind except for the fly, which is noisy. View of the small peninsula the other side of which is the village. The only evidence we see of it is the dirt track, the house where the trash is burnt plus the trash on the beach. The trash isn’t too bad, though, not nearly as bad as the Bahamas.

In the distance, the first point of Narsaq, I think. In between, a lot of waves that would be almost broadside, and the wind. I wish I had remembered the skegs, especially for Eric. I remember that by the time I got to know him and Margaret well they had already paddled around Vancouver Island, in skinny “Eskie” kayaks. Someone had made a bunch of these early kayaks from a mold. Too much rocker, round hull, not really suited for touring. They demanded a lot of skill.

But that was a long time ago. Since then he has spent his time as a guide in the mountains and worked a minimum number of hours doing odd jobs to support his spartan lifestyle. He doesn’t know how to roll a kayak, though, and it shows.

This place sparkles. We’re off up the nearest peak.

July 12, 2000 East side of Skalo Island. 71.87, -55.44

Last night at Sondre Upernavik was amazing. An older guy in his 60’s (looked older) a young woman, and two young men walked down the beach. Obviously to see the kayaks.

Kayak maker in Sondre

Allan spoke some English, as did the newly graduated teacher, Josef. The old guy was really taken with the kayaks, looked at them in great detail, also the paddle. He asked through Allan, “Where can I get one?” He laughed a lot. Pretended to offer a coin as payment. Turns out he has instructed the kids at Sondre Upernavik how to make skin kayaks.

Allan was interested too. He mentioned that European tourists pay big money to ride on a dog sled on the ice cap for one hour. I said that they were crazy and when the woman laughed, I realized that she had some English too, but was shy. Her grandad made the best preserved skin kayak in the first floor of the museum in Upernavik. It’s a beauty.

Allan has pretty good English, probably has something to do with tourism in Upernavik. Said he would contact me. I offered to trade a Khatsalano for a skin boat the old guy makes. He was delighted. He demonstrated some strokes with my paddle. I was thrilled by all of this. Contact.

This happened at around 11:30 PM, the wind was blowing, and we were all cold. Finally Allan said that he was freezing and he and his date left. The older guy chuckled at this, as he inspected the boat again. Then he and a strange looking short man left. That left the teacher and us. Tall, quiet spoken, not bad English, his third language.

Sondre Upernavik has just lost its economic underpinning. The state company, “Royal Greenland”, which buys all the fish, had built a fish processing plant. In 1988 the fishers got together and bought it. But earlier this year inspectors found bacteria in the building. Apparently nothing can be done about it. Perhaps the fish are in decline so there is no point. Anyway, the guys are all off fishing out of Upernavik or Uummannaq. We were told that the place is full of lonely women.

The teacher starts teaching his first class in Upernavik in the fall. He asked us if Canada has ice bears, and then: “Do you eat them?”

Dinner: soup: Knorr’s Hot and Sour. Delicious. Main: 1 cup bulgur, pkg tomato soup, heaping tsp chili powder, hand full of greasy dried fried onions, salt, butter, veg. bacon bits. Hot chocolate: Dutch cocoa powder, b.s., milk powder. 2 Hobnobs each.

Eric is a fantastic bush cook.

July 13, 2000 pressure 1020, 4 deg., rain, hail

The wind continues, S.E., in our face, stormy. I doubt the barometer on the watch.

Later in the day: Eric mentioned that when you start a walk here you seem to get drawn into it. Without time constraints you keep going. No flashlight in your pack, it’s endless. We started up the valley. As I had found on my before-breakfast hike, the ground is spongy, which slows you down.

Up we went, for hours, until we were on the island plateau. In some places the ground is rocky; there are terraces of jumbled rock, reddish often. Some places have thick mud, watch out! One sucked my leaky boot right off. I’m in my bag, drying the socks. On the plateau you have a grand choice of directions to go, perhaps depending on what view you want. Unfortunately when we were there we had driving rain and hail so we couldn’t see much. But you still had this feeling of expansiveness. Buttercups, arctic cotton, sedges, heather in bloom, a mother arctic ptarmigan protecting her chicks, drawing us away with her wounded wing dance. Rodent poo, probably lemming. Lots of wind. Rain in squalls, All 400 meters up.

Still in tent, no rain, fly open, watching clouds, the luxury of time. I sometimes permit work thoughts. This is one of those times. First, I’m amazed at what I’ve accomplished, but also at how insignificant it all is in the grander scheme. Paradoxical. The designs, the incredible fabric welding technology I’ve dreamed up and organized. The people at F.C., really good people who appreciate their jobs. Happy customers with heart- warming stories. The boats themselves. Wow. None of this will be remembered. But what fun.

July 14, 2000 evening about 11 pm. Svartenhaven 71.665, -55.65

This morning a boat came into our camp., E. side of Skalo Island. One of three jumped out. An old Inuit, the true round face. Gave me a trout. We had trouble communicating. Maybe he said that he was from a place starting with Mack… They had been heading north up the channel, first boat we’ve seen. Must have noticed our tarp. Gum boots. He asked the much younger man to help him back aboard the boat by pushing on his butt. The old woman waved, smiled a bit and off they went.

July 15, 2000 71.566, -55.6

Oh, oh, seriously stormed in. West side of Narssaq, 14 mi. north of end of peninsula.

This morning looked O.K., but a strong S.W. developed. Now wind and rain, cold.

We had thought that we might stop early, go to bed and try to take advantage of the evening calm, but tonight? This won’t go away soon. Writing difficult, under fly.

Yesterday evening Eric suggested that I go on ahead, as he was moving slowly. I declined. Shortly after he told me that his shoulder was really hurting. We shouldn’t go any further. Good thing I didn’t go on. No place to land. Had to go into the bay, very slowly.

Today he is much better, and we had to pull very hard just to make small progress. I hope that this weather changes.

This land is flat, with a gravel berm along shore for miles, lakes inshore of berm. We made soup with the water: quite brackish.

Yesterday Eric saw a fox moving up a hill. We both saw a dead one. There is Muskox poo on this peninsula, the odd whale skeleton, small. But the land is mostly empty. There appears to be enough vegetation to support a lot of muskox. With their fish livelihood diminishing I wonder whether the Greenlanders would consider managing muskox or reindeer, like the Chukchi? Maybe it’s too remote.

July 16, 2000 6.85 nm N.W. of Qinqniviup (s. end of Narssaq Penin.)

Got up early for a change, 6 AM. No wind, ate, left. Bugs galore. Wind came up around noon, so we pulled in here.

Eric’s shoulder is O.K, he’s paddling well. We call our paddling “isometrics” because we paddle close to the beach into a head wind without going anywhere.

Sitting in the kayak today, thinking of what could be, what might be. Contemplating a change fraught with difficulties. On a trip like this you have time for consideration. I often note to myself, “Oh, you’re thinking about things again. You should be in the here and now, enjoying the scenery”. But, part of the value of these trips is the introspection that you inevitably undergo. For now, I’m a husband. But later? Oh, how people change over time, or is it that they just more reveal their true selves? But drift we do. As I sit under this leaky tarp I can look at my other life as if removed.

July 19, 2000, still NW of Qingniviup on Narssaq 71.446, -55.457

Its morning, the wind still blows from S.E., about 35 knots. Had a long hike yesterday, we got up to some new snow at around 500 meters. The wind dropped for about one hour last night around 2 AM, a sucker drop. Then up she goes. We have food, but might run out before we reach Uummannaq. Eric’s boot fell apart yesterday: the sole came completely off from the mid-step back to the heel. He’s got it tied on with a webbing strap, is off hiking now. We do that to get warm, as well as for the enjoyment. The wind chills.

July 20, 2000 Tartussap, gagai. 71.374, -54.56

Wow. Was hiking alone yesterday when the wind dropped. Eric was waiting at camp. We left with almost no wind and clearing skies. Then a following sea pushed us towards the line of icebergs and then into it. The most fantastic array of shapes and sizes. About the most dramatic scenery I’ve ever paddled into. Just offshore there are hundreds of bergs. I can see them through my bug hood because this is also the most mosquito-infested place we’ve visited. Unfortunately the breeze has shifted back to S.E., in our face. What’s in store? But the gates of paradise opened and we got pushed through. In the distance are majestic snowy peaks. Closer is Ubekendt Island, which we want to head for once we’re down the coast a ways.

July 21, 2000 Kugssangassoq, near south end of Upernivik Island 71.188,-53.055

Yesterday at Tartussaq we hiked in the morning and early afternoon. The winds calmed and we left. Paddled directly across to north end of Ubekendt Island. About 20 miles. Didn’t arrive until 2:30 AM. Long day. 71.305, -53.666

Through another fantastic assortment of icebergs. Second half we had quartering seas that really tired Eric. Desperately tired. Then he didn’t sleep the rest of the morning. (I got 5 hours.) He was peeved about getting tired, but is fine now.

Today we dropped in on Igdlorssuit for some groceries. (not necessary-a reason to go to the store in the village). Very small community. On the way in a middle age Inuit couple in a skiff stopped. They had a dead seal draped over the gunwale. He just wanted to show us. Very proud. We had seen about 10 seals earlier. They travel together, more like our sea lions.

Successful seal hunt

The scenery here is incredible. Tall mountains rising straight up from the sea with glaciers spilling off them. We are camped just below the tongue of a glacier now.

July 22, 2000 same place

We got our camp down and, of course, changed our minds and decided to walk up to get on the glacier. It just sucked us up. With our stuff lying scattered on the beach we followed the tongue. Eventually we got to too many covered crevices. With fearless Eric in the lead we headed up a very unstable, steep scree slope, then a snow gulley. Anyway, it was beautiful and we got down for lunch many hours later, a super hike.

Eric starting up glacier

Windy down here at the beach, N.W., which would have blown us the 20 miles to our next camp. But we’ll stay until mañana.

Eric has said a few times, especially since the weather changed, that he must come back; this is the most impressive place that he’s ever been to. Where else can you paddle up to an immense glacier and have an awesome climb? And to the south, dominating, is the spire of Uummannaq. Such a place. Wild pink flowers, glaciers, mountains, bergs, seas. Bugs too.


Eric’s machismo: he wears the minimum amount of clothing to just get by. He has a down jacket with him, but he’s never worn it. “They’re for wussies” he said. I’ve seen him cold, huddled under the fly.

Tues. July 25, 2000. S.W. corner of Storen Island, just 4 miles east of Uummannaq. 70.657, -51.885

On 23rd paddled to Qasigissat group just north of Qeqertat Island. I was thinking of just stopping and then going on to Agpat, but there was a big berg grounded just off shore and it looked so great we camped here. 71.0215, -52.33

Then we discovered that this island is a penal colony: for dogs. Very hungry, we hung our food from a rock overhang. Real wolfish features, beautiful. Felt a little exposed to them, sleeping on my mat out in the open.

Hungry Dogs

Granite outcrops, different from the gneiss and shales across the bay. Very hot crossing, no wind, over-dressed. Every campsite is so different, each has been special.

The village of Qeqertat does not exist anymore. Where were the owners of the dogs, which seemed to be on most of these islands?

