Sunday 18 August 2019

A Warm Welcome in Dutch Harbor (Alaska Week 1)

Berry picking in the hills.  No bears on Unalaska so a bit less stressful than in other locations.


We were told before we arrived that we would find a warm welcome in Alaska, and our week at Dutch Harbor confirmed it. From the fishermen on our dock who shared fish, octopus and local knowledge to the General Manager of the local department store who offered us a ride if we had too many groceries to carry, we received nothing but good wishes and generosity. We even had two women from a local church come down with some extra boots when they heard through the grapevine that we were short a pair (seven years in t-shirts and flip flops left a few gaps in our wardrobe even after lots of on-line shopping in Majuro).

Unalaska has the most bald eagles we have ever seen !

More eagles.  This is going all traditional and actually in a tree.(Johnathan photo)

Not on atolls anymore ... (Johnathan photo)

We arrived in Dutch Harbor with a pretty empty freezer, as we had been eating up our provisions and had caught only one fish on our long passage. By the time we left, it was so full that I had to temporarily take out the top layer of pink foam insulation panels! By the time we left Dutch Harbor, we had been given Pacific perch, Pacific cod, squid, kelp cod, and octopus. I got chatting with some fishermen at a town BBQ, and they were fascinated by our story (especially as one of them had teenagers at home in Washington State and liked the idea of getting 'away from it all'). As we were parting company, they asked whether we liked fish. When I answered that we did, they said that they had some extra in their van, and would drop it off at the dock. I expected a token bag; what arrived was an entire box (big enough for Benjamin to play in)! We were also given fresh octopus by the small boat across from us. It turns out (as we learned from other cruisers who had learned the technique in French Polynesia) that octopus should be frozen solid and then cooked in a pressure cooker for 20-40 min (depending on size) before being skinned and cut into pieces to be fried in butter and garlic. This tenderizes the octopus, which can otherwise be tough.

Tasty octopus that got itself trapped in this fisherman's crab traps.

and Johnathan went out fishing with Wade from SV Just Drifting.

Now that Kodiak is no longer a port of entry, Dutch Harbor is the clearance port for sailboats from the west and the south (ie from Japan, Micronesia, and Hawaii). Within two days of our arrival, our numbers had swelled to seven yachts, and local people were coming to the top of the ramp to marvel at the unusual number of sailboats rafted up. For us, it was especially significant to be alongside in North America, as it was our first time on a dock since last December (in Fiji) and the first time with compatible (i.e. 120V) shore power since we left Mexico in 2014!

Fluenta actually on a dock.  First dock since December and first shore power since 2014.

Our social calendar filled up quickly. The first evening, we took a page from Lin & Larry Pardey's book and went to the local Bar & Grill for 'cook's night out'. We went next door to trade stories with the other kid boat one night, we hosted an impromptu dinner and talked about babies and kids on boats (one of my favourite topics!) another night, and we joined in a potluck BBQ and singsong, where the kids ran barefoot on the cold grass until the sun set at midnight, on a third night. We hardly had time for chores!

The Small Boat Harbour has BBQ's free to use.

More boat kids !

More boat kids !

It wasn't just our evenings that were full. Our neighbours took both big kids up to Blueberry Hill to look for early berries, and came back with buckets of salmon berries, as the blueberries were still a few weeks away. (Salmon berries are an Alaskan delicacy that we all loved immediately, and that the kids have picked at every stop since). We visited the museum, where we learned about the traditional practices of the Aleut people and were moved to tears by the story of their short-notice evacuation from their homes and multi-year internment in rainy SE Alaska during WWII.

Johnathan discovered common interests with our neighbour during their berry walk: he had grown up on a farm and had a lifetime of experience hunting and fishing. Johnathan spent the next afternoon and evening reloading ammunition [ie carefully weighing and measuring gunpowder and packing it into brass casings]. Our neighbour had been using some of these casings since he was a teenager. Johnathan and Max were invited to go with him the next day to shoot a big .44 revolver and a high-end bolt-action rifle on some land he owns nearby. This couple also took Johnathan fishing, and he came back with a rock cod. In true small-world fashion, they turned out to be friends of cruisers from Kodiak whom we had first met in French Polynesia, so we were able to deliver a birthday package when we met up the following week :)

When in Alaska ... do as the Alaskans do ...  Johnathan and I got to go shooting with Wade.

When in Alaska ... do as the Alaskans do ...  Johnathan and I got to go shooting with Wade.

When in Alaska ... do as the Alaskans do ...  Johnathan and I got to go shooting with Wade.

As we approached the dock on arrival, we noticed a rather unique looking boat flying a NZ flag. Max recognized it immediately from his extensive reading and research on all things sailing and safety: the boat was Kiwi Roa, and we were going to be two boats away from the man who had designed our beloved Rocna anchor. He and his wife turned out to be a delightful couple, and Max spent a very interesting morning aboard their boat, looking at all the details that he had designed into it. We were also able to share some information with them as they may well be headed to our neck of the woods for the winter :)

Me with Peter in front of SY Kiwi Roa.  Peter has done some serious miles in this amazing boat he built.

Internet was expensive ($25 for 1 GB or $80 for 5GB through a wifi signal on the dock - we paid about the same amount for 50GB in Majuro!) but we got connected so we could progress projects like school work and parts provisioning. Our boom vang components were out of stock, so we will have a bit of a wait for them.

We spent a lot of time in the Marshall Islands re-bedding deck fittings, but unfortunately while we were on passage I put my woven Marshallese recipe box on the galley counter where it was vulnerable to the one place on the port side that remains on the list and still seems to be letting in water. Victoria spent an afternoon interleaving pieces of paper towel with each of the recipe cards, and then we had a bit of a cardboard theme to our decor while we dried them out. Thank goodness for furnace vents! The bottom panel of the recipe box is corrugated cardboard wrapped with pandanus, so it had become quite saturated. The box is now only slightly the worse for the dousing: getting wet seems to have aged the lid, and it is no longer quite as resilient as it used to be. It was a good reminder that we live on a boat, and that we shouldn't get too attached to our physical possessions.

There are two big stores in Dutch Harbor, so I took the opportunity to re-stock some of our provisions, although I was surprised to see that the prices were similar to what I had paid in the Marshall Islands. It was actually a relief to find out than anything I had overstocked in Majuro had not been bought at an expensive premium compared to Dutch Harbor!

Heading out shopping in Dutch Harbor

I have to admit that I was surprised by our weather. Not only did we see the sun most days (in fact, we had one glorious blue-sky day where the green hills and white snow were beautifully lit up) but it was dry enough for laundry. There was a commercial (in-house) facility at the fish processing plant, but I was afraid of the dryer heat, so I decided to do just one sink full by hand so that all our wool layers would be sure of fitting us when I was done!

We had stayed on Marshallese time during our passage, with the intention of adjusting to Alaskan time on arrival. This turned out to be a tough thing to do: when the sun set at almost midnight local time, it only felt like 8pm to Benjamin. We also found that people naturally socialized until dusk, and then called it a night. It just so happened that dusk occurred sometime after 11pm!

After a week in Dutch Harbor, it was time to move on. With cries of 'fair winds!' and 'see you down the road' ringing in our ears, we left the dock on Sunday morning for an overnight passage to False Pass, a small village just over 100 nm away.

Love to all,
At 2019-07-01 6:23 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 61°03.87'N 147°56.09'W

Retiring our light air spinnaker and moving the sock over to the old spinnaker.

and a fuel dock !  No lugging of jerry cans.

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