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Roberta,Ken And The Pups Cruise The World On A Relatively Small Boat

GSSR#30 - Kiska and the Fish That Wouldn't Die

Total Distance: 5,276 nm
Run so far: 3,175 nm
Nautical Miles to go: 2,101 nm
Tomorrow's goal: 190 nm

Our departure from Adak went smoothly, although, we were a bit worried about the weather. The forecast called for a 20 knot west wind throughout our 24 hour ride to Kiska, and we would be heading right into it. We thought about staying and waiting for a better forecast, but the forecast for all of the next five days looked exactly the same. 

As we were exiting Adak harbor, we noticed that Seabird had a whale riding along, within a few feet of their boat.

Within an hour of starting our trip we noted that the winds were much higher than predicted. The wind was running over 30 knots sustained, with gusts up to 50 knots.

As we were pitching, I noticed Bill smiling. I asked him what he found amusing, and he said that he had received a lot of questioning from his fishermen buddies about whether or not a ‘yacht’ like Sans Souci was really able to handle the Bering Sea. This was our first taste of real action, and he was very happy to report that we were handling it just fine. 

Our route, between Adak and Kiska was along the north side of the Aleutian islands, in the Bering Sea. As we were running west, we passed a succession of volcanoes and small islands on our left (port) side. Beyond these islands lies the Pacific Ocean.

Between each island, there is a pass, usually between one and twenty miles wide. After passing a few of the islands, we noticed a pattern. As we would approach each pass, we would get 30-40 knots of wind in our face. This would last until we were in the middle of the pass, and then we would often see the wind drop, or even shift around to behind us. Once past the pass, the wind would resume the forecasted westerly direction at around 20 knots. This ‘pass weather’ phenomena is something I haven’t seen before. I assume it is caused by winds flowing from the Pacific to the Bering Sea through the passes.

Overall, it was a good run, and very scenic. The waterfall above is probably a couple hundred feet tall and spectacular! Were we somewhere less off the beaten path, a waterfall such as this would have a name, and perhaps be a tourist attraction. But, not here…

Here’s a bit of background on the island of Kiska:

The island of Kiska had a major role during World War II, and really represented the last assault in the Aleutian War.

After the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor, in June 1942, Japan captured the two western Aleutian islands of Kiska and Attu. Roughly five thousand Japanese were on Kiska, and six thousand on Attu.

In May, 1943, the U.S. fought and won an extremely bloody battle to rid Attu of the Japanese. I’ll talk about that battle when I do my Attu blog. After capturing Attu, the U.S. realized how difficult it would be to take Kiska, and spent months training, and assembling, a huge attack force.

On August 15, 1943, thirty-eight thousand U.S. and Canadian troops landed on Kiska, where three days of heavy battle ensued under foggy weather conditions. Casualties included 25 killed and 31 wounded, all by friendly fire. The Japanese had abandoned Kiska nearly a month before.

A Japanese ship sunk in the harbor near where we anchored.

There is an old Japanese submarine lying on the beach.

The inside of the sub surprised me. It appears to be ‘all electric.’ The majority of the length of the submarine is filled with old batteries. The sub shows signs of having been bombed.

To our surprise we were not alone at Kiska. There was a sail boat in the bay when we arrived, and another one that arrived a few hours later. Both had made the two thousand mile passage from Japan, without stopping in Siberia. We did some exploring together, and invited them aboard Sans Souci to do their email. Each had only two persons (a male and female) on board.

They had covered the 2,000 miles from Japan in just over 13 days, averaging around 6.5 knots. Very impressive! Also impressive, both crews were alert and ready to hike upon arrival. After a run like that, one would think they would want to sleep for days.

We saw a lot of ‘stuff’ on the island, but I had trouble deciding what artifacts were Japanese, and what were American. After Kiska was recaptured by the Americans it was briefly occupied by the American military. My guess would be that the docks and telephone poles are of American origin.

For instance, here’s a junkyard we walked past. Lots of old rusted vehicles, and once again, no idea if these were Japanese or American – but most likely American.

During the year that the Japanese occupied Kiska, they were bombed frequently. This perhaps explains why the Japanese had a network of caves and tunnels. During Bill’s last trip to Kiska, he and his crew had discovered some tunnels and caves, which he said were an easy hike.