On the 24th paddled here, through the strait between Sagdleq and Agpat Islands first. Choked with bergs and ice, had to pick a tortured route. Agpat abandoned long ago as well, one sod-covered hut, one wood cabin, serviceable. Graveyard, vicious bugs. Left hurriedly. Main ice cap visible, calling us.

Had a good hike on my own today, and a sit with a majestic view of the boot called Uummannak, the sea, bergs everywhere, and the remarkable pink cliffs of this island. Soaring stone ramparts. Thought about my situation, what’s liable to come, with a clear mind. We’re supposed to get the ferry tomorrow at 23:59.

July 26, 2000 Uummannaq 70.68, -52.12

The sun just came out. We’re drying our stuff, out on the grass in front of the church. No one takes notice, not even the dogs stapled to the rocks. Lots of people sitting out front of the grill, with coffee and ice cream. Guys in trucks are moving loads of rocks around. They do a lot of that here.

July 27, 2000

On board the Sarfak Ittuk. We’ve got a “cochetta” which means a small cubby-hole for 4 in the bowels of the hold. Hot, no air, hard to sleep. I’m in my bag on deck, hoping it doesn’t rain. We heard that the bad weather we experienced is quite unusual. Normally Uummannaq may get 60 cm of rain annually. During that week they got over 50. Apparently no one remembers a storm of that duration in summer. Things are changing. We left Ilulissat in drizzle, so it continues a bit. Saw a soccer game there, men’s. Good level of play. 2–1, tight game, 2 goals on penalty kicks. Sand field.

A trail runs from Ilulissat to a view of the galloping Jakobshavn glacier. It’s retreating at a dizzying rate for a glacier. It was drizzly and foggy and you couldn’t see all the way across it but it was still spectacular. All sorts of shapes, a jumble of ice forms breaking off into the sea.

July 28, 2000

Docked at Sisimiut, bigger than the other towns, more stores, and active kayak clubhouse with quite a few skin kayaks on the rack. The people show a lot of civility towards one another. No apparent aggression. Not a lot of displays of affection either. They don’t casually greet someone who is walking by, even though in most cases they must know who it is. They seem Japanese, almost, except they spit a lot. The men march around in coveralls. They are tied to the fish trade, at the plant or on the water. The store clerks are all women. But this whole scene seems to me to be precariously balanced on a fragile fish economy and subsidies from Denmark. Gas and groceries are much cheaper than in northern Canada. Is the place being over fished? They don’t get that much for their Turbot.

I just met an older guy from Denmark. He said Denmark sends a subsidy of 3 billion Krones per year. Quite a haul. Maybe $5000 to $6,000 per person per year. He also said that Greenlandic is now being pushed in schools, so the kids aren’t learning as much Danish. But to go to university you must go to Denmark. He thinks, from his Danish viewpoint, that this is unwise. Surely, though, learning your own language is a good thing. What about more schools here?

Greenlanders are Danish citizens and can move there at any time. I read a journal by an American woman traveling with her Canadian husband by boat up the coast of Greenland during the 50s. One point she made was the lack of racism by the Danes. She pointed out that quite a few Danish women chose Greenlandic men as mates. Usually only the men intermarry if prejudice exists on a large scale. I don’t know. But it seems that there is less racism here than in Canada. Greenlanders seem to be running the show here more.

The Sarfak Ittuk took us all the way up a long inlet to Kangerlussuaq and its big airport runway. The airport was built by the Americans during WW2, in 1941 and handed over to Greenland in 1992. It was used for transatlantic flights before airliners had enough range to cross the Atlantic. It is still the main hub for Greenland traffic, although the permafrost is melting underneath it and there are plans to build another airport closer to Nuuk, the capital.

We had a few days so we decided to go for a hike. On my previous trip in Kong Oscar Fjord on the east side of Greenland we were able to hike up some stunning glaciers that shunted down from the ice cap. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Eric and I had just paddled down a remarkable coast from Upernavik, but had missed the fjords with glaciers that connect to the ice. We had learned that a road was being built by a contractor for Volkswagen that connected Kangerlussuaq with the ice cap, about 22 miles away.


The road was off limits to visitors, so we walked beside it rather than right on it. We left most of our gear, including rain clothes and rain fly and set out. The views were simply spectacular. A major river rushed off the melting ice cap and prevented us from approaching the massive ice cliffs. On the far side of the river we spotted some muskox and on our side there were plenty of caribou with huge antlers feeding on surprisingly lush meadows of grass and moss. However, by the time we got up on the ice cap and passed a guard who looked at us suspiciously, it was blowing and raining hard. Everything under foot was pooled water. Everything was melting. Oh, the memory of blue skies and gorgeous white ice!

We spent a very wet and cold night and then high-tailed it out of there. (67.1522, -50.047) Greenland definitely is melting.

Volkswagen road

19. Ocean Acidification (Entered March 1, 2021)

It was during the lead up to the year 2000 that I learned about a potential threat to our well-being. This was not the massively hyped “Y2K bug” in which computers around the world were predicted to fail. This was far more complex. I learned that the oceans of the world were becoming less alkaline and the growth of shell fish could be severely compromised. I bought a couple of pH meters from a store where the main business was supporting the growing marijuana industry, and started measuring the acid/alkali ratios of the ocean in places where I regularly paddled. I was surprised to find that the level of acidity varied in different locations, and that in some it was far higher than what was considered normal or healthy.

A recent study published in “Nature Change” found that 80% of Britons have never heard of ocean acidification. Probably in the U.S., where a whole industry is devoted to keeping citizens in the dark about climate change, the percentage is even worse. But this is the issue that ocean scientists say keeps them up at night.

Since the dawn of the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century, the oceans have absorbed almost half of the CO2 that has been spewed into the atmosphere. This year alone the oceans will absorb approximately two and a half billion tonnes of carbon. For us land-based air-breathers this could be seen as a good thing, for otherwise we would be really feeling the heat. However, this absorption of CO2 has resulted in the oceans becoming warmer and approximately 30% more acidic.

The most common measure of the acid/alkali ratio of seawater is the pH scale in which 7.0 is neutral, more than 7.0 is alkaline, and less than 7.0 is acidic. It is a logarithmic scale, which means that a change is multiplied by some factor. For example, a decrease in pH from 8.3, (which was the level of seawater before the industrial revolution began), to 8.2 (the average today) is an increase in acidity of 30%. Actually the change is a decrease in alkalinity, but Ken Caleira and Michael Wickett, the two scientists who first coined the term “ocean acidification” wanted to alert us to what is happening. By 2100, unless emissions are reduced from current levels, an increase of 150% is predicted.

Ocean life has not experienced such a rapid shift in the last 20 million years. The biggest shift in acidity occurred about 250 million years ago during the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event, also known as the Great Dying. The latest findings reported by Stanford University in 2010, indicate large volcanic eruptions spewed out lava flows that caused massive coal deposits to burn uncontrollably, releasing huge quantities of CO2. This may have also triggered a sudden release of methane gas from the sea floor. The situation today has some parallels to that event, although it is thought that the increase in GHGs today is happening much faster than 250 million years ago. During that period approximately 96% of all marine species perished.

The chemistry of “acidification” goes like this. As CO2 is absorbed in the water it combines with hydrogen to form a weak acid, carbonic acid, which you can find in Coke. (H2CO3). This readily breaks down into bicarbonate (HCO3) plus free H+ ions, which causes the increased acidity. Organisms that form shells need to combine carbonate (C03) with calcium to form calcium carbonate (CaCO3). However, because bicarbonate is more stable than carbonate these organisms experience a dearth of carbonate. The amount of calcium remains constant, but the process of combining calcium with carbonate slows down or stops. When this happens shells either stop forming or begin to corrode.

The plasma in our blood (the watery part) is similar in its concentration of salt and other ions to seawater. Imagine if we were subjected to a slow infusion of acid into our blood plasma while at the same time our red and white blood cells were reduced so that less oxygen could be transported to our various organs and our immune system became compromised. All of this is happening to life in our planet’s oceans. CO2 is increasing acidity, anoxic zones are expanding and we are mining vast quantities of marine organisms and fish. If the poison were introduced gradually we might not at first feel the symptoms. Then, when we did start to suffer we might not understand the cause. But we would know we were not feeling well. We might put off seeing the doctor or perhaps not bother to take the prescribed medicines. If left untreated there would come a time when we would become really ill and in danger of dying. Even then we likely wouldn’t know for sure whether we had passed that point of no return. This is our situation today. The Arctic is melting rapidly, forests are burning and exposing permafrost. 90% of predator fish have been eliminated. Are we past the point of no return? When some people find themselves in this situation they give up. Others fight to live. The choice is ours.

The most obvious victims of acidification are shell-forming organisms such as oysters, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, crabs, scallops and coral. Because cold water absorbs CO2 more readily than warm water, the Arctic and Antarctic areas are most severely affected.

In 2009 French oceanographer, Professor Jean-Pierre Gattuso, of the Centre national de la recherche scientifique, told an international oceanography conference concerning acidification of the Arctic, “This carbon dioxide dissolves and is turned into carbonic acid, causing the oceans to become more acidic. We knew the Arctic would be particularly badly affected when we started our studies, but I did not anticipate the extent of the problem”. His research suggested that 10% of the Arctic Ocean would be corrosively acidic by 2018; 50% by 2050; and 100% by 2100. “Over the whole planet, there will be a threefold increase in the average acidity of the oceans, which is unprecedented during the past 20 million years. That level of acidification will cause immense damage to the ecosystem and the food chain, particularly in the Arctic,” he added. [1]

It is unlikely that ocean life will have time to adapt to acidification, because it is happening “100 times faster than any changes in prior millennia”.[2]

Fin fish are affected too. In Sweden, British researcher, Jonathan Havenhand, has demonstrated that ocean changes “could impede the most fundamental strategy of survival: sex.” That is because acidity causes sperm to swim slower, reducing the number of fertilized eggs. Other effects include behavioral problems such as young cod swimming towards prey, rather than away from it. Most fish can withstand some change in pH levels, but this requires energy that is not available for survival and reproduction. Fish may attempt to buffer low pH with their gills. Very young fish do not yet have gills, and they are particularly susceptible. Some species are more susceptible to temperature changes with increased acidity.

Higher acidity also disrupts marine organisms’ ability to grow, reproduce and respire. The Census of Marine Life reported that phytoplankton, the microscopic plants producing most of the oxygen from the oceans, have been declining by around 1% a year since 1900.

Castello Aragonese,Italy 40.731, 16.965

Castello Aragonese is a tiny island off the west coast of Italy. There is a castle there with a display of medieval torture equipment.

Just offshore there are undersea vents that splay out almost 100% carbon dioxide. In her excellent book, “The Sixth Extinction”, Elizabeth Kolbert describes her dive there with researchers, Hall-Spencer and Buia.

