Dutch Harbor – Homer, Alaska

The Homer Theatre

The Homer Theatre

1st of September is a sunny day in Homer. Clear sky, sun is warming my skin. After breakfast at Mauras Cafe I take a bike ride up the hills to get a view. Kammi Matson at Old Town B&B gives me a ride in her Subaru to the ferry terminal at the spit dock and guess what – the ferry Kennicot is delayed due to “rough weather out there”. The information is given to me when I call the number which is posted at the ferry terminal entry. This is often the case with the ferries in these waters and you just have to be patient and adapt to the situation. The same ferry, Kennicot was also delayed about a day from Dutch Harbor.

On the trip from Dutch Harbor to here I met several persons that I got to know a little better.
 John, the fisherman from Kodiak wants to retire from the hard work on deck and start a school for deckhands and hire them to the fishing boats. His fingers are numb due to tying thousands and thousands of over hand knots for crab pots and hauling cod long lines in the cold waters of Bering Sea.
There is Zak a young fisherman from Homer who “just love fishing”. As long as fishing is the subject he is all shining and happy, praising his work but if the discussion shifts to some other issue he gets silent and introvert.
Another totally different character is James Mason, 65 who spent two years in Dutch Harbor as a journalist. After being commissioned by a fishing newspaper they informed him, after two weeks, that the paper was to be shut down. So James started his own internet based magazine The Dutch Harbor Telegraph. Now he is on his way to Anhorage to start a new chapter in his life.  He had been working as a journalist in Jugoslavia during the Balkan War, owned a bike shop in Carlifornia and lived in Kotzebue, Alaska. A gnarly and well informed man. I liked him and we had some interesting discussions.
The young woman Erica have stayedin Dutch Harbor for four months. She is a newly examined massage therapist and also divorced from a marriage that did not make her happy and now she is enjoying her freedom and experiencing new contact with new people which she lacked in her marriage since her husband was not social.
Cindy, in her late sixties grew up in a road house in Alaska where her father was a bush pilot. Now she runs her green house in Fairbanks together with her daughter. The work is quite seasonal so it made it possible to make this trip together with her brother Art  and his wife Patty.

What about Homer? My stay at Old Town B&B has been a pleasant treat. Specially compared to the hotels I experienced in the Arctic which were mostly very expensive and dirty. The establishment is situated in an old merchant house which also holds a gallery at the street level. The atmosphere is romantic, artistic country style which immediately made me feel comfortable. Melissa, an artist who is also staying at the B&B is working on her exhibition consisting of creatures and objects made of coconut hair. She is determined to make one object each day.

The streets are to big for this little place. It is a pity because you get an impression of a suburb in any American big city. Though a small town building, The Homer theatre is just having a documentary film festival. I have seen two films – Cutie and the Boxer, about a Japanese artist couple living in New York. The common problem in artist families, the one where the woman steps back in order to support her husband, was very well told in this film. Muscle Shoals – picture the story of the legendary sound from this particular studio in Alabama. Lots of wonderful music! I couldn’t understand why people in the ticket queue carried big bowls. When I got inside I saw that they filled them with popcorn. Weather it was to save money or impact on the environment I don’t know but it made a charming impression on me.

Another charming place is Observance of Hermits, a second hand book shop owned by the Russian Yan Kandror, living in Homer since 28 years. Lots of nice old books and strange objects, just the magic atmosphere a shop like this should have. Unfortunately I could just buy some postcards. I can’t carry any more in my already to heavy bag.

Enough for now – I am getting out in the sun to enjoy this beautiful day.

Richard

M/V Kennicot in Dutch Harbor, Alaska

M/V Kennicot in Dutch Harbor, Alaska

New friends on Kennicot; Erica and James

New friends on Kennicot; Erica and James

Houses at the Spit Homer, Alaska

Houses at the Spit Homer, Alaska

The beach. Homer, Alaska

The beach. Homer, Alaska

Kelp at the beach in Homer, Alaska

Kelp at the beach in Homer, Alaska

Yan Kandrors Observance of Hermits Bookstore in Homer, Alaska

Yan Kandrors Observance of Hermits Bookstore in Homer, Alaska

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Goodbye Dutch Harbor!

