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Alaska: the Aleutian and Shumagin Islands 27.6. - 14.7.2004

27.6.  6.7.  14.7.  

27.6.2004 Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, the Aleutian Islands, Alaska
Finally in Dutch Harbor! Or more precisely: in Unalaska, which is the name of the town. Dutch Harbor is the Port - busy, international fishing and shipping port. But before we tell more about Unalaska, briefly back to King Cove, where the harbour people were very hospitable, helpful and friendly. Thanks!
After three day's weather speculation we left King Cove, although the weather chart didn't look promising. And that turned out to be true. We managed to sail only 40 miles from King Cove, then it was best to wait for less wind. We anchored by the Unimak Island. There we some twenty fishing boats and a couple of ships in the same bay. What they were waiting, we don't know.
Actually, we now had arrived to the Aleutians, because Unimak is the first island of the chain. It's separated from the mainland by False Pass, first of several passes and passages joining the Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea. Moving sand banks and shallow water makes False Pass a difficult one, but the fishing vessels are using it constantly. A lot of horror stories are told about currents and bad waves in the passes. Currents can reach 10-12 knots in the smaller passages. That's why we chose the biggest, Unimak Passage, which is 10 miles wide.


Unalaska/Dutch Harbor is located by the Bering Sea.

After three days wind died and we hoisted anchor in the dawn. We zigzagged through fishing boats and their nets to the open sea dominated by a huge swell. It was calm. It seems that it either blows too much or not at all. Well, the main thing was that we were on our way again. We had 60 miles to Unimak Passage, so we were there in the afternoon when the current turned. This time of the month flood (north) was 17 hours and ebb (south) 7 hours. Maximum velocity was 4.2 knots, but we didn't experience any current at all. That about the horror stories. After six hours we had gone through the 35 miles long Unimak Passage and entered to a "new" sea. It was still 40 miles to Unalaska, so we were there conveniently with the sun rise. The 650 mile trip from Homer had taken four weeks!
If Dutch Harbor - the big ship port - gets credits, so Unalaska Small Boat Harbour was an astonishment: small, crammed full place without any facilities. No shower, no laundry. Harbour fee for us 15 dollars/day. We moored alongside a fishing vessel owned by twins, who we had already met in King Cove. Instead of normal harbour seagulls, here harbour eagles are digging garbage and fighting for fish remains. We even saw one sitting on water.


Unalaska Small Boat Harbor is crowded and without facilities.
Fishfactory buildings on the backround.

As always, everything started to sort out. We went to the swimming pool for a shower. In the tourist office we met Tammy, who invited us to her house to do laundry. Very kind! Back at the boat we found a report on petrofied forest on Unga (G.R. Eakins, 1970). Later we met Mr Adams (I forgot the first name), who had brought that paper to us. Very thoughtful! According to this report the petrofied wood on Unga is 11-25 million years old (see the update on 18.6.).

The history of Unalaska dates back 9000 years, when Unangan people, ancestors of the Aleuts, lived here. The island was called Agunalaksh, which became Ounalashka, then Unalaska. And the abbreviation - Alaska - became to mean a wast area beyond the cultural and lingual borders of the Aleuts. Agunalaksh means "the shores where the sea breaks its back". 
When the Bering expedition returned to Russia in 1742 with soft seaotter pelts, it started a fur rush. More and more Russians sailed to these islands and hunted - or forced the natives to hunt - seotters, furseals and foxes. When one place was emptied, they moved to new areas. In 1768, Captain Pribilof found two isolated islands 200 miles north of Aleutians. These islands are the world's biggest furseal rookery. Later Aleuts were enforced to move to Pribilofs to hunt.
There were bloody conflicts between Russians and the natives, but gradually the Russians settled in. A Russian settlement was established on Unalaska in 1772. In 1825, an Orthodox church was built. The present church,  "the Cathedral of the Holy Ascension", was finished in 1896, and it has become a symbol of Unalaska. Probably having also numerous visitors, so fluent was Father Peter's presentation on the beautiful icons.


The orthodox congregation has only 160 members, 
but the church is the symbol of Unalaska.