“The water is frigid. Hall-Spencer is carrying a knife. He pries some sea urchins from a rock and holds them out to me. Their spines are an inky black. We swim on, along the southern shore of the island, toward the vents. Hall-Spencer and Buia keep pausing to gather samples-corals, snails, seaweeds, mussels-which they place in mesh sacs that drag behind them in the water. When we get close enough, I start to see bubbles rising from the sea floor, like beads of quicksilver. Beds of seagrass wave beneath us. The blades are a peculiarly vivid green. This, I later learn, is because the tiny organisms that usually coat them, dulling their color, are missing. The closer we get to the vents, the less there is to collect. The sea urchins drop away, and so, too do the mussels and the barnacles. Buia finds some hapless limpets attached to the cliff. Their shells have wasted away almost to the point of transparency. Swarms of jellyfish waft by, just a shade paler than the sea. “Watch out”, Hall-Spencer warns, “They sting.”

The researchers note that these vents have been spewing CO2 for hundreds of years, and there is no indication that any organisms have adapted to the acid conditions. When the pH gets as low as 7.8 the number and variety of species declines markedly and the ecosystem starts to crash. Until recently this was expected to happen around 2100. Now we realize that it is happening much sooner.

Netarts Bay,WA 45.421, -123.936

My interest was further piqued in 2007 when I read about a disturbing loss of oysters along the west coast of North America. In that year two oyster farmers at their Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery in Tillamook, Oregon found that their oysters were dying. Mark Wiegardt and Sue Cudd at first didn’t know what was wrong. Could it be bacterial infection? Water temperature? All they knew was that their oysters started dying in mass. Desperate, they turned to oceanographer Burke Hales and his team from Oregon State University. They learned that the Pacific water piped into their tanks from Netarts Bay was too acidic, and the young larvae were unable to grow shells. Without shells they died. This phenomenon was soon reported along the coast, including Dabob Bay, Puget Sound in Washington State and Canada’s Baynes Sound, off the east coast of Vancouver Island. The oyster farmers learned that they had to measure the pH of the water before piping it into their tanks and either wait until the acid level dropped or remove excess CO2 from the water.

At that time there was very little information on ocean acidification, so I started collecting articles and information on it and its causes. I learned that during the summer, the strong westerly winds that push against the west coast cause strong upwellings of ocean water. This deeper, colder water is more acidic than surface waters. The upwellings occur just as oyster and other shellfish larvae are hatching. Since 2007 the number of severe die-offs of shellfish has been increasing markedly.

Tatoosh Island, WA 48.392, -124.738

Over the last 20 years two biologists, Cathy Pfister and her husband, Tim Wootton, have been traveling to Tatoosh Island off the northwestern tip of Washington State and studying the marine life there, as well as measuring pH levels.

In 2008 they published findings that showed that pH levels were declining at a rate 10 times faster than predicted. They have since published findings showing acid levels went from pH 8.3 in 2000 to 7.8 in 2010. This is a very serious drop which they attributed to increased ocean absorption of CO2 from the air.

After they published these findings some scientists suggested other causes for such an extreme drop. Among these were changing currents that could flush Fraser River water out to Tatoosh Island; changing ocean currents causing more upwelling; increased rainfall, and eutrophication[3] caused by an increase of nutrients. Pfister and Wootton could find no evidence to support any of these explanations.

As a side note, my readings with my two pH meters in the Canadian Gulf Islands have shown a pH as low as 7.8, especially in summer. Certain areas average lower than others. During this time the Canadian federal government was very hostile to climate research and closed down many marine studies while throttling scientists who dared to speak out. This was a very dark time for Canadian science and we had to rely on U.S. studies to try to understand acidification. Then during the Trump years the situation was reversed and the fossils in Washington were doing their best to hold back ocean climate science. If seems that the scientists are making a comeback now.

Pteropods are tiny snail-like creatures measuring from 3mm to 12mm that grow shells to protect their bodies. Also known as sea butterflies because of their beautiful shape, these creatures are an important part of the marine food chain. They make up an estimated 60% of the diet of pink salmon in the first year of their life. Because pteropods grow shells they are sensitive to acidic water. It was thought that we might see evidence of dissolving pteropod shells sometime around 2038. However, it is already happening off the west coast of North America, and in the Antarctic.

Nina Bednarsek, who first found corrosion in pteropod shells in Antarctica, and who was affiliated with the British Antarctic Survey, has led a study that has found significant corrosion of the shells of pteropods off the west coast of North America. The damage so far wasn’t enough to kill the animals, but it did weaken them and made them vulnerable: “From a combined survey of physical and chemical water properties and biological sampling along the Washington-Oregon-California coast in August 2011, we show that large portions of the shelf waters are corrosive to pteropods in the natural environment.”[4]

“What we found was just amazing to us, said Richard Feely, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. We did the most extensive analysis”[5]. These copepods are “a great example of some tiny non-charismatic creature that is incredibly important,” said Gretchen Hofmann, a biologist and ocean-acidification expert at the University of California at Santa Barbara. “They’re small, but carry an enormous amount of nutrition and are eaten even by very big fish. If you’re in the Antarctic and see a beautiful emperor penguin, it exists by eating fish under the sea ice. And those fish eat pteropods.”[6]

A similar result was found off the coast of California. “Habitat suitability for pteropods in the coastal California Current Ecosystem (CCE) is declining. We found 53% of onshore individuals and 24% of offshore individuals on average to have severe dissolution damage.”[7]

In the summer of 2015 pink salmon returning to the Pacific Northwest were much smaller than normal, and few in number. It was a disastrous return that was not expected. No one can say for sure why. In the past it has been thought that sea lice and viral infections from fish farms may be the cause. This remains a concern. However, this would not explain the sudden, precipitous drop.

Tests on pink salmon indicate that the young are not fearful of threats in acidic water. There is a reduction in olfactory response which affects their ability to detect predators. The harm to their olfactory senses may also affect their ability to recognize their natal streams.

There was a massive algae bloom off the coast for much of 2015. Imagine an undersized salmon that returns to its natal water but dies before it can spawn. Perhaps it got infected with a couple of extra sea lice on its way past the numerous salmon farms it must pass on its way out to the open sea. Then it had trouble finding enough of its main food source, the pteropods, due to acidification. It also had to expend extra energy buffering the effects of the acidic water. Later, it encountered a huge algae bloom caused by warming waters and runoff nutrients that depletes the amount of oxygen in the water and is poisonous to the small forage fish it feeds off. Finally, because of reduced snow melt from glaciers in full retreat, in a weakened state it encountered water that is too warm. What killed this fish?

The corrosive effect of acidic water on pteropods was first noticed, quite by accident, by Victoria Fabry, an oceanographer at California State University at San Marcos. She began collecting pteropods for study in one litre jars in 1985. When she put more than just two or three in the same jar she noticed that the shells became opaque. It was some years later, however, when she went back to her samples and examined them under a microscope, that she found their shells were pitted and in some places worn away. Like all animals, the pteropods take in oxygen and expel CO2. When she overpopulated her glass jars, the water became more acidic and began corroding the shells of the tiny creatures. At the time no one realized that the chemistry of the whole ocean could be impaired by human activity, but we sure do now. It still amazes me that we humans are changing the chemistry of all of the world’s oceans, and indeed polluting them, at an unprecedented rate, at least in the past 300 million years, and that this rate is far too fast for most marine organisms to adapt. It will take tens of thousands of years just for the oceans to return to a chemical state similar to that before industrial times. Even if we were to stop carbon pollution today the oceans will continue to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere until a new balance is achieved.

In 2008, Dr. Kawaguchi, a marine biologist who works for the Australian government’s Antarctic Division, conducted similar experiments to those Victoria Fabry had done in 1985, except that his jar was filled with krill eggs immersed in CO2-laden seawater. He found that the CO2 killed the eggs. He was surprised at such a clear result and had thought that the krill might have been more robust.

Kawaguchi has been studying krill for more than 25 years and has the only research tanks in the world dedicated to breed and study krill. Dr. Kawaguchi predicts a 20% to 70% reduction in krill by 2100. Dr. Kawaguchi was the lead author in a study titled “Risk maps for Antarctic krill under projected Southern Ocean acidification” published by Nature Journals.

Krill are shrimp-like crustaceans from 1 to 15 cm in length that “are essentially the fuel that runs the engine of the Earth’s marine ecosystems.” (National Geographic) Such a decrease in the krill population would be a disaster for all of the fish and their predators, such as penguins, seals and whales, dolphins, seabirds and human fishers.

Recent studies show that Antarctic krill stocks may have dropped by 80% since the 1970s. Part of the loss may be explained by the loss of sea ice and hence, ice algae, due to global warming. Krill feed mainly on phytoplankton, microscopic, single-celled plants. In polar regions, to avoid predators, they often feed on the ice algae that congregate directly under the sea ice.

Young salmon are quite susceptible to acidification. In Norway, 18 stocks of Atlantic salmon are extinct and another 8 are threatened due to acid rain. The Norwegians have been spreading lime on 21 rivers and have had some success, although one study concluded that 20 years of liming is required to restore stocks.

Coral reefs are composed of diverse colonies of tiny polyps that secrete a form of calcium carbonate called aragonite to form the shell structure. Each polyp is a complete individual, but thousands and thousands are joined together over the skeleton to make a reef. They are the most diverse of all marine ecosystems and are home to an estimated 25% of all marine fish species. It has been estimated that there are from one million to nine million species that live on or near coral reefs. It is amazing that this estimate is so broad, that a guess on the number could miss by several million. Since each species would have multiple relationships with other reef members, there must be millions and millions of contacts, alliances and predations that we know nothing about.

Coral reefs have been dying in record numbers over the last few years. Charlie Veron[8] has discovered more than 20% of the world’s coral species and has lived and worked on the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral system, for most of his life. He “finds himself in the agonizing position of having to be a prophet of its extinction.” We cannot wonder that he feels “very very sad. It’s real, day in, day out, and I work on this, day in, day out. It’s like seeing a house on fire in slow motion…and you have been for years.” [9]

The Great Barrier Reef off the east coast of Australia has lost one half of its cover in the last 27 years, with a yearly loss of 3.4%. Causes listed are crown of thorn starfish that eat coral, increased agricultural runoff from massive storms, tropical cyclones of increasing frequency and ferocity, and ocean warming and acidification. Some experts believe that if the starfish can be eliminated the reef could be rejuvenated over the next two or three generations. Recently an underwater drone has been developed that can autonomously recognize crown-of-thorn starfish and inject poison into them. However, this is seen as just a temporary holding measure.

Les Kaufman is a biologist at Boston University and is part of an international consensus statement on climate change and coral reefs. In order to save the reef, or what’s left of it, he states, “International efforts to cap and reduce CO2 emissions are equally critical and must occur at the same time as cleaning up local impacts.” He continues, “There is absolutely no excuse for failure to do this, and if we do fail, our generation will forever be remembered for unimaginable, unforgivable stupidity and sloth.”[10]

It is difficult to imagine a more disastrous threat to life in the oceans than the extinction of shell fish, pteropods and krill due to ocean warming and acidification. Many scientists think that we are in, or about to enter, the sixth mass extinction, which parallels the Great Dying, 250 million years ago. One of the biggest concerns is that the oceans are acidifying faster than at any time in history and marine stocks simply will not be able to adjust. The other concern is that the ocean will continue to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere long after we stop polluting the air. “Alarmingly, the pH drop observed is 100 times faster than any changes in prior millennia. Left unchecked, CO2 levels will create a very different ocean, one never experienced by modern species.” [11]

There is a time lag. By the time we experience the full impact of marine extinction it may well be too late. This acidification is ongoing, relentless, undeniable, and, even if we stop releasing GHG gases, unstoppable. There may be still time, though, to reduce the negative effects of acidification. We have to try. A lot of political and industry leaders say we can continue building pipelines and expanding fossil fuel production while “caring” for the environment. But there is no such middle ground. This is an emergency situation that requires an emergency response.

