Monday, September 11, 2017

Some Thoughts on Storm Surge

Photo by LBC9 News

During the extensive media coverage of Hurricane Irma this week anyone listening to the radio, watching television, or reading the newspaper heard endless discussion about storm surge.  Some agencies and entities estimated that places on the Southwest Florida coast would experience 10 to 15 foot storm surge and along with that discussion came all sorts of angst and misinformation about what exactly is storm surge.

I was petrified by what was forecast to happen in Florida and especially in Sarasota.  I had images of a tsunami-like force gushing water into de-watered areas causing all sorts of havoc and destruction.  Reports began to accumulate about how far from shore water had moved near Marco Island, then Naples, then Fort Myers, then Charlotte Harbor, Sarasota Bay and finally Tampa Bay.  With each incoming description my heart rate increased and my blood pressure climbed because I was convinced that a tsunami like the one we witnessed 15 or so years ago in Sumatra and Thailand was about to occur here.  

My angst subsided substantially about 10:00 pm last night when Weather Channel meteorologist Stephanie Abrams, reporting from the balcony of a hotel just up the road in Bradenton, explained that storm surge is not a tsunami.  Its a gradual refilling of areas that had been de-watered but by no stretch of the imagination is it a repeat of what happened in Phuket Thailand in 2004.

Thinking about what Stephanie reported I wondered if maybe the issue isn't what the water does but how the process is explained to the public.   Storm surge estimates are developed by the National Hurricane Center in Miami, a vital arm of the National Weather Service. Perhaps the old adage of "Its not what you say but how you say it" applied to reporting on storm surge and it was words used in that reporting that scared so many people.  Maybe the answer is to use a different word or phrase that is more descriptive of what actually happens.

That said this morning I wrote the following letter to the National Hurricane Center and asked them to not stop forecasting the phenomenon but to use different, less ominous, words to describe it.  Whether I hear from the Hurricane Center is up to them, but I had to try.

Public Information Office
National Hurricane Center
11691 SW 17th Street
Miami, Florida 33165

Re:  Renaming “Storm Surge”

Dear NHC

First of all, thanks so much for the yeoman’s effort all of you put into keeping us informed and safe during Hurricane Irma.  You should each receive an award for your efforts.  That said, I have a question and suggestion about storm surge that I’d like someone to answer.

Beginning with the first images of the “dry” bay on Long Island in the Bahamas we heard endless mention of storm surge and were warned about its dangers.  Then, later, we saw water recede from Marco Island, then Naples, then here on Sarasota Bay, and finally Tampa Bay.  In each instance, we were warned about the impending dangers of the surge when water comes “rushing back” to fill the space that had been de-watered.  The images many of us had, myself included, was that water would gush back to fill the void like how a tsunami functions.

However, it wasn’t until Stephanie Abrams from The Weather Channel reported from Bradenton during the peak of the storm here that anyone explained to the public how the water doesn’t come back in a rush like in a tsunami.  Instead it filters back sort of like the tide but on steroids (my words, not hers).  Thus from Ms. Abrams’ description the “surge” isn’t a surge as much as a refilling.

I hold a BS degree with a double major in geology and in biology with double minors in math and in physics.  My Master’s degree is in wildlife biology and I am retired from 31 years as a wildlife biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. With that much science in my background, and especially geology and physics, I still thought the “surge” was going to be of tsunami proportions.  However, it isn’t.  If I was this misinformed and concerned can you imagine the confusion experienced by a local bank teller or the janitor at the nearby elementary school?

I’m writing to ask if there is a way for the National Hurricane Center to develop a different term or phrase to use for what is currently called a “surge” because it is not.  It’s something akin to a resoaking or a refilling but it is not the tsunami-like gush of water that so much of the public believes it is.  Perhaps use of a different phrase to describe the phenomenon will reduce the degree of angst among the public (and me) the next time we are faced with a land-falling tempest like Irma.

Again, thanks for all that you did during this storm.  And please consider my suggestion. 

cc:  Stephanie Abrams, The Weather Channel

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Department of Justice Seeking Visitors to tRump Resistance Website

I learned this morning that the US Department of Justice is seeking the IP addresses of 1,300,000 freedom-loving Americans who visited a tRump Resistance website.  In order to save DOJ some time I sent the following letter to the Attorney General giving him my personal information and encouraging him to add me to the list.  In the letter below I replaced my actual numbers with X's for obvious reasons but the letter that was sent to Sessions contained the real information.

