Last week, I shared a newspaper article about two mariners, Rod Whitehead, and Bill Osterback, who were rescued, after spending 52 hours drifting at sea in their tender. For those who may have forgotten the story, they had just tendered some scientists to a remote Aleutian island beach, and were returning to their ship, when the tender struck a rock, damaging the prop, and leaving it adrift.
The scientists were able to rig a makeshift raft, and paddle their way back to the boat, where they called for Coast Guard assistance, triggering a search that ultimately saved the guys lives.
The harbormaster in Adak sent me this photo from the emotional homecoming. You can see, on the deck of the boat, the raft that that the scientists cobbled together.
She also shared this information about prices on Adak:
Marine Diesel – $2.89 – Hours 24/7
A gallon of Milk – $18.40
This reminds me of a shopping story from when we were in Kodiak. Roberta was at Safeway, and wanted to load up on some salmon and crab for the trip. Neither was available. There was hardly any seafood of any sort. Roberta asked the department manager, why, in the middle of a region known for seafood, she couldn’t buy a piece of fish. He said that he couldn’t compete with people catching their own fish, or buying direct from the fishermen. I asked Bill, who lives on Kodiak, and he said that he never buys meat of any sort. Why buy it when he can go catch or shoot it himself? With so much free food running around, why buy it at the store? Over the past few weeks I’ve heard more stories about carving up animals than I ever thought could possibly exist.
I have been reading the book “The Thousand Mile War” about WWII in the Aleutians. Six months after Pearl Harbor the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor, twice. At Dutch Harbor, forty-three persons were killed and seventy-eight injured. This event was the start of a year-long battle in the Aleutians culminating in the bloody Battle at Attu, in which thousands died.
As we visit the Aleutians, we’re hoping the weather is good enough that we can hike the islands, and find artifacts from the war. Because the Aleutians are so rarely visited, planes, submarines, etc are still lying around.
I received an email last week from Yuri Suskin, a Russian ham operator, who visited the Aleutians last month, with this warning: “Precautions: when landing on any islands, please look carefully under feet, I almost step on the mine, we marked it and got coordinates/pictures.”
Dutch Harbor has become well known lately as the “home of the tv show The Deadliest Catch.” This isn’t crab season, so I never saw any of the boats from the show. But, we did see LOTS of crab pots. They were all piled on land. I assume the boats offloaded the pots, so they could free up space on the boats for other types of fishing. Roberta pointed out that if we hadn’t watched the TV show, we’d be looking at these saying ‘Huh. I wonder what those are?’
Several people wrote me over the past few weeks to say that a “must do” is to have the seafood buffet on Wednesday night at the Grand Aleutian Hotel. They were right. We had a feast unlike any I’ve seen before. Imagine a buffet with King Crab Legs!
I asked one of the servers if her family had fishing boats. She said that very few of the 4,000 residents of Dutch Harbor are commercial fisherman. The town exists to provide services to the fishing industry. Fishing boats arrive, drop their fish at the canneries and depart. The boats don’t generally “live” in Dutch Harbor.
Dutch Harbor is still somewhat confusing to me. I mentioned in my last update that it didn’t seem like any port, or marina, that I had ever visited. There isn’t one central port. Instead, there are a series of fish processing plants, where the boats arrive to drop their fish. These processing plants tend to have hundreds of workers, largely foreigners, who live in dorms at the plant. I asked one local whether it was a controversial issue that the plants didn’t seem to be hiring locals, and they said “Who wants to make minimum wage?”. The plants also had small hotels, I assume for visitors to the plant. Each processing plant is almost a self-contained city.
Actually, although everyone talks about Dutch Harbor, the term refers primarily to the harbor, and the airport. The city, where all the people live, is across a bridge, and is called Unalaska.
The Russian Orthodox Church, built in 1825
Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of information, or pictures, of Dutch Harbor, because, after a couple days in Dutch, Roberta and I returned to Seattle. We’ve been on the boat for over two months, and there was some business that needed attended to. The GSSR group have been exceptionally good sports, and the weather has mostly behaved in Dutch Harbor, making the group’s time there, wihout Roberta and I, somewhat fun. (I hope!)