[1] (Robin McKie, science editor, the guardian, October 4/2009)

[2] Scientific American, August, 2010

[3] Excessive nutrients in a lake or other body of water, usually caused by runoff of nutrients (animal waste, fertilizers, sewage) from the land, which causes a dense growth of plant life; the decomposition of the plants depletes the supply of oxygen, leading to the death of animal life. ( Dictionary)

[4] NOAA study reported in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, May 1, 2014

[5] reported in the Vancouver Sun, May 1, 2014

[6] Seattle Times, Nov 25, 2012.

[7] NOAA study reported in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, May 1, 2014

[8] Dr. Charlie Veron is a prominent marine scientist known as the ‘Godfather of Coral,’ having discovered 20 percent of all coral species in the world. He has worked in all the major coral reef regions of the world, participating in 66 expeditions and spending 7,000 hours scuba diving. Veron was formerly the Chief Scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science and has authored over 100 scientific articles, including 14 books and monographs. He has been the recipient of the Darwin Medal, the Silver Jubilee Pin of the Australian Marine Sciences Association, the Australasian Science Prize, the Whitley Medal and received special mention in the Eureka Awards. Today he continues to work in many different fields although he concentrates on conservation and the effects of climate change on coral reefs. He predicts that if humanity continues to produce carbon dioxide at present rates, coral reefs will vanish in the next few decades. (

[9] (Scientific American, May, 2014)

[10] Katharine Gammon, LiveScience Contributor, Oct 1/2012, LiveScience

[11] (Scientific American, August, 2010)

Lush countryside of Hiva Oa

20. French Polynesia (Entered April 1, 2021)

Before he wrote his iconic Moby Dick, Herman Melville worked on a whaling boat. In 1842 he jumped ship to escape a tyrannical captain and later wrote about living amongst the Taipis, on the island of Nuku Hiva, Marqueses, who were said to be the fiercest of the cannibal tribes in the South Pacific. Melville defended the Taipis and their strange ways (although he became concerned that he was being fattened up for the cook stove) and was critical of Western colonialism and empire building. Robert Louise Stevenson also landed on Nuku Hiva 46 years later and went on to write his famous Treasure Island. Thor Heyerdahl lived with his first wife on nearby Fatu Hiva in 1937 and 1938 until, again, some of the locals became inhospitable, forcing them to live in a cave before escaping. He learned there that the prevailing winds and currents came from the east, from the direction of South America. That, together with discussions with some of the local old men, suggested to him that the original inhabitants of the Marqueses and also Easter Island came from South America. In 1947 he completed his famous Kon-Tiki raft expedition from South America when he crashed onto the Raroia Atoll in the Tuamotus. He certainly proved that he was right about the direction of the winds and current, but it turned out that he was wrong about where the Polynesian people came from. Linguistic and DNA studies have confirmed that they somehow managed to sail against current and wind from South East Asia and Taiwan. They must have undertaken some of the most impressive voyages never recorded.

During my teen years I read everything I could find about these three authors. As time went by I mostly forgot about them. But, years later, once Feathercraft kayaks was humming along, and I was looking for a challenging trip during our winter off-season that required folding kayaks, I remembered: ya, those warm places and those guys. I think that it was Heyerdahl’s choice of craft, the balsam raft that led me to begin designing what eventually became our two-person folding catamarans with four masts and sails. There is an old song that Frank Sinatra made famous with the lines: “regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention”. Well, I do have one big regret in the boat design department that I’ll dare to mention: If I had just kept to our tested and strong large folding double kayak and added an outrigger designed for open ocean travel, as I did after this misadventure, our journey might have been a lot more enjoyable. But, here’s the thing: when I ask my fellow voyagers what was the best trip they ever went on, they always insist that it was this one.

Dan and Evan with two girls at Fatu Hiva

July 6, 2005 -11, -139 deg.

How could the tropics be so cold? I was lying in my hammock with a sodden fleece blanket draped around me. I had long ago cast aside my clothing as being too wet, too cold to be of any use. Somehow I had managed to get some sleep. But now the hammock was bouncing violently and every few seconds a fresh blast of salt water washed over me.

It was night-time and pitch black. The only light that I could see was from the LED lamp on the top of one our four tiny masts (two for the sails, two for the single hammock) and the red glow of the compass on the other pontoon of our two-person folding catamaran.

I heard Evan say something, but the storm drowned out his words. “Say louder,” I screamed. “I can’t handle it anymore!” he shouted.

I flicked on my headlamp. “Holy shit.” The water was coming at us from above, below and sideways. The boom of one of our two sails had broken off, and the other was swinging wildly. I stepped carefully onto the netting that was strung between our two pontoons and attempted to lash down our sails. There was a clear danger of being swept into the abyss by the storm winds and raging seas. Evan looked at me with his headlamp. All I could hear him say was, “Dad, put your pants on!”

I didn’t. Instead I started wrestling with the lines that were flailing wildly around us. As I grabbed one, a violent gust snapped a sail tight and pulled the line into a noose around my baby finger. I felt a rush of pain as the line dug deep to the bone. There was no time to worry about that now.

We hauled the sails down, lashed them to the masts and carried on bare-bones. Sometime later Dan and Ken pulled up beside us in their catamaran and shouted if we were O.K. Evan just said, “My dad won’t put his pants on.”

By the time Evan finished his four-hour shift steering the wind had abated somewhat and I had managed to bandage my hand. Keeping it dry was out of the question.

On both boats we managed to raise a small reefed sail. Although during my day-shift the finger started throbbing, I was still able to follow the compass and keep us on course by checking our position with the GPS. While running downwind we just had to stay on the purple line.

By nightfall my left pinky wasn’t pink, it was bright red and curled down, with large black splotches oozing with pus. The rest of my hand was bright and puffed up, like with a bee sting. I became feverish and started hallucinating about the stars flailing about madly and diving into the sea. (There were no stars out that night). When Evan relieved me, I climbed into the hammock, took a couple of Tylenols and some antibiotics and passed out.

Woke up some 24 hours later. Fever mostly gone and head fairly clear (or so I thought. This was debated later by Dan and Evan). However, my finger was black, the skin was coming off the bone and my hand was huge. Dan screamed more bad news. Something had broken inside one of his pontoons during the storm and he was having trouble keeping afloat. He and Ken had to pump continuously.

After the Storm

By noon they decided to scupper the boat. Ken jumped onto our craft first. Dan passed some of their essential gear, including an inflatable dingy. He tied the rest to the boat, opened up all of the valves, knifed the hulls and jumped off as she went down.

Dan, abandoning damaged catamaran

With four people plus gear on an open pontoon boat built for two our bums were awash and we were continuously soaked. My hand was in rough shape and endangering my overall health. On the good side, though, we had a fine following 15 knot breeze, food and water. Plus, I was traveling with the best group I could have asked for.

Somehow, Evan, who was only 16, had managed to steer our boat for 24 hours straight while I had passed out. He never panicked. Maybe all of those nights playing Warcraft online had prepared him. Of course he had been on kayak trips up and down our coast almost every year since he was 3 years old.

He’s gone through various names: “Treeboy” on this trip because of his gangly height. “HINO” came next, for “high input, no output”. This was during the time he was still filling out his large frame. Now, at 6 ft. 5 inches and 240 lbs., he is “Lurch”. He isn’t the fastest mover out there, but he sure is steady. Despite his size and appearance I have never seen him act in a physically aggressive way. He says that his bulk keeps him out of trouble. I think that it is more than that. His long training as a violinist and his love of music and nature maybe offer more insight into him than his size does.

If Dan had grown into his current 6 ft. height and filled out earlier he would likely have made the NHL, being very fast on his skates and with super quick reflexes. He also loves a good brawl at center ice. But, like so many Canadian guys, his aggression ends at the rink. Recently Dan and his wife Katherine had their first baby: a healthy girl weighing almost 11 pounds. Her nickname is Porkchop. Dan is a full service dad: diapers, playing, cooing, giggling, and staying up all night. He’s even cut his hockey from five nights to two. Just don’t mess with Porkchop.

Ken Fink has been combining power with paddling technique to win kayak races at his home state of Maine since before our two young guys were born. His specialty as a professor of oceanography was the formation and dissolution of beaches. He likes to talk about that.

Actually, he likes to talk about anything. But, he also listens. He is one of those people who gets on well with everyone because he is curious about people and their stories.

Ken, still smiling

The summer before, in 2004, the four of us paddled and sailed an earlier version of our catamarans down the length of Moresby Island in Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands) in northwest B.C. That trip had been an opportunity to test the new crafts and also ourselves, as a team.

On our first day in Haida Gwaii there was very little wind. Ken and I started off paddling hard. The two young guys in their catamaran repeatedly fell far behind and started singing loudly. Then they stopped completely, although with full sails up. I knew that they were goading us, but Ken was new to this and found it frustrating. “What are you guys doing?” he shouted. “We’re practicing our light wind sailing” came the reply. And they continued singing and sitting there. At that Ken just started laughing. He got their humor and also our desire just to explore the islands.

During our two weeks we talked to many local “watchmen” at important First Nation sites, and marveled at the totem poles and the moss, the ancient Sitka Spruce trees, the huge black bears, the ducks, coots, eagles and hawks. It was so much more than just paddling down a coast as quickly as possible. Ken got right into it.

By the end we were a team. Each night we would pull up to a beach and set up our hammocks and flies right on the boats. No campsite or tent required. We wanted to be able to sleep on the boats, whether on land or sea. The only problem was that Ken had trouble getting in and out of the hammock. But here, in Polynesia, we had much bigger troubles than just getting out of a hammock.

I figured that we could still get to Napuka, our original destination. But once there, what would we be able to do? I would still have to be evacuated to a hospital or clinic. I thought about our trip so far.

We had flown to Hiva Oa, the largest town in the southern Marquesas group. Our plan, which we had forwarded to the French authorities well in advance of our arrival, was to assemble our two crafts in Hiva Oa, paddle/sail the 45 nautical mile upwind passage to Fatu Hiva and then sail downwind the 270 nautical mile route to Napuka, the first atoll. It was on this crossing that we had come to grief. From there we had hoped to wind our way through many of the atolls making up the Tuamotus, and end up in Tahiti. Our route would take us about 885 NM, all in. Easy.

The gendarmes in Hiva Oa didn’t know what to make of us and delayed our departure for several days. This gave us the opportunity to explore the village of Atuouna and hike the trails above. One morning, after walking up through narrow alleys and over a hill we came to a small cemetery. This was Gauguin’s final resting place. I could imagine him coming up there, to a peaceful place with a stunning view of the harbour and the open ocean beyond. I have always found his paintings of the Marquesans mysterious. Who were these people? Did he know them well? Intimately? Or was he more an observer? After trekking around the island I came to realize how his paintings had not just depicted the people. The landscape, with all of its lush greens punctuated by tropical colours was captured beautifully.

