Filet of Sole ? ?

Filet of Sole ? ?

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

Sometimes it seems like we missed the good fishing in our region. From the native people to generations of settlers, salmon was plentiful and remains a big part of PNW culture. Unfortunately, the salmon runs are not as prolific as they once were and the seasons are highly regulated. Recreational fishers may only get 1-2 king salmon per year.

Salmon harvest
Total Harvest of Chinook or “King” Salmon Over Time (Source)

Despite being called an Orcas Island Fisherman, I had never done any real fishing since moving to the island. As much as I wanted to fish for salmon, it never happened, in part because the best salmon fishing is done from a boat with a contraption called a downrigger, which we don’t have. For us, fishing would begin with lake fishing rods on Short Story.

The prized species, like salmon, halibut, and lingcod, were all out of season, so we focused on what was legal to catch this fall. As it turns out, bottom fish season is always open and each person can take home 15 fish per day. We watched YouTube videos, visited a local outdoor sports store, and set our sights on flatfish, like flounder, sole, and sand dabs.

Last year we caught a Pacific sand dab in our shrimp trap (below) and didn’t know what it was. I took the little guy home, fried it in a pan, and found the meat to be delicious. These fish all have flaky white meat like a flounder. Since then, we’ve learned that sand dabs are considered a west coast delicacy.

Pacific sand dab

We talked to a couple of friends who told us where to go and what to do. We needed a “high low rig” which has two hooks and a weight. You drop the line to the bottom and then use the current to drift the bait across the bottom. We were hopeful but skeptical. Everyone said it can be easy, fun, and very productive. They were not wrong.

From the moment my line hit the bottom, a fish hit the bait. It was a smallish sand dab. The next time, I pulled up two fish at a time. We couldn’t believe how easy it was. It was like a carpet of flatfish were just waiting for something to float by them.

sand dab fishing

In a couple of hours, we hauled in about twenty fish, mostly Pacific sole and Pacific sand dabs. You can tell the difference because flat fish are either “right-eyed” or “left-eyed”. This relates to which side of the fish faces the bottom. A pacific sole is right-eyed because it lies on its left side on the bottom. As flatfish mature, the downward-facing eye migrates to the upward-facing side of the fish. How weird.

Pacific Sand Dab
Left-eyed Pacific sand dab

Once we got home the cleaning process began. I watched more videos and we formed a production line. Sachi scraped scales; I gutted and cleaned. It was messy and awkward in the beginning, but soon I got the hang of it. In fact, I filleted a few of the bigger fish for the first time. It was not pretty, but I didn’t need stitches, so that’s a win.

Sand dab sole filet
cleaned sand dabs

With all the fish cleaned and refrigerated, we could plan a few experimental meals. We started with the classic pan-fried fish. We coated them with egg, dredged them in flour and fried them in cast iron. These were whole fish, with bones. It reminded me of the fish called “spot” my parents and I used to catch on the coast of North Carolina.

pan fried sand dab

Once on the plate, you can remove the meat from one side with a fork and easily lift out all the bones.

fish bone gif

We also deep-fried fillets, which were my favorites in fish tacos.

fried sand dab filets

Lastly, we coated the fish with a thin mayonnaise garlic sauce and baked them in the oven. Delicious!

over baked sand dabs

We ended up eating every fish we caught in one form or another. Like all fishing, it was messy to process. Cleaning and filleting the fish can be tedious and time-consuming. But that’s just fine. We fed ourselves with fish and caught a short ride from home. Unlike salmon, flatfish are plentiful, always in season, and easy to catch. I’m surprised we hadn’t done it sooner.

I don’t know that we’ll fish for flatfish all the time, or that they will compete with the protein and enjoyment we get from crab and spot prawns. But this kind of fishing helps us learn, promotes self-sufficiency, and keeps us on the water. Maybe next year we’ll give salmon a try.

One Famous Sea Star ⭐️

One Famous Sea Star ⭐️

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

It started on what seemed like a typical autumn day. The weather was calm and Sachi was feeling the pull of crab traps. That feeling, which I feel too, is similar to the feeling of gambling; a rush that comes from the chance to win. Every fisher feels it, I assume, and many know that as long as you’re on the water, there’s no way to lose. 

dungeness crabs in a trap

We boarded Short Story and headed out to Deer Harbor with our supplies in a small bucket, a cooler, and a dry bag. The whole process happens by rote at this point, having gone to check the traps on most days of every week since mid-July. 

This day would be different, but not that remarkable in isolation. As one of the traps came to the surface, I heard Sachi say, “Whoa!” in a tone that was part surprise and part anxiety. It looked as though an alien had entered the trap. It was a bright orange sunflower sea star with 19 arms and we weren’t sure what to do.

sunflower sea star lee lefever

We both were flummoxed for a moment. We knew sea stars are harmless to people, but this 19-armed creature looked like it evolved to be a warning to humans, like a brightly colored spider or snake. Some scientists now believe that our reaction to spiders and snakes is innate and not learned. Perhaps, somewhere in the backs of our minds, an ancient voice was telling us that the bright orange creature in our trap could be dangerous.

