maanantai 26. heinäkuuta 2010

July 26th 2010


The time has come to leave Nome. We have had a great time here with people that we will always remember; Tibo who after returning from a reindeer round-up, came to our boat with two salmon and a bunch of interesting photographs, one of which is below,

Alex who after coming back from his fruitless gold exploration, was in the habit of entertaining us aboard the Sarema almost daily with his new job hunting plans (if anyone is interested, Alex is presently crabbing somewhere on the Bering Sea), Susanne who was our knowledgeable guide to anything related to Nome and its surroundings, Hugh who gave Riitta a crash course in how to use Photoshop as a darkroom, and last but not least Deb, Rolland, Jannelle and Bianca, the crew of the Precipice who had sailed the Northwest Passage from east to west the year before. They donated their time to us, shared their invaluable, first-hand experiences of the Northwest Passage with us and, as if that wasn't enough, they also gave us all their paper charts of the Passage.
We should now be as well prepared for the Passage as we'll ever be. We even have musk ox wool for our mittens to keep our hands warm (from Susanne and Hugh), and goggles so that we would see where we are going even in the roughest weather (from Deb and Rolland). So, it is time to say Goodbye Nome, Welcome the Northwest Passage!

perjantai 23. heinäkuuta 2010

July 22nd 2010


Didn't I say the other day that anything could happen? And, it did!
Heikki, a Finnish reindeer specialist who works for the University of Alaska came to see us Monday evening together with a colleague of his, a young Frenchman by the name of Tibo. Heikki had to fly to Fairbanks the next day but Tibo promised to take us musk ox viewing. Although the weather was miserable as it has been every day since our arrival, we managed to see two herds of musk oxen; one out in the bushes and the other one just outside Nome when coming back from an old gold digging dredge.
The original musk oxen of the Seward Peninsula were hunted to extinction in the 1800's, but the 70 animals that were introduced here about 30 years ago have grown to a population of more than 2,000! Residents are allowed to hunt the musk ox seasonally but for this, they require a special licence. And to secure the future of the animal, hunting is strictly controlled.
We also heard a strange but true story about the caribou and the reindeer. There used to be twenty something reindeer herders in the area but today, only five are left. The main reason for this is that the caribou are stealing the reindeer! Being closely related genetically, the reindeer easily integrate into caribou herds. And when the caribou migrate, the reindeer go with them.

Later the same day, a local couple, Susanne and Hugh, came to our boat. They had seen our message on the community website, placed there by an employee of the Nome Visitors' Centre, saying that there were two Finnish sailors at the boat harbour without a rental car, and they were willing to take us sightseeing. Since we had already been in the countryside that day, we agreed to meet Susanne the next morning.
Nome's road system consists of three main roads, each extending about 75 miles into the countryside. At the end of each road is a community; Teller, Kougarok, and Council. We took the road that follows the coast of the Bering Sea northeast and then turns inland towards the community of Council. We drove all the way to the Niukluk River that crosses the entrance to Council. It was a lovely ride although, except for the odd rabbit and ground squirrel, local wildlife had clearly taken the day off. The scenery was spectacular alternating between flatlands, tundra, hills and mountains with patches of spruce trees, and winding rivers with crystal clear water and spawning salmon. Along the way, we saw Eskimos' summer camps, remnants of the gold rush, dilapidated dredges, and also the amazing Last Train to Nowhere, abandoned in the tundra back in 1907.

The northerly winds continue, and our stay in Nome is prolonged, accordingly. On the basis of the latest weather forecast, the direction of the wind should change and become more favourable for us. If that happens, we should be on our way to the Northwest Passage by the beginning of next week.

maanantai 19. heinäkuuta 2010

July 19th 2010


In Nome, we met Alex from Barcelona. We did not know anything about Alex until he started emailing us. At the time, we were in Dutch Harbor and he himself was in Seward where he had heard of us from a French sailor who had heard of our plans from a friend of ours. Anyway, Alex is a committed vagabond and he was determined to sail the Northwest Passage with us. We had declined his kind offer of becoming a member of our small crew already several times by email but, when you have a dream, it is hard to give it up. So, Alex had decided to fly to Nome to meet us! Naturally, we had no knowledge of his plans. Imagine our surprise when a few days ago we heard somebody calling us out at the dock and there he was, a young man with a broad smile on his face, greeting us with the words “Hi, family!” He had spent most of his money on the plane ticket to Nome and had to find a job before he could fly back to Seward. As far as we know, Alex is now digging gold somewhere outside Nome and hopefully making his fortune!

