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GSSR#22 - Approaching Dutch Harbor

06/22/2009
Total Distance: 5,276 nm
Run so far: 2,257 nm
Nautical Miles to go: 3,019 nm
Tomorrow's goal: 275 nm


Greetings all!

 

This is a quick update on the GSSR group’s activities since leaving Geographic Harbor.

 

 

Prior to the trip, Roberta carefully plotted our route identifying possible anchorages. One of the anchorages she identified was called “Agrippina Bay.” It was approximately 100 nm west of Geographic Harbor and would make a nice 12 hour run on our way to Dutch Harbor. Although all of the boats are well prepared for overnight runs, it’s more fun, and more relaxing, to break the trip into shorter runs and drop anchor, or go into a port at night. Bill Harrington happened to be fishing in the area a few weeks ago, and had taken the time to visit Agrippina Bay, to check it out for us, and had even mapped out how all three boats could anchor.

 

The run couldn’t have been easier. We had reasonably strong winds, 15 to 20 knots, but they were at our back, and not a factor. We also had a strong current, perhaps only 1 knot, but with us for the entire run.

 

As we arrived at Agrippina Bay, Braun Jones, from Grey Pearl, came on the VHF radio, and said he had something he wanted to discuss. Braun said that the weather was turning against us, and that we should consider just continuing rather than stopping for the night. We had been running for 12 hours, we were looking right at the anchorage, and Braun wanted us to run another 24 hours, to our next stop: Sand Point, Alaska. We were all disappointed, but Braun was right. We had following seas, a current going the right direction, easy gentle waves, and good momentum. Why would we stop? It took about 10 seconds for everyone to vote “Let’s keep going!”.

 

A couple of hours later, a sleepy Bill came up the stairs and asked what was happening. He looked disappointed when we said we weren’t stopping at Agrippina. I felt bad for him after all the work he had done to research the anchorage, but there was no doubt that we made the right decision.

 

The next morning, we had an incident that was quite a wakeup call….

 

We were running 20 or so miles offshore, in 200 feet of water, when Roberta noticed the bottom start coming up sharply. My first thought was that something was wrong with the depth gauge. I immediately looked at the chart, and saw that there was no shallow water around. Looking back at the depth gauge, we were now at 40’. My first reaction was that we weren’t where we thought we were. Uh oh!!!! I looked again at the depth gauge, and in horror saw 27 feet! Sans Souci is 7 feet deep, so we weren’t in danger of bottoming out, except that if the bottom had risen from 200 feet to 27 feet in under a minute, contact with the ground could be imminent. Luckily, the water started getting deeper just as quickly as it had shallowed.  After pulling back the throttles, I jumped on the radio to Grey Pearl and Seabird, who were following me a half mile back, alerting them of the potential danger. All three boats made an immediate turn to port, towards deeper water, and studied their depth gauges. I triple checked my location, and we were where we thought we were. The charts were wrong. We had just found an uncharted shallow spot.

 

All three boats agreed to immediately change our plan, and move a couple miles farther out to sea, where the depths averaged over 400 feet. We didn’t find any other shallow spots, and there was no further excitement, but that was plenty for one day.

 

 

 

Studying the charts closer I noticed that several of the islands around here have large spaces around them with no depths. Naively, I had assumed that if there were something important to know, it would be on the chart. For instance, on the chart snippet above, of the island Mitrofania, which we passed by, you’ll notice that there are large gaps around the island where Nobeltec does not show depths. The paper charts also show sparse depth readings. There is a small print warning on the bottom of the chart which says:

 

“WARNING – Preliminary Chart. The hydrography on this preliminary chart is of varying degrees of quality. In the areas of sparse soundings many of the depths were taken by lead lines in the 1900s, so further uncharted shoals are likely. […] Navigators should use this chart with extreme caution. ”

 

I’d call that fine print worth reading, and internalizing. As I’ve said before, the indications that we really have fallen off the end of the earth are becoming more frequent. We have lost television, and even our old friend Sirius radio. Our internet is still hanging in there, but for how much longer?

