A Good Day – Aleutians

A couple of months ago, our GSSR group decided that we wanted to speak with someone who had been to the Aleutian Islands before. The islands are rarely visited, and other than the USCG coast pilot, and some old WWII books, not much information exists. One of our GSSR captains knew a guy who delivers huge (130’) tug boats across the Pacific, sometimes via the Aleutians and the Bering Sea, and asked him to speak to our group.


I’ve already spoken about this in my blog, so I won’t repeat the story other than to say that it was a very demotivating meeting. I explained to him what we wanted to do, and he explained to us why we should consult with a psychiatrist. I can’t imagine anything worse he could have said about the Aleutians, or any effort greater , that he could have put into convincing us to change our cruising plans. At the end of the meeting, I fully expected that our GSSR group would shrink dramatically, or disband entirely. But, I under-estimated our group. We have shrunk from four boats to three, but I’d be very surprised to see the group get smaller.


Yesterday, I spoke with the harbor master at Kodiak Island.




I wanted his advice on the Gulf of Alaska, and whether we could cut straight across, saving 100+ miles, or needed to run the shore, in order to keep within an easy run to a safe anchorage should we hit some bad weather. I had only met the guy briefly, at the Seattle Boat Show, but he seemed a smart and friendly guy. I also wanted to know about fuel availability on Kodiak Island, and try to get any “local knowledge” he might want to share.


Sometimes, these sort of “cold calls” result in me being dumped off the line as quick as they can dispatch me, but almost always, the harbor masters turn out to have great information, and are happy to help. Kodiak’s harbormaster exceeded my expectations. He said:


Plenty of fuel

Yes. We should be able to find moorage

He knows of fishing boats that cut straight across the gulf often, and besides, there aren’t a lot of great hiding places if we go around the edge of the gulf

He gave me a couple of different routes to consider for our passage to Dutch Harbor after leaving Kodiak, according to weather

I asked about a side trip to a spot on the mainland I had heard had great bear watching, and he did a strong sales pitch for Kodiak Island itself. (check out this brochure – warning it’s a big download). He said that all the “tourist” stuff we were seeking could easily be found on Kodiak, no side trip needed. He was a great ambassador for the island.


And, the phone call yielded another very important benefit! He mentioned that he had a friend, a commercial fisherman who fished the Aleutians regularly, who he thought would be happy to speak with me about the islands. I’ve been studying the Aleutians, trying to understand where we can anchor if we need to hide from a storm, and trying to understand the issues associated with running them from the south (the Pacific side) or the north (in the Bering Sea). I also wanted to understand which passes between the islands were easy to run, and which are a challenge. Most of the information can be found in the Coast Pilot, but there’s nothing like talking to someone who has been there before, and can give me an insider’s view.


I phoned his friend, Bill H, within minutes after speaking to the Harbormaster. Bill was rushing to get out the door for a fishing trip, but took more time than he originally intended to speak with me about Aleutians.


Bill’s boat:



I had finally found someone who seemed passionate about the Aleutians! He runs a 56’ wooden fishing boat back and forth to the western end of the Aleutians, as often as six round trips a year. He answered all my questions, and many more. I could read between the lines of our conversation that he was happy to hear we were going, and wanted to do what he could to ensure we had a safe and fun passage. I sensed he genuinely liked the Aleutians, and thought it was pretty cool that we would be going there. He mentioned that we’d be seeing places that probably under 10 non-commercial fishing boats in history had seen.


The Aleutians still have artifacts that are left over from WWII, and he sent some pictures of some of his crew and family visiting WWII equipment that has been sitting, essentially unseen, for over 60 years.





It was an great phone call, and the best is that I am feeling much more confident about our ability to successfully run, and even enjoy, the Aleutians. Perhaps this is tacky to say, but it seems to me that if an old 56’ wooden fishing boat, loaded up with a heavy cargo of fish, with no stabilizers, can run the Aleutians a dozen times in a year, three Nordhavns should be able to safely run it once.


Actually, the call might have had another benefit of incredible value. Late yesterday I received this email from Bill:


Hi Ken.


Your trip sounds pretty dreamlike.

I’ve always wanted to have the time to explore instead of just pulling in to these places and hiding from weather. Over the years we have probably stopped in virtually all the bays and harbors throughout the Aleutians. I was telling my son down at the boat about your call and he said why not hire on as guide?


Said he’d run my boat for the Aleutian quota. He’s a dreamer too.

I will be home tonight till midnight or will be back in 3-4 days. Have to get some fishing in to keep the world turning. So here’s a couple more photos. One is of my boat delivering halibut in Homer AK, and the other is of my son and crew at a Japanese anti-aircraft emplacement on Kiska. Best regards. Bill



I need to think about what the next step is, but I think I should jump on this opportunity!