In reality, we humans are far more dangerous to it.

Sea stars on the pacific coast of the US have had it rough recently. Starting in 2013, over 90% of them died due to sea star wasting disease. No one is certain what caused it, but many think the culprit was a sudden change in ocean temperatures. Sea stars that used to be incredibly common in our area simply vanished over a few years. Since then, the ocean ecology seems to have been out of balance. 

From this article.

The widespread collapse of sea stars, a top predator and keystone species, has had dire consequences for many of the West Coast’s marine ecosystems. For example, the local extinction of sunflower sea stars, which can live for up to 65 years, has led to an explosion of their primary prey, the Pacific purple sea urchin. On a single reef in Oregon, the population of these animals increased 10,000-fold between 2014 and 2019, to more than 350 million individuals.

Sunflower sea stars, like the one we had in the trap, were recently certified as critically endangered by the IUCN

I was aware of their plight and we brainstormed how to get the sea star out of the trap unharmed and back into the water without touching it. But first, I needed to take some photos. With that out of the way, we dipped the trap back in the water and turned it on its side, and with a little shake, it fell out gently and drifted back down to the shadowy depths. 

sea star in water

My first thought was our friends on the island who work for a non-profit organization funded by UC Davis called SeaDoc Society. Their work focuses on ocean science and the rehabilitation of the Salish Sea and its inhabitants. I looked forward to sharing what I thought was a good sign for sea star recovery. I put the photo on Instagram first.

A week or so passed and an idea struck. I enjoy browsing Reddit and occasionally post photos. One of the communities that seemed perfect and has over 19 million members is called, “Mildly Interesting“. I thought the sea star fit that description, so I shared the photo on Reddit with a short note about it being endangered. This is where things started to hit high gear.

Reddit is designed to be a democratic system. Once something new is posted, the members of the community can each give it one vote: up or down. When something gets traction, the upvotes outnumber the downs, and the post has the potential to ascend to the top of the community page and possibly reach the front page of Reddit itself. 

When I went to bed that night, it was obvious the photo struck a chord. It had thousands of upvotes, with new votes coming by the second. I couldn’t wait to check my phone in the morning to see what developed as I slept. 

To my surprise, the post received over 30k upvotes overnight and reached the Reddit front page at position #10. I was so excited and read almost every comment, including 100+ versions of the question, “how did it taste?” Such is Reddit.  

reddit data
reddit data

That day, I received a succinct message from someone who asked if I was interested in licensing the photo to news organizations. I agreed. He sent over an agreement and questionnaire that gave me a chance to tell the story. I was careful to promote the photo as possible evidence of a sea star comeback and its connection to ocean ecology.

These kinds of relationships are unpredictable. I figured there was no harm in licensing the photo and I might earn a few bucks. More than anything, I expected nothing to happen.

A few days later, a friend on the island shared a link that was a surprise. Fox News had picked up the story and used the photo on their website along with quotes from me, the “fisherman”. I found it hilarious.

fox news story about sea star

Then, the article also appeared on the New York Post website.

new york post sea star

Messages poured in from friends and family calling me, “The Fisherman”. If only they knew that Sachi is the real fisher in the family.  One of my favorite parts of the article is this quote at the end:

“LeFever did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.”

At a personal level, this was a fun and exciting event to watch unfold. But it’s also a reminder about how little this kind of media exposure matters. It had nearly zero impact on my career or livelihood. I did earn a $75 licensing fee for the photo, which is nice. 

The real outcome, I hope, is building awareness about the sea stars of the Salish Sea and sea star wasting disease. Every person who learns about it is one more potential advocate for taking care of the ocean.

According to Reddit, my post has been viewed over 3 million times and shared over 1,000 times in the past two weeks. The Fox news article has been widely viewed and shared as well. It was not my intention, but I count the few minutes it took to share the photo as a small part I could play in helping the sea stars get more attention and hopefully rebound. 

reddit stats

Since that first catch, we’ve seen three more sunflower sea stars in our traps, so there is growing evidence, at least from our boat, that they are coming back. Here is one escaping just as we pulled up the trap:

sea star escaping crab trap
sunflower sea star
The Traffic Jam at Safari Island ???

The Traffic Jam at Safari Island ???

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

In the evenings this time of year, we often hear a deep growling sound coming from across the water that sounds like a call-and-response conversation. We soon learned that the growls come from a group of Steller sea lions that haul out on the tip of nearby Spieden Island. I always imagine them saying “GRRRR, I NEED MORE SPACE”, “UUUUGHHHH, NOT HERE BUDDY GGGGUUUUGGHHH”.

