Ship's Log               s/v Uliad 


 

 March 2 :

 

    

      The weather forecast for downtown Juneau today calls for wind gusts to 90 mph.  But the really remarkable thing about this is just how unremarkable this sort of weather is around here.  This is the third day of such ferocious winds, but if you make a comment about it the local folk will simply shrug and mumble something about "well, it IS winter".  I arrived here looking forward to a mild maritime sort of winter climate, but even then, when the wind reaches a certain speed it still feels like 20 below.  The long underwear that helped us transition from the tropics has come back out.

      The steep mountains that surround us here offer some protection, so we experience a relatively calm 30 knots of wind between the occasional gusts.  What a blessing to observe the mayhem curled up on the sofa with a mug of cocoa, rather than from the deck of Uliad worrying if the anchor will hold!  Today's Alaska nature show consists of watching a flock of ducks losing their struggle to feed in the grassy shallows and getting blown across to our shore.  Meanwhile the eagles have changed from their usual steady gliding patrols to brief but spectacular swoops and dives as they try to pull together a meal.  If any of them get into trouble out there, they're definitely on their own today.

      I can see that the airplanes are still taking off this morning, but it must make for quite a wild ride as they climb up out of the valley--especially the small single engine planes that service the isolated communities around us.  Juneau is, of course, rather isolated itself.  There are no roads connecting us to the rest of the world here, so this city relies entirely on Alaska Airlines and marine shipping for everything.  Kathleen and I had to see it for our own eyes, so a while ago we drove out of town along the beautiful rugged coastline until--sure enough!  about 20 miles out of town the road just ended next to a boat launch.  So I guess when our time comes to leave, we'll just have to hope for a calm day.

 

 

 

March 16:

 

 

 

        So the other thing I've been doing with my spare time in Alaska is trying to brew my own beer.  Not that I have to.  No, there is no shortage of liquor stores up here.  It all started last year, shortly after I had arrived in Juneau.  I was at a restaurant and ordered what has always been one of my favorite microbrews:  Alaskan Amber.  Brewed right here in Juneau, AK I noticed on the label.  So as I was savoring this delicious brew, I was thinking about how unfortunate it was that the microbrewery phenomenon has not really spread outside the USA.  Leave our shores and one can find Heineken just about everywhere, and there is a local favorite which is also a Bud/Miller/Coors/Pabst like pale pilsner, but there really isn't much variety out there when it comes to beer.  It doesn't much matter if you order a Polar in Venezuela, or a Presidente in Ecuador or a Balboa in Panama or a Hinano in Tahiti or a Mata Maka in Tonga or a Fiji Bitter in, yes, Fiji, or a Steinlager in New Zealand...it's pretty much always the same beer.

        So I was drinking my Alaskan Amber and thinking about how I've nearly halfway around the globe never to find a rich, full bodied porter or even an amber or a stout or anything with much character. (Vonu Beer in Fiji being arguably an exception--it' was a rather unique hoppy pale ale)  Why is that?  And as I was savoring the moment and thinking, once again, how fortunate we are in the USA to have such a diversity of choices, I remembered hearing once about someone who brewed their own micro-brews onboard their sailboat.  "Why not?" I thought.

        The more I researched, the better an idea it seemed to be.  I could make whatever style of beer I wanted...it would probably be cheaper than buying it in some hot, dusty tropical market... And how hard could it be for a guy with degrees in chemistry and biology.  The "science" behind fermenting beer is pretty straightforward. The temperatures in a cool bilge should be just right...the ingredients would be simple to store.   But would it stink while it was brewing?  Would it end up tasting gross?  I wondered is homemade beer like home made ketchup (why bother--it's so easy to just buy it!) or is it like home make cookies (store-bought is never as good!)   There was only one way to find out.

        I found a local cookware store here in Juneau that also sells brewing supplies in  back and boiled up my first batch of malt and hops, only to have Kathleen declare the smell in the house absolutely intolerable.  But within an hour or two, the smell had gone away.  I added the yeast to this frighteningly murky soup and stashed it in a corner of the utility room in a big plastic pail.  Soon it was bubbling away, but it was never to stink again.  I really thought this was all going to be a big disaster, but after a week in the fermenter, it DID seem to have a vaguely beer-like flavor.  Kathleen grew less annoyed with my experiment over time and by now I think she'll agree to let me try this onboar Uliad as long as the boiling part happens during times when she's going to be onshore for a few hours. 

capping the bottles of fresh-brewed beerThe result of my efforts!

        After a week or so, Emmett and I siphoned the beer into empty bottles (siphoning being a pretty cool activity for a 10 year old).  Then the new bottle-capper tool held his attention for about 3 or 4 bottles before I was doing the rest myself.  Then came another week of anxious waiting and... sure enough, the brew had turned clear and fizzy in the bottle.  And it tasted darned good.  Success!  The first batch of my own version of Alaskan Amber tasted absolutely fabulous.  Before long I was improvising my next recipe:  a lighter honey lager with a hint of ginger for those sultry south pacific afternoons.  After copious sampling, I can now declare that batch also to be a rousing success.  So now I'm scheming about as to where I can stash a big 5 gallon fermentation pail onboard Uliad and where in New Zealand I can find homebrewing supplies.  And if I know sailors, I should have no shortage of new friends when I start up my latest hobby.

 

 

                                                                                                                                   

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