SF Ocean Film Festival – Birds & Rowing

At a recent college class reunion I was asked to screen a program of film selections from the San Francisco Int’l Ocean Film Festival, which my wife and I founded in 2003.  The program that evolved, a sampler on ocean-related subjects, was well received and is encouraging me to give additional visibility to ocean films which I’ve seen and like.

After the screening a classmate’s wife expressed an interest in birds and rowing, so I promised her a list of some of the films the Festival has screened with such subject matter. In creating a list for her, it occurred to me that the films, at least in my opinion, deserve a wider audience, so I’m publishing it below fyi.

Please note: the descriptions provided are generally courtesy of SFIOFF.  Where initials are present, the descriptions are by the talented and committed SFIOFF volunteers MaryJane Schramm and Sid Hollister.  

Bird films:

Arctic Cliffhangers, (Canada), Julia Szucs, 60 mins, In this dazzlingly photographed and adeptly scored film, biologists cling to vertiginous, wind-whipped cliffs on remote islands in the Canadian Arctic to study breeding seabirds. Over 300,000 murres, fulmars, and kittiwakes encrust every ledge on these 800-foot precipices. The scientists are conducting long-term studies to see how changes in ice conditions affect the birds, which may foretell more widespread changes. —MJS

Project Puffin: Restoring Puffins to the Coast of Maine (USA) Daniel Breton, 20 mins.  
Atlantic puffins can live to 30, have a call like a creaky hinge, and sport an outrageously large and colorful bill. They are also considered good eating by people and gulls—hence their near demise on Maine’s coastal islands. It took eight years to lure them back to their former nesting sites in a project that has since been a model for other efforts around the world. — SH

Returning Home: Bringing the Common Murre back to Devil’s Slide Rock(USA) Kevin White, 24 mins.  
In 1986, an oil spill devastated the colony of Common Murres at Devil’s Slide Rock near San Francisco. With a biologist’s version of “smoke and mirror” technology and the help of local schools and government agencies, these birds are once again breeding on their ancestral home. — MJS

Tracking Alaska’s Godwits, (USA), Eric Liner, 20 mins, For seven months she gorged, doubling her weight. Then the Bar-tailed Gotwit, E7, set off on a non-stop, 7145 mile flight from Alaska’s Yukon River Delta to New Zealand’s North Island. Her ocean journey astonished the world. Scientists now track other Godwits on that route, and on their return, to help protect a bird that in Maori legend accompanies the departed to the next world. –SH

Rowing & kayaking films:

Another World (Le Troisième Monde)
 (Prize winner, FIFMEE 2005, Toulon, France)
 52 min, France, 2005. Steve Moreau.  
Holed up with even a best friend can get on your nerves, often sooner than later. Rowing across the Atlantic with someone who doesn’t speak your language, two hours at the oars and two hours off, day and night, for months, is impossible.  This indomitable Frenchman and Englishman prove otherwise. —SH

Birthplace of the WindsQuoting filmmaker Jon Bowermaster: “A three-week long journey – from California, through British Columbia and Alaska – delivered us to one of the loneliest and least known spots on Earth (halfway between Russia and Alaska), where the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea collide at what the Aleuts called ‘the birthplace of the winds.’ Our goal was to kayak among five volcanic islands rising straight out of the seas, and climb their snowcapped peaks.”

Dubside(Canada) Bryan Smith, 11 mins  
Into a bag and onto a bus—that’s how car-free Dubside gets his folding kayak to his paddling put-ins. Deftly handling that kayak is no mean feat, but it’s nothing compared to how Dubside folds and unfolds himself when he’s roping and rolling. — SH

The Men Who Would be Viking.  
60 min, (US) 2003.  
New England explorers attempt to retrace Leif Eriksson’s voyage in their own Viking ship.  Screened at Festival #1, filmmaker Doug Cabot traveled from the East coast and was in attendance.

Row Hard No Excuses
 10 min, (US) 2004
.  Documentary-in-progress about two middle-aged Americans who participate in the Atlantic Rowing Challenge.