The Marquesas are completely different geologically from the Tuamotu atolls further south. These islands are volcanic basalt. The tall hills capture enough rain to enable lush tropical forests to flourish. (Apparently the rains sometimes fail, but the forest was gorgeous when we were there). The light is soft and rich. On the other hand, the Tuamotu atolls are remnants of sunken volcanoes and are mostly coral, with an elevation of a few meters at most. We expected that the light would be harsher, and the plants and people more weathered, not at all the way we think of Gauguin’s paintings. Because atolls are low-lying rings of coral built up over sunken volcanoes, they are particularly susceptible to rising sea levels and ocean acidification. Most will likely be submerged, or at least washed over to be uninhabitable, within a few decades. I have long wanted to visit these atolls before they disappear. I wonder if Dan and Evan will be able to return here some day, or will they be gone.

Leaving Hiva Oa before dark

When the gendarmes finally gave us permission to go on our trip, they insisted that we had to leave right away, just before nightfall. It would have been really nice to have left in daylight, but we adjusted, sort of, and after two nights of heavy buffeting and one lost paddle, we arrived in Fatu Hiva. We passed from the Bay of Virgins through a narrow opening to enter the small harbour at Hanavave, on the northwest coast of Fatu Hiva. Islanders helped us carry our strange crafts onto the concrete platform where they store their canoes and boats. There is no dock.

Instantly kids swarmed our boats. Men and women milled about. Where did you come from? What sort of boat is this? People were so friendly that Dan was soon invited to share a meal of goat and vegetables with a local family. Unfortunately, he became awfully sick. We had to stay in paradise for a few extra days until he recovered.

Kids at Fatu Hiva

There is a waterfall spilling out of the jungle a few kilometers from the bay, which we visited daily. On the way we passed bundles of noni fruit. The noni has been revived here since an American company started making extravagant health food claims about its noni juice. In Polynesia it has long been used as a cure for stonefish sting, sore throat, diabetes and other ailments. It smells like rotten cheese.

In the evenings I would quietly watch as all of the villagers got together to practice their tamure dance. They would line up in rows and dance to just a drum and flute. The women swayed gently and rhythmically with their hips while the men pranced around them with their legs gyrating as fast as a drummer’s hands, like scissors gone mad. All of the adults took part. I was told that they were practicing for a dance contest with the group from Omoa, the only other village on the island. Some of the dancers were awkward, others had beautiful fluid movements. There was one couple that was simply stunning. She was beautiful and sensuous while he was strong and his legs vibrated so fast you could hardly see them. They held each other’s gaze while they moved, and, wow, the only electricity on the island burned bright.

The Best Dancers

One morning about a dozen men eased into the water in the small harbour. After swimming out to the breakwater they spread out and then pulled a net amongst them. Suddenly, they all started slapping the water and slowly guiding the net to shore. By the time they reached shore and pulled up their net they had trapped dozens of small fish. I marveled at the simplicity of this.

Each morning I would hike up a local hill behind the village and try to receive a text message on my satellite phone from my wife, Theresa, about the weather forecast from Atuouna. We finally left Fatu Hiva with a favorable weather report and cheers of good sailing from our new friends. But now, awash with four people on an open catamaran built for two and a serious medical problem, a decision had to be made. In hindsight, it seems brutally obvious: It’s an emergency; you’ve got a sat phone. Use it. But, damn it, I wanted to see those atolls! Nonetheless, after we talked it over, everyone agreed. We phoned first the authorities in Tahiti and then my unfortunate wife.

The authorities wanted us to keep our phone turned on and I said no way, we didn’t have enough battery for that. It was easier for me to talk briefly with Theresa and have her deal with them.

They didn’t have a boat anywhere near us. “Did we need a life raft dropped from the air?” Actually, we had two small two-man inflatable rafts on board. We didn’t need another. We asked if any fishing boats were nearby. No, there weren’t, or, if there were, none of them wanted to bother going out of their way.

Hours later we received a report through Theresa that a fishing boat had been contacted and was heading for us. “Yay!” I asked from which direction, thinking that we might head for them, but never received an answer. We kept heading for Napuka and gave them our GPS location occasionally.


July 8, 2005

Rescued. Aboard the Viny Viny V11. Fate has thrown 5 Marquesans, three Canadians and one American together in this fine tuna long-liner, helmed by Captain Bruno.

The Captain wears a black pearl and a cell phone around his neck, even though cell coverage is more than a hundred miles away. He’s dark, strongly built, super-confident and, damn it, you have to say: swashbuckling. He tells us stories of going to Vegas with loads of cash earned from his fishing and black pearl interests and being met with open arms reserved for big spenders. He owns three speed boats with 200 plus HP, 10 pearl divers, a mansion in Papeete. He barks his orders, is obeyed instantly; fixes the engine; is a trained chef in France; a gambler; dad of two boys; and, no doubt, lover of many. Our saviour. He’s a character. He also now owns, as part of the rescue deal, our catamaran, inflatable boats, reverse osmosis water-maker, tents, paddles and gear. Except for personal effects that’s everything. Why not? They have come out of their way for two days and given up lucrative fishing income and we got rescued. Plus I’m going to send him an inflatable kayak.

Dan with Captain Bruno

The other crew:

Brue: large, belly, long hair, a real traditional-looking guy tattooed, 30s.

Tuoe: 18 years, mustache, sloping shoulders, into rock music, still forming. Nice smile.

Macki: Broad shoulders, powerfully built, quiet, what’s he about?

Kaddie: the only smoker, first time aboard, the others say he is a little crazy, because of his grin? Offered us dope, for a price.

I feel responsible. I managed to put a lot of people, both on and off the boat, through some trying times. As for my left hand, my pinky isn’t pink; it’s bright red and curled down, with large black splotches where pus has oozed out. The rest of the hand is bright and puffed up, like with a bee sting; most of the swelling stops at the wrist. Of course it hurts — a lot. We are all suffering from sea sores.

Those 4–5 nights at sea were difficult, but, boy, will I remember them. The stars; the water washing over us; trying to stay awake; keeping course on a star; checking occasionally with the compass; checking that periodically with the G.P.S. In the end it would have been better if we had been going in the opposite direction, the Vinny Vinny V11 would have reached us sooner, because they were coming from the north. But the people at Papeete Affaires Maritimes didn’t tell us that. So, I bring home some great memories, some pain, design for a new sail rig, and good friends made and kept. Not bad for a failed trip.

The fish boat took us back to Hiva Oa, where we had started from. I received excellent medical attention there, and yet more and stronger antibiotics. The doctor there didn’t think that I would get to keep my finger. After later going through another round of antibiotics to deal with the c. difficile that I got after the first batch, I fully recovered. I even still have my little finger, although it is stiff and bent out of shape.

Dan and Doug, safe onboard the Viny Viny V11

21. Ocean Anoxia (Entered April 1, 2021)

The term anoxia means lack of oxygen. In our own bodies it can lead to organ failure and death. In marine systems the results are similar. Fish and other organisms cannot breathe and die off. Studies have found that widespread anoxia was associated with at least four of the “big five” mass extinctions in the past. Today anoxic dead zones have quadrupled since 1950. Sharks, tuna and other large fish species that need more oxygen to survive are at particular risk with oxygen levels reported to be dangerously low in over 700 areas globally.

There are naturally occurring areas in the open ocean that have low oxygen levels. This is particularly true off the west coast of continents due to how the rotation of the earth affects currents. Global warming during the past few decades has amplified this, causing the large expansion of dead zones in the north east Pacific, off the west coast of North America. Our fisheries have suffered. Following is a quote by Maya Elrick, at The University of New Mexico, lead author of a study of marine animal and plant fossils taken from Anticosti Island in the St. Lawrence seaway: “We are warming and acidifying the oceans today and warmer oceans hold less and less oxygen. Some marine organisms can handle the heat and the acidity, but not the lack of oxygen” Elrick said. “All these things are happening today and the results from the Late Ordovician study indicate the potential severity of marine anoxia as an extinction driver for many of the past and ongoing biologic extinction events.” “Abrupt global-ocean anoxia during Late Ordovician-early Silurian detected using uranium isotopes of marine carbonates,” was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), May 22, 2018. The only way to avert further catastrophic damage is to reduce and then reverse our human-caused GHG pollution in the seas and atmosphere.

The other main cause of anoxia is pollution flowing into coastal waters. Monoculture farming, such as massive soy, corn and wheat production, causes depletion of nitrogen in the soil. To make up for this, farmers apply nitrogen fertilizers to their crops. Researchers have found that only 17% of the nitrogen is absorbed by crops. Most of the rest makes its way to rivers and eventually to the sea. (Fowler, 2013; Ribaudo, 2011) Industrial meat production leads to even greater quantities of nitrogen in manure leaching out via rivers to the sea.[1] Scientists have blamed meat production for the world’s largest dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. industrial meat industry is huge. Just five companies produce most of the meat in the U.S. The biggest, Tyson, “slaughters 125,000 head of cattle, 35 million chickens, and 415,000 hogs every week.”29 They say that people can help the situation by cutting back on meat. This is one of the most effective actions an individual can do to both lower personal GHG emissions and help the sea recover. “The scale and environmental impact of the meat industry is enormous: more than a third of all land in the continental U.S. is dedicated to growing feed crops and providing the pastures to raise meat.”29 Blaming individual consumers for the bad practices of the industrial meat industry is the wrong way to attack the problem, though. The whole industry needs to be reformed. Hopefully the fledgling consumer movement to support meat substitutes and lab-grown meat will eventually reduce the meat industry’s powerful hold on public opinion and government policy.

The nitrogen at the mouths of rivers and marine estuaries causes marine algae to bloom. In a healthy system the algae feed off the nutrients and release oxygen through photosynthesis. As the algae die their bodies sink to the ocean floor and are consumed by bacteria. This process consumes oxygen, but plants on the ocean floor benefit and provide oxygen to the water. However, when too much nitrogen enters the water, column algae proliferate until sunlight cannot reach the ocean floor. Photosynthesis stops and oxygen levels can fall disastrously. This process is called eutrophication and the resulting lack of oxygen is called hypoxia.

Since 1950 ocean dead zones starved of oxygen have quadrupled. The number of oxygen-starved sites near coasts has increased tenfold to over 400 documented globally. The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that has resulted from agricultural runoff had expanded to 6,400 square miles according to the EPA in 2016, and it has grown since then. The Po River flow has been staunched to a trickle after dams, cities, and crops have drunk their fill. Its estuary holds water long enough for dead, anoxic zones to form, choking life in the Adriatic Sea for thousands of square miles. Similarly, the Loire River in France and the Minjiang River Estuary in the Fujian, the southeast province in China, experience severe hypoxia. India may have the most polluted rivers due to its massive growth in population over the last 40 years to 1.35 billion people. The urban rivers are especially polluted, with 63% of sewage flowing into rivers untreated. There are large dead zones associated with the Ulhas, Mithi, Cooum, Yamuna and Ganges rivers. Since major extinction events, such as the Ordovician-Silurian extinction event (when nearly 85% of all marine species disappeared) experienced high levels of oxygen depletion, this is something that we should be very concerned about.

