Tuesday, April 19, 2016


I looked in the binoculars at the fast moving boat a few miles away. Looks like law enforcement, I thought. A few moments later, it turned towards me, quickly closed the three-mile distance, and pulled alongside. No flashing lights and no response to my hails on VHF 16, but I pulled the throttle back to neutral and coasted to a stop anyway.
Coming for me?
"How are you?" asked the Sheriff.

"I'm great, beautiful day on the water, and you?" I asked.

"Where are you coming from and heading to?"

"Shallow Bay on Sucia Island, heading for Spencer Spit." I responded.

"Are you alone on the boat,"

"Yes" I responded.

"We're going to come aboard for a safety check..."

I'd last been boarded in September 2014 near Jones Island, that time by the U.S. Coast Guard. Three officers had come aboard (wearing helmets and sidearms) and spent about 45 minutes "checking safety gear," or more probably, trying to find any inconsistencies in my story. I passed.
Boarded by the USCG, September 2014
Pulling alongside
This time just one officer, Zach, came aboard, and he wasn't even wearing a helmet! I guess chasing down 8-knot boats isn't that intense. The Sheriff's checklist was shorter but slightly different than the USCG's. The Sheriff wanted to see my Washington State Boater Education Card (not my USCG captains license) and my carbon monoxide warning sticker (WA requirement). The Coast Guard wanted to see my garbage placard and be sure the waste seacock was closed.

Zach's safety check was quick and professional; I was on my way after about 10 minutes with my clean record intact.
Note the "Courtesy Inspection" box is checked...they were courteous, yes, but the inspection
wasn't optional.
Weirder, though, was the volume of law enforcement observed the rest of the day. I spotted boats from USCG, Canadian Navy, San Juan County Sheriff, and WDFW and helicopters from USCG, US Navy, and one other agency. Quite the show of force!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Droning On...

I bought a drone. And it’s awesome. On a smiles-per-dollar basis, I can’t think of any recent purchase that comes close.

I’d wanted a drone for a while. A few friends had them and their pictures and videos were breathtaking. I imagined the possibilities: aerial video of dolphins playing in the bow wave, humpback whales bubble net feeding, bears foraging on shore, the boat surrounded by ice in a fjord. But I didn’t know how to fly a drone, I’d be flying it over water and landing it on a small, moving object, and they were expensive. Until recently, the drones I was looking at were priced around $1000—amazingly low considering their capabilities, but too high for something that would surely end up tangled in sailboat rigging or on the ocean floor.

A few weeks ago a friend sent a link: DJI Phantom 3 Standard quadcopters were on sale for $399, free shipping, no tax (Sorry, this deal is gone, but Amazon has them for $449). I jumped on the deal. Thirty-six flights later, I’m hooked.

Flying the drone is surprisingly easy. The controls are intuitive. The performance is remarkable—top speed close to 40 miles per hour, turns on a dime, climbs to 400 feet (FAA maximum) in a matter of seconds, flies about 25 minutes on a charge. If you get confused about where the drone is and need a moment to orient yourself, just take your fingers off the sticks and the Phantom hovers in place.

Laura on Airship took this picture. Robe, drone, boat...life is good!
It came with a camera that takes 12 megapixel stills and 2.7k video, and although the lens is wide-angle, it’s not a fisheye like a Go Pro. Most importantly, the camera is mounted on an amazingly good 3-axis gimbal, so the video is tripod-smooth.

I’m still learning, but here are a few early attempts. More to come!
Testing "Follow Me" mode in the dinghy

James Island
Driving the boat and flying the drone at Burrows Island Light.
Shallow Bay, Sucia Island, with Airship
Boating around Burrows Island
Cypress Head