Photo by Rylee Isitt

When Sachi mentioned taking the boat out recently, I knew exactly what to do: investigate the source of the growls and get to know our noisy neighbors, who mainly appear in the spring. But there was a problem. Our boat, Short Story, needed gas. As happened before, we first visited Deer Harbor Marina, which is our home base. Their gas system was out of service again. Ugh. Before adventuring, we needed to fill up and decided to cross the channel to Roche Harbor for gas, and then visit the sea lions. If only it were so easy.

Crossing the channel was a breeze. Once we got across, I noticed four or five larger boats congregating. I told Sachi it looked suspicious. It was a weekday afternoon outside of fishing season. As we got closer, it was obvious that the boats were full of whale watching tourists. We slowed down and watched from afar as the dorsal fins of a handful of killer whales came into view. We were excited to have stumbled upon the spectacle and sat for a bit to enjoy the surprise. 

The whales, of course, are protected and there are laws that govern how close you can get in a boat and what to do when whales are present. These include, according to the Be Whale Wise website:

  • Boats to stay 300 yards from Southern Resident killer whales on either side.
  • Boats to stay 400 yards out of Southern Resident killer whales’ path in front and behind the whales
  • Boats to go slow (<7 knots) within ½ mile of Southern Resident killer whales
  • Disengage engines if whales appear within 300 yards.

The tour guides are usually pretty responsible and we stay behind their boats to be sure. After watching the whales, we decided to head towards the gas dock at Roche Harbor. That’s when we realized that we were stuck. The whales and boats had drifted into the smaller channel between us and Roche Harbor. As long as they were around, we couldn’t proceed. Soon another boat approached us from behind and a second boat came from the direction of Roche, all trying to get through. We both laughed. It was a San Juan Islands traffic jam. The damn whales were clogging up the works! We, of course, were more than happy to wait them out. 

Before long we were on our way to the marina. We’d been to Roche multiple times, but never for gas. As I’ve written before, marina gas stations sometimes work in mysterious ways and we weren’t sure exactly what their process was, other than to park at the gas pumps. Roche, being a higher-end resort, usually has friendly staff helping with gas, but not today. We got out, looked quizzically at the gas pumps, and saw no evidence of what to do next. I went up a catwalk to a commercial area and Sachi went 50 yards down the dock to find an empty shack. We were stuck once again.

Within a few minutes, a guy walked by and I struck up a quick conversation that ended with me saying, “Do you know if there is anyone who can help us with gas?” He looked around and pointed at the empty shack and said “It helps if you park near the shack.” Duh. We were as far as you could get from it. 

Before we could get the boat moved, a young staff member in resort shorts finally arrived and asked, “Can I help you guys with some gas?” He turned on the pump and I started to fill the tank. Once it got full, I let the handle go and waited for the last drops. And then I waited some more. It was like a gasket was leaking and the valve couldn’t close tightly. At the time, I thought the problem could be solved by holding the pump nozzle vertically and handed it to Sachi to replace it on the pump.

Within a few seconds, we realized we had a problem. The nozzle never fully closed and now gas was trickling down the pump. We both tried to jiggle the handle to make it close more fully. No dice. I told Sachi to get the staff guy, who was at the faraway shack, while I managed the leak. As soon as she ran off, I realized that I was in a volatile situation. It was a slow leak, but a leak nonetheless. I was on a dock, over the water, with gas bubbling out of a hose that I didn’t know how to stop. I looked for a nearby spill kit. Nothing I could see. I tried to hold my finger over the nozzle, which was a dumb idea that eventually caused gas to squirt from my thumb.

I danced around for a few seconds and eventually noticed two big white boxes that looked like storage tanks. The top cover was flat with half-baseball-sized dimples that looked like they could hold fluid. So, I quickly placed the nozzle in the center of the cover and made sure the gas could leak into the dimples instead of the ground or on me. Just as I got it set, the staff member ran to my side and turned the manual shut-off, which I didn’t know existed. He apologized and immediately started to clean up. That was true for us, too. Our bare hands were starting to burn and turn white from the gas. By the time it was done, it was obvious very little, if any, gas made it to the water. 

With washed hands and a full tank, we finally made our way back to the channel and headed over the closely shaven shore of Spieden Island, which was once known as “Safari Island”. In 1969 two taxidermist brothers imported exotic game and turned the 500-acre island into a hunting ground, with visitors buying the stuffed trophies of their kills. This created outrage and was covered by Walter Cronkite in a CBS documentary. The hunting business only lasted a few years and when the brothers left, the animals remained. Today you can still see mouflon sheep from Corsica, sika deer from Japan, and fallow deer from Europe. 