You should consider doing the same thing.  #Resist

Craig Faanes
Sarasota, Florida 34232

August 15 2017

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, 
Chief Bigot
U. S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001

Re:  IP Addresses of Those Using Trump Resistance Site

Dear Attorney General Bigot

I would consider it a high honor and a great privilege if you would add my name to this august group of patriots.  Rather than giving you my IP address I am providing you with my home address (above),  my phone number 941-XXX-XXXX, my Social Security Number XXX-XX-XXXX and my Florida Drivers License Number FXXX-XXX-XXXX-X.

If there is any additional information you need to help track me and the millions of others who are fed up with you, your president and the fascist government for which you are a major part, please do not hesitate to contact me.  Can I expect jack-booted thugs to bust down my front door any time soon?

Oh, and by the way, when are you instituting the president’s Muslim registration program because I have converted to Islam and want to make damned sure I am on that list as well.

Yours in Intimidation,

Craig Faanes

Monday, July 17, 2017

Dive The Maldives - June/July 2018

Cathy and I are planning a dive trip to the Maldives in June/July 2018.  Many people claim that the Maldives offers the best diving in the world and we are anxious to discover if that is true.

For the geographically challenged, the Maldives is a country made up entirely of atolls in the Indian Ocean.  Straight line distance from Sarasota to the Maldives is 9,730 miles.

This will be our second Asian dive trip of 2018 and want you to know about the details. We also want to encourage you to come along on your own.  Like our Philippines trip in February 2018, this is NOT a Sarasota Scuba Club official trip – just information about an opportunity to dive a spectacular area and do so relatively cheaply. 

We will be diving from the MV Emperor Voyager a 30-meter (100 foot) live aboard moored in Male, Maldives harbor.  

The M/V Emperor Voyager has 4 decks including a sun deck

Diving is done from a smaller dinghy (their word not mine) on which all your dive gear is stowed throughout the trip. Divers are assigned one tank for the week and it is refilled after each dive

The Voyager has 10 rooms on 3 decks for 20 divers. 7 of the rooms have two double beds and 3 have one Queen.  We set sail from Male on June 30, 2018, and disembark on July 7. 

Deck Plan for the M/V Emperor Voyager

Cost is 1,579.00 per person for the Upper Deck rooms and 1,479.00 for the Lower Deck. Both prices include Nitrox. Currently the Euro and the US Dollar are almost exactly on par.

Lower deck rooms have a porthole and are $100 cheaper than upper deck rooms with large windows.  We are paying the extra $100 for a view!

Diving will occur at and around 6 different atolls in the Maldives where the targets are Hammerhead Sharks (one dive especially for them) Whale Sharks, Manta Rays, Gray Reef Sharks, and a super abundance of reef fishes.

Traveling among these islands will be tough duty

Our itinerary, entirely dependent on the Captain's discretion and weather, of course, includes the following locations:

Rasdhoo Atoll - Hammerhead shark diving, beautiful reef fishes with pelagics.

North Ari Atoll - Gray Reef Sharks, Night dive.  Multiple Manta Ray cleaning stations.

South Ari Atoll - Whale Sharks.  Underwater pinnacles

South Male Atoll - Gray Reef Sharks, Eagle Rays, Other Pelagics.  Wreck dive.

Vaavu Atoll - Beautiful channels with soft corals.  Night dive with Nurse Sharks

North Male Atoll - Underwater pinnacles.

Chill out at the bar after a long day of diving

Main dining area

Lounge on the Main Deck

If you are interested make your own reservations through Lisa at (  Price includes up to 17 dives (including 2 night dives), value added tax, onboard accommodation, transfers/pickups from airport, tanks, weights, belts, dive master services, all meals, free Nitrox.  Not included are: flights, dive equipment, alcohol, soft drinks, juices, WiFi (an additional 22 Euro for the week), crew gratuities and 15 liter tanks.