Yesterday, we went to do the laundry. Finding the place was a bit difficult as there was no proper sign on the building. It said Mark's Soap N Suds Bar and Grill on the outside wall, and it took a while before we understood that it also referred to the laundry. Inside the building, there was a small take-out restaurant and at the back, a smoke-filled bar with a pool table in the centre and a few tables around it. Along the back wall, there were washing machines and gas-operated!! dryers. Although one of our socks got stuck on the dryer's inside wall and melted in the flames, for once we actually enjoyed doing the laundry. The place was open from 6 pm to 3 am, so both the time of the day and the venue itself gave us a good excuse for having a G&T and a game of pool while waiting for our clothes to dry.
One thing that we have not managed to sort out so far is the musk ox viewing, i.e. we are still without a car. In Nome, the problem is that there are either too many tourists or too few rental cars. People fly here as that is the only way to reach Nome, except by boat of course. And they all have reserved a car well in advance which means that there is not a single car left for us. However, we still have a few days left before we leave for Barrow, and anything can happen before that.

lauantai 17. heinäkuuta 2010

July 16th 2010

There is no place like Nome

64º03.871' N, 165º36.826' W

The leg from the Pribilof Islands to Nome was extremely uneventful; few birds, no fish, not a single computer problem. The only thing worth mentioning is that between Wednesday and Thursday, we lost the night. And not just one night but all the nights between now and August something. It is going to be 24 hours daylight from now on, and the further north we go, the lighter it gets.

On our arrival Thursday afternoon, which was yesterday, the Nome Harbour Master congratulated us on good timing as there was going to be a storm the following day. This was the second time running we had just managed to escape bad weather, which is very lucky indeed since bad weather on the extremely shallow Bering Sea can be really bad! At the moment, there is a High Surf Warning in force. All those who have been watching the Deadliest Catch know what that means.
Because our boat was too big for the floats in the small boat harbour, we got a place alongside a high cargo dock. This was fine except that the only way to get ashore is climbing a ladder. Once again, taking Latte for a walk presented a problem but, fortunately, not an insurmountable one. Thanks to the Skipper's muscle tone, Latte is able to enjoy her three long daily walks on the beach nearby. Thank God, she is not very heavy!

The harbour fee for our boat was 100 dollars for four days or 75 dollars for a week. Naturally, we paid for the whole week although we'll probably leave early next week, weather permitting of course. During the next couple of days, we will familiarize ourselves with the ice conditions around Point Barrow, get to know the town, try to find a grocery store for reprovisioning, and, last but not least, go musk ox viewing. Let's hope we have more luck with the musk oxen than we had with the reindeer!

torstai 15. heinäkuuta 2010

July 10th 2010

St. Paul

We were told that there was a herd of about 400 reindeer roaming the tundra and, on our last day on the island, we decided to go reindeer watching. For some unknown reason, however, our rental car was never delivered. But, maybe it was just as well that we couldn't go as we have plenty of reindeer back home, Finland being Father Christmas' home country as we all know. So, instead, we spent the misty morning hours walking along the beach on the outskirts of the town watching and listening to young male seals grunting, roaring or merely dozing on the volcanic rocks. On our way back to the boat, we tried to make friends with a very urban Arctic fox that appeared be living under the storage shack near the town radio station.