Peace of Mind Treck, Unalaska Island

Peace of Mind Treck, Unalaska Island

Remains of WW2 battery in Dutch Harbor.

Remains of WW2 battery in Dutch Harbor.

World War Two workshop in Dutch Harbor

World War Two workshop in Dutch Harbor

23 d of September 2013 Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, Aleutian Islands, Alaska, USA.
At the fishing boat harbor the fishermen are preparing their boats for the fishing season which starts in mid October. We were invited onboard Valiant, a cod and crab boat from Seattle. Captain Miguel from Mexico has his sons onboard as crew. David is a mechanic and showing us all the functions of the ship. It can take up to 120.000 pounds of cod which is put into cooled store rooms under deck. The crabs – Opilio, Red King Crab and Brown King Crab are kept in tanks with flowing seawater to stay fresh before they are cooked at the factories ashore in Dutch Harbor. At the bridge Miguel asks us if anyone plays guitar and runs for a acoustic guitar from his cabin. Everybody points at me and says – He does! So I play and sing the song Inez taught me: When I’m gone. Then it is Miguels turn to sing and play. Cumbia, Polka and La Bamba. Later, at the dock we meet Tim from the harbor who asks us to follow him to his house where he hands over one package of Sockeye Salmon and one with Halibut – his own catch. As a traveler you appreciate generosity even more because it makes you feel more accepted as a stranger.

A couple of days ago it was blowing real hard and I barely managed to stand up in the gales. Big stones blew away from the slopes and ended up in the roads and the water in the harbor was whipped into steam. Though it was southerly warm wind which delivered smells of fall and soil to my nose. For the evening Yves, Alain, Julie and I had made an appointment in the bar of the hotel, but they never turned up. And as I guessed they were forced to move Libellule since there were 1 meter waves at the Spit Dock and she almost got crushed against the dock. Fenders and tie ropes broke. Steady wind at 50 knots and blasts up to 100 knots are not to play with. They can’t leave Dutch Harbor before Sunday 29 th and even after that it is not sure it will calm down.

Close to the airstrip I found an old workshop from World War Two constructed as a basilica with a higher part with high sidelights and two lower parts connected at the sides. All bolted steel and rusty, roof broken, floor covered with green moss, puddles of water and littered with debris. A travers along the whole length of the room. Light is pouring through the broken roof and dirty windows. Water is dripping. A beautiful space!

Together with the naturalist guide Suzi Golodoff I hiked the shore of Morris Cove and Peace of Mind Treck on Unalaska Island. She has been living here for 40 years and showed me a lot of different plants. There are lots of flowers here similar to Scandinavia like Willow, Angelica, Blueberries, Wild Strawberries, Crowberries etc. Colors are turning more red now and snow will come soon. The sun is a bit pale. The typical feeling of autumn is here.

Tonight 23d of September I will embark the ferry Kennicot trafficing the Alaskan Marin Highway bound for Homer. Expect to arrive at Homer 27th of September. Hopefully I will continue along the coast all the way to Vancouver. We will see.
24th of September – the ferry is delayed due to storm and will leave tomorrow 25th. I am installed on the ferry in a roomette, a tiny cabin 1,5 x 2,1 m with two berths and a small porthole facing the portside of sun deck.

