Day Thirty-One: Nor’Easter

15 February 2014 (Saturday)

Wake up at 0600 to the sound of the generator. I slept very well last night.  I run to the house to use the head and see that things have subsided. It is blowing about 10 kts and there is very little wind wave action, but the swell is still formidable. Kathy and Kerry made their way back to the house late last night and are hard at work early.

Over the course of the morning we return ourselves and our gear to the house. Tanya and I put out the solar panels to catch some of the bright sun. I find enough copper pipe to complete the final run of propane from the porch to the freezer. The seals are way up high near the house to the east where the propane lines are, so all the work involves crouching, kneeling, and crawling to stay out of view. The work does not take very long and soon the freezer is back on.

Delphis deflated and stowed inside for the storm

Delphis deflated and stowed inside for the storm

I spend much of the morning re-piping the propane line to the small heater in the living room. Previously the line ran out the south window to a bottle on the ground. Keeping with the new system I pipe this to the opposite side of the south porch. It takes some finessing but I end up having all the parts I need. Now all of the propane is up high and off the ground.

Taking a quick survey of the island it is not immediately obvious that water was up high. But I do notice that a small makeshift fireplace made of loose bricks sitting in front of the north porch has been washed away. There are also buoys and a large pice of driftwood almost at the height of the solar panel frame. Luckily all of the walkways and ramp are unscathed.

Cormorants in flight

Cormorants in flight

The day has been calm but a proper nor’easter is on its way here. The mainland is preparing for a significant blizzard. There is a storm warning here from 1900 tonight to tomorrow morning. Somewhat lucky for us the large south swell from today’s storm will be running right into the north wind, and while the winds are forecast to gust to 50 kts, the sea will stay a relatively small 12 ft. Not enough to run to the tower. This will also be great working weather for Kathy and Kerry if some of the precipitation holds off. They plan on napping after dinner and then working overnight.

Tanya does a seal count at 1640. All the seals are way up high on the east side.

For dinner we have burritos with beef that Tanya had been slow-simmering since 1400, a nice treat. After dinner we have another round of up and down the river and then Kathy heads to bed for a couple of hours in prep for the nights work. Kerry opts to stay awake for a while.

Beautiful sunset

Beautiful sunset

By 1900 the snow is arriving and the winds pick up from the east. We all do computer work for a few hours. By 2200 it is a proper storm from the northeast.

Bed by 2230.

-Chris

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Day Thirty: The Sea Comes Over The Island

14 February 2014 (Friday)

0630.

Wake up to a spectacular scene. It is hard to convey the awesome force we are seeing around the island on this Valentine’s Day. The daylight and lower tide gives us IMG_8912confidence to step out of our lighthouse haven and take a look around. Massive blue and green swell rises above us all around. We all stare in a bit of shock and wonder, mouths agape, as white froth spans out in all directions for well over a quarter mile. We are in a different universe. Columbia ledge, 1/2 nm to the south, is erupting, heaving huge green swell and white water into the IMG_8931sky. The size of the sea cresting to the east, breaking over the seal ledges, seems impossible. At times the ocean becomes background but MDR now feels like the speck that it is, and it almost feels strange to not be moving. I am shocked into submission. Tanya takes hundreds of pictures. And, of course, Kathy and Kerry fly a kite!

We notice that the VHF antenna that I had cable tied to the porch is on the ground. I had wanted to make it off better but forgot, but it’s confusing because the sea never reached the porch. The winds were strong enough to shear it from the porch. It is no worse for wear, and I move it up and inside the porch this time.

I start a pot of coffee and it’s the scariest one I’ve every made. The tide is coming up and we need to get back into the tower soon. The kite is hundreds of feet in the air and plumes of sea spray explode above Kathy and Kerry to the south. Tanya is up in the driftwood forest taking pictures and I’m watching the sea to the north, through the window, next to the coffee pot.

Chris tries to help Kerry bring in the kite as swells splash behind them

Chris tries to help Kerry bring in the kite as swells splash behind them

Kathy asks if I can help Kerry with the kite while she puts up a slide on the fog horn platform. We are conducting normal tasks while this out of control marine roller coaster twists around us. I go out to Kerry to help bring the kite in. I convey the fact that the lighthouse steps are actually lower than much of the southern part of the island and we do not want to be caught unaware. The ocean is getting close and I am nervous. I try and pull in the kite but am having a hard time without leather gloves. Kathy comes out to relieve me. I get back in to find Tanya putting coffee in mugs.

Back in the tower Becca is wondering if she can get her camera back in the house and I hesitate to give the OK. Then Kerry and I go out to tie the extension cords up high. We are running the generator at the tower now, but powering the batteries inside. So we need a cord to go to the house and then back to the tower.