 

 

Thirty-six hours after departing Geographic Harbor, a very tired GSSR fleet tied to the dock in Sand Point, Alaska, a small 952 person town on Popov Island.

 

 

When entering the harbor, the port was sitting empty. It is a beautiful facility, but looked like a ghost town. We were essentially the only boats there. When I spoke to the harbormaster the prior day he had warned me to expect this. Sand Point is a fishing town. The local economy is driven by fishing. Salmon season was open, which meant all the boats were out fishing. It was slated to end the next evening, and all the boats would come back to port. Overlooking the harbor is a giant cannery which dominates both the port and the local economy.

 



 

We have Bill Harrington on board, who had been into Sand Point many times before, and seemed to know all 952 residents. Within minutes of docking, word had spread through town that Bill was on the docks, and his friends started streaming onto the dock to greet him. For writing this blog, I asked Bill how I should describe Sand Point, and its residents. He thought for a minute and said: “These are some of the friendliest people in the world.” Statistically speaking, the town is evenly mixed between Native Americans  and Caucasian-Americans. I don’t have enough data to say if there is a pattern, but I met several fisherman who moved to the island after stopping here and taking a local wife. I can vouch for the friendliness of the locals. When hiking into town, Roberta and I were offered a ride by a passing truck, and had a hard time convincing the occupants we’d rather walk.

 

 

 

Tying to the docks was interesting. Instead of just tying to the cattle rails, as we’ve done at other ports, there are wooden blocks that you put a loop around. I’ve included a picture so that you can see what I mean. I’ve never seen this before, and when Bill explained it to me, I said “Huh?”. I’m still not clear on why this is good.

 

 





Scenes from around Sand Point.

 

 

 

We are well past the point where there are no more trees (conifers). However, there are a couple here on the island, I’m sure imported as seeds from a long ways away. There are three eagle nests in this one tree!

 

 

 

A Russian Orthodox church, dating back to 1933.

 

 

 

This signpost really blew me away. Note that it says Juneau is 1,011 miles away. It seems like we were just there! How could we have come so far???? Even stranger, Roberta mentioned tonight that we are now west of Hawaii! If we were to head directly south, we are over a hundred miles further along than Hawaii. Incredible.

 

 



In an amazing coincidence, I ran into a friend of Bill’s, Jim Brown, who mentioned that he was renting an office to some Australians who were working with NOAA to produce accurate charts for the Aleutians.  Given that we had just been reminded that the charts cannot be trusted, I asked Jim if he could introduce me to the Australians. I had a long list of questions, starting with “How much trouble are we in?”

 

The scientist I met with explained the process they are using to map the ocean’s bottom. Simply put, they fly a plane over the ocean, close to the surface, pointing a laser at the bottom. In order to get a large number of soundings (depths) they fly a pattern over the area being mapped. Above you see a piece of a chart for some islands about 50 miles from Sand Point, that are in the process of being mapped. Each of the lines represents a path to be flown, and each line is separated by only 300 feet from the next line. It’s a slow time consuming process, and will take years before the data collected will find itself on maritime charts. When asked how much I could trust the charts in the Aleutians, the Australian said “Not at all, mate. We will be going there next year.” Oh boy.

Actually, I spoke with Bill after the meeting with the Australians, and he said that the charts in the Aleutians, particularly where we'll be, are quite good. The American navy was based in the Aleutians during WWII, and needed good charts for their own use.