Richard

USA, Alaska, Unalaska, Dutch Harbor

Cinematographer John and me. Bering Sea in the background

Cinematographer John and me. Bering Sea in the background

King Crab, Eagles and Salmon.
19 th of September Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, Aleutian Islands, Alaska, USA.This landscape looks like the home of the Hobbits in the Lord of the Ring. Mountains covered with a green soft carpet. In clear weather you see snowcapped mountains and volcanoes. On the summits of around Unalaska there are remains from World War Two. Bunkers and batteries. The bay is habited by seals, sea utters and hump back whales. In the air and on rocks and masts there are white headed eagles in abundance. The creeks around the village are boiling with salmon who are striving upstream to breed. As soon as they have done this they die. That’s their moments of being 😉 On the banks along the creeks you see heaps of smelling dead fish. On the docks the crab cages are piled up, ready for the crab fishing season to start. Despite the number of inhabitants (4400) the harbor is huge. It actually consists of several harbors. So different compared to the harbors I have seen so far in Greenland, Canada and Alaska. Very wealthy and BIG.
Yesterday 18/9 was the last day of filming with Primitive Entertainment. They spent almost the entire day on different locations interviewing me. Backgrounds like the sea and the mountains. In the evening we all ( me, Kevin, John, Sanjay, Scott, Yves and the two new crew members of Libellule; Alain and Julie) went to The Aleutian Hotel to eat their famous sea food buffet. We were all stuffed with King Crab, Sushi, Halibut, Salmon, Shrimps and desserts before we said goodnight and split up.
Today 19/9 I have booked a ferry that will leave Dutch Harbor 24/9 and arrive at Homer the 27/9. I have not decided yet but my plan is to continue along the coast to Prince Rupert BC and hopefully go the island Haida Gwaii which, according to Kevin is a magic place. There are pine tree rainforests and old Indian villages.
I have also moved from the boat to the Aleutian Hotel where I will stay until I catch the ferry. This morning I said goodby to the film crew. It feels sad in a way because we have been together now and then during three months on locations like Reykjavik, Nuuk, Illulisat, Pond Inlet. In Cambridge Bay there was another crew.
In the meantime I will investigate Unalaska and the surrounding nature which is, as far as I have seen, very promising. I have contact with a naturalist guide and if all things fit together, she will take me for a hike in the mountains looking and birds and flowers.
I will be back with more about Unalaska and how things develop here.

Richard

Alaska Nome Gold, King Crab and Beer

House-boat in Nome

House-boat in Nome

White rainbow

White rainbow

11 th of September Nome.
Entering Nome Harbor you immediately get the impression of a busy place. A couple of years ago Nome was a sleepy outpost in the southern Arctic of Alaska. But things have changed since since the TV documentary series about gold diggers here started. Before that only a handful of dredges were established in Nome but now there are over 200 registered dredges. It is like back in the late 19 th century when people came from all parts of the world to seek their luck in Alaska. In the harbor you see them everywhere – small pontoon dredges up to really big and advanced ones. The gold diggers – mostly men, often recklessly dressed, bearded, heavily smoking looking like trolls. Hair sticking out wildly under the cap. Rugged faces. According to the Harbor Master the city of Nome has great difficulties keeping up with the boom. They are remodeling the harbor facilities to be able to receive bigger cargo ships and tankers. Another thing illustrating the growth is all the bars and restaurants along Front Street and not to forget the liquor stores, gold buyers and souvenir shops.
We started our celebration of the completed North West Passage onboard Libellule, safely moored at the south wall. At 1830 Nicolas and Marco from Perd pas le Nord plunged in with some bottles of wine. Their North West Passage was about to end with a catastrophe near Point Barrow – they hit a sandbar and struggled for 24 hours in the storm to get their ketch loose but finally they gave up and got evacuated with helicopter. After four days in Point Barrow they returned to their boat on a tugboat that was capable of pulling them loose and eventually they managed continue sailing to Nome. They intend to haul their boat and put it on the hard over the winter in Nome.
At 21 we went to Bering Sea Restaurant to have some steaks and pitchers of Alaskan IPA. After being properly fed with New York style steaks and fries it was time to explore the bar culture. All the bars we visited seem to compete in tallest bar desk. At one bar the baldheaded female bartender was running back and forth along the 10 meter desk handing out drinks, jokes and encouraging comments to the not so sober guests. And of course loud rock music on the PA. Atmosphere was good. Next, Breakers Bar, a combination of Lotto boutique, snooker lounge, Laundromat and bar. A woman won 250$ on the Lotto and bought us all drinks. Two crab fishermen, slightly refreshed, were playing pool and imitating the Swedish chef from the Muppet Show when they found out I was Swedish. The balls were jumping out of the pool table – oops! Kavit the chef from Airport Pizza, a successful restaurant in Nome, presented himself and we had a chat. Two gold diggers showed me an iPhone picture of their last four days harvest – and it looked like a lot of gold nuggets. They told me they made over a million bucks last year. 
 At 0200 all the bars close and everybody are out in the street at the same time. Outside Brakers we met Sheila, Andrew and Arlo. I met Sheila earlier at the souvenir shop with carvings. So the party continued at Libellule. Arlo Hannigan brought his guitar and we had a jam session onboard. He is a musician and sounds like a mix of JJ Cale, Dylan and a dash of Cohen. Our playing styles fitted together and I tried his Martin guitar. I played my Baffin Bay Waltz and he followed and he played some of his songs and I followed. Outside it was raining heavily and the party went on until 0430. That was a proper celebration of our journey though the morning after felt a bit heady.
 Philipp and Michael left the boat to catch their flight back to Europe and Yves, Sylvain and I motored out of Nome Harbor in the rain. Nicolas and Marco from Perd pas le Nord waved farwell at the dock.