As soon as we arrived at the island we spotted groups of fallow deer, grazing the hillside and heading south. It seemed like they were escorting us down the shore. Sachi wondered if they have a water source that they visit every evening. I wanted to believe they wanted to spend more time with us. After a couple of miles of shoreline, the island ended at Green Point, the springtime hangout of the Steller sea lions. 

Just as we rounded the corner, it was obvious that we’d found the source of the growls we could hear from home. Only now, they were coming from huge brown beasts lying on the shore like overstuffed sausages on a grill. Steller sea lions can grow up to ten feet in length and weight over a ton. We kept our distance, but you could see pairs of them interacting. It felt like something you’d see in a nature documentary. GRRRAAAGGG… THAT’S MY GIRLFRIEND DUUUUUUUDE… AGGGGHHHHHHH…. I’M FULL OF FISH… UGGGGGHHHGGGG. 

I’m pretty sure that’s what I heard, anyway. 

I didn’t take any interesting photos of the sea lions on this trip, but I did get this shot of them from a kayak off nearby Sucia island in 2011 with Mount Baker in the background.

As the sun started to set, we moved on and took a quick look at Flattop from the water before heading home. Aside from the traffic jams and gas spills, it was an awesome spring day to be on the Salish Sea. From now on, when I hear the sea lions, I’ll know exactly where they are and maybe, what they’re saying. 

A Thud, Then a Gasp

A Thud, Then a Gasp

There comes a time in every vehicle owner’s life when they are forced to test just how far a tank of gas will go. We see the gauge point to the upper case “E” and say it’s arbitrary; just a label. What matters is what’s inside the tank. We can push it a little farther. 

Last week, we found ourselves in a similar situation. We let the gauge creep uncomfortably close to the “E” and backed out of our slip to get gas. As we approached the marina, which is a short hop from where moor the boar, Sachi asked if I had my wallet. As usual, I didn’t. This has been one of the adjustments to our island and COVID lifestyle. Wallets, to me at least, seem less important; another thing to lose while on the boat. Thankfully, Sachi had our back. 

As we parked the boat by the pumps, we saw signs on the pumps that said “Temporarily Out of Order”. Assuming it was a short-term issue, we pushed the gas lower. One more trip out to catch crab. 

Soon the gauge became an obsession. I found myself glancing down every minute as we made our way back to the marina. We couldn’t repeat this trip without more gas.

The next day, the pumps were still out of order. I called the marina office and asked about a timeline. The person said, apologetically, their gas line was “busted” and it might be two weeks before it was fixed. If I’ve learned anything on Orcas Island, it’s that two weeks could, and probably will, mean two months. We had to make a call. Do we dock the boat and wait for the repairs, or do we try to make it to the next closest marina in West Sound? I called the West Sound Marina to be sure their gas was working. It was.

As the boat planed-off and we left Deer Harbor, I looked at Sachi and said, “Well, here we go!” We were on an adventure and neither of us knew what was to come. The chance of running out of gas was small, but still worrisome. I watched the gauge the whole way and tried to estimate how low it was. A 16th of a tank? A 32nd? It didn’t matter, we were committed. 

We had never needed to buy gas at West Sound Marina, but quickly found the solitary pump on the dock. Unlike your average gas station with a credit card interface, dock pumps are often guessing games. Sometimes there is an intercom you can use to talk to the office and ask questions. Other times they see you and turn on the gas. In this case, I said “Hello, is anyone here?”, thinking an intercom might pick up my voice. After a bit of silence, I pulled the handle off the pump and flipped the lever to turn it on. It cranked up and I was sure we were on our way. After an initial splash of gas, it stopped flowing and I worried we’d used the last drop and would be stranded. 

I called the office on my phone and asked if they were out of gas. He sighed and told me “No, we have plenty of gas. It’s on a timer that stops the flow. If you’d read the sign on the pump, you’d know to call first so we can turn it on.” Then he added, with a bit of admonishment, “Try again, hopefully you didn’t lock it up.”

I glanced at the pump and saw that there was a small sign. It was easy to miss, probably because it looked like the kind of regulatory sign that tells you not to smoke while pumping gas. In Orcas Island terms, it was far too official looking to be noticed. There was no handwriting, highlighter marker, or tattered edges. 

Feeling a little sheepish, I tucked my phone into an external breast pocket that zips vertically and stepped into the boat. Just as I bent over, I heard a thud and than a gasp. Not knowing what happened, I turned to Sachi, who was reaching down with a helpless look on her face. I said, “Was… was that my phone?” Yes. It was. Dammit. I felt so embarrassed. I glanced at my unzipped breast pocket, which should have held it safely.

