With Rod and May away on vacation downtime and their cabin now available for guests, Mike and I invited my sister Patty Hosmer, a photographer in her own right, to join us for a trip in British Columbia waters. I asked Patty to write a Guest Blog for the AvatarLogs and she has obliged me with a colorful description of our adventures and her own set of absolutely stunning photographs. I may retire….CBP
IN SEARCH OF MY BUCKET LIST by Patty Hosmer
Unlike my sister Carol Parker, my love for the ocean does not extend beyond the beach. Don’t get me wrong. I love the ocean! I just don’t want to be floating around IN it while wearing a swimsuit and flippers and surrounded by very large, indistinguishable creatures. In stark contrast, Carol loves scuba diving, underwater photography and all things “ocean.” This love extends back to her youth, if not her childhood. As a teenager, she was a member of the high school scuba diving club that made monthly sojourns to Rocky Point, Mexico (pre-condo days), where the group enjoyed camping on the beach and learning all about diving and the sea. Carol even constructed a homemade “slurp gun” that scooped little “pescados” up uninjured in a Plexiglas tube so she could bring them home to trade at the local fish store for her salt water aquarium supplies. In college, she chose Marine Biology as her major, and she even joined the Stanford Sailing Club to spend more time near her first love, the ocean. Interestingly, that’s where she met her second (and forever) love, her husband Mike! Even now, Carol’s home is filled with charming oceanic memorabilia while she staunchly supports environmentally conscious ventures on her Facebook page.
While Carol was scuba diving and exploring the ocean floor, I on the other hand spent many years riding and showing quarter horses, and studying fine art in college. Like Carol, I have also followed my passions. Unlike Carol, I chose to keep my feet planted firmly on the ground. Combining my love of horses, art and photography, I started my own business, HoofPrints® Photography, and began “shooting” horses 30 years ago. In more recent years, staying true to my passion for portraits and action, I ventured with my trusty camera into other arenas of interest including portraits of pets, high school seniors, families, and even baseball action! For me, the joy of photography is expressed through the capture of my many interests. While I love to portray emotions and expressions on both human and animal faces through my portrait photography, I also thrill to the challenge of freezing a spectacular moment through high speed action photography such as a horse at liberty or a split second play in a baseball game. I’m not sure where these interests began, but they truly are my passions, and photography allows me the luxury of repeatedly capturing emotional images!
Despite growing up in the same family, with the same wonderful and varied experiences that our parents offered us, Carol and I evolved into two people with different interests and passions yet, in spite of our differences, we both gravitated to the same love for photography. While Carol is a Nikon shooter and I am completely invested in Canon equipment, photography gives us a wonderful activity that we can share while creating different results through our unique artistic visions. It generates a venue for discussion ranging from techniques behind the lens to the crafts of the digital darkroom. And while we are each other’s primary critics, we are also our own best fans. In recent years, we have even attended a few workshops together in search of more advanced skills and unique shooting opportunities. It has always been a special treat, and more meaningful, to share these adventures with a close family member, and the result of these sojourns has been wonderful images linked hand in hand with unforgettable memories and experiences.
Two years ago, I had the unique opportunity to accompany Carol to Fiji for a trip aboard AVATAR. I loved every minute of it and the balmy days we spent surrounded by idyllic turquoise seas couldn’t have been more spectacular while filled with abundant photo opportunities. Unfortunately, as mentioned before, I am not very comfortable IN the water, and Fiji just begs for the visitor to be submerged in its balmy, crystalline waters surrounded by a myriad of colorful tropical fish and coral. I honestly like to believe that claustrophobia plays a huge role in my fear of the underwater. I’m sure I would truly enjoy scuba diving if it weren’t for the fact that deep in my heart I know there’s a whole lot of water between me and my major source of air! But I also suspect that I’m not too wild about being anywhere near sharks – real or imagined! Climbing into water that I know contains other creatures bigger than I, and the awareness that a few of them sport very sharp teeth, makes me a little bit nervous! While Carol cannot wait to hop into the ocean with her scuba gear and underwater camera ready for the next adventure, I have to be coaxed to even nervously stick a toe into 12” of water to wade from the dinghy to shore when we venture out to dinner at the local marina resorts!