The cheapest airfare we have found is on Qatar Airways from Miami via Doha, Qatar, for $950.00 US roundtrip.   Purchase your tickets and select your seats at

Qatar is regularly ranked as the number 1 airline in the world for in-flight service

As Jimmy Buffett once sang about Paris, "Its a mighty long airplane ride" and its even longer to Qatar. However these coach seats on their Boeing 777 make it look much more desirable than the cattle car feel of coach in most US airlines

Qatar Airways allows a free stopover in Doha, Qatar on the Arabian Peninsula.  The Poseidon Dive Center at the Doha Hilton offers day trips (shore dives) to the nearby Persian Gulf.  We are considering a 2-tank dive there simply because nobody we know has ever dived in the Persian Gulf. Who knows what lies underneath the surface there that will be interesting to see.

For the geographically-challenged, Qatar is an oil-rich country sitting on tiny thumb-like peninsula in the Persian Gulf. Among other things, Qatar is home to the Al Jazeera news channel - the only source of news I seek out for coverage of world events.

Again, this is not a sanctioned Sarasota Scuba Club trip...we aren't offering to lead a trip or are we offering to make your reservations for you.  We are only providing information on an affordable dive trip to a spectacular part of the world and we hope we see you on the Emperor Voyager when she pulls out of Male harbor next June!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Reef Divers - Cayman Brac Deserves an A+

Cathy and I spent a week diving with Reef Divers - Cayman Brac and if there is a grade higher than A+ they deserve that grade. That evaluation is especially true for Divemasters Elle and Stu who are highly informative, very patient and make each dive an adventure.

Reef Divers offers "Valet Diving" and we are now sold on it. To avoid insurance liability from having people stumble around on the deck of the boat in fins while wearing heavy and bulky dive gear, with Valet Diving each diver sits on the stern, puts on their own fins, and then the Divemasters bring your gear to you and put it on for you. At the end of the dive, simply sit down, and the gear is removed and instantly switched over to your next tank.

The 42 foot dive boat we were on, the Coral Sister, was quite spacious and easily accommodated up to 20 divers without everyone running into each other. Onboard snacks and plenty of fresh drinking water added to the pleasurable experience.

Before each dive either Stu or Elle gave extremely detailed briefings of the dive site including drawing intricate maps of the subsurface topography with an indication of the depths to be encountered. Any potential hazards, especially on the wreck dive, were explained in intricate detail during the briefings and we were also given an indication of the species of fishes and invertebrates we could potentially see were described.

One Divemaster led each dive pointing out interesting creatures and using underwater sign language to describe the coral ecosystem being viewed. It was as if each dive was another lesson in Marine Biology 101. The divemaster stayed with us for about 30 minutes then returned to the dive boat to prepare for our eventual return. This was so helpful in allowing us to explore on our own and (for me) practice underwater navigation skills. At the conclusion of each dive we were debriefed onboard before moving on to the next dive site.

We purchased a 17-dive package of which Cathy took part in 15 dives and I participated in 13. The dive shop offers optional (for an additional fee) night dives on Tuesday and Thursday nights if a minimum of 8 divers sign up.

Reef Divers has four boats and 3 of them were in active use during our stay. Reef Divers is a PADI shop that also offers various certification classes but we didn't participate in any of them.

I especially enjoyed diving with Stu, the transplanted Brit, on July 4, and reminding him of the historical significance of that day to both of our countries! We enjoyed ourselves tremendously with Reef Divers and imagine that you will should you choose to dive with them

 Exterior of the dive shop

 A large and efficient gear drying room

 A well-stocked dive shop

 All of the requisite "Been There Done That" clothing can be found in the dive shop

 The dock can handle 4-42 foot dive boats

Expect to see many Brown Booby while at sea. They seem to have learned that passing boats flush Atlantic Flyingfish and the birds pluck the fish out of the air

The Nassau Grouper at Cayman Brac are uncommonly docile and curious, and seem to enjoy being petted!

A Week At The Cayman Brac Beach Resort

We stayed at the Cayman Brac Reef Resort during July 1 - 8, 2017 not only as our honeymoon but also as part of a SCUBA diving package. Other than one incident on the night of our arrival (for which the resort manager apologized profusely to everyone staying there that night) our experience with this resort was perfect and we would return in a heartbeat.

