GSSR#26 – Back in Dutch Harbor

Total Distance: 5,276 nm
Run so far: 2,510 nm
Nautical Miles to go: 2,766 nm
Tomorrow’s goal: 100 nm

Roberta, Shelby, and I flew back to Dutch Harbor yesterday, and we’re ready for the next phase of our journey: the Aleutian Islands.

Nothing bad happened yesterday, at least not to us, but I’d categorize it as a ‘bad day.’ Our flight from Anchorage to Dutch Harbor was delayed a couple of hours. No reason was given, but we had our suspicions. The weather at Dutch Harbor was not good; 35 knot winds and raining. The airline was probably not 100% sure they could land. The Dutch Harbor runway is short, and has nearby mountains at each end. The pilots who regularly fly in and out, in the horrible weather conditions here, have special training, and are real heroes.

After a couple of hours, our flight did take off. However, with no advance warning, until after takeoff, we stopped halfway for fuel at a desolate airport called “King Salmon.” Once again, I had my suspicions as to why we needed a fuel stop. Landing conditions at Dutch Harbor had to be on the grey edge. My guess is that they wanted to be sure that they would have plenty of fuel for proceeding to an alternate destination if the pilots didn’t like what they found at Dutch.

I have landed at Dutch Harbor exactly one time, so I have no idea what the ordinary approach is. I can only say that our approach was extra-ordinary by my standards. The cloud layer was only a few hundred feet off the water. Well before arrival at Dutch the plane dropped to only a couple hundred feet off the water, and drove the last ten miles or so close enough to the water that I was reminded of my days waterskiing. We slalomed for what seemed an eternity, but was probably only a few minutes, through a narrow passage between multiple islands.

I have seen many seas from inside many airplanes, and they always look calmer than they really are. The seas around Dutch Harbor looked frightening, and were I on the water, I knew they’d look far worse. I have no idea how tall the waves were, but I knew that there was no way I wanted anything to do with them.

Our actual landing was anti-climactic, other than being blasted by rain, cold and 35 knot winds as soon as we left the plane. I looked at Bill Harrington, and he just shrugged, smiled, and said “Welcome to the Aleutians.”

Steven Argosy, from Seabird, was waiting to take us to the boat, along with Kirt, from our crew.

I asked Kirt if we had missed anything during our absence. His answer wasn’t pretty. Kirt said: “Do you remember that I mentioned that there was a fishing boat on the dock that dumped soot on us a few days ago?” After saying “Yes,” Kirt continued, “Someone stopped by the boat today and mentioned that they lost a crewmember over the side in 80 knot winds.” This seemed incomprehensible to me. I had been looking at the forecast and hadn’t seen any 80 knot winds close to Dutch Harbor. I asked how this could be. They couldn’t have gotten too far away in just a couple of days. Bill answered for Kirt, “80 knots can happen here at any time. That isn’t that unusual.” This took some time to digest.

After telling Kirt I was sorry I had asked, he said “There’s more. A couple of nights ago, at the local Mexican restaurant, they had a shooting. A guy shot the chef, then shot himself.” Roberta and I had just dined there the day before leaving for Seattle.

I asked if there could possibly be more, and he pointed out the approximately 35 foot long sail boat tied at our stern. He explained that it was headed north to the Northwest Passage ( ). I was duly impressed. Kirt said that they had a lady, a documentary filmmaker on board, who had struggled with seasickness on their run across the Gulf of Alaska, and then been beaten up here at the dock for a couple days. I looked at the sail boat, and it was being tossed around by the seas and wind, at the dock, as though it were a rag doll in a very large dog’s mouth. The film maker had had enough fun, and was headed to the airport, abandoning the expedition. As if that weren’t enough news, Kirt added that the sail boat had snapped their bow line the previous evening, and was almost torn away from the dock.

Kirt had nothing more to report, but that had been enough.

I almost didn’t write this report, because I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that Dutch Harbor is a bad place. I doubt my day yesterday characterizes Dutch Harbor – other than the weather.

This can be a very harsh environment, and that cannot be overstated.

I also cannot overstate how nice the people have been to us here, and how good the services are. For instance, all of us have relied heavily on Harris Electric and Lunde Electric. Both have gone over the top to help us, in multiple ways. For instance, we’ve been having packages delivered all week to Harris Electric, most of which had nothing to do with anything electric. They’ve been good sports about it, and have even been personally delivering our packages. A manager at the Grand Aleutian Hotel offered to take our group hiking, then helped us find someone to wash the boat. Another manager took Kirk scuba diving. A propane place earlier today stayed open after hours to fill our tanks. A package that came in after the air cargo company closed was delivered anyhow, by personal delivery of a clerk in her own car. I suspect everyone knows we’re not likely to pass this way again, yet we’ve been treated like regulars.