Bill’s definition of an ‘easy hike’ and mine differ. We probably only hiked a mile or two to the caves, but it was in thick grass, with very uncertain footing. As we were hiking, I couldn’t help but think how bad it would be if someone broke a leg. Whereas it is great fun to explore a remote location, on a remote island, in the middle of nowhere, my guess is that if someone were to have a serious bone-through-the-skin broken leg, we would be 12 hours, at least, from receiving medical attention. All of us have had some degree of first aid training, so I do believe we could stabilize a patient, but any serious injury would mean a call to the coast guard, a helicopter, and odds-are, a flight to Anchorage. Oh well… As Roberta would say, I worry too much.

I’m actually not sure what we were walking on. Often, it seemed there were logs, or old irrigation conduit, hidden just beneath the grass. We were stepping from log to log (or, pipe to pipe), with deep holes in between. All we could see when we looked down was the thick grass and foliage but we could feel that every step had to be carefully placed. Of course, the signs on the beach warning us about all the unexploded ordnance still lying around weren’t making the hike much easier on the nerves.


Finally, we found some caves, and several members of our group went inside. The caves were simple dug-out tunnels, but have lasted for 65 years. About half of our group went inside, and the other half, including myself, wanted no part of being inside a 65-year-old Japanese tunnel. The cave was empty, although no one in our group explored its full length. Bill had previously discovered a cave, a little farther along that was a full hospital, with tables and cots still inside. He encouraged us to go come along, but we were all too tired to continue by this point.

Once back on the boat, Jeff and Kirt asked if they could take our tender fishing. We had befriended a ship’s pilot, David, in Dutch Harbor, who happened to be in the harbor at Kiska guiding a freighter. The freighter was sitting in Kiska harbor, accepting deliveries of fish from commercial fishermen in the area. I thought it was late in the day to be going fishing, about 9:00 pm, but they said “No worries.”

Their fishing went very well. Too well, in fact. Almost immediately, the guys caught a 30 pound cod. They then caught a 45 pound halibut. 

That’s when they captured this guy, and disaster struck. As they were pulling in this monster halibut, they put the gaff (like a giant fishhook on a chain) in him, and he rammed into my inflatable tender.


The gaff popped our own tender. One of the tubes went flat, and the halibut was still fighting. Luckily, the tender wasn’t sunk, but it was leaning. The halibut wasn’t giving up. It started pulling the tender, and gave the guys a tour of the bay, including almost dragging them onto a reef. Throughout the episode, there was quite a debate over whether or not to just cut the fish loose. With 20/20 hindsight, that option should have been more seriously considered.

Several times, they pulled in the fish, and tried to kill it, but this fish had nine lives. They would think it was dead, and it would relax for a bit, then ram the tender again. They finally tied it by the tail, and towed it back to the freighter, because it was much too large to bring into the tender.

Meanwhile, fog and darkness had set in. Luckily, David had a handheld chart plotter that he used to guide the tender to the freighter. Once at the freighter, the decision was made to give all the fish to David. I’m not sure why. I think Jeff was feeling guilty about wrecking my tender, and knew that it was the wrong time to be slicing up fish in my cockpit, especially after midnight!

Once at the freighter, Jeff and Kirt had to solve the problem of finding their way back to Sans Souci. Luckily, the fog lifted, and they had no trouble getting home.

When David called me, via radio, the next morning to ask if I wanted some fish, I declined the offer. Fish seem to be a common gift in the Aleutians, and we’ve been taking on fish regularly. At Harris Electric in Dutch Harbor, as I was looking for a power adapter, I was given some smoked salmon. At Adak, as we were paying for fuel, we were given another giant slab of salmon. A friend of Bill’s gave each boat a generous portion of King Crab legs and some halibut in Sand Point. And the list goes on…

When the other boats overheard me, via the radio, decline the offer of fish, they were immediately on the VHF saying “We’ll take all we can get!” Our crew also overheard me and said they wanted fish.

The problem was that everyone’s tenders, including my own crippled tender, were already back on deck; we were ready to go to our next destination: Attu.