 Room 121 was the left most room on the first floor

 A large, comfortable, king bed

Plenty of storage and a work area for downloading dive videos onto our computer.  We never turned on the television

Large and well-equipped restroom and shower

Our room (#121) was closest to the beach but, unfortunately, had no direct view of the nearby ocean. However because we were diving most of the time, an ocean view room wasn't really needed. The room was spacious with plenty of space for storage. The king bed was comfortable and the restroom large enough to play rugby in. In room amenities included a television (that we never watched), a small refrigerator, and a 2-cup coffee maker. WiFi is available throughout the resort and the signal was quite strong.

Our package was all-inclusive with three meals a day in the resort restaurant. Everything is served buffet-style with two or three main entree options for lunch and dinner. Breakfast was also buffet-style with an optional omelet station. The food was bountiful and quite tasty. Because absolutely everything consumed on the island (except the falling coconuts) has to be shipped in from Grand Cayman, food on the island is very expensive making the all-inclusive option at the restaurant a great value.

Brown Booby (it's name has nothing to do with breasts) is a common seabird on Cayman Brac and it wasn't unusual to see adults and sub-adults flying over the resort property

The resort has a supply of fat-tire bicycles that can be checked out and used to pedal around the island and tennis players will enjoy the one on-site tennis court. Birdwatchers are in luck because West Indian Whistling-Duck, one of the rarest birds in the West Indies, is easily found on the adjacent Westerly Ponds. One evening a local wildlife rescue group released 16 baby Loggerhead Sea Turtles that had been removed from a nest after the young were able to dig themselves out. It was great fun watching the two-day old turtles scurry to the ocean just before sunset.

The bar is well-stocked with local and imported beer (make sure you try at least one Ironshore Bock), various wines, and also hard liquor. Don't expect any of the mixes (grapefruit juice, etc) to be fresh - that won't happen on The Brac. Our favorite bartender, Nils, was a baseball fan so he made certain that one of the two televisions in the bar was always broadcasting a game. 

Adjacent to the bar was a large pool whose maximum depth is 5 feet making it more of a wading than swimming pool. This was a perfect place to chill with your favorite adult beverage after a day of diving. Entertainment options at the resort are limited but they all center around the pool (the debacle on Saturday night was not very entertaining although it occurred by the pool). Wednesday night was trivia night, Thursday night was the highly entertaining triple elimination crab race (we chose crab #22 who came in dead last), and on Friday night we were treated to an excellent island barbecue. The latter consisted of either beef (which I don't eat), grilled shrimp, and Jamaican jerk chicken that was so tasty I told the chef it was better than any Jamaican jerk chicken I've ever had in Jamaica!

The weekly crab race is one of the entertainment highlights at the resort.  Our crab (#22) apparently blew out an antennae and couldn't find his way to the finish line

One final, gorgeous, Cayman Brac sunrise before our reluctant departure

The Cayman Brac Reef Resort is definitely for an older crowd and it certainly caters to divers so if you are looking to party hearty, plan on staying on Grand Cayman. However if you are looking for an ultra-laid-back island experience where as Bachman Turner Overdrive said in their song "I love to work at nothing all day" then you simply cannot find a better place on Cayman Brac than this resort.

Cayman Airways Ridiculous Connecting Baggage Policy

Cayman Airways arrived on Cayman Brac (only 30 minutes late) with us on board but with our dive gear still in Grand Cayman.  The reason why still has me slapping my forehead

My first flight on Cayman Airways was from Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos Islands to Miami on February 25, 1985. I have flown the airline several other times but always on flights to Grand Cayman - never before have I checked baggage that required a connection in GCM.  It wasn't until my most recent trip with the airline, that I discovered the airline's ridiculous and highly inefficient connecting baggage policy.  I'm now less likely than ever to fly this airline again if I have to make a connection!

Cathy and I flew from Tampa to Cayman Brac, via Grand Cayman on July 1, 2017 and returned in the reverse order on July 8. We were upgraded to Business Class on both jet sections of the itinerary (TPA-GCM and GCM-TPA). The service on board the planes was wonderful. However the ridiculous experience with checked luggage in both directions has left a sour taste in our mouths regarding Cayman and the potential for flying them again.

On July 1 in the Tampa airport nobody at the Cayman Airways check in counter mentioned that despite our bags being checked through to Cayman Brac there would be a need to reclaim them in Grand Cayman and re-check them to Cayman Brac.

On July 1 in Tampa nobody from Cayman Airways at Gate 88 mentioned to any of your passengers that if they were making connections in Grand Cayman they were required to reclaim them in Grand Cayman and recheck them to their final destination. 

