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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Five Short Very-Well-Deserved Blasts

Under the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972 (COLREGS), a sailing vessel must give way to a vessel restricted in her ability to maneuver. Rule 34 of COLREGS provides that "when vessels in sight of one another are approaching each other and from any cause either vessel fails to understand the intentions or actions of the other, or is in doubt whether sufficient action is being taken by the other to avoid collision, the vessel in doubt shall immediately indicate such doubt by giving at least five short and rapid blasts on the whistle."

Every few weeks, we hear five short blasts out on Elliott Bay. Usually, the situation involves a ferry and a smaller boat that the ferry captain fears may be on a collision course. Yesterday, the five blasts involved a sailboat and a container ship.

In this case, Kobe Express, a 294-meter Hapag-Lloyd container ship with a capacity of 4612 TEU's, was on final approach to the east waterway at the Port of Seattle. The sailboat, whose name we were unable to determine, passed directly in front of Kobe Express, earning a well-deserved five blasts from the ship's pilot, all in accordance with the aforementioned Rule 34. Kobe Express missed the sailboat by no more than 100 yards, probably less.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

105-year old Tug Visits Bell Harbor Marina -- Twice

Twice in the past two weeks, the venerable 54' tug Norene has visited Bell Harbor Marina. According to the Tugboat Enthusiasts Society (, Norene was commissioned in 1906. Recently rebuilt, she finished fifth in the Class C tugboat races on Elliott Bay during the 2011 Seattle Maritime Festival.

Hedvig Bulker Fuels for Japan Voyage

The Hedvig Bulker is in Elliott Bay this morning taking on a full load of fuel. The Hedvig, a 175-meter grab-fitted log bulk carrier, is owned and operated by Lauritzen Bulkers. It is a brand new member of the Lauritzen fleet, having been delivered in 2011. See According to The Olympian (, Hedvig Bulker is expected to depart later today for Japan with 1.5 million board feet of Pacific Lumber and Shipping timber on board. The cargo was loaded earlier this week in Olympia, WA.

R/V Thomas G. Thompson on Elliott Bay

R/V Thomas G. Thompson paid a visit to Elliott Bay on Thursday. She is owned by the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System  (UNOLS) Office of Naval Research and operated under charter by the School of Oceanography at the University of Washington as part of the UNOLS fleet. The Thompson is 274 ft in length, 52.5 ft. beam, and at full load has a 19 foot draft.

UNOLS is an organization of 61 academic institutions and laboratories involved in oceanographic research and joined for the purpose of coordinating oceanographic ships' schedules and research facilities. See According to the research schedule published by Oceanic, a service of the College of Marine Studies at the University of Delaware (, the Thompson has recently been involved in a monitoring project for the US Department of Energy near Amchitka Island, which is located at the far western end of the Aleutians.

During the 1960's and early 1970's, the Federal government used Amchitka Island as a site for three underground nuclear tests. The purpose of the monitoring program is to evaluate whether radioactive particles from these tests have entered the marine food chain, resulting in potential ecological and human health effects. For further information, see One wonders whether a similar monitoring program will be required near the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant off the coast of Japan.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

US Coast Guard Conducts Drill on Elliott Bay

At 5:15 PM, the Alaskan Way background noise to which we have become accustomed was interrupted by the whap-whap-whap of helicopter blades out over Elliott Bay. The VHF radio (USCG Channel 23) told us that the US Coast Guard was conducting a rescue operations drill for the benefit of an unidentified audience, which they referred to as the "ground party." We believe the ground party was located at Pier 66, our nearby cruise ship terminal.

First, a Sikorsky "Jayhawk-class" helicopter lowered a crew member to the USCG "Victory," a 52-foot steel-hulled, self-righting lifeboat that has been in service since 1956.

According to the Coast Guard, the "Victory" and similar lifeboats were designed for offshore rescue under the worst sea conditions. They are self-righting and self-bailing and can carry up to 40 survivors. The "Victory" is stationed at Yaquina Bay, Oregon.

Although the drill captured most of our attention, normal activity on Elliott Bay continued. Note the Alaska Marine Lines barge in the background, outbound for Central Alaska . . .

