We had not had very good weather forecasts and it seems that if you look at two or three, they differ greatly. The reason for this is that the weather conditions in the Aleutians are very fluid. The forecast can be for 20 kts and when you get out there, they could turn to 50 kts! We had looked at the forecasts and decided that the smart money was on the seas calming down the next day around mid day and to leave in the morning would have us confronting the remnants of the bad weather and seas. Complicating matters was the tide issue in Dutch Harbor at ours and Grey Pearl’s slip, which was on the inside where the water was shallow at low tide. We had to get out at about 7am to have sufficient water depth, then wait by either rafting to Ken’s boat or finding another place to dock until our departure time of 1pm. Somehow, between 7am and 7:10am, the plans changed and we were leaving Dutch Harbor within 10 minutes!! It was not a very graceful exit but we actually did get everything going on the boat and we left for Unmak Island, where there was supposedly these great hot springs and a nice anchorage. The trip took 14hours and the seas were calm. One of the fun things was the helicopter flyover by a Sikorsky H60 Coast Guard helicopter. I guess Bill on Sans Souci knew them as they were from Kodiak too. Even if they didn’t, just a couple of words from Bill on the radio and they KNEW who was on the boat!! We arrived late day and anchored in what we thought was a calm anchorage with just a few gentle swells coming in.
To get to the hot springs (all of us clad in our bathing suits underneath the woolies) we had to launch our new inflatable. Prior to leaving Seattle we decided that our secondary smaller dinghy was, at 10 feet and over 200 lbs, was not practical to haul onto a beach and re-launch. We sold it and purchased a 70 lb Zodiac with an inflatable bottom and an air cooled 26 lb Honda 2 hp motor. It is not fast, like the other one, but certainly proved to be easier to get on to the beach! The crew of Sans Souci arrived shortly after (with Shelby, the dog) and we started on our hike to the springs. It was NOT an easy hike with various problems in carrying bags and dogs. We had to trek through shallow streams, high brush and steep inclines only to find that the springs were going to be another mile away and were scalding hot, at that! The scenery was just breathtaking and was worth the trip ashore, never-the-less. I have probably said this before, but these islands are unlike anything you have seen before. Totally uninhabited, bright green and treeless. I remember seeing a documentary of how the earth was first created with the volcanoes erupting from the sea, then small amounts of green appearing like peach fuzz on the rugged terrain. This exactly describes the Aleutian Islands…You almost expect to see a bunch of Velociraptors or Tyrannosaurus Rex charging across the terrain. I will try to post some pictures on the website later today.
So we decided to curtail our trip to the springs and head back to the boats. We noticed from a distance that the boats seemed to be rocking a bit more than when we left. That began the worst night at anchor that I have experienced. It got worse and worse until it seemed that the boat was rocking violently about 45 degrees in each direction. It was just horrible trying to sleep and everyone agreed the next day that we should have pulled anchor and cruised all night. At least then some of us would have gotten some sleep!
At 7am we all hauled in our anchors and headed to our next destination, a hopefully QUIET and CALM anchorage on Atka Island in Bechivan Cove. We had a beautiful trip and it was refreshingly calm. We traveled overnight and again arrived late in the day (the following day) and anchored in calm conditions, hoping they would prevail through the night. The big attraction in Bechivan Cove is the remains of a B24 bomber from World War II. The story is that a General insisted upon going on the flight, regardless of fog conditions. After the fog set in, the plane could not find its way back to Dutch Harbor and ran out of fuel. The only option was a clearing just off of the beach in Bechivan Cove. We landed on the beach and spent the next several hours checking out the aircraft. The tail section had broken off where the tail gunner was situated but the rest of the plane was remarkably intact, but stripped of all controls, interior, armament, etc. They had never deployed the landing gear and the tires were as new, tucked underneath the wings of the aircraft and you could not tell them from brand new tires. Remarkably, the pilot and crew survived with little or no injury save the General, who broke his leg (served him right!!).
The big discussion on the VHF radio (we have a lot of them) was what to do about our departure time. The tides going through the passes are critical and after we decided on a departure time, we realized that we were moving into a new time zone “Aleutian Hawaiian Time”. We must have spent a half hour going back and forth on the issue and then logic prevailed and we decided that since the horse had already left the barn, so to speak, we may as well adjust our clocks now so we are not confused about the tide tables.
The following morning (after a VERY CALM night, thank you) we were to leave at 7am (Aleutian Hawaiian Time!) for Adak, the last island in the Aleutians with any sort of population and town. Carol called me to the pilot house with her voice in a bit of excitement and some concern. She pointed out the window where we saw this glowing streak across the sky. I looked at the compass and it did not appear to be dead east (which would have meant a sunrise) and, although the picture above does not do it justice, I was concerned that it was a volcano erupting. That is how spectacular it looked in person. Shortly after that is when we took the picture and it became obvious that it was in fact a sunrise. Probably the most spectacular one I have ever seen. I should mention also that sunrises themselves are a rarity around here!!
Sans Souci was the first to leave and we were on our way just after him when we got a call from Braun on Grey Pearl. They had some sort of a hydraulic issue and it was preventing their anchor from being raised. I had my suspicions and unfortunately I was correct. They had a rupture in a hydraulic line. On these boats, that is almost a catastrophic failure. We have 300 lb anchors with hundreds of pounds of chain and it is physically impossible to pull the anchor without the assist of the hydraulic windlass. Braun was fortunate to have a “special device” that I had made for him and myself (at his request). It made an impossible task merely an unpleasant and difficult one. With his two crew, they were able to raise the anchor in about an hour. It seems like a long time, but far shorter than “never” which was the other option. Actually, we cruisers always come up with some way when desperate, so I am sure they would have too, but this was the easiest option.
We were finally off and running with a 60 mile trip to Adak. The trip was a mixed bag of very calm conditions to choppy. About half way through the trip, the winds started picking up and at one point they were blowing a steady 42 kts, with gusts to 52 kts. We were lucky that our trip had us going on the lee side of the islands and there was not much fetch for the wind to build up seas more than 5 or 6 feet. We passed by a school of Orcas (see photo above) but did not catch great photos of them. They look like giant sharks and are unmistakable when you see them. The dorsal fin that you see is about 6 feet high and they look like the ultimate predator (which is why they call them Killer Whales also).
Our arrival into Adak was a windy one with the gusts approaching 40 kts as we entered the harbor. We were not expecting much as far as accommodations, but when we saw the dock, my heart kind of dropped. We were told to go broadside against the pier, which was a 25 foot high dock with rough pilings and almost no way to get off the boat. Grey Pearl was told to dock against two old navy tug boats that had not moved in 15 years. Ken was told that he could tie to the old barge if he wanted. Fortunately for us, we were able to raft off of Ken’s boat and it made the situation a bit better for us. Either way, it worked out just fine and we were tentatively glad to be in Adak. We had no idea what to expect from the town and were we ever pleasantly surprised!! Our stay here requires another update by itself so I will say more in the next one to be done shortly. Adak is an AMAZING place of wonderful people and incredible beauty but contradicting that is a erie, deserted town!! Stay tuned!!!