Rowing the Atlantic* (USA), J.B. Benna, 25 mins, Ocean adventurer Roz Savage undertakes a 3,000-mile trans-Atlantic row—solo—that becomes a trial by sea and the challenge of a lifetime. Towering waves, heaving swells, and a pestilence of blisters are capped only by a cascade of equipment failure, including all satellite communications. Meanwhile, a camera records those harrowing and inspiring moments. —MJS 

Scottish Tidal Races
(UK) Justine Curgenven, 15 mins
Fools rush in, they say, and when you see what these sea kayakers paddle into, you have to wonder. Among Great Britain’s best at their sport, they meet their match on Scotland’s west coast where tides rush out of deep firths, or inlets, to create inviting waves and treacherous boils and whirlpools. — SH


I fondly recall the films listed and recommend all.

P.S. Since the first annual Festival in 2004, the San Francisco Int’l Ocean Film Festival (SFIOFF) has screened approximately 500 ocean-themed films. A database of films and their details such as subject matter is a work in process and the above isn’t warranted to be a comprehensive accounting of all the bird and rowing films screened at SFIOFF.

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3 Museums in Maine that were well worth the visit

A benefit of planning a trip with a flexible schedule is the ability to adapt the itinerary to suit one’s mood, changed circumstances, or new information.  On our recent trip to New England, we left San Francisco with white space on our calendar/schedule that was easily filled in with interesting stops as we learned along the way.

 Before leaving California, we planned on a several stops in Maine: Portland and Biddeford to see friends, the DeLorme Map store in Yarmouth, LL Bean in Freeport, and Acadia National Park and nearby Bar Harbor.  When we were in Portland exploring in Sherman’s bookstore, we noticed a good looking book entitled Maine’s Museums, Art Oddities & Artifacts.  With a title that is right on this author’s preferences, the book is a cornucopia of places for discovery and, lucky for us, it was on sale that day.

 As one might expect or hope, the book drills down on Maine and its uniqueness, and offers an extensive yet curated selection of Maine’s museums – many are quite specialized and would probably be overlooked by travelers not informed by such an impressive guidebook.

 Maine’s Museums thoughtfully presents its data on 70 or so museums by geography.  We simply traced our route between Portland and Bar Harbor, learned what museums were along the way, and then made time for a few of them.

 Traveling from the wonderful Pilgrim’s Inn on Deer Isle southwest toward Portland, first up was The Wilson Museum in Castine.  This town is off the beaten track and was a diversion even for us, but it was well worth the effort.  A small, scenic community on the

Downtown Castine is home for Maine Maritime Academy's training ships.

Downtown Castine is home for Maine Maritime Academy’s training ships.

water, Castine boasts 300 healthy elm trees, an arborist on city staff, the Maine Maritime Academy, and the small but impressive Wilson Museum.

 Dr. John Wilson (1871-1936) was borne into a family of successful industrialists, became a geologist, and travelled widely.  He assembled a collection of rare objects that are well presented in the museum’s attractive waterfront facility.  Scholars travel from afar to study the rocks, fossils, and implements from the earliest of times.  The museum presents humankind’s advances in tool-making from pre-history through Castine’s rich local history.

Leaving Castine and rejoining US#1, we headed southwest again, passing Red’s Eats, a lobster shack with an excellent PR department.  We continued on to Bath, which enjoys  a rich history of shipbuilding beginning in 1743 – today the city is a key supplier of warships to the U.S. Navy, including the first in the new Zumwalt (DDG1000) class of destroyers ($3.5 billion a copy).

Bath’s rich history of shipbuilding makes it a natural location for the Maine Maritime Museum, founded 1962.  Located on the Kennebec River just downstream from Bath’s attractive downtown, the museum has an interesting variety of permanent exhibits which are supplemented with solid temporary exhibits.   When we were there, the temporary exhibits included one on Maine’s entrepreneurs who create handmade surfboards…and

Surfboards and surfing in Maine?  Yes!  This exhibit covers tells it all.

Surfboards and surfing in Maine? Yes! This exhibit covers tells it all.

ride them.