An estimated 2.7 million seabirds migrate to the Pribilof Islands each summer. The majority of the birds use St George because it has eight times more cliff area than St. Paul. Nonetheless, St. Paul also has a diversity of seabirds some of which we wanted to see. So, later in the afternoon, when the sky was clear once again, we went bird watching. We hiked to the bird cliffs near the fur seal rookery that provide an excellent place for thousands of seabirds to hatch and raise their young, and offer a superb viewing point for nature enthusiasts like us. We spent a good while watching and photographing red-faced cormorants, northern fulmars, black-legged kittiwakes, parakeet auklets, crested auklets, tufted puffins, etc.

St. Paul's wildlife was fascinating and its people were friendly and helpful: Alicia at the Town Hall, Barbara at St. Paul Museum, and Laura whom we met at the post office and who, a few hours later, brought us a delicious loaf of banana bread, a slice of which I am enjoying as I write this, and coffee mugs as souvenirs of the island. We would have stayed a bit longer had it not been so dusty and noisy at the harbour, and so utterly uninspiring for poor Latte. She was not allowed to leave the boat at all during our stay in order to prevent disease transmission to seals and foxes. Little did the authorities know that she is by far the healthiest member of our crew with all the compulsory vaccinations plus two health passports, one from Spain and the other from Martinique. But we totally agreed with this rule, and as we did not want to take the risk of her running ashore unattended, she had to stay inside the boat most of the time.

We left St. Paul on Sunday July 11th while the morning mist was still hovering over the harbour. There was now hardly a breeze left of the 30 knot winds that had prevailed throughout our stay, and we commenced our journey towards Nome motorsailing, as usual.

July 7th 2010

St. Paul, Pribilof Islands

57º07.516' N, 170º17.064' W

After motoring all the way from Dutch Harbor, the wind picked up as soon as we arrived at St. Paul late Wednesday afternoon, and it has been blowing since at the speed of 30 - 35 knots. Inside the fishing harbour, we found ourselves amidst tugboats and barges as the harbour is undergoing major construction. After somewhat confusing instructions as to where we should tie our boat, we were given a place alongside the Trident (Fish Processing Plant) dock. This is usually a good location since the laundry is normally close by, as was the case also here!

The next day we took a tour of the town. There are around 500 inhabitants on the island, most of whom live in the town of St. Paul. The community is predominantly Aleut (Unangan), with a small minority of Eskimos and Caucasians. One of the very first local residents we met was, however, an Arctic or Pribilof fox (alopex lagopus pribilofensis) who, being an opportunist, resided next to the fishing harbour.

Once again, one of our major concerns was how to update our blogs. At the Town Hall, we were told that there was no public internet access since both the hotel and the library were closed. But, we were free to use the computer at the Town Hall itself!
In the afternoon, after the thick fog that had settled on the island during the night had momentarily lifted, we walked to the northern fur seal (callorhinus ursinus) rookery outside the town. Despite the 30 knot winds, going there was easy as we went along with the wind. But, coming back was a totally different matter. It was like being in a sand storm, you couldn't keep your eyes open and talking was out of the question unless you were prepared to get your mouth full of volcanic sand. We made it, however, and came back with loads of photos of the fur seals.

At the rookery, we were a little apprehensive about the huge bulls that were lying alongside the path leading to the blind within which you have to remain while watching the seals. This is to protect the seals from any human disturbance. We knew that fur seals are aggressive animals and can run faster than people on most terrain, and that bulls, in particular, appear to regard the upright posture of humans as a threat. So, we proceeded with caution and stopped immediately when one of the bulls close by lifted himself up from the ground and started roaring. After a while, the bull seemed to relax, and we continued to the blind. The view from there was absolutely breathtaking! The whole beach was covered with fur seals; bulls, cows, newly born and older pups lying side by side or on top of each other in closely packed groups, some sound asleep, some arguing fiercely with their neighbours.

Seeing the thousands and thousands of fur seals, one could easily forget that the number of seals is actually declining. At the end of the 18th century, the Pribilof Islands' seal herd comprised 3 to 5 million animals. By 1911, the population had declined to about 200,000 seals due to hunting. The North Pacific Fur Seal Treaty, which was the very first international treaty for wildlife conservation, signed between the United States, Canada, Japan, and Russia, ended pelagic sealing and together with an Act of Congress approved in 1912 that prohibited the killing of fur seals anywhere within Alaska for five years, allowed the severely depleted fur seal populations to recover.

