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 ( Enjoy!

38 Responses

  1. Hi Ken,

    I was just looking for information on halibut fishing, this page came up in Google, don’t know if you still write on this blog or not. Your story makes Kiska sound amazing, makes me want to up sticks and do some travelling! Respect for landing that halibut, I’ve wanted to catch one ever since I saw pictures of my Grandfather with a 100lb specimen in the ’50’s. I bet you were cursing the decision to use a gaff at the time, but made for amusing reading, so thanks for that… My employer sells small 3D tenders ( , I don’t think however since reading your blog I would ever trust myself to catch anything of size in one!

  2. Thank-you for a story well written and documented. We are inheriting a dog named Kiska, so we looked it up on google and found your adventure! My family and I read your blog and watched the videos and were all inspired! My 11 year old daughter says she wants to go on the same adventure to Kiska Is. Thank-you so much!

  3. Ok…I don’t mean to flog a dead horse, but searching Google Earth, its amazing how many ships are lying around partially submerged, just rusting away. It certainly doesn’t look as if they were cleaned up prior to being scuttled. I don’t think I’d want to go fishing there! 🙂

    Anyway, the real reason for my post…a question of Bill H. if I may…….now that you’ve spent a substantial amount of time on Sans Souci, some of which has been in less than ideal conditions, (and my apologies if this has already been asked and I’ve missed it), could you give us your thoughts on her seaworthiness as compared to the commercial vessels that your used to? What’s the worst sea state you’ve been through so far on Sans Souci, and what would you estimate to be the absolute worst sea state that Sans Souci could handle safely?

    Thanks, enjoy your time in Russia, and stay safe out there!

    – John S.

  4. Ron this blog is inspiring in many ways people are finding many things to comment on ie Tech., weather,tides in passes, personal nautical experiences,WW2,etc.etc when I find myself reading i’m not interested in I go on to the next as things if nobody has a comments on something then I say i’ll drop it hopefully this wont turn out to be a bunch of people bashing each other on what they find interesting

  5. Folks, the GSSR is their for pleasure and to meet the people and eat their food and see their scenery. I say advisedly that they are not there to examine Google Earth photos of the Russian Navy whether active or retired. So look forward to the town and marvel at the fact that the Russians in Siberia have been a welcoming people who are going to show the GSSR crew a great time and give great insights into a rarely seen part of Russia. What a great opportunity for the friendship of the sea!

  6. Ken & everybody on the G.S.S.R. thank you for taking us along on this trip.I’d like to nominate the picture of the waterfall above as best landscape picture of the trip so far. I’d also like to know from Bill if El Ninos have any effect on Alaskan Waters. PS Dave Theres a picture of 3 White Subs S E of the ship layed over at 52.964 158.692 on Google earth and possibly 3 subs next to the dock

  7. Wow. You made it to Russia. (checking spot) Congratulations. A far cry from the trip to “The Forks” for a burger on Bass Lake eh?
    What an adventure. But the big questions is…..can you see Sarah Palin’s backyard from there?

  8. Congratulations to Sans Souci , Seabird and Grey Pearl ! I know you are not finished yet, but what an incredible voyage. Beeing hailed as GSSR from an “outpost” of Russia might be a sign of the publicity the group has had, and probably will get while there. You are now true “Ambassadors of the USA ” . Hope you enjoy your time at such a rarely cruised area of the world.
    Congrats ! —Frode—

  9. Ken,

    I saw that the sailbout that had sailed directly from Japan was from Norway. That made me realize that I am currently enjoying the Norwegian summer at 60 degrees north in Oslo while you are being beat up in cold and miserable conditions at approx. 52-53 degrees north! Thank God for the Golf stream that makes Norway inhabitable!

    It also makes Norway a great place for cruising. Long coastline, deep fjords, midnight sun (at least up north)and agreeable conditions in the summertime. I guess you know that Nordhavn is a Norwegian word/name, and that the earlier Nordhavn models were inspired by the fishing boats used in the tough Norwegian Sea(?) See you here soon?

  10. Ken, I really enjoyed the latest blogs, I wish I was there. I’m a big fan of history and actually seeing and touching it would be amazing. For your stabilizers try turning the sensitivity down a little. I had the same thing happen to me and that solved it, as it gets rougher you have to turn them down a little. Wishing you guys a safe trip.