There is no way to describe how we felt flying home. Even though we’ve been on the move quite a bit, it doesn’t really feel like we’ve traveled that far. Our flight home was split to two segments; the flight to Anchorage, and then the flight to Seattle. Each flight took 3.5 hours! And, even though we were flying “only” 2,500 miles, the cultural distance was much greater. The first thing we noticed was that there were trees again! We hadn’t seen trees in weeks. Anchorage is a big city, holding half of Alaska’s population. We were only there for an hour, but it was long enough to see that we were back in a big city. While working our way north, and west, the transition from big city life, to the small fishing communities, and uninhabited islands we now see, was gradual. It felt natural. When traveling by plane, the feeling of culture shock is more radical, especially when the change has taken place so gradually. Once in Seattle, we felt like strangers in a strange land. There are a lot of people, and a lot of cars!
We don’t have much time to get accustomed to city-life though. On Sunday we’ll fly back to the boat, and unless the weather gods throw us a curve ball, we’ll be departing Dutch Harbor on Monday morning.
The next three weeks are the part of our trip that I am most concerned about. We’ll be running one thousand miles along the Aleutian Islands, followed by a five hundred mile passage into Siberia. Bill, who has made the run several times, tells me we’ll be fine, and I am certainly confident in our boats, and our crews. But, if anyone tells you that they ran the Bering Sea and it was a piece of cake, I’d say that they were very lucky in their timing. The Bering Sea can be seriously mean, any month of the year. We are likely to be in thick fog much of the time, and violent winds can strike with little warning.
In the research I’ve done, about WWII in the Aleutians, virtually every article or book refers to the war as having three players; the Americans, the Japanese and the Weather, with the weather perhaps being the deadliest of the three. We’ll be there in July, which is the best month, but that just affects the odds, not the potential. I am confident of two things: 1) We’ll be just fine. And, 2) Our perception of what we, and our boats, are capable of, is about to undergo a serious recalibration. All of us have run many thousands of miles, but the truth be known, with a little common sense, 99.9% of cruising can be on fairly calm seas. Every cruiser has a story or two about encountering rough seas, but these are the exception. We crossed the Atlantic in 2004, and I don’t remember ever being seriously slammed, except perhaps during the final eight hours of the trip. My suspicion is that one of the reasons Bill considers the Bering Sea, in July, a non-event, is that he has spent years running continuously in seas that most cruisers never see. He’s a commercial fisherman, and whereas we can pick our seas, he regularly has to go out when most people I know would stay in port. Plus, my perception is that it is part of the Alaskan, or at least Alaskan fisherman personality, that a little water over the bow is just part of the experience. It’s all in what you are used to, and as I said, it is time for some serious recalibration of our perspective on what defines rough seas. As the old saying goes, “That that doesn’t kill us, makes us better people.”
That’s it for this blog… Or, at least my blog. I’ve been following the action in Dutch Harbor by reading the Argosy’s blog, on Seabird. If you’d like to do the same, click here:
Grey Pearl also has a blog, and has recently written about Dutch Harbor. To see their blog, click here:
While I’m thinking about Grey Pearl, I happened to ask Braun recently if there was anyone who he wanted to publicly thank for helping work on his boat. Braun took the project seriously, and gave a great response, including examples of what what people have done:
I have a list of my own, of people who have gone beyond the call of duty to help us. I haven’t forgotten them, and will give them a mention in some future blog.
And, on a completely different topic…
Some of you may recall that Roberta and I had our boat in the south of France for a few years, and rented a house there this past summer. The Med is prone to sudden, violent winds, and anchoring properly is a major issue. We witnessed boats dragging anchor on multiple occasions, and learned to take anchoring very seriously. I’ve noticed on this trip that we sometimes annoy other boats, because we’ll put out far more chain than others might think is necessary. Today, I was sent a link to some pictures of a 160’ megayacht (“Pari”) that dragged anchor in front of our old marina, just this week. I’ve anchored in this same location on nights when the wind was too high to enter the marina, and one of my roughest ever nights at anchor was at this very location. Roberta and I spent an entire night staring at our anchor as the wind pushed us around. As we move across the Aleutians, I suspect that anchoring may be our #1 challenge.
N6805, Sans Souci