Over 50 % of the world's population of northern fur seals breed on the shores of the Pribilof Islands. A study carried out in 2004, estimated the total number of fur seals on the Islands to be 625,000. However, the number of pups born on St. Paul that year was 15.7 % less than in 2002 and 22.6 % less than in 2000. The reason for this is not known.
For us, this was probably once in a lifetime opportunity to watch northern fur seals at such close range, and so we stayed until our hands were so cold we could not take another picture!

perjantai 9. heinäkuuta 2010

July 6th 2010

Bering Sea

For us, leaving Dutch Harbor marked the actual beginning of our voyage. Up to Unalaska, we had followed our old, once or twice beaten tracks and, although enjoying ourselves, we could not help feeling that it was time for us to move on.
The seas were calm as we motored towards St. Paul of the Pribilof Islands, which was fine by Latte and Riitta as the time spent in Dutch Harbor had made their sea legs a little wobbly. And, anyway, it is always better to have a smooth start weather-wise, even though this normally means motoring. Mind you, the Skipper who is a keen sailor, does not necessarily agree with the aforementioned. On the whole, the passage was uneventful except for the entertainment provided by the numerous sea birds circling our boat, and the crashing of our computer system. Fortunately, in about an hour, after closing all the programs, the computer itself, and then figuring out by trial and error what had gone wrong and why, we were back in business!

We had now ample time to familiarise ourselves with by far the most important data relating to the Northwest Passage, namely ice prediction charts, their symbols and terminology.
According to the outlook prepared by the North American Ice Service, of concern for the region for this summer is the amount of old ice in southern M’Clintock Channel which could easily drift into Larsen Sound. Similarly, the unusual old ice concentrations in the eastern portion of Viscount-Melville Sound and Western Barrow Strait will most certainly affect the clearing of Peel Sound this summer. Moreover, the lack of old ice in the northern portions of M’Clure Strait and Viscount Melville Sound coupled with the thinner than normal first-year ice measured in the Western Arctic will allow for the thicker multi-year ice to leave the Archipelago area and move southward into the Northwest Passage.
The summer temperature outlook for June through August continues to promote above normal temperatures over the entire region. Seasonal air temperatures in the last half of July are forecast to be above normal over the southern half of the Western and Central Arctic. By the end of the period, the southern extent of the pack ice will be near normal in the Beaufort Sea, although concentrations within the main pack may be less than normal. Consolidated ice conditions in the Central Arctic will resemble conditions normally found in mid-August and ice concentrations in M'Clure Strait will continue to be less than normal.
According to the outlook, the possible flow of old ice and thicker multi-year ice into the Passage could cause a problem. We have to remember, however, that this is only a prediction. Whatever the case, the outlook is far better for us sailors than it is for the Environment!

sunnuntai 4. heinäkuuta 2010

July 4th 2010

Dutch Harbor

It seems that more often than not we have to change our plans due to the weather. Now, the forecast is 15 to 25 knots from north-west. The wind speed is fine but the direction is not (headwind, once again!) and, as a result, we are still in Dutch Harbor. But the time has not gone to waste. The other day, Riitta bumped into Father Andrew and his lovely wife whom we had met already two years ago in Sand Point. The next day, they drove to the spit, and Father Andrew blessed Sarema and her crew. Father Andrew told us that we would also be included in their weekly prayers. Even though we are not religious, it is somehow very comforting to know that there are people praying for our safety.