David, who was also feeling bad about my popped tender, was looking forward to an opportunity to do something nice, and said “No problem. Just come around to the back of the freighter and I’ll toss it overboard to you.” One by one the three GSSR boats stuck our noses to the stern of the freighter. Even split four ways, we received a massive amount of halibut.

It is about 190 nautical miles from Kiska to Attu. Once again we had a dicey weather forecast; another 20 knot west wind. Our forecast had been the same when we left Adak, and other than when we were at the passes, it really wasn’t that bad.

Within about an hour of leaving our anchorage at Kiska, we were in heavy, confused seas.

At first, it was kind of fun, and offered a good picture-taking opportunity. I shot some video of Seabird, which is below, following by them taking some pictures of Sans Souci (note: those pictures are at the top of this blog, chronologically out of sequence, but I didn’t think anyone would care).

Here is some very cool video I shot of Seabird and Sans Souci enjoying the rough seas, as well as some video shot on Kiska. 

If you don’t see a video above, then click this link to watch it:


After this video was taken, the winds climbed a bit, into the 25-35 range. This wasn’t our real problem though. The seas were ‘confused.’ We had waves coming at us from both sides! Wind and waves were coming at us from the northwest. However, waves were also coming at us from the southwest! At one point I looked out the window and saw a wave, at least 10 feet tall, about to hit Sans Souci on the starboard side, at the same time as a large wave was about to hit on the port side. We were the baloney in a wave sandwich! Not fun.

Steven, on Seabird, noted another phenomena. The seas were forming what looked like miniature water volcanoes. These were cone-shaped piles of water, which appeared around us, like pylons we were supposed to be steering around.

My autopilot and stabilizers did what they could, but after an hour a message appeared on the LCD for my stabilizers, ‘Servo limit exceeded.’ After that, my starboard stabilizer just centered itself and stopped working. We were getting pounded pretty solidly at the time. I wanted to try completely killing the stabilizers, and seeing if that would get the starboard stabilizer going again. After vacillating for a bit, and consulting with Jeff, and not looking forward to even a few minutes without stabilizers, I went for it, and both stabilizers came on-line immediately.

We were now at 3.5 hours into our ride to Attu. The stabilizer incident prompted me to get on the radio and say, “GSSR Fleet. This is bad and getting worse. Should we consider turning back?” I relayed my problem with the stabilizer, and after a bit of discussion, we decided to continue on.

Perhaps an hour later, Steven was on the radio, “GSSR Fleet, we’re getting beat up pretty badly. Perhaps we should turn around.” Braun came on the radio to suggest we try slowing down to 6.5 knots, and see if that would give a better ride. We also agreed to shift heading by 10 degrees to starboard, putting us directly into the oncoming wind.

One or the other of these two moves helped. I assume it was the speed reduction. Our ride went from rough and intolerable to rough and tolerable. It was a long way from comfortable, but much better.

Even at the slower speed, we were still getting slammed. After Roberta and I were off-shift, and sleeping, we slammed into a wave so hard that water didn’t just spray across the bow, it flowed across the bow, and everywhere else. Jeff, who was driving at the time, said that all you could see out the windows in the pilothouse was water. Roberta and I both jolted awake immediately. Jeff said the cockpit (at the back of the boat) filled with over a foot of water.

Because of the slower speed, it actually took us about 30 hours to get to Attu. The anchorage was absolutely dead calm, and the sun was shining! We couldn’t believe it. I even noticed one of the guys on the other boats running around without a shirt. It was the first real sunshine we had seen in a thousand miles. Beautiful!

When Braun, Steven and I met to discuss our next major passage, to Petropavlovsk, Russia, there was instant unity on one thought, “We will wait as long as it takes to get a weather window with calm seas for our next run. We’re not going out in rough seas again for a LONG time.”

Thank you,
Ken Williams
Nordhavn 68, Sans Souci

P.S. Some photos have appeared of the molds for the new Nordhavn 63. It is intended as the next evolution of the Nordhavn 62, and these photos are quite interesting to those of us who are fans of the Nordhavn 62 (http://oceanlines.biz/2009/07/first-photos-nordhavn-63-01-hull-complete-deck-plugs-under-construction/). Enjoy!

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