The present City of Unalaska has 4000 residents but the amount rises remarkably during the fishing season when crew members, fishermen and factory workers move in. Population structure is 7 % Aleuts, 19 % Asians, 13 % Hispanic, and the rest white.
The second World War is part of the history as well. Japanese bombed the town in 1942, and occupied Attu and Kiska islands.

Dutch Harbor is the busiest fishing port in USA in terms of caught and delivery. Yearly about 900 million pounds seafood is passing through. The most important catch are king crab, pollock, cod, halibut and herring. Dutch Harbor is located on the great circle route between Seattle and Japan, which makes it an important shipment harbour.


About 100-ft trawler is deep with fish.

6.7.2004 Pacific Ocean 54░06' N 163░ 27' W
A week ago we left Dutch Harbor after spending four days there. The town was less actractive we had thought beforehand. We started to sail around Unalaska Island; which is about 70 miles long, oak leaf shaped with its numerous bays. July brought some summer weather: 12-15 deg C (upper 50s) and a glimpse of sun. However, clouds didn't lift so much that we could have seen the mountain tops. Unalaska has several 3000 ft peaks and the next island, Umnak has a 7000 ft volcano.
Our first stop, Makushin Bay, is an old village site. Only some grey wood, a wooden cross and a fallen roof was left of it. We tried to catch crabs with a self-made pot. It was made of a round plastic laundry basket, which had a competitave price (2.99) against a real crab pot in a fishing store (69.99). No luck with the catch.


Makushin Bay


Kashega Bay

Also the next anchoarge, Kashega Bay was a former village. Here was more junk left, fallen houses, rusty steel and grey logs. An eagle was sitting on a rusty bed. But the speciality wasn't the village but - cows. Indeed, our list of Alaskan animals includes a domestic cow. Our Alaskan friend Andy had told stories about wild cows and hunting when we met in Tonga. Were these cows wild or did they belong to the ranch in the west end of the island, we never found out. Wild or not, at least the bull was protecting its herd when we tried to come closer. Hannu would have landed right next to the cows but I was afraid. We have a red dinghy, anyway. We left it further down and approached the staring cows. The bull started to howl. Head down it kicked the grass so that mud clods flied high. We didn't find out how wild this animal was, we left. In the backpack we had bullspray (former bearsrpay) just in case. Alltogether we saw 40-50 cows in a 10-head herds. Among them was newborn calves. We couldn't help thinking Andy's stories about hunting, how tender the meat of these animals must be...
Luckily we got some fish. We took a paddling trip on a lake, trolling a lure behind the kanoe. Just in the last minutes before we were back it snapped. It was a coincidence, because a spawning salmon doesn't eat. We got so excited about the catch that we paddled to the river to see if there were any fish. The day before it had been empty. But now it wasn't! Salmons were jumping and splashing in the river. Hannu got one more with a snag. We ate a good dinner, salted, smoked and canned the rest. That was a treat!

From Kashega Bay we motored to Chernofski Harbor in a thick fog. There was a ranch. We saw cows, sheep and horses on the hills. Nobody seemed to be at home, however, because our VHF-calls and horn blows were not answeared. We anchored to another bay, out of sight of the houses. The bay was full of junk from WWII. Collapsing piers and a lot of stuff on the ground. Rusty barbed wire among the flowers, falling phone poles here and there. Green slopes were cut by old road bottoms.
The next day was even more foggy. The white moist surrounded everything and the landscape vanished. We walked a bit on the beach, but stayed mostly inside. A good day for baking.


Chernofski was full of junk from World War II. During the war, 60.000 persons were serving army on Unalaska Island (10 % of the present Alaska population!)


Unalaska Island has lot of green stone, probably not jade but vesuvianite

Although we hadn't come far, our minds had already started to think the long sailing back to east. There was 600 miles to Kodiak, 1200 to Sitka. On the backround was the memory of the difficult trip here. Would it take also a month to Kodiak... The everlasting fog didn't make us feel better. Fog cutted the scenery to a narrow strip of grey sea and green land.
We decided to turn and head east. Before October we should visit SE Alaska, British Columbia, Vancouver Island and the cities of Vancouver and Victoria. And the inside passage is slow, paced by weather and currents. From Sitka there is 500 miles to the Canadian border, from there another 500 miles to Vancouver.
We entered the Pacific this time via Umnak Passage, where maximum current was 4 knots. We got a nice 11 knots speed at its best, but it didn't last long because the whole passage is only 10 miles long. In our turning point (53║ 18' N 167║ 52' W) we were closer to Finland via west than east.
It has been calm almost every day and this will continue, says the weather forecast. So we started to motor. I'm sure we get the wind on this trip. The first leg is to Sand Point, 330 miles away. It has been a while since we had so long leg. And since a long time we have seen albatrosses and fulmars. But no whales, where are the whales!