And on a completely different topic:


On Nov 11th, on my blog, I posted an email from a couple who were attacked on their boat in Ecuador. This triggered a discussion on safety and security, on a number of message boards, which is still quite active. After months of silence, Eric Sherell from Sarana posted a message yesterday adding his thoughts.


As much as I don’t want to respond to this thread, I’m doing it anyway. Lord help me.

My experience has been if someone wants to get on your boat, they can. I had about 3-4 seconds from the time I heard them approach my boat (in the dark, no motor used until the getaway) to when I came up the companionway ladder and had a shot gun shoved in my chest and about ½ second later a second guy with a pistol to my head and two more guys coming and one watching from the boat. At that time I didn’t know how the other men were armed and the guy in the panga was perfectly positioned to fire a weapon if he chose. So those 3 seconds only felt like freedom, he might have been ready with a pistol at any moment. Unless you stand armed guard 24 hours a day, you can make all the plans you want but sometimes life makes its own for you.

As with the 9/11 terrorist attack: you can either be terrified or live your life. I have relived our attack 1,000,000 times over and I don’t think there is anything that could have stopped them from at least stealing some stuff. Once you have a gun pointed at you your choices rapidly shrink. It becomes your money or battle for your life. And with an aggressive attack the guns get pointed pretty quickly.

Fortunately these types of experiences are on the EXTREME of normal. In fact the problem with cruising is it is so safe you become complacent and things often “walk away” when you least expect it. In my mind there are two levels of threats: attacks and theft. I would say there is little you can do about an attack unless you are prepared to risk your life and your crews’ by engaging in a fight, not to mention the integrity of your boat’s hull. You might get lucky and scare them off if you can buy some time to make noise, but they aren’t COMPLETELY stupid. They will see you inside on the radio, honking horns, turning on outdoor lights, spraying pepper spray or reaching for a weapon (which is their first assumption, especially with American boats) and it is very easy for them to point a gun though bars, windows or hatches. And if they are really aggressive/freaked-out they might just start firing through your plastic walls. With the second type of security problem, theft, there are a lot of things you can do. A lot of the things people have posted are good against theft: noise, lights, locks, chains, not bragging about your $20,000 multi-display-GPS-radar-sailomatic-bread-maker.

The reality is the barrier between most petty crimes and you is the water. Your average crook isn’t too interested in swimming or finding a boat to try to rob your boat and most marinas are secure in some form or another. It pays to spend some time thinking about locking your stuff up or having an alarm even in low crime areas. In risky areas you should think about your personal safety in how to delay an attacker to buy time and have some sacrificial cash/equipment handy. Traveling with other boats can also be a deterrent or they could help chase them off, like in our case. If you are prepared or trained to fight it out, then that’s your choice and I can’t really provide any advice there because you’re usually out gunned by people with less to lose than you.

I don’t think the problem is really worth a lot of discussion. Just like protecting your home there are many options people choose without all this public discourse which for sailors seems to often turn into a debate about something or other. I know this won’t be the final word, but it is about all I have to say on the subject 

Thanks for reading this far, if you made it.





-Ken W


14 Responses

  1. PS To John Kennally from Ken Williams: We are planning to stop in Petrapovlosk Kamchatka. It sounds as though you and we may have found the same agent, complete with similar pricing. Fortunately, we get to split the costs three ways, but it still hurts. There were a ton of extra fees if we wanted to visit the Kuril Islands, which we decided not to pay. Perhaps when we get there, the sun will be shining and we’ll be having a great time, and we will reconsider – but, for now, our plan is to go direct from Kamchatka to Hokkaido.

  2. John Kennelly: I’ll email you offline to set up a conference call with our group. Braun and Tina Jones are still slated to make the trip. Their boat is listed as “for sale” by Nordhavn, but the boat market has been soft and it appears almost definite that they’ll make the trip.

    I’m VERY happy you wrote. I have the old email from you talking about the Aleutians and Geographic Harbor, and I’ve been wanting to post it, but haven’t felt it would be right without first getting your permission. People have thought we must be crazy to go out to the Aleutians, and it was your email that really got us fired up about going. All of us have been wondering what we’ll do after Japan, but haven’t really thought that far ahead. We figure we’ll get to Japan, and then say “OK, now what?” You’ll have a second chance to get us all excited about someplace new.

    Talk to you soon,
    -Ken Williams

  3. Dear Ken,

    I am the guy with N6230 (Walkabout) who Braun and Tina Jones (Grey Pearl) met with on a few occasions down in Florida. I am sorry to hear that they will not be joining you on your Aleutian trip.

