Day Fourteen: Flying Mountain Dew

29 January 2014 (Wednesday)

Awoke at 0700 to light snow falling. The rock is completely white and shrouded in fog.

The seals don't seem to mind the weather

The seals don’t seem to mind the weather

The air is also still, a rarity this time of year. The ocean is the calmest we’ve seen yet this season and it is a welcome change. The downside is no sea spray.

The batteries are at 23.6 – not terrible for overnight. I gear up, start the generator, and make coffee. This is becoming my morning routine. Next a pre-breakfast bucket run which is always fun.

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Two gray seals battle it out in the snow

Tanya makes eggs with bacon for breakfast. While we are eating I hear Chris Candage talking with another lobsterman on Ch 7. He’s fishing west of MDR, but we can’t see him through the snow and fog. After they are done talking I call over and confirm plans for a Saturday trip. I’m glad he’s on board, weather still looks OK. I am keeping my fingers crossed for an easy transfer of equipment and people. It should be quick as we are moving a small amount of gear and it’s supposed to be warm. We plan on talking later to firm up details.

Today is the day we fly the kite. After breakfast we all don our winter gear and head to the south side of the island for the first weighted test. For this particular test Kathy has

Mountain Dew can goes for a trip!

Mountain Dew can goes for a trip!

found the one of Kerry’s unopened Mountain Dew cans is the same weight as the camera, so it becomes the first test flight subject. After a bit of rigging the kite is set out to about 70 feet and the Mountain Dew is attached to the string with two clips. A moment later and the whole rig is air born. It all looks very well. We pull it in and return to the house to prepare for the camera flight.

On our way back into the house I catch a glimpse of another bird of prey to the east side of the island mixed among the seals. As it takes off we’re fairly certain it is another peregrine falcon.

Tanya and Kerry set up the kite

Tanya and Kerry set up the kite

While Kathy rigs the kite camera I break out my 1000w DC to AC inverter to do some repairs. I brought it as a backup for the emergency kit in the tower, thinking we could get a few batteries up there and a solar panel, and then have AC power if we needed to charge a laptop or radio. The positive lead broke off so I need to strip wire, re-tin the end, and hook it back up again. In theory this would be simple but at MDR the equipment is sometimes post-apocalyptic, and in this case I’m using an ancient solder gun and plumbing solder. It’s not going smoothly. I rummage through our gear and find some old flux, which does help. Eventually I get it done, and finish off the installation with vulcanized rubber tape and Super 88, always a good combo.

Kathy finishes prepping the kite and we head out for the first camera run. Everything sets up well but the wind is too light. We can only get the camera 150 ft or so off the island IMG_7065before it dips. A couple of time it lands in the snow. It does seem like the camera is riding very well as it is pointing straight down at the island, a good sign. We have moved south and west a little to disturb the seals less. We bring it down and decide to wait until the wind picks up again. The forecast says it should increase later.

We download some of the pictures and they are hard to make out because of the low altitude and all white island. Some are OK but we need to get it higher next time.

Tanya and Chris as seen from the sky

Tanya and Chris as seen from the sky

There are five or so lobsterman out today and I can’t blame them. It’s been a while since conditions like this. The weather makes me wish we could get out on the water as well.

At low tide Kathy and Kerry make their way to the western cove spire to collect ice samples. With these light conditions it is not a problem. They collect six samples from the spire – three from icicles hanging at the bottom of the spire and three from different locations along one horizontal plane higher up. They found higher salinity in the icicles as this is essentially a brine drain from the pole. The fresh water will freeze quicker and stay high while salt water drains down.

Kite and camera soaring over the island

Kite and camera soaring over the island

Later in the day, when the breeze comes up, Kathy and Kerry head out to test the kite again. When I see them set up to the south I go out on the porch to see what’s going on. Where is the kite? I assume it is hidden behind the gen shed but no. Then I follow the string up and see it’s incredibly high off the island. The strong wind has taken it straight up and really high. They’ve let out all of the line 500 feet, and it looks to be riding excellent.

Kathy and Kerry return to the house. The flight was a success but it was really difficult to reel the kite back in. They were going to change the settings from picture to video but decided that they needed a break. In the current configuration the camera is just taking thousands of pictures, maybe three a second, during each flight. They are not very high resolution.

We download these pictures and they are much better. Even though all 500 feet of line was out it is still not nearly enough to capture the whole island. But there are now shots

House and tower as seen from the sky

House and tower as seen from the sky

of the island structures, which adds perspective. The next step is to fly Tanya’s point and shoot that offers much higher resolution, then move onto the GoPro. We could end up with some really interesting footage from this.

Before sunset Tanya and I go out to collect snow for shower and dish water. While the sun thawed the island a bit there is still plenty of drifts around and we easily fill two fish totes. We bring them into the living room to melt.

The light is incredible tonight, deep orange on the horizon, and I take a moment to snap some images.

Before dinner (steak burritos with rice and guacamole) we find that the small propane heater has kicked it’s bottle and needs to be changed. I make my way out and make the switch. Coming back in I manage to trip over the generator cord, lose a shoe, and just barely keep my balance while standing in my sock in the snow. After an hour back inside all of the lights go out. Uh-oh…every time there is a hiccup in the system I fear the worst. The Outback inverter is the same system that went through the hurricane damage in 2009. It was rebuilt but I figure it’s going to go at anytime. Is it this time? Nope. Turns out I just pulled the cord out of the generator when I tripped over it which stopped the batteries from being charged. When the generator is running we all charge our laptops, phones, etc., so were hitting the battery pack pretty hard. Now I know how low the batteries can drain before shutting off our power – 21.4 volts. Lesson learned. I go fill the generator with more gas as it will need to run for a while yet to get the batteries straight. The Lifeline batteries are made for deep draw, so I am not concerned about long term damage.

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While I was out changing the propane I was also startled by a lobster boat within 100 meters off the west side of the island. It was now pitch black and the large halogen lights on its mast were blazing as it traveled from one buoy to the next. I look through the binos to see if it was the ‘Georgia Madison’ but it was not. The sea has stiffened and some chop

Abstract image of night-time lobstering

Abstract image of night-time lobstering

was cascading over the boat, illuminated by the bright lights. One of the strange experiences here is being immersed in that fisherman’s life for a moment, where the reality of the harsh, offshore environment is played out in front of you, and in the next moment you return to your warm, very cozy home, complete with hot dinner and a couch. There are not many places where that happens. I wonder if he has a similar experience looking over at the lit up house, albeit from the other side of things.

The air is very clear tonight, there is no moon, and the stars are quite bright. After brushing my teeth I took some photos of the tower light and sky.

Bed by 2215.

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