Sculpture on the Maine Maritime Museum campus is reminiscent the schooner, Wyoming.

Sculpture on the Maine Maritime Museum campus is reminiscent the schooner, Wyoming.

The museum ‘s 20 acre campus offers plenty of grass, picnic tables, and kids-oriented features. In addition to its traditional museum offerings, the museum sponsors trolley tours of its neighbor, the Bath Iron Works, the Zumwalt’s builder.

 Our 2-hour visit of the Maine Maritime Museum was hardly enough; but we had to keep moving as our days in Maine were melting away and we had obligations down the road, including a flight back to SFO in a few days.

 Seven miles down US#1 from Bath is Brunswick, the location of Bowdoin College and the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum,  which is on Bowdoin’s attractive campus.  The reader may not be aware that the explorer Robert E. Peary was in Bowdoin’s class of 1877 – Peary

Bowdoin's campus showed really well - this building houses the Arctic Museum.

Bowdoin’s campus showed really well – this building houses the Arctic Museum.

and his assistant, Matthew Henson, are said to have been the first to the North Pole.

 The Museum’s collections largely relate to the cultures, geography, and natural history of Labrador, Baffin Island, Ellesmere Island, and Greenland.  Permanent exhibitions focus on the natural and cultural diversity of the Arctic.  The temporary exhibit during our visit was a large selection of Inuit Art, largely from Cape Dorset on Baffin Island, lent by private collectors.

Some of Peary's equipment is in the permanent exhibit.

Some of Peary’s equipment is in the permanent exhibit.

 As a group, the three museums mentioned above provide good insights on some of Maine’s history and the state’s important role in the nation’s maritime endeavors.

 Finally, I must mention the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, which are in fact on a tidelands shoreline.  Opened in 2007, the 270 acre garden is designed beautifully and it’s

Even late in the season the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden was in bloom.

Even late in the season the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden was in bloom.

well on the way to becoming a “must do” in coastal Maine.  (Beware – the drive from Camden took longer than Google Maps said, so, unfortunately, our time in the garden was short.)  Even so, we were glad to view, walk, and inhale the gardens, and look forward to a future, longer visit.




The Garden has many  well designed elements - one could have a good day by just watching the changes as the sun goes across the sky.

The Garden has many well designed elements – one could have a good day by just watching the changes as the sun goes across the sky.

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Premier Whaling Museum’s programs coming to San Francisco

This brief post is to help inform the reader of several ocean/whale-related events in San Francisco next week.  On Tuesday, 9/30, The New Bedford Whaling Museum, the largest in the world and probably the best, is sponsoring a reception in connection with an exhibit it is presenting at the Maritime Museum in the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, 900 Beach Street, San Francisco, California.

Whales are large as are their skeletons.

Whales are large as are their skeletons.

Admission to the museum, exhibit, and reception are free. The reception (5:30-7:30) will be followed by an optional dinner at McCormick & Kuleto’s at $75/person.

The next day, October 1, will feature several talks in connection with the exhibit.  They too are free, please see the Whaling Museum Invitation for all the details.

I have not seen the exhibit yet, but I did visit the Whaling Museum in Massachusetts earlier this month. It is exceptional, with broad and deep collections of whaling related property, including maps, books, scrimshaw, fine art, glass art, ship parts and models, skeletons, photos, ephemera, moving images, and so forth.

Some of the harpoons on display.

Some of the harpoons on display.


Along with the objects, the museum’s exhibits emphasize the cultural influences of whales and the whaling industry, which for a while, had its world center in New Bedford.


The museum's explanatory messages are generally excellent.  Some are also provocative.

The museum’s explanatory messages are generally excellent. Some are also provocative.

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Two Bootstrapped Maine businesses

As promised, in this and one or two future posts, I’ll describe briefly several Maine businesses that are examples of the genre of bootstrapped businesses, and that have prospered without the benefits and costs of venture capital.

