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Alaska: Prince William Sound and Valdez 21.9. - 20.10.2003

updates:  21.9.  28.9.  4.10.  15.10.  20.10. 

21.9.2003 Prince William Sound, Alaska
It has been a quiet week after the visitors! We have finally had time for all the magazines and newspapers as well as some Finnish heavy music sent by Hannu's nephew. Thank's for these and all the greetings from Finland!
The theme for the past week has been food preservation. In this life style the need for human being to gather and store food becomes very strong. It began from fruits on Marquesas, and continued to clams and mussels in New Zealand. Fishing - and especially drying or preserving the catch - belongs to the same cathegory. It brings great satisfaction to find or catch food, and even better if part of that can be stored. Though, it's understandable. Shops are far away (like now) or selection limited. Oat meal was the only thing we wanted to buy in the Whittier crocery store.
We have picked last blueberries before frost, although they are already a bit wet. We also found some cranberries, still raw. Both berries make good jam. Auli made marmalade of oranges, which nobody ate.
In Finland it has been very good mushroom autumn (lot's of Boletus), which we jealously notified, looking for mushrooms here. Without result, before Auli slipped - on a bunch of "Chantarellus tubaeformis" (my dictionary doesn't know the English name). We picked two full bags, and now there is a drying net over the stove. This mushroom is even better than its sister, the yellow chantarelle (Chantarellus cibarius). The finding came in need, since salmons are rotten and other fish luck has been nil.
Mussels and clams are out of question, because they might be poisonous. We learned this in Kodiak, after we had eaten the first - luckily not dangerous - mussels. Actually, it is not clams or mussels that are poisonous as such, but certain organisms that live in sea (my dictionary does't know the name of it, either). This organism produces nerve poison that is stored in the water filtering mussels and clams. The poison is paralysing, so it's serious, not a minor diarrhoea. Four mussels can be enough for death. This is a general feature, found also in South America, Japan and Norway. So, no wonder that New Zealand - which is free of the poison - is a big producer of green mussels, mostly for export. We had one jar of New Zealand clams (picked and pickled by ourselves!), which made a delicious paella with our last squash and pepper. Regrettably we had only one jar.

Cranberry bog is easy walking terrain

Cleaning the mushrooms took two hours

Other main "happenings" during the week has been visiting an old gold mine. There was only metal scrap and a fallen mine hole left. It must have been a huge job to get all the machines and two cars to the roadless hillside. The mine was most active between 1916 and 1922. They found 700 kg gold and 70 kg silver. It sounds rather small amount, but maybe these are the official figures and the truth is different. The 1964 earthquake put all the mines to a new form.

One cannot talk about Prince William Sound without mentioning the worst oil spill in USA, the grounding of the oiltanker Exxon Valdez in 1989. The single-hulled ship spilled 41 million litres (11 million gallons) raw oil into sea destroying almost 1500 miles of shoreline. Hundreds of thousands sea birds, thousands of marine mammals - especially sea otters - and countless number of fish died. Fishermen lost their livelihood. Some are still sueing Exxon company in court. According to locals the nature is not the same. Alaska has 27 marine mammal species, 30 sea bird speacies, and 430 fish species. It is estimated that the oil killed 350.000 seabirds, 3.500 sea otters, 250 bald eagles, and 200 seals. During the following summer Exxon paid for the cleaning up jobs, and about 9000 people joined the crowd. The company paid for the State of Alaska and for people living in the area, but a big part of damages for the fishermen and native people has not been paid. A fund (The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Settlement Fund) was established, and it has aided various projects, for instance building the Alaska Sealife Center in Seward.
When the grounding happened, Exxon Valdez was commanded by an unqualified first mate. The captain was in his cabin, probably with a bottle.
Oil is transported to Valdez through a pipeline from Prudhoe Bay, situated 1300 km away on the shores of Beaufort Sea (see the big map above). Presently, only double-hulled tankers are allowed into Prince William Sound.

Autumn is coming, some nights have been below zero (freezing) and inside the boat +15 C in the morning. Ground is partly white of frost and small ponds are covered by thin ice. However, Auli has dipped into sea every day! We are actually not so far in north, at the same latitude than Helsinki (this bay 60 deg and 55 min). I would put an exact position here, but our GPS is not working. Maybe they forgot to change the battery in the service, at least we hope so. Good luck that it stopped here inshore, where it is not much needed anyway. And we have a spare one, a hand held, Auli's father's "mushroom-gps". Another malfunctioning gear is the starting battery, which broke in couple of months. We bought new batteries in NZ in April. Now we start with the "leisure" batteries, which has own risks: not to let the voltage drop too much, and before start we have to turn all the electronics off in case of a voltage "peak".