 

Sans Souci does have forward-looking sonar. That said, I’m not sure if I can use it at all times or not. It protrudes a couple of feet from the bottom of the boat. Think of it as an upside down periscope, poking down from an 18 inch hole in the bottom of the boat. Were I to hit a log, or a whale, and snap off the sonar, I’d not only lose the sonar, I’d still have the 18 inch hole. It’s not a pleasant thought. Also, in these waters, I worry about slamming off a wave, and snapping off the sonar unit. Thus far, I’ve limited the use of sonar to slow speed entrances to strange bays and narrow channels. Running it in the open Pacific is a different kettle of fish, and I want to do some talking to Furuno (the manufacturer) before taking any risks. For now, the GSSR strategy is a simple one. Whereas before, we were happy to cruise in water a couple hundred feet deep, now we’re thinking we’ll push farther off shore, and into much deeper water.  

 

As great as Sand Point is, three days is plenty. There are exactly three restaurants. Denise’s, on the port, a little diner, that is really quite good, but open very limited hours. A Chinese place up in town, which we ate at a couple of times, and Bozo’s Burgers, which is better than it sounds. There is also a pub, which is about what one might expect a pub in  a fishing town might be like. Roberta and I felt out of place in the pub, despite everyone working double duty to make us feel welcome. Two sips of red wine, and back to the boat.

 

As I’m typing this, here is the weather report:

 

.TODAY...W WIND 25 KT. SEAS 11 FT. RAIN.

.TONIGHT...W WIND 25 KT. SEAS 10 FT.

.MON...W WIND 15 KT. SEAS 7 FT.

 

Our original plan was to only stay overnight, but we’ve been here for three days. As you can see above, there is a west wind, at 25 knots, meaning we’ll be going straight into 25 knots of wind, and 11 foot seas. This is certainly within what the boats can handle, but we’re less certain about our stomachs. The winds will subside on Monday but remain against us. We have a 36 hour run to Dutch Harbor. We may make the run non-stop, or we may stop somewhere along the way. We really don’t know. It will depend on how badly we are being beat up.

 

And, on a completely different topic…

 

 

 

Kirt Ahlquist, one of our crew, wanted to try out his dive gear. While in the marina he dived under all three of the GSSR boats. He found a surprise on Sans Souci’s port propeller; a rope! I have no idea how long it has been there, and really haven’t noticed any extra vibration,  but am thrilled that he found it!

 

That’s it for today. Next stop Dutch Harbor! (maybe…)

 

Thank you,

Ken Williams

N6805, Sans Souci

www.kensblog.com

 





Ken:

Your BLOG is well written and produced.
I enjoy rading it.
Thank you.

PS
The attached URL Link may be usefull in
some of your future blog entries.
LINK : www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/city.html?n=931
(Easy follow Weather Forcast together with Time & Date)
by bienvenue à la Russie on Jul 07, 2009, 04:57 AM EST
Ken,

I have been following every entry and photo of your Great Suchi Run blog with interest and a sense of anticipation of the next entry. You are all doing a quite heroic cruise and congratulations on the conception of the plan and all the prep and now the execution!

We saw your boat in Roche a couple of years ago...must have been shortly after you took delivery. Jeez, we just stood there, mouths agape, with a several other folks. She is gorgeous and a serious sea going concern.

We are owners of a CHB 34 (1978 version) and live in Bellingham,WA.. We cruise local, small, simply, and economically That is the only way possible for us. We enjoy the refitting/maintenance on the boat as it is old and has many miles under its keel. A weekend with friends in a quiet anchorage is our best time.

I grow bonsai...so the Japan aspect of your voyage holds great fantasy for me. I shoot video (amateur) so your blog is fascinating to view.

You are living the dream for which many wish but few can afford or dare to take on. I appreciate your photos and find them interesting and insightful.

Have you considered a tripod for your video work? Using a tripod on a boat may be a hindrance, in some conditions, but in many other cases may be a help. If not, may I very respectfully offer: a tripod with “fluid head”. See link for a recommendation on a tripod/fluid head:
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/523163-REG/Manfrotto_by_Bogen_Imaging__BO055XB503HD_055XB_Pro_Tripod.html
The “fluid head” will smooth out pans and tilts as hand held work can tend to be shaky.
You are on such a unique venture which sounds like it will continue for some years. It would be a treat to improve your video with such a small purchase and have many later years to enjoy the great video memories.