Having revealed my fears of the ocean, I also have to admit that my own personal “bucket list” actually included the dream of photographing whales and dolphins. I have always been fascinated with the idea of having the opportunity to photograph large marine life. The challenge and excitement of attempting to approach these gigantic sea creatures with a camera evolved slowly over the years as my search for new and exciting subject matter also expanded. In fact, over the last nine years, three of my sons have attended college near Puget Sound, and every year I have had every intention of signing up for a seaplane ride to the San Juan Islands to embark on a whale watching boat tour with the hope of finally seeing the orcas and humpbacks up close and with camera in hand.
Unfortunately, my youngest boys are now seniors in college, and I still have not taken that whale watching tour! So when Carol and Mike invited me to join them on AVATAR to explore the waters of the Inside Passage this August, I leaped at the opportunity. The prospect of motoring into the colder waters north of Seattle and Vancouver into Queen Charlotte Sound, Blackfish Sound, and the Johnstone Strait, was a dream come true! Not only was the idea of another trip on the amazing AVATAR exciting in and of itself, but to bring my camera equipment and possibly have the opportunity to photograph orcas and humpbacks alongside my sister from the boat’s deck was truly a thrilling prospect!! Besides, I have to admit that I knew it would be too cold to have to worry about anyone trying to talk me into swimming!
So my adventure on AVATAR began a few weeks ago when I flew with Carol to Campbell River, a small harbor town on the eastern shore of Vancouver Island. It was in Campbell River that we met up with Mike and AVATAR and our adventure began. Once aboard and settled, Carol, Mike and I motored out of the breakwater and headed off to more remote waters in pursuit of my bucket list. Our goal, primarily for my benefit, was to head first to Blackfish Sound, renowned for its abundance of humpback whales and orcas. Blackfish is the historical name for killer whales, now more politely known as orcas! Because I was a willing, but oblivious, passenger I cannot claim full knowledge of all of our destinations, but I can tell you that my ten days in search of the gems of the Northwestern Pacific waters were filled with unforgettable images that will live in my head and heart forever.
Initially, I decided I would play the role of official documentary photographer for Carol and Mike, knowing that they probably didn’t have too many images of themselves together on AVATAR. It was great fun seeking vignettes of the sailing life that I could record for their memories of yachting – a hand on the controls, a rope being tossed to a waiting harbor attendant, or a snapshot of Carol as she aimed her 600 mm lens at some distant seagull. I even caught glimpses of laughter on board, and teasing at the dinner table, and an occasional snooze in the middle of one of our evening movies. But then, I found that the vignettes became small icons and memorabilia of my own travels. Ultimately, the photos may prove to be memories for Carol and Mike but, more importantly for me, they have become images imprinted with my beloved experiences on AVATAR and the wonderful time that I had exploring the Pacific Northwest in pursuit of my long awaited dream.
My brother-in-law Mike is a conservative, conscientious, and intelligent captain. While guiding AVATAR carefully through areas that might have hidden rocks that could damage the bottom of the boat, he patiently explained to me how the radar equipment worked so hidden hazards could be avoided in the dark waters. Several times we traveled through narrow passages, and I learned that it is customary to radio out on a general frequency to nearby boats to make sure no one enters from the opposite direction simultaneously, especially since there were numerous tugboats in the vicinity pulling enormous loads of logs – vessels that couldn’t make quick adjustments in tight quarters.
Mike also spent countless patient hours helping Carol and me to locate the objects of our expedition, first by monitoring the whale watchers’ channel on the VHF radio where others with the same goal report on sightings and locations to help each other out. Then he spent much of his time searching for whale spouts or dolphin fins, all the while paying close attention to our time constraints to make sure we arrived at our daily destinations in a safe and timely manner.
I also discovered that AVATAR had huge rubber “bumpers” stored below deck that had to be brought out to protect the stabilizers when maneuvering her into a slip at the marinas for an overnight stay. Carol told me she gives Mike “brownie points” for cheerfully setting up all these inflated bumpers whenever they are needed so she isn’t required to take care of this task! Seriously, however, Mike’s skills at maneuvering a 65 foot power boat into moorings at both the marinas and in the secluded bays always generated confidence in me as I observed, photographed, and absorbed the entire procedure.