 . . . as well as the outbound Bremerton ferry and an inbound bulk carrier accompanied by a Crowley tug.

After the rescue drill, the participating vessels (including the "Victory" and a 45' USCG response boat-medium) assembled at the south end of Elliott Bay and then paraded northward, past Pier 66.

USCG Victory
USCGC "Adelie," an 87' patrol boat
USCG 45' response boat (medium)
USCG 25' Defender-class patrol boat
USCG H-65 "Dolphin," stationed at Port Angeles, WA 
Dolphin and Jayhawk-class helicopters, in formation
USCG "asset parade," at conclusion of drill

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Puget Sound Pilot Launch Pays Visit to Bell Harbor

Swift Arrow, a 45' launch that delivers Puget Sound pilots to ships that require pilots for docking, has visited Bell Harbor Marina several times in the past few days. No idea why she's here. We often see the pilot launches on the far (south) side of Elliott Bay, near Harbor Island. They rarely visit Bell Harbor.

For some enlightening photos of Swift Arrow delivering a Puget Sound pilot to a China Shipping Line container vessel in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, see

Port Angeles is the designated pilot station for all vessels en route to or from the sea. If you're interested in information about Puget Sound Pilots, the umbrella organization under which the pilots operate, visit The section on a pilot's typical workload ( is especially informative.

F/V Chasina

Most of the vessels that visit Bell Harbor Marina are private sailboats or power cruisers. But late yesterday afternoon, an atypical vessel entered the harbor. It was the F/V Chasina, a 50-foot purse seiner that performs surveys and test sampling in the coastal and inside waters of Washington State and British Columbia.

F/V Chasina is currently under charter to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). See Last fall, she was chartered by the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at UW to conduct field trips on Lake Washington for a class studying the life history and behavior of salmon. See

If, like me, you would have difficulty explaining precisely what a purse seiner is, here's some help from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA advises that "a seiner is so named because it fishes with a net called a seine that is laid out in a circle around a school of fish and drawn into a purse that closes the bottom, trapping the catch inside." See

F/V Chasina homeports in Port Townsend, WA.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Tugboat "Hunter" Extends Win Streak at Seattle Maritime Festival

Crowley tugboat, Hunter, which has won the Class A Unlimited tugboat race at the Seattle Maritime Festival every year it has competed since 1995, won the Class A event again today, Saturday, May 14. The Hunter is considered the fastest tugboat on the West Coast according to its owner, Crowley Maritime.

Among the many guests aboard the Hunter were four winners of an eBay auction held by Crowley to benefit the Seattle-based not-for-profit Ryther Child Center, a leader in behavioral health services for Washington state children and their families. For more information, see

Class A runners-up were Crowley's Protector and Dahl Tug & Barge's Triton.

The winner of the Class "B" race was Galene, a vintage Miki-class tug built for service during World War II in Quincy, MA. Sixty-one Miki-class wooden-hull 1200 hp tugs were originally built. Only four remain operational.

Prior to the tugboat races, spectators were treated to a tugboat ballet featuring numerous boats, including CFAV Glendale, a Glen class tugboat operated by the Canadian Navy. Canadian naval vessels use either "HMCS" (for "Her Majesty's Canadian Ship" or "His Majesty's Canadian Ship", depending on the gender of the current head of state) or "CFAV" (for "Canadian Forces Auxiliary Vessel"). Minor auxiliary vessels use the CFAV acronym. See

The Crowley tug, Chief, dazzled onlookers with a series of 360-degree spin turns. The Chief is a 4800 hp tug powered by a Voith-Schneider drive that can be directed in any direction and thus eliminates the need for a rudder. The drive is highly efficient and provides extreme maneuverability, not to mention high entertainment value for those of us fortunate enough to be at Pier 66 for the Maritime Festival. See

Kudos to the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station, Port Angeles, WA for the air-sea helicopter rescue demonstration performed earlier in the day. The HH-65 Dolphin helicopter is a twin-engine short-range recovery aircraft designed especially for air-sea rescue.