There was an awkward silence as we both reckoned with the event. For Sachi, this was another in a long line of instances where my clumsiness or carelessness cost us time and money. She didn’t have to say anything and she didn’t. We both knew exactly what had happened and why. We have learned that the only path out of these situations is problem solving, and having a backup plan. 

My phone is an iPhone X that was recently returned to me with a new $300 screen after I dropped it on gravel and shattered the screen. Now that $300 and the rest of the phone were at the bottom of the sea. The phone is supposed to be waterproof. There was hope. 

We started to consider what could be done. I have retrieved things like sunglasses from the bottom of lakes in the past, but this was different. It was cold and I didn’t have a wet suit. But, just up the street from the marina is an organization called SeaDoc Society that is focused on ocean health. Our friends work there and we knew they had dive equipment. Maybe just a snorkel, fins and a towel would be sufficient? Sachi texted our friend, Erika, to ask if there was any chance they could lend a hand. They were just about to leave the office. No dice.  

The good news was that our tank was full with gas. That problem was solved and I needed to pay in the marina office. I made my way up two catwalks and across a driveway to the entrance of the office, where I was met with someone wearing a mask. I checked my pockets. No mask. So, I walked back across the driveway, down the catwalks and got a mask from Sachi before turning around and walking back. Once again, Sachi had our back.

As I walked up, a salty older man was pushing a cart with a gas can toward the pump and he courteously moved the cart aside to let me go by. On this trip, I made it into the office, where I could finally finish the process. Then the person behind the counter asked a question I didn’t expect, “How many gallons did you get?” I said, “What? I have no idea.” He lowered his head. The same sign I missed before also said to record and report the gallons. More embarrassment. 

I asked if I could use his phone to call Sachi and ask about the gallons. He said, “No,” as he motioned to his co-worker. She was on a call, because, of course she was. As he looked over toward her, he saw an event about to unfold on the dock. The salty guy was just about the turn on the pump, which would have wiped the number of gallons he needed for my transaction. He dropped everything and ran to a window facing the dock and yelled from the office “STOP! STOP! DON’T TURN IT ON!!!” His efforts caught Sachi’s attention, and she stopped the man just in time. Then, Sachi was able to read the gallon count and yell it to me on the catwalk. 

For the third time, I walked back to the office to finally buy the gas. As he was running our card, I told him I had just dropped my phone in the water by the pump. He thought for a second, and said, “I wonder if Gavin is around? He’s a diver and was just in his wetsuit. Maybe he could help you get it.” I couldn’t believe my ears. He handed me a post-it note with Gavin’s name and number. A sliver of hope appeared on the horizon.

After getting back to the boat, I called Gavin on Sachi’s phone and left a voicemail. He didn’t call back for 15 minutes or so and it felt like an eternity. We wandered around the dock and I chatted up a lady refinishing wood trim on a Chris Craft Corsair. It wasn’t hers and we both agreed it was not a practical boat for the San Juans. Beautiful, but more of a lake boat.

I called Gavin again and spent time looking down into the water between the dock and boat to see if I could see it. I saw a crab and some shells, but no phone. Then, just as I was writing a text to him, Sachi’s phone vibrated in my hand. It was Gavin. He was working on his boat in the same marina and said he could come take a look. 

Within a few minutes a young guy appeared on the catwalks and we got down to business. He’s hired as a diver for cleaning boats and other underwater duties. He told us his hourly rate and added that it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. The water was probably about fifteen feet deep, with good visibility. After assuming the phone was gone, we were prepared to pay him for multiple hours to get the phone back.

In a moment of awkwardness, we negotiated the cost of the retrieval, which was limited by the cash that Sachi and I had with us. This time, I had my wallet and we settled on $100, which was close to everything we had. Within 30 minutes he returned in full diving gear. The water in our area remains in the 50s(f) year-round and we both watched as he added gloves and a hoodie to his wet suit before slipping into the water.

I probably could hold my breath for the time it took Gavin to retrieve the phone, but not in that water. Within a minute, he returned to the surface, with my phone in hand. It was working just as it was when it left my pocket. Man, the relief. We were all amazed.

We paid Gavin for his time, boarded Short Story and headed back to Deer Harbor to check the traps. We brought home three Dungeness crab. If you consider the market price for crab, they helped pay for the return of my phone, so we couldn’t complain. 

Despite all the embarrassing mishaps and miscommunications, we felt so fortunate. We made it to the marina. My phone was waterproof. Gavin answered my voicemail. We retrieved the phone from the bottom of the freaking ocean. It all felt so quaint; a small town network of divers and boaters, who are also neighbors, looking out for one another. And of course, there’s always Sachi with our backup plan.

The next time I go to West Sound Marina, I’ll read the signs and record the gallons. But I’ll also wonder why it works the way it does. Why don’t they have an intercom, or the ability to track the gallons from the office? The best answer and one that will suffice for now is this: Welcome to Orcas Island. 