Now that we had time to spare, we went to the Aleutian World War II Visitor Center and learned more about the history of the islands and the tragic events that took place here during World War II.
“In the early dawn of June 7, 1942, Japanese soldiers invaded the remote Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska, taking all the inhabitants prisoner and claiming the islands for the Japanese Empire. The Aleut residents of the island of Attu were taken to Japan for the duration of the war. Of the 40 captives,16 died over the next three years from disease and starvation. On May 11, 1943, after a year-long bombing campaign, U.S. Troops boarded transport ships for Attu, to wait off shore for the signal to invade the island. Lasting 18 days, the Battle of Attu was one of the deadliest battles of World War II, but it remains one of least well-known.
When the surviving Attuans were released by Japan in 1945, they embarked on a long journey home. When they reached Seattle, they were told that they would not be allowed to return to Attu, as the U.S. Government had decided that the cost to rebuild their devastated village was prohibitive.”
The extracts above are from a leaflet we got from the Aleutian World War II Visitor Center.
Today, Attu is owned and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. We have no knowledge of what happened to the Attuans that survived the ordeal.
The remains of pillboxes and Quonset huts that were abandoned after the war can still be seen all around the islands.

Now, back to the present. Today is the 4th of July, i.e. the country's Independence Day, and we are looking forward to enjoying some spectacular fireworks later in the evening.
And tomorrow, it is time to go!

perjantai 2. heinäkuuta 2010

July 2nd 2010

Dutch Harbor

Monday afternoon Harbor Master told us that we could move to the opposite side of the dock which has made life a lot easier for us as we no more have to climb over the tugboat's rusty railing in order to get on the dock. Now, the only remaining problem is the metal dock itself with its grill-like surface. Latte either seems to think she is going to fall through the holes or then the metal grill is not good for her paws. Whatever the reason, she absolutely refuses to walk on it. For the first couple of days, Pekka had to carry her ashore, approx. 100 metres. Now, we have managed to convince her that walking on the dock's narrow wooden rail is the way to do it. Poor Latte, she dislikes the dock, the perpetually cold weather and especially the clothes she has to wear to endure it. The life of a boat-dog is not all fun!
Riitta has now downsized Latter's Alaska-wear to make them a little more comfortable for her. It is great to have a sewing machine aboard, especially one like ours which is Super Automatic and Ideal Topstar as is written on it! The robust machine was made in Germany back in the 60's, it is of solid metal, and weighs about twenty kilos. Though it is heavy to handle, the advantage of the weight is that the machine can be used even in rough weather.

As everywhere in Alaska, the people in Dutch Harbor have been extremely friendly, always willing to assist and advise, offer a ride etc. During the past few days, we have met some of our old friends and made new ones. On Monday, a Swiss couple Silvia and Rolf from S/V Betonia came for a visit. They have been sailing since 1996, and it appeared that we had mutual friends. This is actually quite common amongst long-time sailors as you learn to know a lot of people at anchorages and marinas, you talk to people over VHF or SSB even if you don't actually meet them, you hear about their adventures from other sailors etc. etc. In this case, we all knew Sophie and Didier from French Polynesia who sail the Sauvage and whom we had hoped to meet somewhere in the Aleutian Islands. But, alas, we had passed them at sea on our way to Sand Point.

Wednesday evening Slavek from American Seafoods Co. gave us a pleasant surprise by taking us sightseeing. We drove to the beautiful Summer Bay where, according to Slavek, wild horses can often be seen on the beach. These are descendants of the horses that were brought to the island during the second world war. We didn't see the actual horses but, instead, a lot of droppings and hoof prints in the volcanic sand. On our way back, we saw whales in the bay and two cute fox puppies playing happily by the side of the road. So, it was a real wildlife tour! Yesterday, Karl came to see us. We had met him already two years ago when we were in Dutch Harbor for the first time. Karl is originally from Riga, Latvia, and works here as an underwater welder. He was interested to hear about our journey, and is himself planning to set sail in the foreseeable future.

We have been in Dutch Harbor almost a week now, and it is time to continue our voyage. We'll leave probably on Sunday and our next port of call will be St. Paul of the Pribilof Islands, weather permitting, of course.
Thanks to her extremely hard-working Skipper, our good boat Sarema should now be in top condition and ready for the Passage. Whether this is really the case, only time will tell.