We recently cruised a canal in southern France and I did not have a tripod or a fluid head and regret it. When I got home and started to edit the digital video I realized I needed a way to stabilize and smooth the motion of the camera. After some research...a fluid head on a tripod. I got one and it has improved the quality of my video a lot.

May you all have an exciting and safe trip. I will be unabashedly gleeful/enthusiastic in following your trip.

Thank You,
Mike Sandiland
Bellingham, WA
by Mike Sandiland on Jun 23, 2009, 02:32 PM EST
Ken,

Thanks for the heads up. The Aleutians have lots of Cold War history too. Adak apparently served as an anti-sub aircraft base. Amchitka (70 miles from Kiska) was the location of the largest underground US nuclear test (~5 MT). Shemya housed NORAD radars, which (upgraded) is now used in the missile defense system (in fact tested only a few years ago). If you see what seem to be fireworks or glowing at night, it may not just be the aurora borealis!
by Tyler on Jun 23, 2009, 01:34 PM EST
I had heard about your voyage and now just stumbled across your blog. Great reading, thanks for sharing your trip. I look forward to following you through the Aleutians. I'm curretly a few hundred miles NW of you fishing in the Bering Sea. Hopefully it's clear when you come through the pass. Last week I came through and had a great view of Mt Shishaldin steaming. Enjoy your time in Dutch. The Aleutian Island museum near the airport is a must stop before you head west. Smooth Sailing! Please tell Kirt Hi from the OP
by Chris Farrell on Jun 23, 2009, 05:59 AM EST
To Chuck: The whole area we transited recently is rife with pinnacles and uncharted depths. This is not my first trip around the block in this neighborhood and I am well aware of the poor charting here. It is probably much easier to be an armchair critic than to be out here doing it.
by Bill H. on Jun 23, 2009, 04:22 AM EST
Ken
Please post as many photo's of Adak as possible- I remember my father telling me about it. He was a travelling salesman on the Alaska Highway in the 50's and 60's and fell in love with the country and heard many of the story's.
I'd like to thank you for time and commitment to your blog, you're an excellent writer and as many have noted an gifted story teller. The trip seems to come alive with your words, it is truly fascinating for my wife and I, we have never taken our boat longer than 100 miles from our home port. You've inspired us to look ahead to longer trips when we retire.
by Brad Friedrick on Jun 22, 2009, 10:20 PM EST
Greetings all! As some of you may have noticed, who have been following our spot track, we stopped in King Cove for the night. The seas were fine, and we could have continued, but the weather window is projected to last for a few days, and it seemed like fun to explore a new town.

Barring a change in the weather, we should be underway early afternoon tomorrow, for a 20 hour run to Dutch Harbor.

On a different topic...

Jim asked about Adak, an island in the Aleutians. It was a major military base for many years, which was abandoned, and my understanding is that it was turned over to the locals. It was an entire modern city which was simply walked away from. I've heard that it is creepy to explore the city, and look forward to doing so. I've also heard that things have become pretty run down, and it will be depressing. One way or the other, it will be very interesting. PS to Jim: I just swapped emails with Bill Grady. He was just approaching Ketchikan and seemed to really be enjoying his new 68' Nordhavn.

-Ken W
by Ken Williams on Jun 22, 2009, 09:35 PM EST
Chuck:

I can only speak for my boat, and I personally did not read that footnote.

I certainly would have read the chart footprints in detail, had we not had Bill on board. Bill has "local knowledge" and reviewed the entire route in detail, after I did the initial plot. Later, when I asked Bill about the shoal, he said that he had fished the area many times, and did know that there were shoals, but also knew that none were shallow enough, along our path, to represent a hazard to navigation.