On July 1 while in flight on KX 201, none of the in-flight crew mentioned to any passenger that upon arrival in Grand Cayman we were required to re-claim our checked luggage and re-check it to our final destination.

On July 1, nobody on the plane mentioned to passengers disembarked that we were required to re-claim our checked bags in Grand Cayman and re-check them to our final destination.

On July 1, it was not until SEVEN MINUTES BEFORE SCHEDULED DEPARTURE TIME for our flight to Cayman that anyone said anything on the intercom in the departure area that "if you are traveling from Tampa to Cayman Brac or Roatan and checked baggage you need to re-claim it and re-check it at the check in counter."

SERIOUSLY!! Cayman Airways waited until SEVEN MINUTES before departure to tell us this. At least it wasn't just Cayman Brac passengers who were caught off guard because they did the same thing to passengers connecting to Roatan.

With this knowledge we returned to the baggage area, raced to the check in counter where we had to jump in front of other passengers so we could re-check our luggage, then go back through the madhouse of security before we could board. Luckily the flight was 20 minutes late boarding otherwise we would have been stuck in Grand Cayman .

On arrival in Cayman Brac we learned that none of the luggage we had just re-checked in Grand Cayman made it on the plane with us! We were told our luggage was too heavy and would be arriving on a later flight. It finally did - the next morning! It is simply wonderful that Cayman Airways allows 2 free bags each weighing 55 pounds. However if all that extra weight precludes the bags flying on the same plane with the passenger what is the advantage of allowing the extra weight?

This was totally unacceptable and unlike any experience with luggage I've ever had with a West Indian airline. Even Bahamasair, the world's largest unscheduled airline, doesn't create a debacle out of connecting baggage like you do.

On July 8 at check-in at Cayman Brac I had to ask the gate agent if it was necessary to re-claim our luggage in Grand Cayman and re-check it to Tampa despite the luggage being checked through to Tampa and I was told yes. Nobody at the check in counter thought to tell passengers about this inconvenience. So on arrival in Grand Cayman we had to do the same ridiculous process all over again despite not having to clear Cayman Islands Customs.

The debacle arriving in Grand Cayman makes us less than enthusiastic about ever taking another Cayman Airways flight that requires a connection. Secondly, why is it that with luggage tags that clearly show a connection, including a little orange tag that says "Connection" can't Cayman Airways take the luggage to our connecting plane saving us the time-consuming task of standing in line, again, to hand you luggage containing tags showing the bags are checked to our final destination? Then to top it off, after re-checking the bags we stood in line in the searing heat as what seemed like 400 other passengers from other airlines waited endlessly for entrance to the security area were there is ONE metal detector to service all those passengers!

I have been traveling in the West Indies since 1984 and have seen some pretty ridiculous things in those 34 years. However I must admit that the way Cayman Airways deals with connecting luggage and the requirement to re-claim and re-check it, has to rank as the most ridiculous waste of my time and energy I've experienced on any of the 73 islands in the islands that I've visited.

Despite the royal treatment my wife and I received as part of the Honeymoon Special, and despite the airline's marketing slogan of being "Cayman Kind", I promise you it will be a long time, if ever, before we fly Cayman again because of their ridiculous connecting baggage handling policy.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Alaska Goldpanners - The Northernmost Baseball Game on Earth

There is a very good reason that the word "fan" is the base of the word "fanatic" because most baseball fans are fanatic about their sport.  Most baseball fanatics have one team that is "theirs" and they follow that team through thick and thin. A former friend of mine once said that it was his goal when he retired to travel around the country for one season attending all 162 games played by the Boston Red Sox that year. Others, like Chicago Cubs fans, wait patiently for more than a century until their team can finally win a World Series. 

Baseball fanaticism isn't restricted just to the major leagues. Some minor league fans love the game and love their team so much that when the team can't win they write a novel in which the team becomes a winner knowing, as do all true baseball fans, that the umpires are typically to blame.

Although I love the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Miami Marlins my real passion is Minor League baseball.  Its a combination of minor league players not yet being tainted by money and fame, plus the very real fact that you can regularly buy a can of beer at a minor league game for $2.00 rather than $13.00 like at a Tampa Bay Rays game.  Minor League players attack the game with unbridled passion, each of them playing their hearts out for that one chance to make an impression and be promoted to The Show.  My passion for Minor League baseball is so intense that I have seen games in 92 different Minor League stadiums.  Maybe one day I will see them all.