This story originally appeared in my weekly newsletter Ready for Rain. You can get stories like this in your inbox each week by subscribing to my newsletter.

The Smell of Crabbing in the Salish Sea ??

The Smell of Crabbing in the Salish Sea ??

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

This time of year is known for warm weather, being outside, backyard fire pits, and for the last few years at our place, the smell of rotting flesh. Let me explain.

In the Salish Sea waters off Orcas Island there are Dungeness crabs and each summer crab season begins in July, offering a source of fun and delicious protein. We both enjoy the crabbing, but Sachi is the driving force behind it all.

A Big ‘Un

It is said that the challenge of crabbing for some people isn’t the crabs, but the bait. The crustaceans will eat almost anything and most people use raw chicken, turkey, fish and sometimes cans of cat food that serves as an attractant. For us, it comes down to cost-effectiveness. Our local grocery store has a “crab bait” freezer this time of year, often filled with deeply discounted packs of expired meat. When that’s not available, we opt for drumsticks from Costco.

Recently, our contractor, Drew, said that he had a big pack of frozen crab bait on his boat in the form of herring, a bait fish. All we had to do was grab it from his freezer, thaw it, and use it as our crab bait. It’s rare to have fish as bait because of the expense, so this was a treat.

I was out of town for a couple of days, so Sachi left a gift bottle for Drew, grabbed the bait, and came home with a 35lb pack of frozen herring. As she discovered, thawing the herring created a problem. Where do you thaw a huge block of dead fish? If placed outside it would attract critters, so she opted for a spot just inside our front door, which is downstairs from our main living area. It was a solid plan, given the circumstances.

Sachi and the dogs went to bed that evening with dreams of crab dipped in butter. The next morning, Sachi was awakened by the dogs licking her in the face, which isn’t odd. But this time it was different. They had a wild look in their eyes, like it was Christmas morning for dogs. Then she realized that those licks were infused with the unmistakeable stench of dead fish. Within seconds, it all became clear.

Sometime in the early morning, the dogs had discovered the pack of herring by the front door and decided that it was breakfast, nicely laid out for them. Thankfully, it was still frozen, so the bulk of the bait was safe. But they got to lick it for as long as they wanted. And the smell, despite multiple washes, lingered on their muzzles for days. I suppose that smell is what the crabs like, too.

It seems logical that smelly bait would attract crab and this is a strategy we’ve taken to heart in the form of “ripening” the bait. This means leaving it out so that it can get a little funky. While we don’t have empirical proof that it works, we have taken notes from many old timers on the island.

A few days ago, Sachi filled a ziploc bag with 12 frozen drumsticks and placed them on a table in our main living area in a glass container. They were not yet ripe, but on their way. Before leaving home that day, we placed the container on the back corner of the table, surrounded by other containers, to prevent the dogs from getting it. The guest house is essentially one room, so there are few options for hiding anything.

When we arrive home it’s always the same. The dogs come to the door, bark and wag, and run up the stairs before us. When we returned this time, it was obvious that something was amiss and we both noticed. The dogs stayed at the bottom of the stairs as we ascended. We shot a knowing glance at one another. What would we find?

I was the first into the room and was relieved to find a ziploc bag torn to shreds. This happens sometimes. No big deal. Then Sachi arrived in the room and looked closer. What we thought were small pieces of wood from outside were actually shards of bone. Chicken bone. Sachi said, “oh my god” as she turned toward the table where we so carefully placed the chicken. The glass dish was on the floor and the chicken was nowhere to be found. The damn dogs had deftly removed the chicken from the table and devoured a dozen drumsticks between them. That’s why they were at the bottom of the stairs: consciousness of guilt.

happy, bad dogs
happy, bad dogs

After some scolding, I looked up the potential health issues. Raw chicken, I learned, is not often harmful to dogs and reflects what they evolved to eat. It’s the cooked version of chicken bones that can cause problems because the bones can splinter more easily. We were relieved and reminded ourselves not to feed them for the rest of the day. They were fine. We, however, were out of drumsticks.

Thankfully we still had 30lbs of herring, in a sealed box, ripening by our front door. It smells terrible, but it’s a small price to pay for pulling crab out of the Salish Sea. So far, we’ve brought home and shared over 30 of them.

Links from the Blog

I’ve continued to write consistently on the blog at leelefever.com. As you’ll see, I’m focused on the process of publishing Big Enough and all that goes with it.

? Pre-order the Big Enough eBook – The paperback and ebook versions of the book are now available for pre-orders. If you’re interested, pre-ordering the book is helpful.

? Watching the Book Data – I get a little obsessed with data.

? Should Authors Buy Their Own Books? – A guy in the UK bought 400 copies of his own book and got punished for it.

