We are now several hundreds of miles to the West of Attu, the last of the Aleutian Islands and have crossed the International Date Line. That itself is kind of weird as just prior to crossing the Dateline, at Noon, it was Thursday. A few minutes later, after we crossed the line, it was 12:02, but now it was Friday! We are 350 miles to the East of Kamchatka, Siberia and should be there on Sunday. The trip across has been incredibly smooth with almost no wind and maybe 1 foot seas and some swells. I hope it keeps up. We sleep SO much better when it is like this.
After our arrival in Attu, we contacted the US Coast Guard, who has a small contingency there to operate the LORAN station. For those of you who thought that GPS has been around forever, it has not and was preceded by a system of radio signals on land based stations across the US. They send out TD’s, or Time-Distance signals. They are similar to Latitude and Longitude signals except they are only for local US waters and run diagonal to the Lat Long lines. They are also incredibly accurate for repeatability, but somewhat INACURATE as far as true position on a chart as compared to where you actually are. That means if you have been to a spot before and have the coordinates written down or saved somewhere, you can come back to the same spot over and over again. If you, however, are trying to negotiate your way up a river for the first time and are relying on the coordinates you get from your Loran receiver, you are likely to end up on land!! Loran was due to be phased out with the advent of GPS, but evidently GPS is easy to scramble and should an enemy of the US be able to knock out a few of the GPS satellites, it could be a disaster for marine transportation. LORAN is nearly impossible to scramble and is a great backup for GPS. I might add that they are still considering closing the station and leveling all of the structures.
The Commanding Officer of the station in Attu, Scott, could not have been more gracious. He sent one of his men in a truck to the beach near where we were anchored and had beached our dinghies and drove us up to the station which housed all of the LORAN equipment as well as the troops and gave us a long tour. These guys do not have it bad at all!! They have great living quarters, a movie theater and two chefs as well as satellite TV and internet. The soldiers that we spoke to all volunteered for duty here and really liked it. They get to go home once per year for 30 days once per year after being there 6 months. They also have two dogs who have been there for many years and bark at every new arrival for several days.
Attu was one of two islands invaded and captured by the Japanese in World War II. The other was Kiska, an island that I wrote about in my last report. They invaded the island and shipped all of the Aleuts who lived there to Japan, declaring them Japanese citizens. Of the 40 or so that were captured, 16 died in captivity and the others were sick and malnourished when they were finally freed at the end of the war. In response, the US bombed Attu for more than a year before finally sending an invasion force to retake the island. This was no easy mission. In order to keep the mission secret, the troops were loaded into the ships with light clothing and leather boots. They arrived ill equipped to handle the still harsh weather of snow, ice and freezing cold. Their feet were soaked from the time they arrived and many of the casualties were due to exposure. We are told that they braved the elements and took the island after 19 days of fierce fighting. Many of the Japanese were given injections of morphine and then killed by their own superiors rather than be taken prisoner.
After touring the headquarters we were driven up to a monument that was created by the Japanese. It is a HUGE angular welded assembly constructed entirely of Titanium in a design that I would describe as something that was delivered by aliens from outer space and plopped down on the mountaintop to send signals to their home in outer space. It is surrounded by the most beautiful scenery that I have ever seen. There are stunning peaks and valleys all covered with greenery, flowers and meandering rivers. This was my favorite Aleutian stop, but it may be because we had clear blue skies and 65 degree temps (you heard me right!!).
You may have noticed that I only mentioned guys who were stationed there. I was not being politically incorrect. There are no women there. My understanding is that there used to be but after a few “immaculate conceptions”, they stopped sending the women to Attu. Hey, look, they guys were there for a year and I can just imagine how in demand the few women were!!
Anyway, we had to get back to the boat after visiting the station and the wind had picked up considerably. We were able to get into our 14 foot inflatable easily as we had a stretchy line that allowed it to be anchored a bit off shore and then pulled in to embark. If you recall, Kens boat had a mishap with a large fish and the big dinghy was still in disrepair. They ended up taking their smaller boat (a 9 foot inflatable) and beaching it. After I got my crew back to the boat I got a call for assistance from Bill Harrington, saying that he, Ken and Jeff were trying to make their way back to the boat (and it was getting very rough). The engine also kept stalling. I jumped into our inflatable and drove about a mile to transfer Bill and Ken to my boat, allowing Jeff to take the little guy back on his own. We stayed with him for most of the way and without the other two in the partly flooded dinghy, it seemed to run ok. I think they were very happy to see me.
Shortly after getting back to the boat, the wind really picked up (to around 35 knots in the harbor, and we were really kind of questioning whether or not we should leave. We decided to trust the weather guys and pulled anchor. Braun had mentioned that he thought the wind was kind of a tunneling effect into the harbor. He was right. As soon as we left the harbor, the seas became flat and they still are as I write this. I hope that the rest of the trip is uneventful to Kamchatka. If so, my next update will be from there.