    In 2006 we voyaged from Seattle, up through BC and Southeast Alaska, cruised around Prince William Sound (highly recommended, and should not be missed if possible), then over to Kodiak, and out through the Aleutians, with stops at Geographic Harbour (bears – MUST NOT BE MISSED), Dutch Harbor, Adak, Kiska
    (location of Japanese wreckage including mini-subs), and on to Attu (There is a USCG base there with approx 25 personnel – almost in Russia!). Finally, from Attu we voyaged south, outside the Kuril Islands, landing in Kushiro, Hokkaido, and on to Yokohama. The following summer was Japan’s Inland Sea, down to Hiroshima, and around to Nagasaki. Then on to Busan, South Korea (inland trips), then to Shanghai (inland trips), and finally down to Hong Kong. Last Summer was HK, down along China coast to Vietnam (inland trips and excursion to Cambodia), and then to Malaysia- down coast, and finally to Singapore, where the boat is now.

    As you can imagine, I could write volumes about the trip and Alaska. However time constraints mean this will have to wait for the future. I would love to discuss our trip with you and provide any information we have. As you have discovered, finding info on locations where so few feet have trod is problematic. I am very glad that you are choosing to cruise the Aleutians. We had a wonderful time there, and have tremendous pictures. The mini-sub picture in your blog appears to be on Kiska, where the Japanese had a major naval base after invading the U.S. during the initial part of the Pacific War. They had a marine railway where they pulled 3-person mini-subs up onto the land for repairs. At least 2 of these were there when straffed by US fighters during the war (later, the hulls were perforated with satchel charges after the US re-took the island). We hiked around the base encampment, with mostly the foundations being the only things left, but we have wonderful pictures of the kids clambering through the remaining sub on Kiska including its conning tower and destroyed battery banks. Another sub was down by the water’s edge, but in much more decayed condition. Amazingly, the battery casings still show the Japanese markings and production codings. The Aleutians contain a treasure-trove of WWII ruins, including the fortifications above Dutch Harbor. We found that history books of WWII in the Aleutians were very valuable sources of information.

    My wife and I and our 3 kids crewed the boat the whole way, and had a wonderful time. While I would not want to be there in Winter, the north side of the Aleutians in Summer do not seem to have serious weather concerns for vessels as well designed as our Nordhavns. We actually had great weather including three magnificent, mirror calm days at the Western end of the Aleutians. We took pictures and video of a pod of Orca with at least 120 members traveling between islands within 100 miles of Attu (almost impossible to believe, I know).

    At that time, Diesel was available at Adak (closed down military base – approx 100 residents, run by Aleut Native Corp.), where we fueled and rented an old van to explore. Please note that there is the Attu USCG base, but as far as I know, their diesel is strictly for Coast Guard use. Additionally, there are US military installations along the islands (some of which should not be approached), but I am not aware of any diesel availability beyond Adak.

    Kodiak is a wonderful place to visit, and we rented a truck and had a great time there, while waiting for a weather window. However, the bears at Geographic Harbour on the mainland north of Kodiak Island are truly spectacular. We used our smaller dinghy (13′ Zodiac jet boat) to slowly cruise the shoreline 10-20′ from the water’s edge, while these huge animals walked along, not in the least bit bothered by our presence. Normally these bears are solitary and difficult to find, but they gather to dig clams at low tide, for some weeks between the salmon runs, and we daily saw 15-20 bears within a half hour. This location should definitely be on your lifetime “Bucket List”.

    We researched the possibility of clearing into Russia at Petropavlosk, Kamchatka, and would have loved to visit. However, the officials wanted to treat us just like a cruise ship, and after calculating costs for helicopter charter to volcanoes, and required Russian charts, required hand updates to Russian charts, required translations of Russian charts, required pilot, required pilot boat, required security dockage, required Russian naturalist onboard for cruise down through Kuril islands, required translator for Russian naturalist, and required airfares for naturalist and translator from Japan back to Kamchatka, we gave up ($28,000 estimate). This was unfortunate, as we have a neighbor who was the pilot of a WWII bomber shot down by the Japanese and ditched with his crew on the beaches of Kamchatka. Recent reports say the wrecked bomber has been pushed up about a 1/4 mile inland by weather, but still there, and we were hoping to visit it. He, of course, has wonderful stories of adventure (“dangerous, uncomfortable things happening to other people, far, far away”) of travelling by train for a month across Siberia with his bomber crew, shot-up, in need of decent medicine, and hoping that the US Govt knew they were still alive.

    Please contact me by e-mail and we can set up a convenient time for me to regale you with our adventures (probably bore you to death). We are embarked on a 10-year planned circumnavigation during periods when our kids are out of school. Veronica and I enjoyed this part of our trip so much that we have talked about keeping a boat permanently in Alaska after our circumnavigation. Our standards are very high; if more rugged than most. Alaska is that wonderful!

  4. Ken
    Seeing these pictures reminds me that on some of our projects in the Pacific has turned up unexploded ordinance. Do be careful.

