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GSSR#23 - King cove

Total Distance: 5,276 nm
Run so far: 2,341 nm
Nautical Miles to go: 2,935 nm
Tomorrow's goal: 174 nm

Greetings all! 

When we left the port at Sand Point, Alaska our goal was to run the 30 hours to Dutch Harbor.  

Our good luck with weather has continued. The seas have been exceptionally calm. 

About five hours in, we started noticing what looked like small bubbles in the water. They stretched for miles, and I couldn’t figure them out. I called the other GSSR boats, and they had also noticed them.

Braun on Grey Pearl had the best guess. We’ve been running along a slew of volcanoes (sorry – no photos, they have been hiding behind the clouds). Braun’s guess was that we were seeing volcanic ash. Bill’s guess is more likely, and also interesting. Bill believes we may be seeing “salmon scum”. This is salmon season, and they are everywhere. Apparently they leave behind fish oil that floats to the surface.


After about 100 miles of running, we were passing the town King Cove. The seas were calm enough to continue, but the town looked interesting, so we decided to stop for the night.

It’s always kind of amusing to call the harbors.

“King Cove Harbormaster, this is Sans Souci.” 

        “Go ahead Sans Souci”

“Greetings King Cove. We would like to stop at your port in a couple of hours. Do you happen to have room for three private yachts, ranging from 62 to 70 feet?”

        
“Can you say that again? I think I may have misunderstood you.”

“We are three private boats, ranging from 62 to 70 feet, just looking for moorage for the night. Can you fit us in?”

        “Yes. No problem. Come on in. Salmon season just opened, and everyone is gone.
You’ll have the harbor to yourself.”

“One more question. Can you recommend a good restaurant?”

“Well. We only have one restaurant, but it is a good one. A Chinese place.”

We’ve noticed this is a pattern. We’ve found more Chinese restaurants than Seafood restaurants in the smaller Alaskan towns.

Before we could even tie to the dock, locals were arriving to take pictures, and send their kids running along the dock to see us.

It’s actually very cool. We’re excited about visiting their town, and they seem happy to have such unusual visitors.

For instance, here’s an email I received from the local fire chief:

"…

Hello

   My name is Chris and I am the fire chief for the city of King Cove I would like to welcome you and the other boats in your fleet. [… ] It was the talk of town like where are they from? Where are they going? My 2 young sons were so excited to see all 3 boats. We went for a ride down to the harbor and took some photos of the boats. […] I am the webmaster for the city Of King Cove's website www.cityofkingcove.com I put a photo of your fleet on the home page of that web site and a link so that people can follow your progress. I hope you do not mind. Thanks for your time and we pray you have a safe and wonderful trip.
--
Fire Chief Chris B.

King Cove Fire & Rescue 

…”

Actually, we’ve received a warm welcome everywhere, and even made the local papers, including the cover of the Kodiak Daily News. That article was picked up by many other Alaska papers, including the Anchorage Daily News.

This morning, the crews of the GSSR boats met, to discuss the next leg of our trip. Last night, when tying up the boats, we loosely said that we’d be getting underway sometime in the afternoon. This morning we gathered up all the latest weather, tide and current data, and started studying. We met on Seabird at 9am, and started looking at Dutch Harbor.

Currently, we are on the southern side of the Aleutians, and Dutch is on the north side. We are 175 nm east of Dutch Harbor, and need to find a pass between the islands, in order to transition from the Pacific into the Bering Sea. There are several passes, each with different pros and cons. The first we’ll come to is the largest, Unimak Pass, which is nearly six miles across.

Here’s the weather report:

PKZ170-240200-
EASTERN ALEUTIANS CAPE SARICHEF TO NIKOLSKI
400 AM AKDT TUE JUN 23 2009
.TODAY... SW WIND 20 KT. SEAS 5 FT. PATCHY FOG. RAIN.
.TONIGHT... W WIND 15 KT. SEAS 5 FT. PATCHY FOG. RAIN.
.WED... NW WIND 20 KT. SEAS 6 FT. RAIN SHOWERS.

This is actually a very good weather report. Assuming we arrive at Unimak pass sometime this evening, we’ll have 15 knot winds from the west. Yesterday evening, I pulled this same weather report and they were projecting 25 knot winds from the northwest.

The other factor we needed to evaluate is current. Currents through these passes run up to 9 knots. If we hit the pass at the wrong time we could be in a situation where we are unable to make progress against the current.

Another deciding factor for us was the interaction of the current and the wind, and the width of the passage. We have three possible passages we are focused on. Because the Alaskan peninsula runs roughly southwest here, we are partially sheltered from the wind, as long as we stay in the Pacific. By waiting until the last minute, just prior to Dutch Harbor, to cross to the Bering Sea, via Unalga Pass, we would be sheltered from the wind for as long as possible. However, Unalga pass is narrow, which can amplify the effects of wind and current. Even the coastal pilot, which is fairly conservative in their writing says about Unalga Pass, “… treacherous seas, particular in the narrow part of Unalga Pass, caused by wind opposing the current, often sweep a vessel without warning. These have caused severe damage, and men have been washed overboard, with resultant loss of life…”

Ultimately, we decided to go through Unimak Pass, with the current slack or pushing us. After studying all the materials, we computed our optimal departure time. “9am”.  Hey, that’s 30 minutes ago! We decided to start engines immediately. So much for sightseeing at King Cove.

Here's Grey Pearl leaving King Cove.