Carol is an avid reader. Years ago, she would bring 20 or so books to read for her trips on AVATAR’s predecessor, the sailboat RAVEN, in order to keep busy during “down” times or while sailing to new locations. She would return to Tucson with a different set of books after each visit, always swapping them out in order to keep the weight and excess reading material on Raven within reason. The advent of digital books has been a godsend to her as it allows numerous readings to travel back and forth while minimizing the excess baggage weight.
Because of her love of reading, Carol also studies and “owns” virtually anything in which she is interested. Needless to say, she showed me maps of our travels, and she related wonderful tales of the historical significance of some of the ports we reached. Even the remote harbors we visited came with stories she had discovered through her research. Carol’s knowledge of marine life as well as the local wildlife is also extensive. She researches local destinations, points of interest, customs, and upcoming events, so it wasn’t a surprise when she made sure we were signed up for the weekly pig roast at Echo Bay, one of the tiny marinas in which we spent the night. All the yachties mooring in the marina that evening brought a “hearty dish to share” and we met many of the other visitors in a fun dinner at the main building on the dock. Amazingly, we actually met a boater there from Tucson!
While traveling through the Johnstone Strait I learned the rules of whale watching that included useful guidelines involving approach distances and allowable behavior by boaters to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the whales as well as the whale watchers. In addition, I acquired an amazing new set of skills for photographing sea life from the deck of the ship. Carol showed me how to set up tripods on the front deck of AVATAR so we would be able to use our long, super telephoto lenses to capture a whale when we actually came across one. I had been practicing with my Wimberley tripod head on hummingbirds at home but I quickly figured out it was not quite the same as shooting whales in the icy wind on a rocking boat! And because it was often cold and breezy throughout our travels, I discovered, with Carol’s direction, how to tether the equipment to the front railing so it didn’t end up tipping over, landing in the frigid water or, worse yet, taking one of us with it! Unlike Fiji, a dunking in this part of the world could be life threatening with water temperatures typically below 50º F. At the same time, we wanted to make sure some of our equipment could remain accessible on the deck for any sudden appearance of marine life, so it was important to be able to secure it safely outside at all times. Meanwhile, Mike continued to faithfully navigate AVATAR toward our destinations, constantly vigilant as he watched for “blows” in indication of a nearby humpback.
For me, my dream to see and photograph humpbacks, dolphins and orcas included a few rather idealistic goals. A breaching whale, the dramatic flip of a giant humpback tail fluke nearby just as its owner heads for deeper waters, dolphins racing along the bow of the ship – all were images I had photographed in my head over and over as I planned and dreamed of whale watching if I had ever gotten to the San Juans. On AVATAR, I wanted the actual experience of hearing the powerful whoosh of air as the whales expelled their breath into a huge plume of vapor over their rounded backs. I also dreamed of the excitement of catching a whale with my lens as he breached high out of the water, only to smash back down on the ocean’s surface with a monstrous splash. The thrill of dolphins sighting our boat and racing quickly to dodge and dart playfully in the bow wave of AVATAR, almost within reach of an outstretched arm, was yet another image I had already prerecorded in my brain.
Of course, it never occurred to me that I would be truly lucky to see just one random dolphin, a few mellow, rounded humpback dorsal fins, and a variety of busy seagulls, much less a breaching whale or a run of dolphins. I naively expected to take the whole gamut of experiences home with me in an album of memories from my ten days on AVATAR!
I have to admit, in retrospect, AVATAR and the unofficial “Mike and Carol Parker Wildlife Guides” provided me with an adventure of a lifetime! Not only did I see hundreds of seagulls but I photographed stunning mountains rising out of the sea, drenched in golden sunlight by afternoon, and shrouded in magical mists by morning. I kayaked in the late afternoon with Carol in Desolation Sound where we enjoyed a warm late afternoon excursion with our cameras looking for shore life, scenic rocks, and generally just exploring the scenery while we enjoyed the warm afternoon and observed a few of the other unique yachts scattered about the bay.
