Every Dog has it’s Day

A 24-hour per day work cycle, 12-hour shifts, immense pressure, stress and mechanical engine failures aboard ‘Polaris 1′, 2 & 3’ has left my ‘Polaris 4’ as the last man (dog) standing.

Me and my navigator Mark, reciprocal captain/mentor Olivier and our lucky ‘Alpha-Dog’ ‘Polaris 4’ are the sole geo-seismic cable vessel currently operating in the Arctic Circle.

Meanwhile, the ‘Alaganik’ – a different type of survey re-supply barge has been positioned offshore near the barrier islands with fresh supplies of ‘ammunition’ for us (seismic cables) so I don’t have to refuel as often saving time.  This saves my 28-knot sprints back to ‘F-Pad’ ashore – which burns both valuable time to reload and refuel.

Thus, we’re into a steady rhythm that should see us deploy a new record number of cables this evening.  Touch the scantily clad aluminum hull that our blistering pace and luck continues as we map the sea-floor and the thousands of feet below that with bathymetry and the acoustic devices in our ultra high-tech arsenal.  This is the reason why CGG VERITAS remains the world’s leader in the field of geo-seismic survey operations!

PS:  I’ve graduated with honors and am now fully confident driving a jet-boat as I enjoy flirting with her  maneuverability and speed capabilities!


Polaris 4

It’s official, on water training aboard my very own French flagged and built ‘jet’ boat the “Polaris 4” in session.

Powered by  2 x Cummins QSB5.9 -355 INT, 350 HP @ 2600 rpm with thrust vectoring nozzles (jets:  2 x hydro-jets UJ 305 HT) and no rudders – I have a top speed of 26-knots and I can manuever in any directional axis.  Just like the airborne equivalent the F-22 Raptor, I can defy hydrodynamic principles by ‘sliding’ sideways and pivoting thru my own LOA at will.

The slides are extremely important for our geo-seismic survey operations as I need to be able to maintain a perfect trajectory while buffeted by cross-winds and current at slow forward speeds.

Luckily, I have a ‘top-gun’ as my instructor and co-skipper – Olivier.  Olivier skippers the day shift while I skipper the night shift in twelve-hour stints. Olivier is from Bordeaux, France and has vast fishing experience in the Gulf of Gascogne in the Bay of Biscay France.  It’s very often I praise the merits of my new cast of friends but it isn’t often when I induct one of them into my small inner circle.

…The fact we spend more time laughing than speaking is one reason why!  Olivier will train me to ‘fly’ the water jets and I’ve told him I’ll train him in sail power so we’re both proficient in the art and sciences of wind and power-driven ‘liquidflight’!

The other reason is that he draws people in with his immense charm, wit and charisma, separate of the fact that this whole team of French captains are truly a well oiled and professional fighting machine.

Meanwhile, we delivered the ‘Polaris’ fleet 30-miles west to a new forward operating base thru a maze of icebergs en-route.  We’re now bused back and forth to a space-age living camp for the few hundred workers, cable operators, boat captains, engineers, safety personal and so on – all encapsulated in a lunar like space camp on the north slope of Alaska.

PS:  As we arrived yesterday, caribou were loitering in front of my room, and this morning a white Arctic fox ran right by my door and then out onto the tundra!


Game Face

The scariest moment is always just before you start.”Stephen King

Shore teams are ‘pimping my ride’: a French built jet powered ‘Polaris’ – so its nearly time to venture toward the ice cap to begin surveying the ocean floor along-side a fleet of sister-ships with French captains for the most part.  Touch wood my ‘helmsmanship’ aboard racing yachts translates to handling a water ‘jet’!  I’m about to find out ; )  It’s time to live up to my web address in cyberspace__________________________________/) ‘liquidflight’!
Below:  My apparel this afternoon wasn’t for cold temperature but the insane clouds of summer mosquitoes!

Dead-horse, ‘Prudhoe Bay’ – Alaska at 70-north latitude

I‘m here – I’ve bitten off 300-nautical miles of the Arctic Circle in a town called ‘Dead-horse’ !  A place my instructors had said had a fixed population of four people.  I’d immediately asked – “Is it two guys and two girls…?!” The classroom erupted in laughter with comments like – “It would be a good place to start an internet dating site!”  

These days, Wikipedia lists the population of Dead-horse as twenty-five – but I suspect its allot more than that during the brief summer months when there’s a big influx of environmental and oil workers.