I'm not sure how I found out about the Alaska Goldpanners  from Fairbanks Alaska but several years ago, probably in a conversation with my sadly missed baseball pal Bob Nolte, I learned that the Goldpanners played a game at midnight on the Summer Solstice and they did so without artificial lights.  I knew right then that one day I had to watch the Goldpanners play, preferably during their Midnight Sun game but if not that game then at least some game.

We traveled to Alaska in July 2015 to see my daughter and to pester my then almost two-year-old grandson Garrett.  They live an hour north of Anchorage and the closest team was the Alaska Baseball League's Mat-Su Miners.  We saw the Miners play in Palmer against the near by Chugiak Chinooks and I marveled at the lack of any artificial lights on the playing field.  Still, however, it wasn't the Goldpanners and it wasn't close to the Summer Solstice and I knew that I had to see the real team one day.

That opportunity presented itself in June 2017 when I had returned to Alaska again to see my daughter and to pester my now more than 3 year old grandson.  My plan was to spend time with my family then travel to Kotzebue (that I had not been to since 1989), Barrow (that I had never visited before) and then to Fairbanks so I could be on the same path Chris McCandless traveled in the fascinating book "Into the Wild" and then to watch a Goldpanners game.

When I put "Alaska Goldpanners baseball" into my Google Maps app, it sent me to a public park next to a prison on Wilbur Street far south of where I was supposed to be. Flummoxed I returned to Airport Way and stopped at a Denny's for dinner and to ask for directions to the field because Google Maps let me down.  The server at Denny's had never heard of the Goldpanners (even though, it turns out, their ball field was 2 blocks north of Denny's!).  However a couple who looked like they were part of the cast of the reality show Alaska: The Last Frontier,  graciously explained that I was only a minute or two from the ball park.

The Goldpanners are made up entirely of college students who want to retain their amateur status but still want to play competitive baseball all summer.  Their list of former players is pretty impressive including the likes of Tom Seaver and Barry Bonds not to mention Bill "Spaceman" Lee!  Like all other non-major league teams the Panners play with passion and most importantly they play on the most northerly baseball field in the world.  In my excitement to watch them I arrived at the field 30 minutes early (Cathy, or course, will ask why I was so late - normally I would be an hour early).

The box office was closed when I arrived

On June 15, 2017, the Goldpanners played the Northwest Honkers from Seattle.  Many of the Honkers are students at the University of Washington or Washington State University and just like the Panners they played out of a love for the game.

The view from my seat, June 15, 2017

I wasn't sure about the seating or the restrictions on seating so I grabbed a seat right behind home plate, in prime heckling territory, but because I didn't have a dog in the fight I said very little. However there were several instances where the home plate umpire had to be corrected on an obviously bad call (against the Panners of course) and I obliged.  I looked at myself as a "Consulting Umpire" in those situations.  

I guess because I'm used to the amenities of minor league baseball in the Lower 48 states I found it curious that there is no ground crew for Panners games. Well, actually there is but its not a grounds crew. Its the players and the coaches of the Panners who lime the baselines, and water down the bases and home plate, and who mark the boundaries of the batters box and catcher's box. It's not more elemental than that!  One amenity of the ball park that I liked was that my now-most-favorite Alaska-brewed beer "Panty Peeler" by the Midnight Sun Brewing Company, is available at Panners games.  If only it was available on draught.

The Honkers took a commanding 5 run lead early in the game and the prognosis didn't look promising.  However the immortal words of Yogi Berra "Its not over until its over" came through again, and by the end of the 9th inning the Panners were victorious, having beaten the Honkers into submission with a commanding 9-6 win.  You can watch the entire game at this link.

There were a lot of empty seats at the Panners game on June 14.  Local residents however said its a different story on the night of the Midnight Sun game when there isn't an empty seat in the stadium

Seated behind me at the game was a Season Ticket holder whom I overheard say something about watching a New York Mets vs Boston Red Sox spring training game.  That can only happen in Florida so I turned around to chat. This fellow and his wife are fanatic baseball fans and he told me about his first major league game ever - a spring training game involving the New York Yankees in Fort Lauderdale in 1964 when Mickey Mantle was drunk and was reprimanded by the Yankees manager for talking to fans before the game in his alcohol-induced state.