We continue slowly towards Valdez, and after that we still have to check Cordova before we choose our wintering spot.

28.9.2003 Valdez, Alaska
The autumn equinox (23.9.) is said to be the beginning of autumn storms. And precisely that day the first storm was predicted: 60 knots to the open coast and 50 knots to Prince William Sound. We were in a beautiful, but a bit open little bay (Billy's Hole, Long Bay), so we tied Kristiina ashore with two long lines. The wind never came. Kristiina was slowly turning back and forth with the tide,  lines rounding the anchor chain and eachother. Better than a storm.
The equinox - both autumn and spring - means that the day is theoretically equally long everywhere on the earth, because the straight between the earth and the sun is in a perpendicular position to earth's rotation axis. But because sunlight is refracted by earth's atmosphere, this is theory, not what we experience.

We arrived to Valdez on Friday, and started immediately to think and wonder about the wintering. How a long winter would be spent here. The 4000 inhabitant's town is surrounded by beautiful, sharp mountain tops. The oil terminal is on the other side of the bay, out of sight. The town is tidy, all the main facilities and shops are provided. At first glimpse, the library seems to be rather comprehensive. There is free internet access and you can use your own diskettes. They even have a music room with an oldfashion record player and LP-records! Neat that the old LP's have not been dumped. The harbour fee is a bit cheaper (610 dollars/6 months) than in Cordova (790 dollars). But shower fee is also here unbelievable: 4 dollars. What is the reason for the high price! Power is produced by the water running down the hillsides. There is plenty of water. If we both have a shower three times a week, it costs 24 dollars. That makes about 100 dollars a month - same than the slip for the boat! Grazy pricing. The water on the dock is free. Power costs 17 cents per kWh. But our shower happens to be in the cockpit, where it freezes to useless, even if we wouldn't mind the cold shower room or viewers.
For the favour of Valdez are sure snow and road access. If angst gets unbearable, one can get out of the town. Anchorage is 500 km (305 miles) away, Fairbanks 600 km (364 miles).

4.10.2003 Valdez, Alaska
It seems that we are stuck in Valdez, partly because of rain and fog, partly because of other, unfinished matters. We met Paavo (66), who left Kotka, Finland in the age of 16. He has two cars, a Ford campervan and Subaru, which we have negociated. We wanted to buy the campervan, Hannu was already dreaming of a trans-American journey, but understandable Paavo doesn't want to sell the car. So we were ready to buy the other car. But as we found out all the details for that, it appeared that we cannot get an insurance with the Finnish driving license. An insurance is mandatory, and we could have got it with an international driver's license. Well, maybe we rent the Subaru. But the car is not in Valdez, so that we have to get it on Paavo's way to Anchorage, sometimes next week.
Having a car here interest us, because overwintering in a small town has made us a bit nervous - already now! We have been here only a week. How will this end up...
Past week has cleared what Valdez has to offer: a gym, a library, and some courses like astrobiology, ceramics, and guitarr playing. Auli might survive with those, but Hannu needs something more. Of course after the snow we can go skiing. But the small town reality starts to reveal to us...

We tried to buy Paavo's campervan...

...but didn't get a deal!

There are two live-aboard sailing boats in the same dock, but we haven't managed to get known yet. Via Paavo we met one charter captain, who might need Hannu in some boat jobs. Think, here we are desperately looking for something to do, a job, to keep our minds healthy, not for the money. Now I understand a bit better how it feels to be unemployed. The big thing of the day is the visit to the library, the main job washing the dishes.
All the spare time has brought something good, also. Hannu examined the starting and power system a whole day and found a loose cable. The starting battery is fine. Good, we don't have to buy a new one.
Hannu has mounted more lights and insulation for the dark and cold winter. Light is also important for your moods. We have double windows now, a tight plastic is functioning as the inner "glass".