It’s also been interesting on the docks. A few boats behind us is a big wooden fishing boat, probably 90 feet long. Bill mentioned that it was built in 1913, and commandeered during WWII for use dropping depth charges on submarines, and did actually take out a submarine. Last week, there was a sail boat here that was working on a circumnavigation. This week, in roughly the same place, there is the sail boat headed to the Northwest Passage. Both boats invited us aboard for tours. We haven’t seen anyone who is here, “just hanging out.” This is a place you come for a reason, and whether it is commercial fishing, or exploring the world, if you are here, you are probably doing something interesting.

I whine a lot, but the fact is: It’s pretty cool being here.

Thank you,
Ken Williams
N6805, Sans Souci

PS Sorry about the lack of pictures. We just got here, and are getting ready for departure tomorrow morning early. Weather permitting.

23 Responses

  1. Hal:

    OK .. I’ll spoil the surprise. We went to find a B-24 that crashed during WWII. Bill had visited it 20 years ago, and it was in great shape. We hiked to it, and have some amazing pictures. Because no one comes to the Aleutians, it is relatively untouched.

    I’m still struggling my Umnak blog out.. tomorrow I’ll tackle the one for Atka.

    A bit of excitement for this morning, that will also make tomorrow’s blog. Braun blew a hydraulic line, and had to haul his anchor manually in 25-30 knot winds. We’re underway, and landing in Adak is going to be “interesting” if we’re in a gale and he has no thrusters, or ability to drop anchor.

    -Ken W

  2. Darn! I goofed, and my SPOT is inaccurate. I forgot that it needs to be re-activated every 24 hours.

    Hal W(yman) wins the price by guessing correctly that we’re on Atka. Bechevin Bay. This anchorage is likely to rate as one of our favorites of the trip.

    Our current lat/long: 52 02.111N, 175 07.363W

    -Ken W

  3. Greetings all! I’m typing my blog now. We’ve been moving fairly quickly and I just haven’t had time to think about blogging. I should have something to post later tonight, or tomorrow morning.

    We won’t arrive in Adak until tomorrow afternoon. The good googlers amongst you will figure out where we are and what we’re doing. Suffice it to say that my blog tomorrow (not today’s) has some very cool pictures.

    -Ken W

  4. Ken: Love being able to check on your location throughout the day – seems like you guys are moving right along on your leg to Adak. Just curious how your Inmarsat coverage is up there and what kind of data throughput you estimate you are getting?

  5. Looking at SPOT, looks like you’re heading non-stop to Adak from your overnighter? How’s the Bering Sea treating you?

  6. The Coast Guard helicopter gave us a nice flyby this morning and I spoke to my friend Jason, a rescue swimmer. They were out searching for a crewman who fell overboard a fishing boat so were low on fuel and could not give us much chance to take photographs. It’s a privilege to have acquaintances there and know they are on our side. I have a good many friends who are still alive due a ride in their hoist basket and thank the CG for being there every time I see them.

  7. Some time ago Ken wrote:

    “From where we are, the simplest run to Nanaimo would be to run right up the middle of the Strait of Georgia. On a day like today, I’d almost think about it. However, the Strait of Georgia can turn quite nasty, and is best avoided. Instead, we are going to zig-zag through the islands.”

    I get a kick out of that looking at the current position.

  8. Makes perfect sense the the union insurance should foot the entire bill for an incompetent operator…its a huge loss, the value of the boat, shipping from China, and loss of use by the owner.

    Who the hell was the union supervision, it should have been very obvious that the boat was
    beginning to til to a dangerous level, perhaps supervision and the crane operator were busy texting

    Another a perfect example of why unions need to be abolished….

    I see these union longshoreman guys regularly at Anacortes, all are so damn fat they can hardly get out of their pickups, and they all have a cell attached to their heads and a bag of donuts….they are a sad looking bunch…!

  9. James wrote:

    “This is sounding like a case where union rules and regulations got in the way of common sense.
    It will probably boil down to operator error. This happens more frequently than one would think…and more often than not, simply amounts to unfamiliarity with equipment. This probably wouldn’t have happened if the ships’ personnel had been allowed to operate their own cranes while in this Port!”


    1. whether union or not, in most of the world longshoremen do the cargo handling.
    2. shippers and ship operators love to bitch about the cost of union port labor, but rarely do they want the liability of their own crew handling cargo, nor will their insurance carriers allow it.
    3. ship’s crew are almost never experienced at handling cargo. Their crane work is mostly limited to maintenance, making ready and stowing cranes for sea.

    In 30 years in the shipping industry, I could count on one hand the times I’ve seen a ship’s crew handle cargo. It always takes more time and much more prone to damage.