There has been some success in cleaning up dead zones in estuaries. I’ll briefly discuss two: one in a rich country, the other a developing country.

The Chesapeake Bay

The Chesapeake is by far the largest estuary in the U.S., covering 64,000 square miles with drainage from more than 150 rivers and streams. Its second biggest tributary, the Potomac, flows through Washington, DC. This was once one of the most biologically productive marine areas in the world, with over 300 species of fish, shellfish and crab species. The estuary absorbs the waste of nearly 18 million people, millions of acres of farms, and polluted air from coal-burning power plants in the Midwest (about a third of the pollution in Chesapeake Bay is caused by air pollution from cars, industry and power plants). By 1983 there were massive dead zones with toxic algae blooms and lost sea grass habitats.

Conservation began after that, with programs coordinated amongst federal, state, and municipal governments and agencies. Federal agencies provided more than half a billion dollars a year and billions more were spent by the six surrounding states and District of Columbia. Goals are to plant 8,000 miles of forests and grassy buffers along waterways and rebuild miles of oyster reefs. Oysters, which filter pollution from the water, are now at less than one percent of historical numbers. Water sampling by the U.S. Geological Survey shows that water quality is slowly improving and the estuary is gradually being brought back to past abundance. As this example demonstrates, restoration in a heavily populated area with large industrial farms and a reliance on fossil fuel power plants takes lots of time and big money. All of this is at risk. And none of this restoration should be necessary. A study by the UN human rights council in 2017 found that it is a myth that pesticides are necessary to feed the world. It accused the global manufacturers of pesticides of “systematic denial of harms”, aggressive unethical marketing tactics” and heavy lobbying of governments which has “obstructed reforms and paralysed global pesticide restrictions”. (Damian Carrington, Guardian, Tue, Mar 7, 2017)

One thing that stands out in all of this is that big, monoculture agri-business, as well as fossil fuel power plants, create big, expensive environmental problems. Either the environment suffers or taxpayers are forced to pay large amounts for cleanup. In this case, both.

Cuba and The Bahamas

Before the Cuban Revolution seventy percent of its agriculture was made up of sugar cane and coffee. Most of its exports went to the Soviet Union. This monoculture system was very vulnerable and during the revolution there were severe food shortages.

After the revolution, in order to increase the food supply, the government promoted even stronger monoculture farming with a tenfold increase in fertilizers. This led to polluted waterways and marine dead zones. The Cuban government somehow recognized that the way to deal with this was to break up the large state-owned farms and to promote sustainable farming practices while growing a wide variety of crops. Green manure instead of fertilizers was used with the resulting improvement in soil quality and reduced agricultural runoff. Food production is up and the marine environment has benefited. An article from the University of Illinois describes this and suggests that lessons learned in Cuba could be applied in the Bahamas as it seeks to increase its food security while preserving its unique coastal treasures.

The Bahamas (known officially as the Commonwealth of the Bahamas) imports 85% of its food supply. Relying on a monoculture system with heavy reliance on fertilizers would be a disaster for a country with so little land and so many beautiful marine areas. Sustainable farming practices, such as hydroponics, aquaponics[2] and green manure could increase crop yields greatly, without harming tourism and fisheries (mainly conch and spiny lobster).


[2] The most simple definition of Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants) that grows fish and plants together in one integrated system. The fish waste provides an organic food source for the plants, and the plants naturally filter the water for the fish.(

Evan and Dan arriving at Sandy Cay

22. Exumas (Entered May 1, 2021)

August 1, 2006 On board the Island Link, bound, again, from Nassau to Salt Pond on Long Island (23.3404, -75.123).

Everyone onboard has a favorite conch recipe. This is Conch Salad: Hit with hammer, break hole. Cut out with knife. Cut off bubba. Cut up real fine. Dice: onion, tomato, sweet pepper, celery, hot pepper. Combine in bowl. Squeeze lemons, salt. Mix up! Bahamian style.

There will be no fishing with a pole spear this time. I’m not expecting many fish and those that remain should stay. We have bigger kayaks this time and can afford to carry lots of food. Plus conch.

After our fiasco in French Polynesia I wanted to treat my two young pals to an easier trip. This seems made to order. With our new outrigger sail rigs we will ride the dominant summer trade winds from Long Island west across the 20 NM distance to the southern tip of the Exumas, north up the Exumas to the north tip and then take the 35 NM crossing back to Nassau. If the trades hold we will be heading mostly downwind the whole time. Easy. It will be hot in the summer sun, but that’s when the trades blow. This will also be a chance for me to see any changes in sea life in the area since my last visit to Long Island and the Jumentos seven years ago.

This will be our second trip with the new sail rig. Theresa, Ken Fink and I paddle/sailed the Florida Keys from Key Largo to Key West earlier this year in February without serious mishap, other than jammed amas and one broken mast off Matacumbe Key. I had been flying too big a jib. (Amazingly, UPS delivered another to us from HQ the next morning.) Ama is a Polynesian word for outrigger. In Florida we tried inflatable amas that were attached to tubes extending from the kayak (akas). This had been done before, but we found that extra-large waves could cause the amas to rotate 90 degrees to the water and cause the boat to stall. We wanted to be able to sail well offshore in the big waves. The solution was to join two separate amas together, above and below, and run the tube between them so that the ama could rotate when impacted by a large wave. Jam proof.

We loved sailing alongshore over waters too shallow for regular sail or power boats. The trades held and blew us most of the way to Key West. We were hoping for the same conditions in the Exumas, although without the motels.

Thursday, August 4, 2006 South End of Stocking Island, 23.5086, -75.736

Today: Sandy (White) Cay to here. About 20 miles. Got in about 2 PM, left about 9. that’s about 4 kn avg., we had a period of light winds. Mostly 8 to 10 knots. easterly wind. Temp. kind of hot, over 30. There has been this storm brewing S. of here. It was supposed to come here, but it veered to Cuba. We would have stayed another day on Sandy Cay, it was so gorgeous- yes, sandy, but some good shallow-water diving, coral, on its southern shore. There must have been 30 different species of little fish lounging in the coral.

The crossing from Salt Pond was uneventful, except when my rudder fell off. I was able to get back there in the water and re-install it, but it still rode up and I had to use my paddle to steer. I fixed it temporarily with duct tape. Today it was fine. I did learn that you can alter the steering by having one leeboard up, one down. Generally the boat wants to turn to windward. So, keep the board down on the leeward side.

Today we initiated using the spinnakers. I’m in the K-1 and boy, does it scoot. I reached 7.2 knots, which is quite fast. The spinnaker flops around a lot, but when it fills, it pulls well.

Iguana on Sandy Cay

The boys were blown away by Sandy Cay. As soon as we landed we were all in the water. Coral island, long, totally white spit, big land iguanas, cacti, fish. Paradise. Too bad we didn’t stay longer.

This trip is fun. We’re in the water a lot, cooling off, just gazing at beauty. Forecast is for up to 26 knots next week. We should be trucking. I’m reading Joshua Slocum’s book: “Sailing Alone Around the World”. This is so tame in comparison.

Sunday, August 7, 2006 Glass Cay, 17 NM N. of George Town. 23.7027, -75.9935

We had quite a run today. Probably close to 25 knots. At least 20. Easterlies continue. I have to steer with the paddle as aid, hooked under my arm pit. Especially when we went around Ocean Bight, which was open to the Atlantic and deep. After rounding it we had to cross a shallow reef. Surf’s up. Dan and Evan in the big double caught a big one, broached and scraped bottom. The thru bracket that holds the leeboard broke at the rivet. We’re always breaking stuff. Never did when we were just using kayaks. They said that the wave towered above them. You are not supposed to surf in sail boats. I managed to find a line through the coral, no mishap.

However, perhaps an hour before that, I made a much dumber move. I noticed that my upwind ama was quite flat. I’ve practiced this before — I took it off to orally inflate it. I guess I was rocking too much because I was over before I could say whoa. Perhaps the waves were just too chaotic. It was easy to right it, re-install the aka and ama, pump out and carry on. Good lessons — both incidents.

We’ve been going 4 to 6 knots today, just fine. No plunging bows. A bit hairy. No coral around here. Few fish. I keep looking. Sometimes I had my mask and snorkel on while sailing. I could lean over and keep my head underwater and follow the bottom as we scooted along while steering with my feet on the rudder pedals. No matter how hard I tried, though, I ended up sailing way off course. This reminds me of when I was being trained to fly planes. The instructor would put a helmet on you so that you could not see the land below. Unless you trusted your flight instruments you would put that plane in a suicidal dive in just a blink. Unlike birds, we humans are not equipped mentally to fly without referencing the land below. I had to learn to trust my instruments. What saddened me now was that what I saw was acres and acres of dead coral. We don’t seem to be equipped to deal with long range tragedies either. All of our observations and instruments point to a deepening crisis: a suicidal dive. We have to learn to trust these warnings.

August 8, 2006 Staniel Cay, Lavender cottage #4. 24.1724, -76.445

Evan doesn’t like sharks, at all. I saw one a couple of days ago and today there are 3 dark 5-footers lounging around the marina docks. People feed them. I hope that he’ll change his mind because Brad’s Reef is just a short day north of here and it is supposed to have coral. They say Thunderball Grotto near here is good.

We just popped in here, not expecting to stay, but the place looks great and we could use a couple of days out of the sun, in luxury. Our cute little cottage cost $148 for the three of us. I guess that’s O.K. One king-size bed; Dan on the floor. The bigger cost will be the meals. Oh well, last night it rained like hell, thunder and lightning too. It will be good to have cover tonight. The winds recently have been strong. A yachtie said yesterday 25 to 30 knots. I’d say maybe up to 25. We didn’t break anything.

August 9, 2006 Staniel Cay

Yes, Thunderball Grotto was great. We dived off of the kayaks. The little island is hollowed out. You dive down and inside are hundreds of fish that encompass you. Beautiful. Like swimming into the past. Lots of different people here: people who have their own boats, or rent them or are on a mini cruise. Others flew here to stay in one of the cabins. And us. Everyone dines together, the food is good and people are friendly. Glad for the splurge. This is a beautiful place. Do we have to leave?

August 13, 2006 Hawksbill Cay 24.476, -76.764

The most remarkable cay so far, with a mile-long white sand beach backed by Casuarina trees, spaced apart as if planted for a park. I’m under one now. Its morning, but already the sun is becoming fierce. These trees are an import from Australia. Biologists here don’t like these intruders because they drop long needles, making a thick bed, and nothing can grow through them. Too acidic. We’re thankful for them.

Rough seas at the cuts between cays

We have a meter or two depth out front here, for miles. Beautiful turquoise water. Lots of small fish and some coral. There is a steel wreck stuck on a reef out about 1/2 mile. Size: between a boat and a ship. Getting here yesterday from Warderick Wells was so slow. No wind. We got really hot. We couldn’t stay cool enough to power the boats efficiently. I got to thinking about how different peoples adapt to their climate. Years ago, back in the 70s, my old pal Larry and I spent a month hauling sleds over the sea ice north of Tuktoyuktuk in late winter. After a while the cold seemed O.K. with us and we thought we had acclimatized pretty well. But when we returned south to Inuvik we saw lots of local Inuit kids blasting around on skidoos in -25 F. with no gloves on and no hat. That was impossible for us. Another example happened at the beginning of this trip. As we stumbled through the streets of Nassau, humbled by the heat and humidity, we came across an outdoor court. There, in mid-day, in the blazing sun, were a bunch of dark skinned guys playing a lively game of pickup basketball. “What?” we thought, “No way”.