  11. Thanks Barbara…! I’ll see if I can find that.

    I’m still scanning around all over the waterfront there.

    I did however locate a ship sunk, laying on it side at a pier….did ya see that..?

    Ron…see if ya can find that.

  12. Dave — look across Avaca Bay, about 8 o’clock from where the GSSR is anchored and you’ll see where the Bay sorta curls back on itself. Zoom in on the shore of the underside of the land that juts out and you will see row after row of docks with subs along side.

  13. Very interesting to use Google Earth, zoom in very close and examine the shore line there…its a huge seaport

    Ron…I haven’t found the subs…yet !

    I suppose they are ashore enjoying some of that Russian Vodka tonight…

  14. I’m happy to report that the GSSR fleet is now tied up in Petropavlosvk Siberia Russia. All is good. More when I can…

    -Ken Williams

  15. I wonder if this is where the Russian Navy has come to greet at 52.83/158.73 as they are 1 mile from the Petropavlovsk Harbor entrance…….

  16. We on Cape Cod have been enjoying your blog very much. Your photos, videos and writing provide great insight to an area of the world that few people get to see. Thank you for providing that. You are very lucky as Roberta seems to be a great, knowledgeable travel partner during your journey. Obviously you both love what you are doing. I am particularly envious because you get to spend more time with my brother Bill than I have in over twenty five years. Bill has talked about and has shown me photos of the Aleutian Islands over the years. Your up to the moment in depth look at the area is very entertaining. The technology involved in your enterprise including your ability to upload videos via satellite from your location is a marvelous thing! Stay safe and enjoy the ride!! Jay H.

  17. Just a little commentary on fish and lenticular clouds. That fish was a real good one for rod and reel. They probably used about 80 pound test, I did not go, just suggested where. I was busy visiting the sailboat people because sailing is my true passion. I enjoy the quiet of a sailboat after being in power boats for business purposes for over 40 years. It is a true disconnect.
    The lenticular clouds are a phenomenon often seen over the volcanoes. When we were passing the volcanoes we had winds of 20-25 knots Westerly. The winds run right up the slope of the volcano and accelerate. The volcanoes in the photos were 6000 and 5200 ft. I presume at that rarefied height the moisture is taken out of the air at the top making stacks of lenticular clouds. On the surface, where we were, the wind shears off the volcanos; to the north on Bering side and to the south on the Pacific. The wind accelerates and when mixed with the tidal currents in the passes, which we expected, gives the illusion of snotty weather. It only lasts about a half hour then moderates back to it’s predicted 20-25 knots. All in all we have had wonderful weather for the entire trip with very few spots deserving the description “exciting”. We have been well served by my neighbor in Kodiak, Rich Courtney, who provided us with detailed weather forecasts for the entire route in exchange for just sending him our spot observations to add to his weather model of the North Pacific. Rich works for NOAA Weather and I would like to thank him for his spot on forecasts.

  18. Teri:

    Always great to hear from you! I do tend to lose weight on these passages. I avoid eating, as I know seasickness is always a distinct possibility.

    I don’t think you’d have liked our ride from Kiska to Attu!

    That was a rare exception though. 99.9% of this trip we’ve had great weather and nothing but fun. Roberta and I are still disappointed we didn’t get to cruise with Scott and you last year in Alaska.

    As to the tender…. we’ve ordered a custom patch made, that should be waiting for us in Hokkaido. The little tender actually messed us up in Attu. I don’t want to spoil the fun of my next blog, but Bill, Jeff and I were caught in 22 knot seas, a mile off shore, on the little 9 foot tender, when the engine died, five times! That made for an exciting, and cold, afternoon. Steven Argosy is a real hero.

    -Ken W

  19. Sam m:

    We’re currently doing the three day run from Attu to Siberia, and have had perfect weather.

    My next blog will talk about Attu, and I’ll probably post it on Sunday. I have trouble writing while we’re at sea. I’m not seasick, but I can’t really concentrate or read. The movement

    As to Shelby: She is doing ok, not great. The passages are tough on her, particularly the rough passages. She will be very disappointed that she can’t go ashore in Siberia, but we need to keep her on the boat, in order to smooth getting her into Japan. Overall, we are absolutely positive that she is happier bouncing along at sea with us, than sitting home alone, but I suspect she’d be thrilled if we were to settle down someday (which is very unlikely to ever happen).

