|Run so far:
|Nautical Miles to go:
"Are you sure you don't want to change your shoes?"
"What's wrong with these?" asked Roberta, looking down at her flip flops.
"You'll get fish guts between your toes."
"Oh? Do you think I should change? I have XTRATUFs on the boat." asked Roberta, somewhat more sheepishly.
"Listen to me girl. XTRATUFs are your friend. You got to have your XTRATUFs."
The above exchange occurred as we were entering the fish processing plant to meet for the first time with Bill Harrington, Sans Souci's newest team member.
But, before I speak about Bill...
I should report that all three GSSR boats made it safely to the dock in Kodiak.
Overall, we had a relatively smooth ride. As I mentioned, going into a head sea, even when it isn't much of one, produces an uncomfortable motion in the boat. Those who are susceptible to seasickness, such as myself, need to take precautions. I usually put on a scopolamine patch, but convinced myself I didn't need one for this particular trip. Mistake! I spent two days so weak I could barely move. Happily though, I probably lost a couple of pounds.
The last day of our three day passage was a little unusual, in that the winds did pick up, but it wasn't an issue. During the first couple of days, we had 5-15 knot winds directly in our face. The last day, we had heavier winds, consistently over 20 knots, but because they were slightly to our side, instead of directly in front of us, the ride was much better. Or, perhaps the last day felt so good simply because I put on the patch, and was back amongst the living. One way or the other, we had a great final 24 hours to our passage.
The only bit of excitement on the final day of our passage was that we spent the last 12 hours or so of our run in heavy fog. All of our boats are equipped to run in fog, so this was mostly a non-issue. Until our final approach to Kodiak, there were no other boats or anything to bump into. The only mild annoyance was that I really did not want to arrive in a strange port in thick fog. On the charts, the approach to Kodiak appeared fairly straight forward, but as a rule, I don't like arriving strange places after dark or in fog. Happily, at 4:30 am, about 5 miles from Kodiak, the fog lifted, the sun appeared and I was able to report on the radio: "GSSR Group. I am happy to report that Sans Souci has land in sight!"
The Kodiak marina rolled out the red carpet for us, despite out 5:30am arrival. We were assigned slips at the "in town" marina, and the harbormaster himself caught our lines (Marty Owen).
The GSSR owes Mr. Owen, the Kodiak Harbormaster, a huge favor. Thank you Marty!
When Roberta and I first considered making the run across the Bering Sea, Roberta said, "I insist that you find someone to crew on our boat who has been to the Bering Sea before." This became a big challenge. There are people who have fished the Bering Sea, but I really need to find someone who had captained a boat. I was having a heck of a time finding someone to talk to. Finding someone to tag along with us was going to be impossible.
Early in the trip planning we did find one tug boat skipper who had crossed the Aleutians. I arranged a conference call with him, and our GSSR crews. It wound up being a major disaster, and could have killed the whole trip. When the call started he wasn't sure why we wanted to speak with him. I explained that we were planning a trip across the Bering Sea to Japan. He listened patiently, and then said: "Are you F[censored]ing nuts?" The conversation went downhill from there. He delivers 135 foot tug boats to Japan from the west coast of the US. He had made the run we're on many times, and said that he had now swapped routing to a southern route, which is twice the distance (or, more - I forget the exact route). He was exceptionally passionate about why we would be absolutely crazy to make this trip. His arguments were many: rough, unpredictable seas, non-stop head-seas, poor shelter from the weather due to the low islands, nothing to see, etc. Our group argued with him, but he held his ground. The GSSR group shrunk from four boats to three shortly after that call, although purportly for non-related reasons. The rest of us said we weren't shaken, but it was demotivating.
It was about that time that I contacted Mr. Owen, the Kodiak Harbormaster. I was grasping at straws to find someone who could restore our faith that this trip was possible, and perhaps even agree to come along with us. Mr. Owen said he had a friend I should speak with: Bill Harrington.
Bill was as passionate about the Aleutians, and the Bering Sea, as our first contact had been passionately against it. Bill has fished the Aleutians for years, and genuinely seems to like them. His father was stationed in the Aleutians during WWII. Bill has an active interest in history, and has hiked the Aleutians seeking old WWII artifacts. He asked me about signing on, before I was able to ask him. The chance to take time, to properly explore the Aleutians, rather than cramming exploration in between fishing, was too appealing. Most importantly, Bill has anchored many times in the Aleutians, and should the weather turn nasty, Bill knows the good places to hide.