There is a limit, though to this adaptability. As we found yesterday there is a certain temperature/humidity combination in which sweat doesn’t have any cooling effect on the body, even for people superbly adapted to the climate. (which we are not). Yesterday was blazing hot and damp and the three of us hit that limit. The best we could do was to keep dishing sea water onto our heads with our hats. As the planet warms increasing areas are going to become uninhabitable. There have been mass migrations recently from Africa to Europe and from Latin America to the U.S. But, unfortunately, this is likely to be just the beginning.

At Warderick Wells we camped at the Pirate’s Lair, which is where pirates hid out and waited for ships to attack. We didn’t sleep well because a family was moored just offshore in a powerboat. A woman, who sounded quite drunk, screamed at her kids for hours. It must have been awful for them, in that small, hot enclosure.

Warderwick is the centre of the Exumas Park. It is a terrific place where no fishing is allowed. We saw more fish and more coral than anywhere else. Probably that is why there were fish at Staniel, which is just out of the park. We also passed living stromatolites, which are rare. We talked to the people at the centre on the way up, who were friendly and informative.

August 14, 2006 Highborne Cay, 24.7063, -76.8195

This is a place for yachts. When we pulled in yesterday to buy water and groceries some big rain storms started to come through. We got soaked. Stood around for a couple of hours actually being cold. Then four Spaniards from a huge rented yacht went prancing by us in the downpour into the water. The two gorgeous women wore bikinis so small they hardly mattered. One of the guys took off his trunks and started flinging it with his buddy. This lasted quite a while until finally the girls ran off with it back to their yacht. The guys sauntered back a little later, past a stuffy American yachtsman, the naked guy holding his crotch. As we were cold, I suggested that we follow their example (though with trunks) and it was warmer lounging in the sea with the sky still opening up on us.

That night there was no wind at our camp and the bugs were swarming, but we enjoyed hanging out on the lawn chairs at the marina. We were just tolerated, like us with the bugs.

Somehow Dan had left behind his stove. My spare one was plugged with sand, so Evan and I shared an emergency can of Spam that we had bought at George Town and ate cereal with powdered milk. Dan got a bit sick on Gatorade and potato chips and didn’t eat anything more.

Everything is better now. We had a lot of pancakes for breakfast. The weather is looking good for our crossing in a few days. I called my sister and wished her happy birthday.

August 17, 2006 N.E. beach, Ship Channel Cay, 24.815, -76.8214

As we approached the south end of this island, one of the “Power Boat Adventure” boats was leaving with about 50 passengers. It looks like an overgrown speedboat, cruises at 30 knots, making the journey from Nassau in a little over an hour.

We went to their camp. It looks like something out of Gilligan’s Island. There is a ramshackle-looking hut on stilts and an open bar at a dock.

We were greeted by Kevin, maybe close to my age, grisly. He does the video and photo recording of the day’s “adventure”. He has an Apple computer and a stock burner so he can have the customers’ CD ready when they leave. They feed sharks, snorkel (not in the same place, I hope) and drink at the bar. 50 to 80 per day. First they visit the Iguanas at Allen Cays, then come back to Ship Channel for a snorkel with life jackets on. They didn’t, of course, mind us camping a mile or so north of here; they don’t own this place. Kevin’s girlfriend (Zee?) is pregnant, wants to have an underwater birth here. Early 20s, red hair, hippie-ish. The “caretaker” is an Haitian guy, didn’t say too much. The barmaid works just for tips, is on a sailboat with Brian. Brian wanted to do his PhD in philosophy at UBC, loved the place, the inter-disciplinary approach. Wasn’t accepted. They have been here 1 1/2 months. Plan to go down to Venezuela, then Mediterranean. Searching.

We left them for this beach north of there. I didn’t want to have 50 people swarming around us. Good call, except for the incredible amount of plastic garbage on this beach, at this hook, which seems to be a trap. Otherwise, the place would be awesome. Good shade trees. Coral is in rough shape, though, just brown.

Plastic on the beach, ruined coral offshore

Towards evening Kevin, two young women and two boys came over in a skiff and invited us for dinner. Lobster, conch, rice. I wondered how we were going to get back, so at least I put a small flashlight in my pocket and carried my sandals before wading out to the skiff. Also at dinner were 3 local guys, a father and two grown sons. They played dominoes with big white pieces, which they slammed down on the table. All the pieces bounced. It became dark, we all talked for a long time.

When it became time to go, Kevin announced that the tide had gone out; he couldn’t take us back, too shallow. Dan and Evan had no shoes for walking in the dark over coral. It was decided that the three fisher guys would take us back, but first they had to get to their 28-foot boat, moored nearby. Very shallow, I was the only one with a light, so they used it, and bumped over the coral (mostly dead anyway) and rocks to their boat. The young guys got off; an older guy with a flashlight got on. So now we had Smokey holding the light and Dr. No steering the boat. Smokey kept saying: “Over derr. Go over derr!” Dr. No kept saying: “Shine da light on da wata.” Smokey said: “Paddlin’ in kayak in Georgia, saw this big fuckin’ gator, thought he was comin’ for me, so I started paddlin’ the fuck outta there. Then had a few beer and fogot about it!” Smokey said he had taken in 1400 conch in the last few days. (Did I get this right? They have heavy accents) Plus some lobster. I asked him if this could last and he said “Oh ya”. But he also mentioned that there are no conch near Nassau. He’s training his two sons in this. His boat was seven years underwater before he got it, took two years to clean it up, put on a new upper deck. He bought a 250 hp outboard for $14,000(?) Got a boat. Sells conch at about $2 each. We got off in chest high water and had to use my little flashlight to wade in and around the dead coral. Tomorrow we sail to Nassau, hopefully.

August 18, 2006 Ship Channel Cay

Waiting for better winds. Except for the garbage, great place to hang out. Before dusk the three of us have been sitting on the beach, sipping a little rum and watching the sun go down. I often finish off the day by pouring a cup or two of fresh water over me to wash the salt off. If there is a breeze we’ll stay out as night falls. With no breeze the bugs drive us into our tents and we read for a while. Last night we finished off the rum. It was overcast and dark and Dan ended up in the wrong tent.

August 19, 2006 Ship Channel Cay

Last night I had my tent fly off, as usual. Dan woke Evan and me up. It was pouring rain and thunder. We battened down our tents and went out naked with our soap for a good wash. Man, that felt good. These are days to remember.

August 20, 2006 Nassau 25.0745, -77.313

The 30 nautical mile crossing was uneventful until about half way to Nassau. A line of thunderstorms swept across us. One opened up on me and I was suddenly very busy with the sail. The guys in the double said that the storm hit me first and I just disappeared in the wall of water while they were still dry. Then it hit them.

We had big wind but not big waves, so we went fast. Once I had control I checked my GPS and found that I was doing 11.5 knots. That’s fast for a little kayak. The longer double outstripped me.

After the storm passed I was worried that the winds would die or go against us, which would mean a long, overnight paddle. They did slacken for a little while, but then picked up again. By then we were maybe 12 nautical miles off Nassau and we could see the big-shouldered Atlantis casino way off in the distance. An easy mark to steer to. We slid into Nassau at dusk, just fine.

23. Oil Sands (Entered May 1, 2021)

Thirty years previous to the Nassau expedition I was living with my girlfriend in Edmonton, Alberta. My ambition at the time was to fly commercially. To afford lessons I worked for Amoco Canada Petroleum Company (since acquired by BP). It was not much of a job, but I managed to get long breaks at mid-day and would whip over to the nearby Industrial Airport for flying lessons. Mostly I worked in the office, but I did get sent over to the Swan Hills oil and gas area to learn a little about production. I came back with a lot of respect for the guys who worked in the field. (It was all guys back then).

I remember one time a bunch of us were standing in a circle in a field of mud, discussing the work and how to improve operations. I was brought to heel for using a crescent wrench instead of a spanner to tighten a bolt on a piece of equipment. Over time the crescent wrench could round the corners of the bolts. I didn’t see the point of that. Maybe they were just trying to keep a kid with a degree who didn’t know nothing in line. It was a minor point. But they really did care about the details and they insisted on following protocol. I found these guys really solid. They talked about hockey and hunting and fishing and families. Most were older than me, so are retired now or gone for good. Sometimes I wonder about them and their families. Alberta has long been a boom-and-bust province. That makes it hard.

The last few years at Feathercraft Kayaks were pretty rough: falling sales, increasing costs, a large shipment of expensive skin fabric was received that was faulty. Our big dealer in Germany dumped us. In response we downsized the shop and cut staff and costs. I had no time for design as I buried myself in production while trying not to worry about our mounting losses. Without any salary I started eating away at our savings. Meanwhile Theresa, my wife, and business partner, tried to hold the office together. It was up to her to juggle who to pay, who to delay, how to reassure the bank. Finally my partner, wife, love of my life, suffered a complete breakdown. We should have acted sooner. It was a shock to the remaining crew when I told them we had to end production after 47 years and to cover our debts we had to sell off our equipment. We had decades together. They could have walked right then. But they stuck around and together we shut down the factory. We had to tear down a wall of the RF welding room and then watch as the two big machines were forklifted out. We looked on as people came and helped themselves to our clicker press, sewing machines, bar tackers and hot air welders, sold at bargain prices, from our sewing shop. Our dreams went with them. We stripped our machine shop of our big CNC machine, cut off saws, tube bender, band saws, drill presses, milling machine, hand tools. Theresa got rid of the office equipment. Then we scrubbed the whole empty place down. No one complained. Theresa and I sold our home in Vancouver (the city had outgrown us anyway) and moved to a home in Victoria with a workshop in the basement where I now make replacement parts. Occasionally I meet up with the guys in Vancouver and share a few beers. They are good men. The Feathercraft family was strong but their own family attachments were stronger. It has been difficult for them but they have found jobs and are supporting their loved ones. The guys all have daughters. They are raising beautiful, strong, talented girls. I love these guys. Change sucks, but you adapt and move on.