Kerry goes up to undo the main extension cord and I run into the house one last time to use the head. I make a last

Columbia Ledge breaking

Columbia Ledge breaking

minute decision to drag the heater up to the lighthouse. We were pretty chilled last night. I am a little frantic. I rip the copper pipe out of the window, which is really long and awkwardly bent. I try and walk the heater and the pipe through the house and outside and I hit just about everything in the house doing so.

Back in the tower Tanya sees the heater and knows I’ve been to the house. Can she and Beccca go back? It was not too threatening and I agree. They want to grab some groceries and video camera.

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I start the Coleman standing grill, which also acts as a stove, and make oatmeal for the crew.

The morning is spent watching the sea inundate the island from all sides. The crew take hundreds of pictures. We watch as the sea gets closer and closer to the house, eventually touching the northwest corner briefly. Near the IMG_0206solar panel frame the surge is just underneath. Swells pounding on the souths side stream over the island to the west creating waterfalls we never new existed. Whitewater covers the ramp, platform, and walkways. They all survive. The secondary weather station that also houses the GoPro is set on the rocks on the south side near the western cove spire. It is awash at times but fares the storm OK as well.IMG_9330

An hour or two after high tide and we emigrate back to the house. We will get some home time for a bit and then make our way to the tower for the next high tide, which is 2200. Kerry heads out with Becca to help her do a microphone calibration. The wind is still gusting very high and I watch as something of hers flies away. It was her only her glove and they were able to retrieve it.

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At 1900 we re-convene in our emergency bunker. Tanya makes us all homemade mac & cheese. We sit down to play cards again. Halfway through Kerry is falling asleep and Kathy is not too far behind. I suggest we take a break and everyone agrees. Kathy and Kerry will continue to work through the night, or at least until the wind dissipates. The forecast is for 15-19 ft seas tonight, subsiding to 8-13 after midnight. The winds are to drop out as well. They plan on working through midnight and then making their way back to the house late if the weather is OK. Tanya, Becca, and I are content to stay in the tower. We are pretty beat from the day’s excitement and have no interest in going to bed twice.

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Last night was very drafty in the lighthouse and quite cold. Tonight we have the propane heater going. I set up a tarp across the staircases to keep cold out and it works well. Tonight I start with a deflated mattress and add fleece blankets, then the mummy bag. Great combination. I will sleep much more soundly tonight.

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Bed by 2130.

-Chris

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Day Twenty-Nine: Retreat To The Tower

13 February 2014 (Thursday)

Wake up at 0700. I try to make coffee without anything else on but the batteries cannot handle it. I check the seals to see if any are close to the house. They are not so I start the big generator.

This day is stressful. There is a very large low pressure system making it’s way across southern New England. I know that we likely need to spend the night in the tower, but the general feeling from the crew is no thanks. The forecast here is for 16 ft seas, but the direction of the wind is East, then Northeast and North. We rode out the southerly winds and sea OK. But the island is short on the north side and last February MDR suffered significant damage from a northerly blow. That was the winter storm Nemo, and the seas took shingles off the north side of the house. As a reference I spend some time downloading the data from the Nemo storm to compare from the National Data Buoy Center (NDBC) website. That day the winds were sustained in the 50 kt range and it gusted to nearly 80 kts at the Rock. The seas at the I01 buoy, Eastern Maine Shelf, topped out at 27 ft. We are not forecast for that today. But any sane person can not rely solely on the forecast this time of year. We need to be precautionary.

Hard to leave a cozy house for a damp dark tower

Hard to leave a cozy house for a damp dark tower

I slowly make my way around the island shoring things up for weather. At some point I ask everyone if they are really averse to the idea of sleeping in the tower. Kerry is fine with it, Kathy says she would rather sleep in the house, or wait in the house until the last moment. Becca and Tanya are up for whatever and just want to be safe. At some point I need to just make the call. The lighthouse is in pretty dismal shape inside, but it is the only place to be in a big storm.

We were going to curl today at 10 am but forgo the plan due to storm prep and weather. Somehow Tanya takes the time to make bagels, which is not simple. They turn out really well.

We make final preparations. Tanya and I get the solar panels down and into house. As we do it starts to rain and snow. The VHF antenna that is mounted temporarily on the east side of the south porch is pulled down and stowed. The aluminum gorilla ladder is placed up on the porch.

When Kathy and Kerry return from setting up their GoPro and downloading data from their small weather station, and Becca finishes her seal watch, the crew brings Delphus into the house. It is a large boat and quite heavy, but deflated it slides through the house and into the southwest hallway. What a strange life we have.