#1: Designer bags from used & recycled sails!
While exploring one of of the piers on Portland’s working waterfront, I came across Sea Bags.  It was before the doors were open, so I returned a day later during normal business hours.  At that time I observed 6-9  seamstresses hard at work, the store manager, and a couple other staff.  Also at this headquarters location was a large inventory of bags for purchase, or to serve as models of what Sea Bags could do on a custom basis.

As background, in 1999, Sea Bags was the first in the market to design and manufacture handmade tote bags and accessories from recycled sails. Founded and headquartered in Portland, Sea Bags claims it is built around three cornerstones: keeping production local, green in product and practice, and being involved in the community.

While the company has grown to nearly 50 employees, it is still located on the Portland’s working waterfront where all its bags are manufactured.  The product line now ranges from totes and wine bags to home decor and accessories. Custom Designed Sea Bags are also a cornerstone of the brand, allowing customers to design a Sea Bag that reflects their own style and personality.

Sea Bags is unique in that all products are handmade from recycled sails, ensuring that each bag is truly one-of-a-kind. The sail’s previous life on the water is apparent through the natural markings featured on the material that can range from salt and rust to wear and color variations.

Sea Bags recently opened their third retail location and first outside of Maine in Cape May, NJ.

Note: Sea Bags has a policy of no photos while in their facility.  Please see their website at http://Seabags.com for photos, order forms, loads of press mentions, etc.


#2: Entertaining and instructional boat tour with a real lobsterman!
Here we discuss a wonderful tour, described more fully on Captain John’s website, http://lululobsterboat.com/

Captain John himself!  He does all the LuLu tours.

Captain John himself! He does all the LuLu tours.

From http://lululobsterboat.com/: “Captain John Nicolai is one of Maine’s most knowledgeable and entertaining lobster experts. The Captain has made it his mission to help sustain Maine’s lobster fishery by promoting its rich history and traditions, and teaching the importance of preserving the state’s lobster population. His belief is that the process starts by educating people. Captain John’s enthusiasm and sense of humor, as well as his great repertoire of tales from the Maine coast, make his presentations as fun as they are informative. The Captain has been featured many times in the national and international media, including the CBS Morning Show, the Food Network, the Travel Channel, PBS, the Outdoor Channel, the Outdoor Living Network, ITV of Ireland, TF1 of France and Japanese television, to name just a few.”

LuLu seats 40 or so customers and we understand Captain John does over 400 trips/year, working, obviously, only during the warmer months. Very knowledgeable about Maine and the lobster ecosystem and business, he also gives talks and lectures and especially likes to do so in Hawaii!

My wife and I were really fortunate to hear by word of mouth of this tour, which is out of Bar Harbor.  Not only does it offer an education on lobsters, but that is preceded by a run out to Eggrock Lighthouse and great views of nearby wildlife (seals, seabirds).  

Eggrock Lighthouse is a few miles out of Bar Harbor

Eggrock Lighthouse is a few miles out of Bar Harbor

Seals lounging as we passed by

Seals lounging as we passed by

In sum, the tour was exceptional, the best of its class, and is highly recommended.


One view of the crustacean closely identified with Maine, taken soon after we disembarked.

One view of the crustacean closely identified with Maine, taken soon after we disembarked.

P.S. Please don’t miss the details on Captain John, linked to here.  Yes, he’s a real entrepreneur.  In Maine.



Note: this and any future post are without commercial consideration – the comments are mine alone except when noted otherwise.

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Entrepreneurship in Maine

In preparing for a recent vacation in New England, my wife and I scheduled meetings with long-time friends in New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts.   Other than these waypoints with loosely scheduled dinner or overnight dates, we were free to explore.

New England was new territory for us, so of course we travelled with a growing inventory of paper maps – maps that helped us see the overall picture, easily plot out interesting routes, and underwrite our confidence and inclinations to improvise and explore.

In my imagination, the vacation has generated several categories of blog material: noteworthy museums, swimming “holes” I experienced, and bootstrapping entrepreneurs in Maine. Now back in San Francisco for less than a week and coming off a good vacation,  I feel somewhat deprived of business related intellectual nourishment. So this post and a couple more will discuss bootstrapping in Maine, leaving subjects with a less mercenary nature for later.