Note in the snapshot from my Nobeltec above how close Grey Pearl is running to me. That’s because Sans Souci is often used as a floating internet café. We have broadband internet aboard. If the other boats run close, they can use my internet. They do have alternate ways of getting internet, but I have the fastest connection. Steven on Seabird has had great success, and speed, by using the Hughes 9201 Bgan unit that I used going to Costa Rica. It’s not a stabilized antenna, but it is very forgiving, and gives decent internet at a semi-reasonable price.

And, on a completely different topic…

Several of you sent me copies of an article about a couple of Alaskan fisherman lost at sea:

“…

06-22) 18:54 PDT Anchorage, Alaska (AP) --

Rod Whitehead had doubts of seeing his five children again as he marked 52 hours adrift in an open skiff in the northern Pacific on Father's Day.

But that afternoon, as hypothermia and dehydration threatened, Whitehead and deckhand Bill Osterback spotted a basket and a swimmer breaking through the heavy Aleutians Islands fog as they were lowered from a Coast Guard helicopter.

"I don't know how much longer we could have made it in the skiff. We were just so cold," Whitehead, 50, said Monday from his home in Adak. "It was pretty much a miracle that they found us."

Whitehead and his 50-foot fishing boat, the Larisa M., had been hired by a Bureau of Land Management survey crew. For five years, he has escorted BLM survey crews to ancient island village sites where 25,000 Aleuts once lived.

Whitehead spent Friday moving the crew from cove to cove along uninhabited Amatignak Island, the southernmost point in Alaska. The closest port is Adak, about 120 miles to the northeast and 1,300 miles southwest of Anchorage.

Osterback, 35, joined him on his last trip, to pick up the survey crew and their gear.

"We were just trying to get everything done, and we made a mistake and we paid for it," Whitehead said.

As they motored through howling winds and 12-foot waves toward the island, their 15-foot skiff hit a rock and the motor died.

The wind pushed the powerless skiff toward a shallow reef, battered by 20-foot waves.

"We knew it would kill us if we went in there," Whitehead said.

They managed to row the unwieldy boat around the rocks. In his last radio message to the surveyors, he said someone would need to get to the Larisa M. and radio for help.

"I was concerned it would take quite a few days before people noticed we were in a bad situation," he said.

As darkness fell, they kept rowing toward shore, then reversing course in the heavy surf. They rowed for 15 hours, until at 6 a.m. Saturday, when they could no longer see the island.

Whitehead believed the BLM crew would be able to cobble something together to reach his fishing boat. "They're a pretty resourceful group," he said.

The surveyors fashioned a raft out of flotsam: boards placed on buoys and held together with fishing net.

With makeshift paddles, they reached the Larisa M at 10:30 p.m. Saturday and called the Coast Guard, which launched a search from Kodiak Island.

But time was running out for Whitehead and Osterback. Their rain gear was soaked by waves splashing over the bow. For provisions, they had one pint bottle of water and one energy bar. They ate half of the bar Friday and the remainder on Saturday, along with a few sips of water.

By Sunday, the wind had died down but another hazard had set in: fog.

Whitehead remained calm, but wondered whether he would ever again see his children, who range in age from 7 to 19.

"What are the odds of them actually finding you with the fog coming through?" he said.

Furthermore, he could no longer feel his feet when he stood up, his hands were numb and he shivered continuously. The temperature hovered around 40 degrees, the National Weather Service reported.

"There's nobody out there to help you, you know? You don't see people out here, no other boats. You're kind of on your own," he said.

Early Sunday afternoon, they heard "little plane noises" through the fog. A Coast Guard C-130 Hercules soon spotted them and dropped a radio, a satellite beacon and three bottles of water. In a second pass, the airplane dropped survival suits and food.

Coast Guard spokeswoman Sara Francis said the skiff was found 14 miles south of Amchitka Island. The boat had drifted at least 75 miles west, crossing 50-mile wide Amchitka Pass.

Five hours later, with the C-130 still circling overhead, the helicopter showed up. The crew could not see the tiny boat but honed in with radio directional, as Whitehead slowly counted down over the radio.

The rescue swimmer ushered the men, now wearing survival suits, into the water and the rescue basket.

The helicopter reached Adak Sunday night. Whitehead and Osterback were treated for dehydration.

Whitehead credits both the Coast Guard rescuers and the BLM crew for saving their lives.

"They're tough guys and the only reason the Coast Guard came is because they built that raft," he said.

…”

We were quite aware of this story as it was occurring. One of the guys, Rod Whitehead, is an acquaintance of Bills, and we happened to be tied up next to some relatives of his in Sand Point. There was plenty of concern on the docks, and great relief when the good news came in that they had been found. We’ll be in Adak in a couple of weeks, and hope to speak with the guys about their ordeal.

And, on a vaguely related topic…

Bill has had a tense few days, as has his wife, Cindy, who is back home in Kodiak. Their daughter is now on a fishing boat, in the Bering Sea (Bristol Bay) doing salmon tendering, and their son has been underway on a sailboat running with a friend from Kodiak to Homer. Bill acted like it was no big deal, but it has to be tough for parents to relax when their offspring are running around offshore. For Cindy Harrington, the whole family is out to sea. We were watching the reports here of  major gales along his son Brendon’s route, and watching the sat phone hoping it would ring, with word of Brendon’s arrival in Homer. When the phone did ring, it was Brendon, fatigued, but exhilarated, after his bout with 50 knot winds. I’m sure Bill and Cindy are proud parents, but I think I’d be a nervous wreck if they were my kids.

Lastly, we just passed a shipwreck. Bill said I should get used to seeing them, that there are a lot of these around here. This particular one went aground after dragging anchor.

I’ll stop typing now. We are starting to take a lot of water over the bow. It’s going to be a LONG day.

-Ken Williams

N6805, Sans Souci 

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