The rain stopped for a moment and the sun proved its existence


15.10.2003 Valdez, Alaska
Sorry about the delay in the updates, we were in Anchoarge for 5 days. Now we have a real "mile-beater" or what do yo think about this:


In these days every Alaskan, 598 813 persons, gets 1107,56 dollars. Taxfree, to be used as one wishes. It's time for the yearly PFD, Permanent Fund Dividend or - more simply - dealing out some oil money. Alaska Permanent Fund was founded in 1976 to put aside a percentage of mineral earnings. Prudhoe Bay's crude oil made the fund rich, so that from 1982 onwards every Alaskan has got his/her share. The amount has varied from 313 dollars to the top of 1964 dollars in 2000. Thanks to the oil (or 'crude', as they call it here) the State of Alaska doesn't collect any tax on income, sales or inheritage. But there are other taxes, like the federal tax, borough tax and city tax. The city of Valdez doesn't collect any sales tax (comparabele to GST in Canada or VAT in Europe), that usually varies between 4-9 per cent. Oil and gas make up 80 per cent of the gross state product, second comes tourism, and on third place is fishing.

The name Valdez - as well Cordova - belong to bunch of few Spanish names that remind of the Spanish explorers in Alaska. The bay of Valdez was found by Don Salvador Fidalgo in 1790 - twelve years after Captain Cook sailed in Prince William Sound, naming the sound. Valdez got a good boost towards a settlement during the goldrush in late 1800's, although it all began from misleading advertising. Valdez was said to be an "All American Route" to Klondyke goldfields and interior. In 1898, ships carried 4000 prospectors to Valdez, but all they found was a couple of tents on a muddy ground, and one of the most difficult routes to Klondyke and interior. Valdez is surrounded by Chugach mountains, and it's glaciers became the end for several goldseekers. The army was sent out to sort out the situation. Captain Abercombie was a capable man, and soon log cabins replaced tents, food and supplies were shipped to the site, and a hospital was set up. Also an easier way through the mountains was found by the army. But still today Thompson Pass can be closed in bad winter weather. The Valdez-Fairbanks highway, called Richardson Highway, runs along the route captain Abercombie once found.
The next historical date is the 1964 earthquake, which destroyed Valdez completely. The town was rebuilt in two years, on another location.
In 1974, began the construction of the 1300 km (800 miles) long pipeline from Prudhoe Bay. It was finished in 1977, and Valdez began it's life as a wealthy oil city with an active terminal.
Valdez is also known as the snow capital of Alaska. The annual fall is 10-15 metres (30-45 feet). So if we stay here we can look forward good skiing and lots of shoveling.

The snow limit comes lower every day. 
On the left is the Bad Ass cafe, a place for morning gatherings.


20.10.2003 Valdez, Alaska
Two past weekends we have spent in Finnish company. First in Anchoarge, then in Valdez. When we drove with Paavo to Anchorage to get the super-Subaru, he took us to Pirkko and Antti Höylä. And there we stayed for three days, enjoyning sauna and great hospitality. Antti and Pirkko have been living in Alaska for 20 years. Hannu was especially interested in several gold mining machines Antti has built himself. The days of a shovel, hoe and pan are over, nowdays the goldseekers use machines to separate gold from gravel and sand, and to crush stones. Hannu got goldfever and has been asking Antti to go for a trip, but we'll see if he has to settle to a pan. Panning is permitted almost everywhere, but for mining you need a paid permission.

One of the gold separation machines Antti has made

Gold! - not the big ones in the middle, though, but at the edge of the pan

The next weekend Antti and Pirkko came to visit us in Valdez, driving with their motorhome. The weather was nice, so we got out from the harbour, to Shoup Bay seven miles away. There is a glacier, which is strongly retreated. It has formed two bays surrounded by moraine.

A glacier pushes gravel and sand in front of it called the terminal moraine. A glacier that calves directly into the sea is called tidewater glacier. All glaciers retreat and advance. When retreating, the moraine forms a sill.

The sill formed by moraine is clearly seen on the chart.
At the moment the glacier is retreated more than shown 
on the chart. Depths in fathoms  (1 f = 1,83 m)

Antti and Pirkko by in the inner "glacier lake".
Ice bits lie aground during the low tide.

We are finally ready to leave Valdez. We have got a spare radiator for winter, a US video for the dark evenings and a snow shovel. A few more things and we are ready for the Prince Williamd Sound and Cordova. 

If you are interested in tall ship's history, check this out:


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