    Yes, accidents do happen and it’s likely it was human error in this case, but I’d love to know how many yachts have been unloaded in the port of San Diego and how many were dropped. I suspect the percentage dropped would be minuscule. In any case the lawyers will work it out in the end and PAE did it’s part in satisfying the owner.

  10. There’s a tug pulling a big barge just out the window on my starboard side. It’s name shows on my AIS as Alaska Mariner. That may be what you are seeing.

    Bill did say that he spoke with the coast guard last night, and they were going to try to hunt us down. A friend of his is one of the Coast Guard swimmers. We’re expecting a helicopter to swoop down on us at any time.

    -Ken W

  11. There is a mystery vessel tracking directly on Sans Souci’s course with AIS on and all vessel info suppressed. Although the USCG has been displaying its info in that region in the past, maybe Uncle wants to silently ensure a safe voyage – or rescue! {;*)

    You had best get your party hats on and be prepared to live up to Adak’s and Cynthia’s expectations! They left out the mud pack and full body massage. Didn’t realize Adak is a closed military base. All them natives got those Russian surnames; whose military holds the island? {;*0)If Cynthia left anything out of her and Elaine’s plans, I’m hard-pressed to think of it. What lovely people!
    Ron Rogers

  12. I am Glad you enjoyed your time here. Your group was great, and I was very impressed by how much they all wanted to really get to “know” Dutch Harbor/Unalaska. From hiking Bunker Hill and Ballyhoo, to even coming to our little “Fourth of July” parade downtown, you all were not the “normal” tourists that are just interested in the “Deadliest Catch”. You all are welcome back at any time.

  13. Welcome back to Dutch…
    Thought some would find this interesting…I just stumbled on it last night while researching a 62.

    What goes up…came down the wrong way!
    Can you imagine the anticipation of ordering, designing, planning and waiting…for the delivery of your dreams and you get a phone call…And “POOF”… your world comes crashing down in a matter of seconds!
    Now “this” is what you call a bad day…and luckily no one was injured… (

    This is sounding like a case where union rules and regulations got in the way of common sense.
    It will probably boil down to operator error. This happens more frequently than one would think…and more often than not, simply amounts to unfamiliarity with equipment. This probably wouldn’t have happened if the ships’ personnel had been allowed to operate their own cranes while in this Port!

    What is truly remarkable in all of this, is the way Nordhavn turned this tragedy around for the “customer”, and speaks of the character and integrity of PAE.
    The full story with pics…
    http://vesselassistsandiego (


  14. Hello Ken! So glad to hear you made it safely back to Dutch Harbor, and you are “back in the saddle”…it sounds like you are really experiencing the real Aleutians! I am writing to you from Adak. Our Harbormaster, Elaine, is out of town, and has asked me to take over your welcoming and help coordinate your visit to Adak. As we are your last American port, we are all anxiously awaiting your arrival. We will be following your progress to Adak, and hopefully you won’t to much adventure to report! Until you get to Adak, that is! We have some activities planned, and are hoping you carry a great memory of not only Adak and our distinctive and unique home, but a grand memory of the entire Aleutian Chain and its folks who live and work here every day! Just a couple of notes, in case Elaine didn’t mention them:
    1. We only have 2 flights weekly, on Sunday and Thursday. If you need anything by air, it would be a good idea to order now from Anchorage, and have them air freight or gold streak it on Thursday’s flight.
    2. Our small grocery store has just about all the necessities, but fresh fruit/veggies are a treat you may want to consider flying in. We use ( and they are great to get things on the flights right away for Adak. (ps: our airport is fantastic, compared to Dutch Harbor, we have 2 runways over 7k feet, Alaska jet service).
    3. As you probably know Adak is a closed military base. If you have any special things you want to see here, please let me know and we will be sure to get it on your touring list. We are planning a military history tour, nature tour (otters, birds, caribou, etc), hike or 4 wheeler tours. If you want to hunt caribou, or go halibut fishing or trout or salmon fishing, please let me know as well.
    4. Do you have freezers on board? We have some fresh halibut and maybe some crab and caribou if you do.
    6. Joe and I lived in Dutch Harbor/Unalaska for 25 years, actually, he was born and raised there, so we know many folks there, if you get the chance, and get stuck in Dutch because of weather delays, you should look up his dad, Nick Galaktionff, he is an Aleut elder and can tell you stories about the Aleutians and the ancient Aleut ways. Contact Rufina Shaishnikoff to help you interpret. I truly hope you got a chance to visit the city of Unalaska and the Church, Bishop’s house and Qawalangin Tribe and Ounalashka Corporation offices.
    7. Adak is as unique as place as you will see on the Aleutians, when you get here, you will see why. I just heard someone say they heard it was a “hidden treasure, a well kept Alaskan secret”…I truly hope you will agree, see you soon!

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