Thanks also to the Port of Seattle and Argosy Cruises for providing three free, one-hour, public tours on Argosy's Spirit of Seattle.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Sapphire Princess

The Sapphire Princess, arriving in Elliott Bay this morning after an overnight cruise from Astoria, OR. She will depart tonight at 11 PM for a short overnight cruise to Victoria, BC.  For her itinerary, see this useful site:

A School Bus that Floats!

Yes, that's right. A school bus that floats!

Late yesterday, this Alaska Marine Lines barge pulled out of Elliott Bay on its way to Southeast Alaska. Alaska Marine Lines ships freight -- including school buses -- to Southeast Alaska twice weekly on a year-round basis. The barges stop in Juneau, Ketchikan, Wrangell, Sitka, Petersburg, Haines, Skagway, Kake and Prince of Wales Island. Alaska Marine has weekly service to Central Alaska. For more information, see

The Alaska-bound barges often bring a smile to our faces. If you look carefully at the photograph, you'll see a couple of pick-up trucks, a front-end loader, and a Winnebago in addition to the school bus -- all parked securely atop or beside the obligatory containers.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

SBX-1 Arrives in Elliott Bay

After returning to our apartment late yesterday evening, we saw two tugs alongside Pier 66 awaiting a Hapag Lloyd container vessel arriving in Elliott Bay. But out to the west, we could also see flashing lights (i.e., USCG patrol boats) escorting what appeared to be a very large, slow-moving vessel of indeterminate shape, so we turned on the VHF. There was lots of chatter between the ferry captains and the pilot of the mystery vessel, which the ferry captains referred to as “SBX-1.”  From there, it was pretty easy to figure out what it was.

It was the U.S. Missile Defense Agency's Sea-Based X-Band Radar vessel (SBX-1), creeping slowly across Elliott Bay and into Vigor Shipyard on Harbor Island. According to a Missile Defense Agency fact sheet, the SBX-1 acquires, tracks and discriminates the flight characteristics of ballistic missiles. The vessel is based on an oil drilling platform design and is twin-hulled, self-propelled, and stable in high winds and turbulent sea conditions. It is 240 feet wide and 390 feet long. It towers more than 280 feet from its keel to the top of the radar dome and displaces nearly 50,000 tons.

The Seattle Times reports that Boeing has a $27 million contract for the upgrade and maintenance work to be performed at Vigor Shipyard, formerly Todd Pacific Shipyard in Seattle. See

The SBX-1 is on the far side of Elliott Bay from us this morning, tied up at the Harbor Island shipyard.

Just when you think Elliott Bay has nothing new to reveal . . . 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Maersk Karlskrona

The container ship Maersk Karlskrona departed the Port of Seattle about 8:30 AM today, bound for Vancouver, BC.  Built in 1996, she is 318 meters in length and has a maximum capacity of 7908 TEU (6000 TEU at 14T).

A TEU is a twenty-foot equivalent unit used to describe the capacity of both container ships and container terminals. It is based on the volume of a 20-foot-long (6.1 m) intermodal container, a standard-sized metal box which can be easily transferred between different modes of transportation, such as ships, trains and trucks. See Most intermodal containers in use today are 40 feet in length (or 2 TEU's), meaning that the Maersk Karlskrona's true capacity is about 4000 individual containers (or 3000 containers using the 14T assumption). Even at the smaller number, that's 30 trains, each with 100 railcars carrying a single container. Or 3000 tractor rigs pulling a single container on the highway.

TEU capacity is often expressed two ways, with both a maximum capacity and a smaller capacity based on the assumption that each container weighs an average of 14 tons (14T). The largest container ships in the world have a capacity of almost 15000 TEU's, or nearly twice the capacity of the Maersk Karlskrona.

The Maersk Karlskrona departed the Port of Seattle about 8: 30 AM this morning. Within three hours, she was at the Port Angeles, WA pilot station, where her Puget Sound pilot would have disembarked. See She then crossed the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the station near Victoria, BC, where her British Columbia pilot would have boarded. According to the marine automatic identification system (AIS), she arrived at Roberts Bank, BC about 4 PM this afternoon. See

As recently as March 20, she was reported by AIS to be in Rotterdam, and on March 28 she was in the Strait of Gibraltar. She had reached Singapore by April 15 and arrived in Seattle on May 7. See

Just another day in the life of a mid-sized container ship.