A side story to this is that reading chart notes, on a chart plotter, isn't always easy. Navnet 3d uses raster charts. I was trying yesterday to read the chart notes, and perhaps there is an easy way, but I was having a heck of a time. I do have paper charts on board, but generally prefer to use the chart plotter for most things, and reserve the paper charts for backup. My problem was that as I would zoom in and out, Navnet 3d would automatically change to a chart it felt appropriate to the zoom level. I couldn't seem to find a zoom level which was ideal for finding and displaying the footnotes.

-Ken W
by Ken Williams on Jun 22, 2009, 09:23 PM EST
Read your charts more carefully!!! I am surprised, with all the captains on board, this disclaimer was missed?
by Chuck on Jun 22, 2009, 08:32 PM EST
Ken, Jim Wiedman here...friends with Todd & Sarah Prodzinski Bill & Roni Grady on Zorro. I have enjoyed your comments & have a boat at Stimson across from where one or two of you may of been prepping. I am very interested in your Adak stop. I spent 3 years there in 1979, '80 & '81 building runway, roads, houses & even the Sweeper Cove seawall when it was distroyed by a storm in '81. Looking forward to your comments from the rest of the chain as well. Stay safe. Jim
by Jim Wiedman on Jun 22, 2009, 08:14 PM EST
Hi Bill and Ken, it must have been a horrible time waiting for news on Bill's friends. I'm glad they came out okay. Thank god for the Coast Guard!

Down here in SA, our national Coast Guard is made up primarily of volunteers, is it the same over there? They're amazing people. Back in the 90's, I remember watching them pulling passengers off the Oceanos with helicopters in high seas and gale force winds. What a job.

Ps. Being mayor of a town AND being able to go out to sea for some fishing must be a pretty cool set up :)
by Shaun on Jun 22, 2009, 07:16 PM EST
Tyler: I’ve been waiting to say much about the Aleutians until we are closer.

There are two things to think about, with respect to the Aleutians.

1) The weather. I’m expecting thick fog, and frequent rough seas. Bill is on board primarily because of his local knowledge in the Aleutians. Our plan is to drop anchor whenever the seas turn ugly, and Bill will know where the anchorages are, as well as how to run the passages between the islands, if we decide to switch between the Bering Sea and the Pacific (which I don’t anticipate – our plan is to strictly run the Bering Sea, but the weather will decide).

2) The story of the Japanese occupation in the Aleutians, and bombing of Dutch Harbor, is not well known. As we work our way through the Aleutians I’m hoping to learn, share, and find, much of the history from WWII. I was reading yesterday about the battle at Attu, which I’d rather wait to talk about until we are closer, but suffice it say that it is an amazing story. Our plan is to take three weeks in the Aleutians, primarily on Adak, Kiska and Attu, to do some serious exploration.

As to Internet, the GSSR’s notoriety is a major help. The people at KVH have been incredible to work with, and if there is a way, technologically possible, to keep me on the internet, they will do it. I’m very optimistic that my blog will continue through our time in the Aleutians. That said, we are really in the boondocks here, so no one knows.

-Ken W
by Ken Williams on Jun 22, 2009, 02:33 PM EST
Ken,

My family was big into boating in that part of the world, but not beyond the inland passage. Congratulations on the trip so far. I really enjoy checking in on the adventure you're chronicling.

Before you lose internet (beyond Dutch Harbor? who knows?), could you give us all an idea for what you anticipate for the trip to Adak and beyond to Petropavlovsk? For instance I see Attu on the "progress chart", but from Google Earth and Wiki, it looks like a stop there will double the population (and there don't seem to be much in terms of harbors or docks).

It would be great to hear what you're anticipating versus the reality later.

Best of luck! We'll keep you guys in our prayers and up on SPOT!
by Tyler on Jun 22, 2009, 02:17 PM EST
Greetings all! Sans Souci is now on the road headed to Dutch Harbor. The seas are calm, but we have a bailout planned later today (King Cove Alaska) if the seas turn nasty. Our preference is to keep running for 36 hours direct to Dutch.