? The Podcast Book Promotion Strategy – In the COVID era, there is probably no better way to do book promotion than being a guest on podcasts. How does one promote themselves as a guest?

Cedar, Big Enough, and Boats ???

Cedar, Big Enough, and Boats ???

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

Here are a few things I shared over the last week:

From the Blog

The Big Enough ebook (along with the paperback) is now available for pre-order on all the major book websites. The audiobook is also complete, but won’t be available until after the book is published on September 15th.

It would mean a lot to me if you’d consider pre-ordering Big Enough because pre-orders can help the book get attention when it comes out. 


I shared the book project on Facebook for the first time yesterday and was heartened by the response. I need and want to feel more comfortable promoting it and it helped to see friends be excited with me.

The House Project

Sachi and I spent the weekend on sweat equity. One of the early design decisions was to use western red cedar for some of our ceiling and soffits under the eaves of the house. It’s a tree that’s abundant on the island and comes in boards that are knot-free, or “clear”, with beautiful color variations and straight grains. The construction team was excited about the quality of the wood. I am still learning how to judge such things. 

Before the cedar can be installed, it needs to be stained so it’s protected from UV rays and weather. This became our job. We used a transparent, satin finish. The boards needed to be stained on both sides, sanded on the front side, and then stained once more on the front.

To make it easier, Casey, one of Drew’s guys, made these “paint trees” that are racks for staining and drying multiple boards at once. So much easier!

racks for staining and drying

We probably got through about 40% of the boards that need staining, mainly because the rack can only hold so many. Once they get installed, we will go back and stain more.

The stack of cedar
The stack of cedar
Rolling it on
Rolling it on
Stained and unstained boards
Full rack
Awaiting a second coat
Awaiting a second coat

Crabs and Boats

Crab season started on Thursday and we were ready to be back on the water with our little boat, Short Story. After a slow start, we’re finding our rhythm.

Three Dungeness crabs
Three Dungeness crabs

The longer I live on the island, the more fascinated I become with boats of all shapes and sizes. A side effect of COVID is an increase in boating because it’s a safe vacation for many. Those vacationers end up in places like Deer Harbor, where we keep our boat and I love keeping a mental inventory of the boats I see. Someday we want to have a boat we can sleep on but for now, we’re just dreaming.

Speaking of dreams, a superyacht appeared in Deer Harbor recently that was bigger than anyone had ever seen in the area. It was the Attessa IV, owned by Dennis Washington. 332 feet long, a crew of 22, and recently rebuilt. Amazing.

Attessa IV

Like the cedar, I’m learning to notice and appreciate boat design and lately, loving the classics. There are a couple of classic wooden yachts in Deer Harbor that date back to the 50s and 60s and are immaculately kept. I believe they are both Chris Crafts. You can just imagine Frank Sinatra on the bow with a cocktail.

MV Lovedrive
MV Miramar
MV Miramar

On the second day of crabbing, this boat (with 900 horsepower across three motors) came screaming up to us. It was the Washington Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, stopping to make sure we were in full compliance. We were and they were very nice.

WDFW Police
WDFW Police

As much as I love watching these boats, I am very satisfied with our little 15’ Short Story. She does the job!

love watching these boats

Until next time!

Seafaring with Our Boat, “Short Story” ??

Seafaring with Our Boat, “Short Story” ??

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

Seafaring with

It seemed like everywhere we went on Orcas Island, people who learned we were new residents asked the same question: Do you have a boat yet? For a while we just smiled and said that we hoped to someday. With so many plans for the house project, a boat seemed out of reach. 

These questions mostly came from long time residents who saw, in us, an opportunity to share something they valued about living on Orcas. Not having a boat in the San Juans was akin to living at a ski resort and not having skis, they seemed to say. People come from all over to boat and sail the San Juans in the summer, why not us?

Like so many experiences we’ve had here, boating found us. Our neighbor, Grant, (of potluck fame) texted me during our first summer on the island with an idea. He had recently purchased two boats, an older, smaller one and a larger, newer one and didn’t want both. He said that if we were interested, he’d sell us the smaller one, a 25 year old Boston Whaler, for what he paid. 

It seemed like an amazing offer, but at first, it didn’t seem possible. We had other priorities. But the more we talked about it, the more it seemed like a gift. We didn’t have to shop, or haggle. We could work with a person we trusted and it seemed the kind of opportunity that doesn’t come along very often. Our minds opened, just a bit more.

The idea of having a boat reminded me of a sign that used to hang at our family lake house in North Carolina. It said “A boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money.” The expense of having a boat doesn’t stop when you acquire it. It requires gas, moorage, maintenance and more. Did we really want to take on that expense? 

Within a couple of days we met Grant and took our first look at the boat. The first thing we noticed was the name. Emblazoned on both sides of the boat, in a design we’d never choose, were the words “Short Story”, and we both couldn’t believe how apt it was. For over a decade, short stories, in the form of educational videos, have been how we supported ourselves. It was kismet.