I am almost embarrassed to admit that in fact, I actually did see dozens and dozens of whales, dolphins, a few sea lions, and even two bald eagles. With Mike’s amazing patience and expert skills at the helm, he guided AVATAR within safe reach of numerous humpbacks in Blackfish Sound where I heard “whoosh” after “whoosh” of roaring wind expelled from the giant lungs of these ocean-going behemoths. Amazingly, I not only saw two complete breaches from start to finish, I actually managed to photograph both of them.
In fact, the search for whales in Blackfish Sound was unbelievable. Everywhere we turned, it seemed a whale would appear within minutes. They seemed to enjoy teasing both Carol and me as they approached AVATAR swimming and diving gracefully just yards off her bow. It was almost as if they were taunting us to spin around with our cameras in time to catch their arching backs indicating their preparation for a deeper dive that would reveal their mighty tail flukes as they dove far into the depths of the sea. Not only did we see humpbacks, but at one point in our journey, and along with several other official whale watchers, we drifted at a respectful distance near a huge family of approximately 15 orcas including a large male, several females and even a few small babies.
On another afternoon, while preparing for an early dinner in the cabin, wildlife spotter Mike spied a bald eagle swooping into the quiet bay in search of a fish. He called out quickly for us to grab the cameras because “it’s flying back this way with a fish!” I grabbed my Canon 1DX as rapidly as I could and, jumping into my “quick-action baseball photographer” mode, I managed to successfully grab a sequence of the eagle as he flew right by the bow of the boat, fish in talons, on his way to a nearby rock where he enjoyed his fresh caught meal.
As we journeyed southward toward the end of our trip, we sighted a number of Pacific White-Sided Dolphins racing in the distance. Mike speeded AVATAR up parallel to them but at a respectful distance in hopes of teasing them toward us for a ride on our bow wave. First they turned and sped in our direction, but then they continued on past us, diving under the boat, and moving off into the distance. Suddenly, just when we were sure they were not planning to stop and play, they looped back and, before we knew it, they were leaping and dodging alongside AVATAR, racing along in the bow wave as if we had been a surprise toy that had arrived for their sole entertainment. Carol and I both started firing our cameras for shot after shot of the dolphins. They were so close to AVATAR I felt I could have touched them if I had been brave enough to lay down on the deck and reach out for their glistening backs. The excitement lasted only a few minutes and, when they tired of the game, the dolphins swam off into the distance. Shortly thereafter, Carol and I both went below deck to download our digital files in hopes of finding some treasured image of the event. I had to laugh, however, when I started looking at mine! Priding myself on being able to capture fast action from my baseball and horse experience, I was stunned to see that the first 100 of my rapid fire shots were splashes. I caught every single leaping dolphin AFTER it had submerged. I believe, out of 190 images, I found only three that actually showed the front end of a dolphin! So much for my skills as an action photographer! But, oh what an exciting memory!
My sister Carol was once asked to write a guest blog about her workshop experience with a well-known wildlife photographer. In her essay, Carol commented that a college art professor had once told her “the creation of a painting becomes a souvenir for the artist.” Expanding on his thought, Carol went on to state that, “in the process of pursuing another worthy photo to add to my collection, the entire experience of its creation is imprinted on my brain. The process of working the subject…makes it my own. Months later, one glance at the finished image and the adventure leaps to life.”
While my ten day AVATAR Adventure in the frigid waters of the Pacific Northwest is mostly a blur, as I explore, edit and print my photos over the next few weeks, I relish reliving the experiences that accompanied my captures. While I know that my collection of digital images portraying my “bucket list” will probably never equal those of others who have dedicated a lifetime to the artistic capture of the giants of the sea, I cannot help but remember my sister’s quote. Just as Carol observed about her own photographs, the entire collective of experiences leading to the creation of my “bucket list” images has been “imprinted on my brain.” In fact, these images have also been burned deeply into my heart. Finding an award-winning photograph in my collection or selling an art image for my clients’ walls resulting from my travels on AVATAR are rewards not nearly as important to me as knowing that the next time I look at any one of my images from this great adventure, I will relive the excitement of the moment combined with all the sights, smells, emotions and visions of the events surrounding its capture. More importantly, my collection of photographic memories from our Northwest travels on Avatar will renew shared family experiences that I will cherish and relive forever.
The gallery below contains all Patty’s photos in this blog, playable as a slideshow. Click for full screen view.