Arriving on the flight yesterday, I could see the Arctic ice cap which recedes from the coast-line only ten miles during summer.  Male polar bears prefer to stay out there to hunt the ice, while their female counter-parts come over to the tundra – ‘our’ side. In mid-August, it will start snowing again.  Meanwhile, its currently sunshine, highs to over sixty-degrees F, short-sleeves and happy days – no joke.

Female polar bears are often more aggressive than their male counter-parts (just like humans) so you can’t assume a female bear will try to be-friend you during your stay!  During my lunch break, one of the employees said a brown bear had gone thru the middle of our camp a few hours before I arrived!

Meanwhile, another employee had been here a few years back when he had a ‘small’ incident during his first week on the job.  He’d seen a white shape fast approaching in the distance, yelled to his mate and they’d jumped in their vehicle leaving the area at high speed.  The polar bear caught up with them and was running along-side the truck at 60-kph until it finally gave up the chase a few minutes later!

It seems they’re ‘Great White’ sharks of the land but you wouldn’t know by watching the Coca-Cola TV advertisement or drinking Bundaberg Rum (it’s their branding logo).  Someone must have been pretty lit-up in Bundaberg when they decided to use a polar bear as the identity for an Aussi brew made below the equator!

…Speaking of which, while at my first dinner yesterday – I’m eyeing off the back of a girl’s shirt that wanders into the mess hall. I ask her where she got it as she finishes her meal.  It turns out both her and her partner were from Australia visiting the north slope and not only that – he was born in Bundaberg, Australia !

“…Did he work for the Bundy distillery and had come to get a photo-op with a polar bear sipping Bundy’s finest for a new marketing campaign down-under…?!” ; )

Infact, they’d been traveling the US and had reached their ‘northern-most zenith’ by road before they drive back to Canada.  Low and behold, we got to talking allot after dinner about all topics including sailing – something they’ve ALWAYS dreamed about.

They were class acts so I said number#1: they’d be welcome to join me for any upcoming yacht deliveries to get experience and number #2: why ‘fly’ back to Australia ‘par-avion’, when you could sail back there visiting all the beautiful ‘pit-stops’ you’d otherwise miss along the way!

They laughed when I told them for example – “…Fiji has 367-islands, one for each day of the year and two days of rest…!”  They thought I worked for the Fijian tourism bureau on the north slope ; )

So I gave them a wad of cash to fetch both me and Linda shirts from the one if not the only great pub in the Arctic Circle – the ‘Hot Spot Cafe’ on the road to Deadhorse.  Meanwhile, they grabbed a tape measure out of their combee truck to measure my back to be sure of my size as I mentioned I didn’t want her size, other-wise I might make the wrong impression amongst my new work mates and oil workers!

As I just wrote in a recent blog – its these ‘diamonds’ you find traveling the road to the north slope and elsewhere in the world that are the pre-dominate lasting memories…(not the pubs – but the people you meet!)

So here’s to meeting new friends in the most unlikely places!  Another wicked duo from the opposite side of the world – my adopted home down-under – Australia!

I went to France to race and I get a job for a French company in Alaska and two Australians go to the Alaska to explore the mountains and meet someone they can sail back to Australia with – ‘there’s nothing in life that surprises me anymore’ !

(Below:  my first new friends in the Arctic Circle – Australians 😉

4th of July Holiday

Had a great vacation on my S&S 34 “Gitano” in Seattle for ‘Independance Day’ – July 4th – back to Alaska and the north slope to work on the 10th!  Thanks to the previous owner’s of “Gitano” – Bruce and Cynthia for a wonderful day at Bainbridge Island playing croquet and horeshoes – a first time that I’ve done either!

3-days LA to HI ?

…Guess what’s already in the US waiting for an ideal weather window to break the TransPac speed record to Hawaii which stands at 4 days 3/4 by another French trimaran…? The ‘flying’ (foiling) boat that does up to 50-knots at sea and is capable of sailing the 2,250-nautical miles from Long Beach to Honolulu in 3 1/2 days…!!! My friend Jacques Vincent that crewed with my on the 2005 TransPac and a number of mini races in France is on the “Le Hydroptere” team – GO JACQUES !!!

More incredible pics of the ‘flying fish’ here.

Now that’s truly “liquidflight” ________________________________/)