Short Story

Short Story was 15 feet long, with a center console, bench seat for two and enough room for two additional people. It had an older 55hp Suzuki outboard engine and a gas tank that held 12 gallons of gas. It wore it’s age with grace and seemed to be in working order, unless you needed a working gas gauge, horn, running lights, etc.

Grant, always a helpful soul, took it upon himself to install a new battery and do some other maintenance before handing it over. For us, it was perfect and easy to get up to coast guard standards. Within a couple of weeks, it was ours.

maintenance before handing

What made the idea work was our proximity to two marinas, only minutes away, in Deer Harbor. Most people moor boats in the summer and store them in the winter and that was our plan. By the end of July in our first summer, Short Story had a spot in a marina and we became slightly more seafaring people.

Our marina in Deer Harbor
Our marina in Deer Harbor

Having grown up around ski boats, I was comfortable on Short Story and ready for exploration. It was small and easy to drive. What I discovered is that Sachi and I were not on the same page when it came to where we could go and what we could do on the boat. Having grown up in Hawaii, a respect for the ocean was drilled into her from a young age. Her love of being on the water and exploring with Short Story was balanced with a consciousness of the very real risks.

Boating in the San Juans is notoriously dangerous. While it may sometimes look like a lake from the surface, danger lurks below in the form of reefs and sea mounts that come out of nowhere. Without proper equipment and/or tide charts, it’s easy to run aground. Further, the water is cold enough to cause hypothermia any time of year and the currents can be strong enough to overcome small engines. Boating in the San Juans is not to be taken lightly.

On one of our first trips out on the boat, we were with our friends, Darren and Julie. Prior to striking out, we didn’t discuss where we’d go. I figured we’d just explore and make it up as we went along; I was in lake mode.

After leaving the harbor, we entered the wide and rough channel to get a water view of the Yurt before crossing the channel to get a closer look at Waldron Island. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was a formative experience for Sachi. From her perspective, I was being reckless. She saw risk in my careless attitude and looking back, I can see why. We didn’t have a plan. We didn’t know the area. The waves tossed Short Story around more than expected.

We made it back across the channel safely, but that trip set the tone for the rest of our boating and specifically, my perspective. For us to be a team, I needed to show more respect for the situation and surroundings. I needed to account for weather and tides and charts. I needed to listen more and work with Sachi to understand how our seafaring adventures could be more fun and less stressful.

The biggest risk is not knowing what’s happening below the surface. In the best scenario, boaters use radar/GPS in combination with a map of the seafloor to navigate around reefs, rocks, and obstacles. These systems can be very expensive and we figured there must be a more affordable way to solve the problem. Surely, I thought, there’s an app for that.

I eventually found a $15 app called Navionics that worked on a used iPad. For very little money, we had a way to navigate, via GPS, anywhere that 12 gallons of gas could take us and more than that, have confidence that we weren’t going to run aground. The iPad and app became essential parts of our boating experience.

Navionics that worked

By the end of the summer, I was feeling more comfortable and itching to explore. The San Juans have 128 named islands and a number of them are preserves or parks. There are countless bays and harbors to visit. Our little boat could only take us on a limited radius, but from my perspective, we were missing out by not exploring more. My FOMO was in full effect.

end of the summer

In talking through it one evening, I learned more about Sachi’s perspective. Short Story is not a boat that can handle bigger waves and Sachi kept referring to swells and the fear of waves swamping the boat.

This is obviously a legitimate fear, but the reality of the Salish Sea is that it’s an inland sea and unlike the open ocean surrounding Hawaii, there are no swells. The waves we encounter are mostly from large boats. They can be treacherous for boats like Short Story, but they come and go. The other factor is the weather, as wind can create dangerous conditions. 

Where is the Salish Sea?
Where is the Salish Sea?

At the end of the conversation, we came to an agreement that set the stage for our seafaring future. We agreed to make fair weather a priority and always have a plan for our exploration. Further, we agreed that waves are a part of the experience.

Slowly but surely, we both became more confident and started to understand why people on the island feel so strongly about boating in the San Juans. It’s not simply a mode of transport, but means of self-sufficiency, autonomy, and exploration. It’s a chance to catch dinner, visit neighboring towns, hang out with harbor seals and see whales in the wild. As much as Orcas Island has to offer, there’s a whole other world just off shore.

Seals are just aquatic dogs
Seals are just aquatic dogs

The story of Short Story is still being written. We have a lot to learn and explore. But one thing is probably settled. Some day, we hope to have a bigger boat, with GPS and radar, that we can take out for weekends and cruise to more distant locations. That boat will need a name and naming it anything other than Long Story seems like a missed opportunity.