San Francisco is in the midst of an unprecedented period of wealth creation, venture capital investing, construction, and rising housing prices. (As the reader may be aware, this cycle has been in place for several years and shows no sign of slowing.)  A continuing influx of young, educated, ambitious people is both the cause and effect of hundreds of small startup enterprises with ambitions to be the next Google, Twitter, Facebook, etc., or to be acquired by one of the aforementioned.  (All are headquartered in the Bay Area and have numerous staff members working and/or living in San Francisco.).  Firms including those mentioned have been recipients of billions of dollars of venture capital, while such an achievement has become, in an of itself, a badge of honor for many entrepreneurs.

I’ll save for another day expressing  my thoughts & feelings on the mentality and wisdom of entrepreneurs seeking and raising venture capital with the logic of “I’ll take VC money IF I CAN GET IT.” For the time being I’ll just say I have serious doubts that it’s always the right thing to do.

Compared with the Bay Area and San Francisco, Maine is certainly a different animal. It has a relatively modest population which is pretty spread around. It has a history of harvesting from the land and sea, and continues to rely on the same.  Consistent with its New England location, it has a conservative outlook and traditions are highly valued.  It has limited educational offerings for hi-tech careers; the professional community is general purpose and doesn’t appear to have much depth in hi-tech verticals such as IP, IP litigation, VC investing, IPOs, etc.

Notwithstanding Maine’s modest resources for hi-tech business creation when compared with the Bay Area, Maine has many entrepreneurs. They are almost all boostrappers by necessity, often leveraging the unique attributes of their location, to build solid, profitable, growing businesses.

On holiday, we came in contact with many one-of-a kind, bootstrapped businesses, especially in Maine.  They may not go public anytime soon, but they provide a good living to many, and offer a location and lifestyle that has significant appeal.  I’ll briefly describe several in a future post(s).

One resource for bootstrappers:  Maine’s Institute for Family-Owned Businesses

Early September sunrise from Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park, Maine

Early September sunrise from Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park, Maine

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Sierra Nevada photos

Here are a few more photos of my recent, short visit to the mountains:

Sunrise in Tuolumne Meadows, 8/18/14

Sunrise in Tuolumne Meadows, 8/18/14

Moving right along, after exiting Yosemite, we begin the descent to to US 395 & Mono Lake.  This downhill of about 10 miles is one of my all-time favorite drives.

Just east of Yosemite's eastern entrance station on CA route 120, we see the road winding down toward Mono Lake.

Just east of Yosemite’s eastern entrance station on CA route 120, we see the road winding down toward Mono Lake.

After an instructive visit at the US Forest Service Visitors Center at Mono Lake (where I continue to be amazed and intrigued by the birdlife that passes through, and the lake’s flies, brine shrimp, salinity and history) I drove to the south shore for a tufa viewing.  It was a beautiful time of the day, an hour or so before sunset.

Exposed tufa towers at Mono Lake, CA

Exposed tufa towers at Mono Lake, CA

A little later, as I was heading to the town of June Lake and a campground, I was impressed by the vista & shadows:

View south near sunset 8/18/14 from Mono Lake's south shore access road

View south near sunset 8/18/14 from Mono Lake’s south shore access road

The next day I drove into Mammoth to explore that resort town, favorited by Southern Californians.  Not bad.

I continued on down 395 a few miles, drove up to Convict Lake for the first time, and was duly impressed.  An attractive lake only 2 miles of paved road from 395, the lake offers hiking, fishing, camping, and boating/kayaking.  It also has a very attractive commercial operation with cabins, restaurant, bar, store, etc.

A few more miles down 395 and I reached Toms Place, a wide spot in the road, and started the 9 mile drive up Rock Creek to the parking lot at the end, known as Mosquito Flat.  It being late in the season, I didn’t detect even one mosquito.

The path begins and after a few hundred yards, it’s up, up, up, although it was just a steady up, not extreme.  The views were good right away.