Canada, Tuktoyaktuk – USA, Nome

5th of September in the afternoon we set anchor at Herschel Island. The dingy was put in the water and off we went. Philipp is always eager to get into action and specially to get a hike onshore. On the shore Lee John, a Park Ranger from Canada Environment met us und told us that he just started heating up the sauna. But first we got a guided tour through the historic buildings on the island. He also told us about the change in climate at the island – since the permafrost is thawing deeper and deeper there is a lot of erosion visible at the shores as well as higher up on the island. The island is like a huge Pingo and covered with green vegetation. There is a little museum with artifacts from the history of the island in one of the buildings which originally served as a lodgment for over wintering whaling captains. One house contains whale bones and things collected at the shores but it was built to store the baleens from the Greenland Whale that was used in women’s corset’s in Europe during the 19th century. Here they also stored the oil that was made out of whale blubber.
After the guide tour I got the opportunity to interview John Lee in front of the video camera. Behind me, mirrored in his sunglasses were two of his colleagues mounting a radio antenna on the roof of one of the buildings. Now the sauna was hot enough and we all enjoyed the heat from the huge rusty stove where driftwood logs were burning. All houses are heated with driftwood since there is a lot washed ashore here. It comes from upstream the big MacKenzie River. After getting thoroughly heated up it was time for the cold plunge in the bay. The 4 degrees Celcius shock made us yell like children and our intimate parts grew diminutive. ”This is how cold it was”, Philipp said and measured up an inch between his thumb and index finger. We all felt refreshed and most alive and were laughing happily in the dingy on the way back to Libellule. After this short touchdown it was time to move on. We want to make it past Point Barrow as soon as possible. At this moment we have 40 nm left to Point Barrow and after this point our course will change to southwest.
As far as we know now at least 5 boats have been forced to abort the North West Passage. Perd pas le Nord went aground on a sand bar and had to be evacuated by helicopter outside Point Barrow. Traversay III had a leaking propeller shaft and plan to haul their boat up in Tuktoyaktuk. We met them in Pearce Point Harbour where Larry a retired pilot and his wife Mary Anne a musician, invited us onboard for a drink and Mary Anne entertained us on the piano she had installed in their steel vessel. Tooluka from Holland gave up due to the ice. Arctic Tern gave up and Dax gave up in Pond Inlet because of engine problems. All these have done the passage east west but there are more boats that are going west to east who got stuck in the ice. So far we are lucky but also well prepared due to strategic planning by our skilled skippers Yves and Sylvain.
Life onboard Libellule. During the night we all take turns with the watch. We have three shifts at approximately three hours each starting at 2200. Depending on the circumstances the length varies. If there is rough weather we try to make the shifts short.You get waked up by the crew member who had the shift prior to yours by a gentle shake of your toes. You open your eyes and see a red light and a smiling face – ” Richard, time to wake up”. Usually I have a lot of underwear on already since it is just a few degrees in the cabin. I put on my two Woolpower sweaters, Javlin whole body fleece, my thick red fleece sweater and on top of that my yellow Musto trousers and jacket. I put on the blue cap pull up my hood and put on the lifejacket and hang the safety rope around my neck to have it ready for use on deck, grab my mittens and climb to the galley where I make a thermos of tea. After a mouthful of tea with honey I am ready to take over the helm. If anyone spots an Aurora Borealis he wakes the rest of the crew up to share the sight. Last night there was a white and cloudy northern light – like curtains of powder changing slowly. We yelled from excitement when we saw it towering over the mast. One night when I was at the helm and it was raining so the visibility was not that good, I saw a faint light like a little cloud in front of us. It was constantly growing and getting brighter and more orange. After a while it was very bright and almost blending and I could not make out what it was. Could it be an oil rig or a ship? I rose down to consult Philipp who looked at it and also couldn’t say for sure what it was. There was nothing on the radar or the AIS. Maybe it is a UFO? No! After a while it became obvious and to our surprise we now saw that was – the sun! It is amazing how fooled you can get. Since it was all dark and rainy you would not expect to see the sun like that. But anyhow it was really beautiful and impressive. According to the time you wake up everybody prepare their own breakfast. At around 1400 hours lunch is served and it always includes dessert or cheese afterwards. Cooking is high level and variation is great. After the meal Everyone besides the cook helps with the dishes – one do the dishing and the rest do the drying. The supper follows the same pattern but is often three courses. You are always surrounded by laughter which makes life onboard so much easier. Several languages are practiced on Libellule – French is dominating, second comes English and last german. My French is not good nor is my german so I mostly communicate in English.
Good news – Traversay III managed to fix their engine problems. It was a loose engine foundation that needed to be welded. In Tuk a welder fixed it and now they are on their way to Nome.
Rounding Point Barrow suddenly a lot of birds are visible around the boat and the air has a earthy tange with a touch of pine tree. At the Beaufort Sea no smell at all was detectable. This is a welcome sensation since passing the Beaufort Sea was quite boring, more like a transport stretch.
10th of September we are heading towards the Diomedes. Russia on starboard side and USA on our port side. Yesterday the sea was boiling in front of us with thousands and thousands of Thick Billed Murres. When they lifted in front of our bow there was an enormous thunder of feet running on the water and wings flapping against the surface. Theese birds are not happy to fly, but instead they are great divers. Tomorrow we will be in Nome where Philipp and Mickey will leave Libellule. The 12th we will depart for Dutch Harbour and hopefully come there at 16th. Primitive Entertainment will meet us there to film the last part of my Northwest Passage.
11th of september we entered Nome Alaska. Yves opened a bottle of Champagne to lunch. Busy place – lots of golddiggers in the harbour. I saw trees for the first time in several months. Now I am the public library using their computer.