All propanes are now on the porch. Weather is picking up.

All propanes are now on the porch. Weather is picking up.

As the sun is setting in the late afternoon the weather is quickly deteriorating. The large wooden dolly for the boat ramp is still set on the rocks to the south of the house. I want to get it uphigher. Tanya and I lift it up and slide it through the open window of the generator shed.

Finishing up our outside work I shut down the freezer propane and the small heater propane and move them onto the porch.

I ask the crew to be ready with personal gear for the tower stay by 2100. This includes warm clothes and something to sleep in or on, as well as any computers, etc. they might need. I am planning on bring the generator, a small battery bank, and mu 1000w inverter.

For dinner Tanya makes a huge batch of cajun pasta with chicken and veggies on the side. Cooking for the crew has been interesting as Becca does not eat meat and Kerry does not eat veggies. So often we have multiple dishes set out.

After dinner we get final gear in order. Tanya and I have been watching the sea state closely and it is getting closer and closer to the house from the east. The upstairs rooms give the best view, so we run up from time to time.

Becca makes strawberry cobbler. Just as people are finishing up I ask for us all to go to the tower. We begin piling into the lighthouse with all kinds of gear. Tanya, Becca, and I set up shop in the third level of the lighthouse. Ask Kathy if she wants one and she shakes her head. I get the feeling she is not thrilled with our plan.

Feeling quite stormy...

Feeling quite stormy…

Kathy and Kerry are going to work through the night, setting out multi-cylinders on the lighthouse railing and the foghorn platform. This is what they came here for, although I think it would be easier if they had the house to come back to. Tanya, Becca, and I set out sleeping gear. They have thermarests and I have an inflatable mattress. It does not take long for us to be stowed away. It was a long day.

At some point I hear Kathy and Kerry inflating their own mattresses, resigned to the fact that the lighthouse is home for the next day. In between data collection they are watching shows on their laptops. Kathy ends up only sleeping one hour, but watching five episodes of Friday Night Lights.

I think briefly of what an old lighthouse keeper from the 1800’s would think peeking in on this scene. I am in a mummy bag, browsing my iPad, sleeping next to a grill and fish tote of food, while laptops play TV shows downstairs among digital balance scales and strange sea spray collection devices. It is an odd life we are living here.

Setting up a home in the tower

Setting up a home in the tower

Weather conditions continue to deteriorate. I am happy we are in the tower. My mattress deflates to the floor and it is cold. But it is better than being swept to sea.

Bed by 2230.

-Chris

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Day Twenty-Eight: Calm Before The Storm

12 February 2014 (Wednesday)

Wake up at 0715. Tanya makes coffee and the batteries can’t handle it. The seals are pretty sparse today and not near the house. Needing the extra energy I start the big generator so we don’t have to worry about power.

Email Dan about bringing out a funnel and more propane. We probably do not need the propane but this way our guests can sleep in a heated room overnight if they wish.

We have a significant storm on the horizon for Thursday through Saturday. The forecast has steadily built, and today we are looking at 45 kt gusts and 10-15 ft seas from the northeast. This

Chris paints a bullseye for our curling court

Chris paints a bullseye for our curling court

will requires some preparations. The winch will need to come up from the boat ramp. Unused propane bottles will come inside. I am thinking we should get the inflatable up a little higher than it is now, but I’m not entirely sure where. I also want to get more comfort items up into the lighthouse.

After breakfast Tanya and I head out to do storm prep. First task is to remove the winch from the ramp. The winch is actually an electric anchor puller that used to be mounted on one of the college’s research vessels, the Borealis. When the Borealis half-sank a few years ago the winch was placed in a garage and forgotten about. Last year we were looking for a replacement and I was able to have it rebuilt and repurposed for the island.

First we move the 20HP motor that is sitting on the hand truck onto the floor of the pool room (yes we have a pool table here). We need it to move things around. Then down to the ramp. The winch is mounted on two 2×12 pressure treated boards lag bolted into the boat ramp. We pop those bolts off and get the winch on the hand truck and bring it to the house.

The dining room table has turned into just a work table this winter.

The dining room table has turned into just a work table this winter.

Next we focus on propane. All of our propane bottles are set out on the east side of the house along the wall. There are three regulators there as well, for the big heater, the stove, and the freezer. My idea is to move all the propane up on the south porch as a safety precaution. First the empty bottles go up and into the pool room. Next the spares get moved to the porch. The heater bottle comes up and we splice in some copper tubing so it operates from the porch instead of the ground. Liking that scenario we then do the same for the stove, which is much further away. Luckily we have 20 feet of copper pipe here and are able to splice in a long line high up on the house to a bottle on the porch. The freezer bottle will stay for the moment, and I will likely bring it inside tomorrow night.