View south over the a portion of the Rock Creek drainage aka Little Lakes Valley

View south over the a portion of the Rock Creek drainage aka Little Lakes Valley

About halfway to Mono Pass the switchbacks began.  Not as challenging as they might have been, considering the somewhat southern Sierra location.

Typical scene on the switchback portion of the Mono Pass Trail

Typical scene on the switchback portion of the Mono Pass Trail


As you may have noted in the previous entry, I made it to Mono Pass, a nice place to be.  While there is lots to do on any mountain pass, I was on a timetable and turned around after a few minutes.

Looking southwest as the hike from Mono Pass down begins

Looking southwest as the hike from Mono Pass down begins

After returning to the trailhead, changing into my flip-flops, and beginning the drive out, I detoured briefly for a short swim in Rock Creek Lake.  Then it was time to hit the bricks.

In Bishop I couldn’t resist stopping at the wonderful Mountain Light Gallery which features the photography of the noted landscape photographer, Galen Rowell.

I continued south to Lone Pine, the jumping off town for Mount Whitney, the highest summit in the contiguous U.S.   There I saw a familiar name:

Important signage on US 395, Lone Pine, CA

Important signage on US 395, Lone Pine, CA

Continuing on as the sun set, I stopped & turned around to catch the sunset of that beautiful, memorable day:

Sunset 8/19/14 from US 395 with southern portion of Sierra Nevada range as backdrop

Sunset 8/19/14 from US 395 with southern portion of Sierra Nevada range as backdrop


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Some questions

This post is of a different style – instead of discussing some issue, I’m using this forum to outline briefly three subjects that touched me over the past week.  And, while each subject area merits a more in depth treatment, I’ve boiled down prospective discussions to simple questions.

College choice:

On a day hike last week with a high school junior in Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows, we discussed college choices and her criteria (colder climate, good English dept., caring community, etc.).  She wants to make the best choice but doesn’t yet have a structured

Easy to smile a lot when it's a beautiful day & you're in Yosemite's great Tuolumne Meadows.

Easy to smile a lot when it’s a beautiful day & you’re in Yosemite’s great Tuolumne Meadows.

approach to making that choice.  Is there one?  I wonder….In my own case, I remember being uncertain and also not having any particularly rational approach to picking a school.  The deciding factor was a childhood & high school teammate who was a freshman at Princeton and said “If you get into Princeton*, you’re crazy to go anywhere else.”  That sealed it.

*which I had by then


Question #1: Is there an accepted best practices approach for a high school student to select a college?

Place names:

Later in the day of that Yosemite hike, I continued by car east through the park to Mono Lake, a large subject of its own, and then headed south on US #395, an especially scenic drive.  The next day I took another day hike, this one from the Rock Creek trailhead (off

Author on the more southerly Mono Pass.  In the background is Summit Lake.

Author on the more southerly Mono Pass. In the background is Summit Lake.

U.S. 395 near Toms Place) into the John Muir Wilderness and up to Mono Pass, about 3miles in and 2000 ft. of elevation gain…However, there is another Mono Pass nearby – it’s on the eastern border of  Yosemite about 50 miles north.  They each have a “Summit Lake” and can be reached by the “Mono Pass Trail.”  Suffice it to say, two passes identically named and not too far apart can be confusing.

Question #2: How did it happen that there are two Sierra Nevada mountain passes named Mono Pass?




Unintended consequences:

Finally, in planning for an upcoming vacation in New England, I learned of a growing alternative energy company headquartered in Portland, Maine, Ocean Renewable Power Company.  In September, 2012, it began suppling ocean tide-originated power to the Maine power grid.  In May of this year it broke “ground” in Alaska for a river-based energy plant along the lines of the artist’s drawing below along with the press release.


RivGen® Power System by ORPC.co of Portland, Maine

RivGen® Power System
by ORPC.co of Portland, Maine

Question #3:  To what extent will the growing “renewable energy” niche of energy produced by moving water (rivers, tides, & waves) have adverse environmental effects?  (Same question applies to wind & solar energy deployments).  

Pointers to one or more well thought out a discussions of any of the above questions are welcome!


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