    -Ken W

  20. Mark:

    Thank you for the input on lenticular clouds. I had assumed they were a function of the volcanoes. At the time we saw them, the wind speed was gusting to the mid 50s, so it was very possibly over 60 knots near the volcanoes.

    -Ken W

  21. Dave:

    We do have a patch kit with us, but it is for small punctures. We ripped the tender pretty good. We’re in communication with a business in Seattle that specializes in inflatable tenders and sent them pictures of the rip. They are putting together a custom patch kit which we’ll hopefully hook up with in Hokkaido Japan.

    -Ken W

  22. John S:

    Bill H reads my blog. I’ll mention to him to respond to your question. The halibut actually came in at 276 pounds! I’ve never fished for anything, other than running the boat while guests fished, so I’ve really got no idea.

    -Ken W

  23. Jim:

    My goal in Petropavlovsk will be to NOT say, see, or do, anything controversial. We’re very appreciative that we were able to get visas to visit Siberia and understand what a rare and uniquely cool opportunity this is. We’re looking forward to fueling in Siberia, and enjoying our time there, then beginning the LONG non-stop eleven hundred mile passage to Hokkaido.

    -Ken W

  24. Hi Ken,
    Love your blog. One quick question. Has the PAE diet kicked in (puke all (you) eat? That is one of the side benefits we miss from cruising (natures way of keeping the pounds off). I thought of this question when you were going to pass up free fresh Halibut. I would kill for it here in Florida and my guess is you would love beautiful beef tenderloin with a fresh Caesar salad and aspargus. Scott would like to know how your tender is doing? Thanks again for the great stories and picture. You are almost to Russia…how exciting. ~ Teri & Scott

  25. It is just amazing at the progress that you are making toward Siberia since leaving Attu. Seabird’s “Spot” seems to be giving the best up-to-date reports. It looks like you are ahead of schedule and doing very well. I’m sure you will be enjoying Russian hospitality before Sunday at this pace. Good luck. Keep those great blogs coming. All of you are offering such great perspectives on the trip. Thanks.

  26. Another wanabe watching in awe as your three little ships pound your way westward. I was wondering just exactly where you are going to tie up/anchor in Petropavlovsk? If you go far enough in around the corner to port you will see more Russian submarines in one place than I guess any other Americans ever have. Well, maybe not. Of course if you get that far I doubt we’ll hear any more from you on your blogs. 🙂

    A former US Navy Submariner, Enjoy

  27. Thanks Ken !

    amazing blog, love it, I can’t get enough of the footage of the boats in heavy weather, love to see how these boats handle large seas. Keep them coming 🙂

    the N63 looks to be a spectacular vessel, I believe it is an extension of the N55/N60 but with the aft pilot house using the same hull with new deck and engine room layouts. With the N63’s smaller beam and lighter displacement it will be interesting to see the handling differences compared to the 62!

    Thanks again for letting us share in your voyage, keep the video’s coming !


  28. Great post Ken! Loved the video of the heavy seas!

    Just curious though….as I’ve never fished in salt waters, nor caught anything over 15 lbs for that matter, I have to wonder….what type of fishing line does one use to haul in a 200+ lb halibut! (and man, are they ever an UGLY fish, but the taste more than makes up for the appearance! 🙂 )

    – John S.

  29. And….the halibut looks like he’d go around 200-pounds. Lotta great eating there.

    There are lots of stories around Alaska about not halibut fishing or using a gaff around inflatables, for good reasons.

    Halibut that size are commonly shot with a handgun at the surface to reduce the pain of getting them landed…..especially by spot fisherman

    I caught a 305 pounder just outside Gustavus a couple years ago….what a nightmare that was…they are damn hard to ware out and get them landed

  30. Good post Ken…your best so far

    I hope you guys have your inflatable boat repair kit along…Jeff should be able to handle that just fine.

  31. What a great run Ken. I gotta tell you, as a pilot, those top two pictures would have me a bit worried and match up well with your description of the winds. Those two pictures both clearly show lenticulars, which typically show up on the lee of big mountains or even thunderstorms with winds over 60 knots.

  32. Hope that today will be one of the worest dasy of the Trip,,,,, wish you better weather for the rest of the Trip,,, How did you dog handle the trip?

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