We can see Acadia quite clearly today. Makes a nice backdrop to our curling!

We can see Acadia quite clearly today. Makes a nice backdrop to our curling!

I still do not know what to do about Delphus. We take a look at the inside of the house, then the lighthouse. It is temporarily decided that we will try and deflate the boat and walk it into the

Our finished court, ready for action

Our finished court, ready for action

main house and prop it in the hallway.

A bit later and it is time for the curling event. Kathy suggests we use bricks instead of curling stones. The first group goes down and finds out that the sheet is not flat enough to accommodate brick. So the next strategy is wood. Kathy and Becca find some blocks and I cut three for Kerry, Tanya, and I. We spray paint a bullseye of sorts on one end and a starting line on the other (the Hog line). Points are awarded inside the circlesIMG_8529 making up the target – 10, 8, 6, 4 respectively. Anywhere outside of the target is 2 points. Off the field is 0 points. We start and realize that the target is way to small. There are only three hits inside after 10 rounds. Kathy wins overall. The sheet was bouncy but the IMG_8535game was kind of addicting. We plan on playing again in the morning.

The sea this afternoon is the proverbial calm before the storm. One foot seas, no wind. Eery. At low tide Tanya heads into the intertidal to collect kelp for our guests, they are interested in what can be harvested here. I go down a bit later to do some fishing. No bites, and my hands get cold quickly.

During the seal count Tanya seas an explosion of gull activity over Columbia Ledge. I wish we could get out there to take a look at what they are feeding on. We joke that it could be a shark attack on a gray seal…who knows?

We started getting closer to the target as the game progressed

We started getting closer to the target as the game progressed

Becca makes her first dinner on MDR, chili, which was really good. Ground beef on the side.

Bed by 2200.

-Chris

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Day Twenty-Seven: Up And Down The River

11 February 2014 (Tuesday)

This entry is light, I did not take notes!

Wake up at 0715. Airport coffee again and then run the generator.

The days are running together now. With little wind we have little to do. Our time is spent working on our computers and

Tanker seen from the house

Tanker seen from the house

taking occasional strolls around the rock. Even though we are on solid ground it is a bit like being in the doldrums on a sailboat. We need wind!

Becca taking data on seals

Becca taking data on seals

Tanya and I work on the curling court. I melt some ice with the propane torch but it’s still rough. Later Kathy takes a turn preparing the court. She brings out metal I beam pieces and bricks and does a great job of flattening the course. As the day wears one we decide to wait a day to curl to give the court, or “sheet”, time to freeze.

I beat Tanya in two games of cribbage.

For dinner Kathy makes two types of lasagna, veggie and beans, and meat and onions. Kerry makes chocolate pudding for dessert.

Tanya filled a tote of snow to use for dishes, but forgot to bring it inside

Tanya filled a tote of snow to use for dishes, but forgot to bring it inside

For today’s olympic event we play a card game in place of curling. We play a game that I suggest – up and down the river. Even though no one has played before they all do well. Tanya takes the gold.

Sunsets never get old around here...

Sunsets never get old around here…

Bed by 2100.

-Chris

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Day Twenty-Six: Paper Airplanes and Snowballs

10 February 2014 (Monday)

This entry is short, I did not take notes!

Wake up at 0715. Try several times to run the generator but it IMG_8389will not handle the coffee maker. After it is done brewing I shut the maker down and put the coffee in an airpot. Then the generator runs fine.

It is snowing and the island is white again. There are three seals way up high, quite near the house, and they are fighting with each other. One bounds off and the other two tuck in against the rocks, now hidden from view. We take care not to flush them as we move around the outside of the house.

Today is day two of the rock olympics. The event is paper IMG_8412airplane and snowball toss from the lighthouse tower. Initially it was going to be a distance event, but we changed it to a target event. At game time everyone hummed the Olympic theme song and I threw a buoy off of the tower. The object was to get your plane and snowball as close to the buoy. The planes were all custom design. Becca had the closest plane toss, then Tanya, Kerry, Kathy, and myself. None of the planes really flew great, and Kathy’s floated around like a feather for a very long time. For the snowball round we all got fairly close. I hit Kerry in the foot as he stood next to the buoy and recorded a 1-foot distance. Tanya won the overall event, with Becca secnod, Kerry third, myself fourth, and Kathy last. Tomorrow is curling on an ice patch on the south side.