  5. Ken….with regard to touring at Kodiak. We’ve done this several times via helicopter and float plane

    Bears & goats on Kodiak and elk at Afognak…Tom Walters
    http://maritimehelicopters…. (http://maritimehelicopters.com/tours.htm)

    Tom is a great source of information…retired from the Alaska maritime industry as I remember

    Most of Kodiak Island is preserve therefore the helicopters are not allowed to land with private groups.

    The elk herd at Afognak is very impressive and Tom can land there anywhere. He has friends there that have the lodge on the beach…a breakfast or lunch stop

    The goats above town are very impressive, the largest you’ll find anywhere in Alaska

    The bears, the big ones in numbers, are found down in the Karluk Lake & Karluk River area….very impressive to land on the lake and observe them fishing…pictures & video

    For that we always use Sea Hawk Air

    As you guys travel down the Aleutian Chain be sure to budget some time to visit around Dutch Harbor/Unalaska and Adak…

  6. John: It is definitely part of the plan to introduce ourselves to the Coast Guard whenever we can. I think I wrote about it, but at the Seattle Boat Show I did speak with several of the Coast Guard guys, and they were very interested in what we’re doing. They mentioned that I should be within VHF range of them at all times.

    I like your idea of inviting them aboard for an “open house” in Dutch Harbor. It may heighten how close they watch over us, and one way or the other, I like any opportunity to show the Coast Guard guys (and gals) how much we appreciate all that they do.

    -Ken W

  7. Dave: Great work googling, and some great links!

    I do suspect you are right that it is a sub. It just looks too big to be a torpedo. I wonder why it would be sitting on land? I’m really hoping it works to take the commercial fisherman with us. He has been to many of the wrecks in the Aleutians and will be able to guide us straight to them.

    -Ken W

  8. I was too curious to let it pass without figuring it out. The “torpedo” is apparently the tail section of a Japanese mini sub. I also found some other interesting links while doing the research.

    http://www.flickr.com/photo (http://www.flickr.com/photos/amnwr/7098175/) – It’s apparently a minisub… not a torpedo

    http://blog.mailasail.com/k (http://blog.mailasail.com/kokiri/34) – Blog of a sailboater who went to the Aleutians

    http://www.wreckchasing.com (http://www.wreckchasing.com/atkab24.htm) – Info on the liberator

    http://www.amnwr.com/Shipwr (http://www.amnwr.com/Shipwrecks/index.html) – Great photos of ship wrecks in the Aleutians. (Ken, I promise I am not trying to put you off going.)

  9. I am no expert, but I’d agree with Jim E that it looks more like the remainder of a sub.
    Also regarding the thoughts around it being a torpedo, it looks too big to be a torpedo (so I am intrigued). Also I thought that WW2 torpedos had contra rotating so that they tracked a true course (as one prop makes the torp walk too much to the side), many torpedoes would follow a zig zag course but it was up to the submarine to set a timer as to when the torpedo would turn. I dont believe it was until the cable guided torpedoes were introduced that they changed to single screws.

  10. Ken, have you considered a stop at the last US Coast Guard post (Dutch Harbor?) with and offer a tour of your boats? You may find that these guardian angles would be most appreciated for for visit of outsiders from the mainland and possibly a few gifts (DVD’s or CD’s but you need to keep them under $25 each per Federal Aquisition Regualtions). I would contact them now for the type of information you are looking for and establish a relationship with the commander. I know I would sleep better at night while up there if I knew the boys were aware of our position and knew me first hand. Just my thoughs.

  11. David: I did see your entry, and agree. The brochure is just your standard tourist advertisement, but it worked magic on getting me excited about going to Kodiak.

    All comments are sent to me by the system automatically, but aren’t sent to others (I don’t think). Sometime in the next month I’ll change the system so that anyone who wants can get the comments mailed (immediately, or once a day). I just haven’t had time to focus on it. The comments from readers tend to be more interesting (at least for me) than my blog most days!

    -Ken W

  12. OOPS! I posted on the previous blog entry Ken, Regarding the Kodiak Brochure. Might hava look at the entry before this one!

  13. There’s a picture in my blog, of a giant building-sized golden “thing” with a huge prop. I had assumed it was the engine from an enormous plane.

    However, a friend this morning told me that he is confident that it is a torpedo! He said that if I look closely I’ll see that it has two props, and that they double-propped them for speed.

    Apparently when the Japanese departed the Aleutians at the end of the war, everything was left in place, and is still there.

    This is going to be very interesting.

    -Ken W

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Be the first to know when

the game releases!

Plus, receive special insider, behind the scenes, sneak peeks and interviews as the game is being made. Don’t worry. We will not spam you, and we will not flood your box with too many emails.
 — Ken Williams

Credits     |     Video produced by: Rock Steady Media     |     Teletype photo: Arnold Reinhold     |     PDP-11 photo: Trammell Hudson