 

14.7.2004 Kodiak, Alaska, USA
The trip from Unalaska to Kodiak (700 miles) didn't take a month, as we in the previous update were fearing, but eight days. We stopped on Shumagin Islands for three nights, but not because of bad weather, like on our way west. On the contrary, we stopped to enjoy the beautiful weather. Fog and clouds dissapeared when we came to Shumagins. Finally we were able to see the high peaks of Pavlov volcano, although we had been two months in the area. Sun and blue sky - ah! The temperature allowed us to wear t-shirt and shorts. Only the wind was still absent, but rather calm and sunny than windy and foggy.
We fuelled in Sand Point and went on to the west side of Nagai to look for the landing site of St. Peter, the ship of Vitus Bering. It had taken 40 days for St. Peter to sail from Kayak Island, and the crew of 77 men needed water. As we already told in the update on 11.6., the Shumagin Islands are named after seaman Nikita Shumagin who died in scurvy on Nagai. It remained unclear into which bay the men of St. Peter landed with their shipyawl. We have two books╣ about the subject, and one of them provides a map, but it is unlogical with the story told in the journal. Both possible bays are very exposed, and even with calm weather there was a big swell, so we just took some photos and continued. On the nearby Bird Island Bering and his men met the first "Americans", i.e. the Aleuts.
C. Ford: Where the sea breaks its back. G.W. Steller: Journal of a voyage with Bering 1741-1742. Ed. O.W. Frost.


Bering's men landed either to the bay with the square lake or to the one south of it with a small pond. Nikita Shumagin was buried there.
Shumagin Islands have a lot of unchartered waters. Like this latest chart edition has just a few depth soundings. The land shown is 9 miles long (map 1:300 000).


The bay with squre lake (see the map on left) 

While we were rolling and wondering about the bays, two fishermen came by to say hello. They gave us a goodsize sockeye salmon. We decided to stop in a shelter bay at the north tip of Nagai, and prepare the salmon, as well as enjoy the most beautiful summer evening. That was a good decision, the sun was hanging around late into the evening giving its warmth. We smoked one piece of the salmon and cooked some by the fire. Puffins, guillemots and murrelets were diving in the shelterd bay and two energetic oystercatchers were shrieking on the beach. A perfect end to our Aleutian journey.


Our small smoker is very handy. We have been smoking salmon, cod, flounder and rockfish.


Talking about birds, Auli saw crested murrelets (latin synthliboramphus wumizusume) which is, according to our bird handbook, rare here. It lives in Japan only. The bird has grey back, white bill and two white stripes on each side of its black head. It would be interesting to know was this a rare sight or not (write an e-mail!).

Our trip continued in calm and warm weather towards Kodiak Island 200 miles away. The speed varied a couple of knots according to current. Still no whales, but a lot of birds, especially around the Semidi Islands. Logs and kelp was drifting as far out as here. Once we hit a five metre long thick log, but fortunately it broke in two. Kelp is thick as well and about 10 metres long, but its so soft that propeller cuts through. The thumbs when you hit one are unpleasant, though. After two days were reached the south tip of Kodiak and anchored for the night. We counted to get the current with us in the Geese Channel in the morning, as it was ebb in the Sitkinak Strait. But no. Perkins howling with full rev we made only 3.8 - 4.0. knots. The morning brought also a change in the weather: it was foggy, rainy and windy. We decided to sail all the way, 100 miles to town of Kodiak. While Auli was sleeping Hannu saw whales at last. Several flocks of humpack whales, of which one was feeding. A few showed him nice breeching.
On Tuesday morning we tied our lines to dock in the familiar harbour of Kodiak.


Kelp grows bigger in Alaska than in Finland


Fog comes as a narrow band between the islands... 


... or covers the hills with a smooth blanket.

 

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