Getting Hitched!

Most of the action that interests us is out on Elliott Bay. But every so often, a land-based event catches our eye. This photo shows a couple in one of Seattle's ubiquitous pedicabs on the way to either their wedding or the reception following.

Due to the fact they were traveling together and were photographed in the Olympic Sculpture Park,, at the end of the pedicab ride, we surmise reception rather than wedding. The words "getting hitched" (as opposed, for example, to "just hitched") suggest a contrary conclusion.

Best wishes to the bride and groom!  Note the bride's matching bouquet and parasol.

55' Mares Power Catamaran

Late in the afternoon on Saturday, May 7, a sleek-looking powered catamaran cruised into Bell Harbor Marina. Research suggests that it's a 55' powercat express designed in New Zealand and built by Mares Marine, Fort Lauderdale, FL. For more information on Mares, see The Mares 55' powercat has twin 600 hp Caterpillar diesels and cruises at a speed of 30 knots.

The cat crept out of Bell Harbor on Saturday morning.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Opening Day, 2011 Boating Season

The 2011 boating season opened today with the traditional parade of boats, and one amphibious car, through Portage Bay and the Montlake Cut. The parade was sponsored by the Seattle Yacht Club.

This is the Endeavour, a beautiful teak-sided 38-footer based in Seattle.

Next, we have the Amphicar. About 4,000 of these amphibious vehicles were built in Germany between 1961 and 1965. For additional information, go to, the web site of the International Amphicar Owners Club.

Several steam-powered launches added to the fun.

The Vigilant (NA-10), a NAVY 44, the latest of three generations of offshore cruiser/racers utilized for training midshipmen and women in the NROTC battalion at the University of Washington.

A parade of yachts from various Pacific Northwest yacht clubs.

M/V Olympus is a classic 92-foot wooden fantail motor yacht launched May 14, 1929 in Morris Heights, NY. She is available for charter and travels at approximately 10 knots, powered by her twin Detroit diesels, affectionately named Castor and Pollux. For further information, see  

This year's trio of SYC Opening Day officers salutes the passing armada.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Windermere Cup

UW Husky crews won all four of the premier events at the 25th Windermere Cup, held at Montlake Cut on Saturday, May 7. The men's and women's varsity and JV shells outstroked the competition by substantial margins in each of the featured contests. There were 21 races in all.

Friday, May 6, 2011

May 3-5

Necessary, or unnecessary?

On the right, we have the intrepid USCG 25-foot Defender class patrol boat. And on the left, we have MV Topaz, a beautiful 52’ Ed Monk-designed vessel launched from the McQueen shipyard in Vancouver, BC in 1971. It’s a quiet, lazy late afternoon (Monday, May 3) on Elliott Bay, and things must be slow for the USCG patrol. So they decide to conduct a “voluntary” safety inspection.

The next thing we know . . .

. . . Topaz is on her way into Bell Harbor Marina, under escort.

The Topaz owners did a very nice job docking their boat, and the obligatory inspection ensued.

It was a treat to see Topaz, but we really have to wonder why the Coast Guard chose to stop them out on Elliott Bay.

All’s well that ends well.

The Sun is on the Move!

On Tuesday, May 5, the sun set at 8:21 PM at 295 degrees, or 25 degrees north of due west.

Contrast this with January 22, when the sun set over West Seattle off Alki Point at 4:55 PM at 241 degrees, or 29 degrees south of due west. That’s a 54 degree swing in 3-1/2 months.

There was even a noticeable change in sunset location between January 22 (above) and February 2 (below). The sun was behind Alki point but had moved north of the point by February 2.

She Barely Fits!

Late this afternoon, MV Royal Argosy (187’ LOA) squeezed her way into the visitors’ dock at Bell Harbor. The captain nosed her into the marina entry way, then kicked his stern around to port and backed into the visitors’ dock.

A group of what appeared to be several hundred revelers from Spectrum Construction Software boarded the Royal Argosy for an evening cruise along the waterfront and through the Ballard Locks and into Lake Union.