Richard

Canada Cambridge Bay – Tuktoyaktuk

Le chef Yves!

Le chef Yves!

Mary anne at Traversay III plays Bach on her marine piano

Mary anne at Traversay III plays Bach on her marine piano

Libellule and Traversay III anchored at Pearce Point Harbor

Libellule and Traversay III anchored at Pearce Point Harbor

Old house at Pearce Point Harbor

Old house at Pearce Point Harbor

Sylvain with the ice rod ready

Sylvain with the ice rod ready

 

   2nd of September 1400 between Point Pearce and Cape Parry in Amundssen Gulf. In the rough sea the 47 feet catamaran Libellule is pounding heavily in the waves. Joints squeeching, engines idling. The wind is 17 knots northwest and it is snowing. Suddenly, after one month of malfunction due to the magnetic pole, the autopilot is showing the correct bearing. Very strange! It all happened in a second as the boat suddenly took another track.

   We have just had lunch consisting of spaghetti with pesto. Yves is at the chart table checking the instruments, adjusting the track, Sylvain is on deck smoking his home rolled cigarettes, Michael is in the sofa sitting resting with closed eyes and Philipp just came up from the cabin after a rest. There are four cabins on board, each with room for two persons and equipped with a head and a shower. I have the portside bow cabin which is shaky and noisy in rough sea.  Between the hulls there is a 20 m2 space with panorama windows containing social and dining area, chart table and galley. A sliding door leads out to the aft deck from which you reach the helm through a short ladder. The boat is very comfortable and well planned. The only thing that is not all pleasant is the low temperature on board. It it often only a couple of degrees Celcius when you wake up and a lot of condensation on the walls and windows. After a while you get used to the low temperature, it is just a matter of dressing. To deal with the condensation there is a constant drying with  “le chamis” a highly absorbent cloth.