My local fan had been coming to Panners games for more than 30 years. He knew the history of the team, remembered now-famous players who had been there, and spoke about the Panners with as much pride as I talk about my Bradenton Marauders.  When I asked him (I never asked for his name) what it was about the Panners that he loved so much he said, simply, "Its baseball, its in Alaska, and they play in the middle of the night one game each year."  

He had a very good point and one with which there was no argument.   As he said to me at the end of the game as I stood up to leave "Next time you come to Fairbanks you better come for the Midnight Sun game.  Its the best game under the sun - all night long."

I now own an Alaska Goldpanners t-shirt so the next time I am in Fairbanks that is exactly what I will do.

The Joy of Flying on Alaska Airlines

An Alaska Airlines 737-900 Series jet (Image downloaded from

My first flight in a commercial aircraft was from Minneapolis to St. Louis on October 31, 1977.  The flight was aboard an Ozark Airlines DC-9 and I was in an aisle seat because I was petrified to look out the window.  I remember taking the runway in MSP thinking my time had come.  The engines began to howl, I closed my eyes, and waited for the inevitable to happen but it never did.  One hour 15 minutes later we landed in STL and I have to admit that at a couple of moments during the flight I opened my eyes, leaned across the person next to me, and peered out the window.

What I saw in those brief moments convinced me that if I had to fly and I had to die while flying, at least I should be by a window when it happens.  Flight became a geography lesson after I began sitting by the window and now that I have logged 3,126 individual flight segments on commercial flights on top of countless flights in a Cessna 172 looking for whooping cranes along the Platte River in Nebraska (a flight segment is one take off and one landing - MSP-STL was one segment) I can't imagine myself sitting anywhere other than by the window.

The first time I ever flew on Alaska Airlines it was a 129 mile jaunt from Portland to Seattle in 1986. I was in Portland for a meeting, had never been to Seattle, and had never flown on Alaska Airlines. The airfare was too cheap to pass up so I did a day trip to SEA and in the process became hooked on Alaska Airlines.  Even in the few minutes it took to fly from PDX-SEA I could tell there was something different about Alaska Airlines and this was in the days when other airlines like United, American, Delta, Northwest and Continental actually cared about customer service.

When I lived in Washington DC I regularly flew on Alaska to either Los Angeles or to Seattle (and on to Alaska) and never once had an experience on the airline that was anything less than wonderful. Just last week I completed my 17th trip to Alaska and now 14 of those 17 trips have been in part or entirely on Alaska Airlines.  There simply is no better way to fly north than with Yukon Jack on the tail of your plane.

Among the 3,126 flight segments I have taken only 149 of them have been on Alaska Airlines and to me that's a shame. In the current cutthroat climate of air travel, where customers luggage is destroyed and no responsibility is taken (United), where customers are beaten and dragged from planes (United), airport employees assault elderly customers (United), flight attendants berate and threaten passengers for asking questions onboard (American), where an airline seems to have zero concept of what on-time is supposed to mean (Delta), and where the amount of space between rows of seats is so minute you pray for the flight to crash just to put yourself out of your self-imposed misery (Spirit), there is a certain joy that comes from flying on Alaska.   Only it and JetBlue know, understand, appreciate, and practice the concept of customer service on every flight.

On Alaska Airlines if there is even a minor delay passengers are told "it will take X minutes before we can go" - you're never told "It will be only a few seconds" that later becomes an hour.  On Alaska Airlines you are offered healthy food (even though like every other airline you have to pay for it unless you're in First Class).  Only Alaska Airlines guarantees that you will be reconnected with your luggage in 20 minutes or less after landing, or you are reimbursed for your wait. And, most importantly, only on Alaska Airlines do the flight attendants (and occasionally even the pilot) personally thank each passenger for flying their airline as you deplane at your destination!  THAT is customer service!

On June 6 2017, I traveled from Seattle to Anchorage aboard Alaska Airlines flight 87.  We left on time, arrived in Anchorage early and the view out the starboard window was spectacular (hint - when flying north from SEA you ALWAYS want a window on the F side of the plane. Always)

Route of AS 87, SEA-ANC on June 6 2017

Several days later I flew from ANC to Kotzebue on Alaska flight 153.  And even though I was flying on a Mileage Plane award ticket, Alaska let me upgrade to First Class for only $53.00.  No other airline I can think of would allow that.