The world is nearing the day when oil demand will peak and then fall. Some say this could happen as early as 2025 while others say it will be sometime shortly after 2030. But it is coming. Already investment is drying up in the oilsands and oilrigs are moving south to the U.S. where oil production is less expensive. There are signs that the shale oil boom there is cooling off too. Even Mohammed bin Salman is trying to diversify the Saudi economy and wants to float shares of Aramco, the largest oil company in the world. Aramco’s average cost of sucking a barrel of oil out of the ground is stated at U.S. $2.80. A 2015 study by Stanford University compared the breakeven price in various countries for new production of oil based on a 10% return. In Saudi Arabia the cost even after tax was $31. Canada’s rate was the highest in the world at $71.45. The transition to electric vehicles is happening faster than most industry observers predicted and auto companies are spending billions on their development. Today renewable power has become cheaper than coal and it is fast overtaking oil and gas. Tesla and other companies are developing massive, cost effective battery units for storing energy when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine. As the price of fossil fuels drops the Saudis and other petro states will drive the higher cost producers down to ground. From a global environmental perspective this is not a bad thing. An earlier Stanford study found that the average carbon intensity of both Venezuelan and Canadian crude was more than three times that of Saudi light oil. The IPCC has stated that the most carbon intensive fossil fuels must remain in the ground as we transition to renewables and possibly nuclear. In 2010 MIT did a study on the Alberta oil sands. The conclusion was that “the niche for the oil sands industry seems fairly narrow and mostly involves hoping that climate policy will fail.” (M.I.T. Report №183, Canada’s Bitumen Industry Under CO2 Constraints January, 2010).

As the western oil and gas industry falters, government and industry leaders are raging against the federal government, other provinces, and environmentalists. Talk about western alienation and separatism is growing. Even after the Calgary flood in 2013, the massive forest fires in B.C., Alberta and the Arctic and melting sea ice, they claim more pipelines must be built and the oilsands industry must be expanded by 40%. So far their bullying tactics have been successful. But reporting in the mainstream media is starting to change. It has been made quite clear in the national, although not provincial, press that tar sands production must be cut back. In 2005 Canada’s emissions totalled 739 megatonnes (MT). By 2018 they had declined only 1.2%, mainly because of oil and gas extraction, which INCREASED by two thirds to 105 MT. Canada cannot reach the federal government’s stated goal of 40 to 45% reductions by 2030 unless oil and gas, and especially the tar sands emissions, are reduced massively. Expanding tar sands production makes no sense. Shrinking production at a planned, orderly rate does.

It is a form of insanity to believe that the solution to the climate crisis and falling demand for oil is to pump more of it. “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” Possibly authored by Goebbels.

In order to “compromise” and agree to a carbon tax, the oil execs in Alberta have insisted on being able to expand emissions to a cap of 100 megatonnes by 2050. Were Canada to meet its modest GHG targets by then, 100 MT would represent more than two-thirds of Canada’s allowable emissions. The rest of Canada, including Ontario’s massive manufacturing base and agriculture across the country, would suffer enormously trying to reduce emissions to almost zero so that Alberta’s oil patch, which accounts for about 7% of Canada’s economy, could continue to pollute. And yet, there are options.

Alberta has plans to generate 30% of its power needs with renewables and it could do much more. It has received bids for energy averaging just $37 per megawatt-hour for four wind power projects totaling 600 MW. This is the cheapest power in Canada. There is huge potential here for local use and for export.

Southern Alberta enjoys more hours of sunlight than any place in Canada. There is expanding opportunity for renewable solar energy, which the International Energy Agency says is now the cheapest energy the world has ever seen. Perhaps even the panels themselves, which are primarily made in China, with big pollution costs, could be manufactured in the province.

The electrification of power grids and transport systems will require massive amounts of copper, cobalt, lithium, nickel and rare earth minerals. There are polymetallic black shale deposits in northern, northeastern, and southwestern Alberta that have these metals and minerals. Lithium can be found in the Leduc Formation, the site of Alberta’s first oil boom, and also extracted with vanadium from brine created during bitumen production. The high proportion of carbon atoms makes bitumen a poor feedstock for fuel production but very promising for the expanding carbon fibre industry, used in everything from windmills to textiles, nanotubes and bicycle frames. None of these have been fully explored or developed.

The warming climate may even offer opportunities for farming in more northern regions. As southern regions become too parched and hot for agriculture there will be an increasing demand for sustainably grown food.

Alberta is a wealthy province and its youthful citizens have been paying more than the Canadian average into the Canada Pension Plan. Instead of complaining, consider this an investment in the future. Like all big sovereign wealth funds the CPP is always looking for long-term investments. These big funds are actively divesting out of fossil fuels because they don’t want to hold stranded assets in the future. The CPP is huge, with over $400 billion in assets. Partner with them and local communities, including, especially, indigenous, to build massive wind power in the north and along the eastern side of the Rockies and large scale solar in the sunny south. Build out the electric power grid to join them all together. Harden buildings against climate change and invest in roof-top solar power. Become a green super power. There is lots to do.

Of course the biggest resource in the prairie provinces is the people. Alberta boasts the youngest population with the most university degrees per capita, and a highly skilled workforce with the highest incomes in Canada. It is hard to understand why intelligent people cannot accept that the world is in climate crisis and the demand for high cost, carbon intensive fossil fuels is set to fall off a cliff. It is not just Alberta. Across Canada people are in denial about the severity of the climate emergency. The IPCC has said that we now have about 11 years to get our emissions well down below today’s levels. That doesn’t mean that we can start in 11 years. There are over a billion trucks and cars worldwide today, there are fossil fueled power plants, cement production plants and methane-belching cows. Most of them will still be around in 11 years. To avoid massive environmental catastrophe and society breakdown we have to start reducing right now. This will lead to big job losses and a need for retraining. It is no time to down tools. There are huge challenges ahead, but also opportunities as we transition to a low carbon society. Change is difficult, but you have to move on.

I learned a few hard lessons during my own experience with disruption. The first is to learn the causes of your problems. Can you affect them or are they market changes that are beyond your control? You have to look beyond your immediate environment and not play the blame game. The second is to react as quickly as possible. The longer you procrastinate the harder your adjustment will be. I waited too long. The third is that change is difficult, often painful, but absolutely necessary. Finally, you must have a solid plan and act on it. Unfortunately, the leaders of Alberta and Saskatchewan are not even past stage one. They are actively fighting attempts to meet the GHG targets that the Trudeau has proposed in response to President Biden’s climate initiatives. Neither is the rest of Canada for passively accepting and acceding to their rants.

John Horgan was elected Premier of B.C. partly on the promise to use all the “tools in the toolbox” to stop the construction of the Kinder Morgan raw bitumen pipeline. Groups such as Coast Protectors are angry that their voices have not been heard concerning a project that is being rammed through their territories. They have vowed to stop the pipeline by any means. Construction continues and Horgan seems to have lost his enthusiasm for opposing it.

Pumping up the sausage

In May, 2016 I thought that I could add to the boating protests against the Kinder Morgan, (now Trans Mountain) Pipeline at their Burnaby Mountain shipping terminal. We welded a giant black sausage out of kayak hull fabric which I towed behind my kayak. It did not go over too well. There was a breeze and the big bag pulled me around like a tail wagging a dog. I mostly just managed to get in the way of people. The protests spooked Kinder Morgan and they later sold the pipeline project to the Trudeau government. Now the People’s Pipeline is over budget but still under construction behind a wall of secrecy that even withholds the name of the company that is insuring it.

What Horgan initially did to so anger the Premier of Alberta was to insist on studies examining the effect of dilbit[1] on the marine environment. A review by concerned scientists found only four papers that reviewed direct impacts of bitumen on oceans. Not much is known.

At Kinder Morgan terminal

On Sunday July 25, 2010 an Enbridge Energy pipeline burst spilling in excess of one million gallons of dilbit into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. The volatile hydrocarbon diluents evaporated and the heavier bitumen sank to the river bottom. The cleanup did not go well. A large area surrounding the spill site had to be evacuated due to the toxicity of the diluent. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board chair, Deborah Hersman likened the responders to the “Keystone Kops”. The river was closed and in 2013 additional dredging was ordered.

That event was in fresh water. Would dilbit sink in saltwater? It depends. For one thing, the exact chemistry of the diluent is proprietary and differs amongst producers. For what it’s worth, investigators think that it may float unless there is sediment in the water, or wave action, or upwelling or wind or organic matter in the water, or the water is warm. Then, who knows?

The past government officials in B.C. liked to talk about “world class spill response”. So far, the best that has been achieved in real world emergencies is about 15% to 30% recovery. Retired Commander Frederick E. Moxey, who once commanded the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station, said in his experience “usually you recover 30 per cent at most, more like 10, and that’s with an immediate response and a trained crew with sponges and straw pulling the oil out by hand.” A dilbit spill could be much harder to deal with because the diluent would be toxic and unapproachable until it evaporated. Once it had, if the bitumen sank due to any number of conditions it would be impossible to recover.

If the pipeline goes ahead, 408 Aframax tankers a year, each 245 meters long and carrying 750,000 barrels of bitumen, could depart from Burnaby’s Westridge Marine Terminal only at high tide and sail through the Second Narrows and First Narrows, past Stanley Park, the Fraser River Estuary (still with one of the largest salmon runs in the world) out through the Strait of Georgia and Haro Strait and along surprisingly pristine marine areas that support an astonishing variety and abundance of life.

While claiming the moral high ground by standing up to the Kinder Morgan Pipeline, Premier Horgan is also backing a massive LNG terminal being constructed in Kitimat. Alberta’s former premier, Rachel Notley has called this “environmental hypocrisy”. She has a point. If the project goes ahead, B.C. will be unlikely to meet its own GHG targets, just like Alberta. You can’t have it both ways. (More on LNG later).

There is nothing hypocritical about the stand of all of the First Nations that have territory near the ocean. They are dead against it. (107 First Nations in Alberta and B.C. impacted by the pipeline are opposed, 43 inland groups are in support.) The Tseil-Waututh Nation’s lands include territory directly across from the terminal where the tankers will dock. They conducted a study of the probabilities of different spill scenarios using Kinder Morgan’s own data. According to their report, over a fifty-year period there is a 79- 87% likelihood of a spill, a 37% chance of a spill larger than 10,000 barrels and a 29% likelihood of a worst-case spill over 100,000 barrels. They consider these probabilities unacceptable. They are leading protests, and will continue until the project is stopped. Perhaps now is the time that we should be listening to these voices.

Leaders and oil execs in a number of provinces are still opposing the carbon levy, even though economists call it the most cost effective way to reduce emissions. It is helpful to remember that the former premier of B.C., Christie Clarke, froze the B.C. carbon tax that had been instituted by her own party. Tax policies come and go with changes of governments and even changes of leadership within the same party. This is another reason why it is especially important that we do not build pipelines that enable increased oil sands production. Pipelines last for 45 years. Already fires have burned across the whole Arctic, creating a cloud of smoke greater than Europe. Calgary has been inundated by floods and Fort McMurray has burned. Australia in 2019 and 2020 experienced truly horrendous bushfires and millions of animals died. We are becoming pariahs amongst the millions of young people around the globe who are looking for climate leadership.

[1] Dilbit (diluted bitumen) is a bitumen diluted with one or more lighter petroleum products, typically natural-gas condensates such as naphtha. Diluting bitumen makes it much easier to transport, for example in pipelines. Per the Alberta Oil Sands Bitumen Valuation Methodology, “Dilbit Blends” means “Blends made from heavy crudes and/or bitumens and a diluent, usually natural-gas condensate, for the purpose of meeting pipeline viscosity and density specifications, where the density of the diluent included in the blend is less than 800 kg/m3.”[1] If the diluent density is greater than or equal to 800 kg/m3, the diluent is typically synthetic crude and accordingly the blend is called synbit.

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