   The low temperature is far compensated by the warm social atmosphere on board. Easy going and no harsh words are spoken. The two french skippers Yves and Sylvain are really solid blokes – always laughing and calm in all situations. The last night in Pearce Point Harbour we had to reanchor five times in 45 knots of screaming wind and snow whipping your face. There was also a problem with the anchor winch. Yves at the helm and Sylvain at the anchor box signaling to each other with gestures and hollers for efficient communication – nice and easy!

   The Swiss owner Philipp is also a very pleasant person, looks a bit like George Clooney. Calm and steady in all situations despite the threat we might not make it through the ice and get stuck somewhere along the Alaskan coast. After Herschel Island there is very little protection but as soon we have past Cape Barrow it is more safe – at least considering the ice threat.

   There is also an uncle of Philipps named Michael. He is the oldest one of us and have lots of funny stories to tell. A friendly man with curious eyes who, like me entered Libellule in Cambridge Bay! Likes to cook so we have done some cooking together.

   Not to forget the general level of cuisine – every lunch or supper is at least a two coarse meal. Everything tastes so good. It is like paradise for me.

  1530 – Cape Parry is now visible on the port side in the distance. A newly downloaded ice chart shows ice concentrations of mostly 2/10 but also 8/10 north of Cape Bathurst. Wind is northwest and thus pressing the ice towards us and the coastline.

   3d of September. Passed through an ice belt outside Baillie Island. The passage took 6 hours and we were helped by a polar bear. For a while penetrating the ice looked impossible and we were about to give up. Then Yves saw the polar bear on the ice floe, we went closer and – what a luck we found a passage through the pack ice. The bear looked fat and healthy and was watching us curiously for a while before it run away. Got some nice footage of it. Later, after passing the ice all felt relieved, specially Philipp who was worried we would not make it. Soon we had some wonderful sailing with easterly wind and made over 15 knots on the waves.

4th of september 0130 we entered Tuktoyaktuk and moored at the small dock and, after discussing the schedule for the day, we went to bed. Breakfast and refueling at the gas station close to the dock. Mickey and I were helped by Baily, a 10 year old boy who eagerly opened and closed our jerry cans. We fueled exactly 500 liters of diesel. We had a really fatty lunch with chicken wings and onion rings with dip at the local store. This afternoon we will continue towards Nome, Alaska and no stopping on the way. So, until then enjoy your life and stay safe – I do!

Richard

Canada Cambridge Bay – Westward Ho!

My cabin at Libellule

My cabin at Libellule

Manfred Becker, the director of the crew in Cambridge Bay, at the dock

Manfred Becker, the director of the crew in Cambridge Bay, at the dock

Joined the Libelllule katamaran today 28th of  August. Philipp owner and crew Yves, Silvain, Michael and me. Got my own cabin – how about that! We just done some shopping for the boat and I bought myself a pair of well insulated rubber boots. According to a local man I asked, he uses the same sort I got all year around. I also found some mittens since gloves don’t function so well when it is freezing and you are on the watch. Today everybody seems to be gathered in Cambridge Bay. There are several sailing boats doing the passage. Some Alaskans coming from Seward decided to put their Empiricus on the hard over the winter and start the next season by exploring the vicinity and not just rush through like most Northwestpassengers do. They invited me to Seward if I come there. There are also two guys in a rowing boat coming down the McKenzie River and through Tuktuyaktok to here. Besides that a cruise ship is anchored in the bay so now the whole village is boiling with waterbound tourists.
At this moment I am so happy the way my journey has developed. I might consider myself as THE HITCHIKER OF THE ARCTIC. Lots of credits to my personal hitchhiker travel agency Primitive Entertainment. A truly primitive and basic way of travelling 😉 I have no idea when I have possibilities to connect to internet next time. Maybe in Tuk. The ice situation at this moment at Amundsen Bay where we are heading is not good but things change really quickly. Depending on the wind and currents it is impossible to get any forecast, you just have to stay updated with the ice charts. We don’t want to get stuck somewhere along the Alaskan coast surrounded by sea ice. But as soon we have passed Barrow, Alaska we don’t have to worry about ice. The rough sea is not a big problem to Libellule according to Philipp, the owner.

Richard