Here are answers to the comments…

Dave asked about whether or not we have rope cutters. The answer is “YES!” For some reason they didn’t cut the line on the prop. My guess is that the line cutters did their job, and that I was briefly dragging a crab pot, which was cut free by the line cutters. On a different topic, thank you for the info regarding the rails at the port.

Shaun mentioned the men who were lost at sea on a tender here in the Aleutians. As Bill said, we were painfully aware of that incident, in that they were friends of Bills, and we were tied up next to their relatives. Luckily, the story had a happy ending.

Traver mentioned the Passagemaker article about Sans Souci. I’ve also heard there is an article in Ocean Navigator, but not seen it. Very cool!

Hal spoke about snapping off his sonar, and not taking on water. That’s good to hear! Thanks Hal. I’ve assumed it would be deep trouble.

Scott asked how we came up with the name Sans Souci. It means “no worries” in French. I always liked the Bobby McFerrin song “Don’t worry, be happy” and thought it represented my cruising attitude. I also love the south of france and (kind of) speak French. A funny side story on this is that we agreed that Roberta could name our N68, since I named the N62. Roberta speaks Spanish, and briefly chose the name “Vamanos” (let’s go!). However, Dan Streech, Nordhavn’s CEO, strongly suggested we retain the name Sans Souci, and several friends pointed out that those who don’t speak Spanish might incorrectly translate Vamanos – so, we just decided to keep the name from our prior boat. We’re thrilled that we did!

- Ken W
by Ken Williams on Jun 22, 2009, 02:05 PM EST
Ken,

Your blog is a balst to read, thanks!

I apologize if you have already addressed this but how did you ever come up with the name Sans Souci? It's a great name, how did it come about and why French?
by Scott on Jun 22, 2009, 01:15 PM EST
One of the people lost in that skiff was from Sand Point. There was great concern and much grief while we were there. I had the pleasure of telling the cousin of one of the guys that they had found his cousin. They had drifted 30 miles out to sea by the time the C130 spotted them. I know both guys well, the other one, Rod Whitehead, is the mayor of Adak as well as a commercial fisherman.
by Bill H. on Jun 22, 2009, 12:26 PM EST
Ken, I sheared off the scanning sonar transducer at least twice on Que Linda, once in a reef-strewn harbor in Jamaica and once in exiting Milton Bight on Roatan, Honduras, through a narrow channel surrounded by coral. No water entered the boat. My understanding is that there is a weak link, or "fuse" at the spot where the shaft meets the bottom of the hull with the unit deployed.
by Hal on Jun 22, 2009, 10:03 AM EST
Ken,
The wooden blocks that you are using for securing your lines to the rails are used to help reduce upward force on the wooden rails. When there is a surge coming into the marina or just larger wakes from other boats, boats that are tied improperly to the rails can have enough upward force to actually pull the rail completely off of the dock. By using the blocks, the upward force is minimized and becomes more of an outward force.
by Dave on Jun 22, 2009, 09:39 AM EST
I finally got around to looking at my new Passagemaker yesterday--my wife was amazed when I started yelling, "that's Ken's boat!" That really shows how this blog makes us here on land feel like a part of the GSSR. Thanks.

Wish I were there.
by D Traver Adolphus on Jun 22, 2009, 08:51 AM EST
Hey Ken, I just read a news story about two men who were rescued from their boat near the Aleutian Islands by the Coast Guard.

(http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090622/ap_on_re_us/us_missing_skiff)

Granted, they were in a 15ft skiff and not 62 and 68ft Nordhavns, but still, be careful out there! I got excited when I saw that the Coast Guard chief's surname was Harrison, I thought he might be related to Bill, but then I realised Bill's surname is Harrington.

Happy sailing!
by Shaun on Jun 22, 2009, 08:03 AM EST
Ken
Do you have rope cutters installed on your shaft?
by Dave on Jun 22, 2009, 02:43 AM EST