We held another conference call, this time with Bill, and it went as well as the first one went poorly.
Bill's boat; the Miss Lori.
Various pictures, taken by Bill, of WWII artifacts, still in the Aleutians
An unexpected side benefit of our Bill Harrington connection is that Bill was able to introduce us to a National Weather guy who has been doing forecasts for the eastern Pacific, including the Aleutians, for twenty years. We've been in constant email and phone contact, as well as him dropping by the boat for briefings.
As I type this we are still in Kodiak. Tonight the group is having dinner with Bill and his wife Cindy, just to let everyone meet each other. Roberta and I did meet Bill, face to face at his boat, as he was unloading thousands of pounds of halibut at a fish processing plant. Thanks to Bill, Roberta and I were able to tour the factory, watching the fish being guillotined, one by one. Oh boy….
From here, we will go to Dutch Harbor, a run of about 600 nm. We don't know if this will be a non-stop run, or if we will drop anchor each night or run around the clock. We do know of at least one stop: Geographic Harbor.
Here's an excerpt from a cruising blog speaking about Geographic Harbor:
"...By far the most remarkable bear location I visited during my cruise is called "Geographic Harbor," located on the Alaska Peninsula at 58° 6.174' N, 154° 35.425' W, west of Kodiak Island on the shore of Shelikof Strait. A number of Alaskans told me about this place. Many of them had never visited it, but had only heard stories about it.
The site is called Geographic Harbor because of its remarkable geography, not the remarkable bears, but unfortunately it was cloudy all the days I was there, so I never got to see the harbor in its full splendor. But I certainly saw bears! This was one place where I decided to explore entirely using the kayak — I didn't dare walk on the land.
I happened to arrive at a time when there was a very low tide about midday, and I know bears are avid clamdiggers. And, sure enough, as the tide fell, many bears appeared along shore. This may be hard to believe, but I saw many more bears and groups of bears than I could paddle over to and photograph in a finite time interval. Also, I sometimes wanted to just look at the bears through binoculars (a better view than the camera provides) and appreciate the experience without trying to take pictures.
You may wonder why there are so many bears in this particular place. Well, it is very remote — over 200 miles southwest of Anchorage, the nearest large city, and inaccessible by road, the only practical way to get there is by boat or airplane. Even given these travel methods, it is not on anyone's regularly scheduled itinerary — except the bears, of course. It is formally part of Katmai National Park, but don't let that fool you — the bears are in charge, not the forest rangers...."
After a day or two at Geographic Harbor, we'll evaluate the weather, and decide what comes next.
Although we have been in Kodiak for three days, we haven't had time yet to see the town. All of the boats have had "projects" to do. Kodiak is ideally suited for boat work. There is a True Value hardware store, a marine store, a marine electronics outfit, and a Napa auto parts store, all within sight of the top of the dock. Our goal tomorrow is to finally ‘see the island.’
Our boats look out of place here in Kodiak. There are two large ports, with hundreds of fishing boats. Recreational cruising yachts, such as ours, are a rarity here. Several fishermen have stopped me on the docks to ask about our boats. The local paper stopped by the boat to interview us. It’s a reminder that we are somewhat ‘off the beaten track’ for cruisers. As I was posting this message, the Cornelia Marie, one of the crab boats from the TV show Deadliest Catch, ran past my window. It was another reminder of how far we’ve come, and how near we are to the Bering Sea.
Here is a video I threw together, with footage from Glacier Bay to Kodiak:
If the video does not appear below, use this link to view it:
N6805, Sans Souci
PS We are constantly amazed by how many people read my blog. After my last blog entry, saying I had sea sickness, the Harbormaster's office said they were getting calls wanting to know if we had arrived ok, and how Shelby and Ken were doing. Also a surprise: I need to thank Andy, from Switzerland, who sent three picture books to Bill Harrington's home (no idea how he found Bill's address). The books are loaded with pictures that we can point at, when we get to Japan, as a way of communicating without words. There are pictures of vehicles, various body parts, various foods, furniture, clothing items, appliances, etc. It will come in handy!