Route of AS 153, ANC-OTZ on June 12 2017

The window seat view of the tundra from AS 153 on approach to the OTZ airport was spectacular.  That is Kobuk National Park on the northern horizon

After a too-short visit to Kotzebue I returned to Anchorage on Alaska 154 where I connected to AS 55 bound for Barrow

Route of AS 154, OTZ-ANC on June 13 2017

Route of AS 55, ANC to BRW on June 13  2017

The flight north aboard AS 55 took us by the summit of Mount Denali.  I remember once flying from ANC-FAI on an Alaska flight in May 1989.  The entire mountain was completely clear and the pilot received permission to divert from his planned route and we did a complete 360 degree circumnavigation of The Mountain.  Of course that would never happen today but it did back then and I think only Alaska Airlines would offer its passengers such a spectacular experience.

13,000 feet above the summit of Mount Denali from a port window aboard AS 55, June 13, 2017

Final approach into BRW afforded those of us in a window seat spectacular views of the ice still smothering the Arctic Ocean just offshore from the town

Alaska Airlines plunked down at Wiley Post/Will Rogers Memorial Airport in Barrow a few minutes early on June 13.  As I exited the plane into the 36 degree F temperature, the flight attendant pointed out that I was wearing shorts.  I said "I live in Florida; I don't own long pants." She chuckled and said "That explains everything."

After another too short visit, this time in Barrow, I traveled from Barrow to Fairbanks aboard AS 55 on June 14, 2017. When we left Barrow the air temperature was 33 degrees. One hour 10 minutes later we landed in Fairbanks and the air temperature was 72.  The change made me feel like I had stepped off a plane back home in the heat and humidity of Florida!

The flight from Barrow to Fairbanks in brilliant sunlight afforded great views of the seemingly endless wetlands that dot the North Slope of Alaska

Route of AS 55 from BRW-FAI on June 14 2017

I spent a little more than 1 1/2 days in Fairbanks visiting the Stampede Road/Trail made famous in Jon Krakauer's book "Into The Wild", saw a moose and a gray wolf crossing the Parks Highway, drank some beer at the three most northerly brew pubs in the world, watched the Alaska Goldpanners play the Northwest Honkers on a baseball field with no artificial lighting.  Then, reluctantly, once again had to leave Alaska headed south.

For my departure I was on Alaska Airlines flight 128 from Fairbanks to Seattle.  We departed FAI at 1:30 a.m. in low sunlight and 3 hours 9 minutes later deplaned (early) in Seattle

Route of AS 128 from FAI-SEA very early in the morning on June 16 2017. Because of the constant sunlight the entire route we were asked to keep our window shades down which precluded any views of The Mountain and any alpinglow it may have been producing in the low light of early morning.

With a little more than an hour between planes in SEA it was easy and smooth making my connection to AS 658 bound for Dallas.  There wasn't a cloud in the sky this morning and Mount Rainier stuck out like a sentinel as we raced by it headed southeast.  We arrived in DFW 30 minutes early and there I connected with another airline for my final two segments back home to Sarasota.

Route of AS 658 from SEA-DFW, June 16 2017

As with every other "final" flight on an Alaska Airlines trip I was sad when I had to deplane in Dallas.  On each segment I was treated like I was important to the airline, not just a number or not just another passenger, by everyone I encountered on this great airline.  Thirty years ago all airlines made you feel special; that is no longer the case but for some reason Alaska Airlines has remembered how to do it.

I love living in Florida and can't imagine living anywhere else. The biggest downside of living in Florida (other than being overrun by tourists all winter long) is that my opportunities to fly on Alaska Airlines are limited to one flight a day from Tampa to Seattle.  Its unfortunate with Alaska's current expansion plans that they don't challenge Delta for supremacy in the Atlanta airport like Delta is trying with them in Seattle.  If only that could happen maybe there would be more opportunities to fly with Yukon Jack on the tail of my plane.  I'd certainly be an even more frequent flier if they did.   Until that happens, however, I'll just have to keep planning trips to Alaska and when I do there is only one airline I want to take me there.