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Kerry and Kathy scramble over rocks to measure distance of landed airplanes from the buoy

Kerry and Kathy scramble over rocks to measure distance of landed airplanes from the buoy

We have pizza for dinner using homemade dough that Tanya puts together.

The heavens shine down in blessing upon our Olympic games....

The heavens shine down in blessing upon our Olympic games….

Bed by 2200.

-Chris

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Day Twenty-Five: Rock Olympics Begin

09 February 2014 (Sunday)

Wake up at 0715. I fill the generator with fuel and start it up. Head in to make coffee. Tanya makes cream of wheat.

Waiting for coffee I notice that there is a gray seal pup up high on the other side of the fault line. It’s reasonably close

Gray seal pup with blood on neck

Gray seal pup with blood on neck

to the house. It is too large to be the young pup we watched from the house early one, so I assume it is the older pup we originally found on the south side. It makes it’s way over the cliff and hides behind the rock.

Kathy and Kerry set out slides on the catwalk and foghorn, then move down and collect ice from spire. Kerry mentions seeing a large seal high up near their small weather tower.

At 1030 I head outside to get check out how the sun light hits the house during this time of year. In particular I am curious how exposed the southern attic wall is to the light.

Large tanker passes close by the island, giving us something new to look at

Large tanker passes close by the island, giving us something new to look at

I have been talking to Dan about ways to mount solar in a weather tight fashion when we leave. We need to power the weather laptop. Dan’s idea is to get it on a flat surface to minimize wind pressure. Looking at the peak of the house I notice that for most of the day the shadow of the generator shed, which sits just to the south of the house, is well under the peak. We could easily mount on large panel there and get fair sun throughout the day. My only concern is adding holes in the house. Dan thinks it is an OK plan, we will give it a shot when he arrives with the film crew on Feb 17.

Seals don't seem to notice the tanker

Seals don’t seem to notice the tanker

Looking at the weather things are calm until Friday-Saturday. Then a quick low pressure is to pass south of the Gulf of Maine and create some swell. There is a chance we will see 8-11 ft seas by Friday, but without much wind. Should be fun to watch. Hopefully by Saturday, when we are supposed to pick up the next crew, the seas will subside.

Kerry goes above and beyond and pipes our weather station data to two different websites. The fist site is a little clunky but has a very large console display. The second is a bit more subdued and professional. The second one also allows us to name the station MDRLIGHT and add links to other websites. This one will become our primary link for weather. The only issue is that it displays wind in MPH, whereas we prefer knots. It is an OK tradeoff, we will always have access to the raw data as well.

Becca beginning her hop!

Becca beginning her hop!

Today marked the first day of Rock Olympics. To minimize boredom we are instituting our own Olympic Games here, with one contest per day. Today was the wobble water jug race. Rules are you must hold an empty 5 gallon jug between your legs and, without touching it with

Kerry takes the slow approach...

Kerry takes the slow approach…

your hands or it hitting the ground, travel the length of the east boardwalk to the solar panels. Before the games began we officially sung the national anthem. I bring out a deck of cards, lowest card goes first. Tanya and Kathy tie, so a thumb war ensues as a tie-breaker. Tanya, representing Belfast ME, is victor and opts to go first. She uses the hopping method and comes in at 12.82 seconds. Next Kathy, who represents NH, takes off. She is also hopping, but has too much vertical momentum and it takes her 20.28. Kerry, hailing from VT, is next. Upon “Go!” he walks as slowly as possible down the

Tanya and Chris go head to head

Tanya and Chris go head to head

track. 53.18 seconds later he crosses. Becca, competing for AK, is quick out of the gate but slows during the “hill” portion. She comes in at 19.06 seconds, thus displacing Kathy. I am last, representing MA. I planned on running but this quickly morphed into a hop, and then a giant sideways hop down the track. I ended up squeezing and bending the bottle, which may not be legal, but managed to beat Tanya with an 11.19 time. After she and I race head to head and she wins. Tomorrow is paper airplane and snowball launching from the lighthouse tower.

Chris shows off his medal

Chris shows off his medal

After the olympics we take advantage of the 5 kt winds and burn cardboard. A few people make S’mores.

Someone has been drinking a lot of Mountain Dew...

Someone has been drinking a lot of Mountain Dew…

From the tower we notice that seal has left a significant track, or chute, across the island and up very high. No sign of the seal, it must have come and gone overnight.

At some point during the day Tanya sees a red-breasted merganser. It is quite far away, near the seal ledges, so the photos do not turn out great.

Arrows point to long seal track crossing the island

Arrows point to long seal track crossing the island

For dinner Kathy makes chicken and veggie curry again, this time over pasta, and cheese on the side.

Bed by 2130.

-Chris

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