Saturday, September 29, 2007

Golden Crab

It was interesting today seeing the differences between the brown and red king crabs. Our off-loading system is really pretty efficient compared to some on the island - there are a couple guys down in the hold of the ship loading the brailers and separating any crab that are dead (boats don't get paid for any dead crab). The crane operator swings the brailer over to a large stainless steel inclined ramp which opens directly into the plant where the crabs are grabbed by the waiting processing crew and butchered, cooked, chilled, glazed and packed. The photos above show F/V Aleutian No. 1, the unloader pulling the release on the brailer of crab, and the waiting processing crew grabbing the crab, butchering them, and handing the legs down the line for the next step.

I start my new job in the Engineering department Monday so I'll be hanging up my rain gear and joining the white collar ranks. I've never worked with a finer bunch of coworkers than the ones on the line with me the last three months - Haime, Boy, Phillip, Edde, and Chayo - I'll miss you guys and will be back to visit. Cheers . . . . .

Friday, September 28, 2007

First Crab Delivery Tommorow

There is good news on the crab front - the quotas have been increased significantly from last year indicating a healthy population - good news for you Deadliest Catch fans! We are getting our first crab delivery tomorrow at noon from F/V Aleutian No. 1. This will be brown king crab, more commonly called golden king (ahhhh, marketing . . . . ). It is not the rock star of the king crab family, the red king - that won't be for another few weeks.

This site does a good job explaining the differences between the three species of king crab, and delineating where each is found. You can find more info on brown ki . . . oops, I mean golden king crab here and here. And finally, you can learn a little about crab pots at this site.

I took the photo above out on the spit last week and it shows a close-up of the entrance to a crab pot.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

View From The Beach

The Shell Oil drill rig Frontier Discoverer was moored at the APL dock this morning lit up by a Christmas tree so I steadied the camera as best I could standing on the beach in front of the house for the long exposure needed to capture the scene. You can read about the tough times Shell has experienced in getting permits to drill in the Beaufort Sea here and here. The Frontier Discoverer and associated support ships are costing Shell a million dollars a day standing idle awaiting court appeals. We like them because they are a nice boost to the economy here in Dutch Harbor while they sit around!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Reverting Back To Nature

This World War II bunker is on the spit enclosing Dutch Harbor, right on the beach. I took this picture last week when I was gathering seaweed and walking Chico. It looks like in another 60 years you won't even see it . . . .

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Puffballs Like Softballs

I was walking on Mount Ballyhoo last week, on my way to watch the whales, and noticed some of the biggest puffballs I've ever seen. If I was absolutely sure about it being a puffball it would have gone home with me to be sauteed in butter because it was just right for harvest. That is a 20 ounce quad mocha for scale to give you an idea. We usually park at the bottom and walk up to the point so we can feel we've "earned our whales" . . . . .

Monday, September 24, 2007

Busy Busy Busy

Lots and lots of fish with all the fleet that weathered out the storm last week in port coming in one after the other with full loads. I took this picture of Chico a couple days ago when we were hiking on Mount Newhall. Early to bed for me as I have testing tommorow - cheers!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Indian Summer Continues

There was a sea lion by the dock all day long - every time I had time I would look out the window and he would be swimming around in the vicinity of F/V Great Pacific. After work there were three sea lions, all playing in the east channel. It was like I was working at Sea World today . . . . I took a picture of these eagles on the Church last week, just before dusk.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Mount Newhall Day

I finally got the perfect afternoon to tackle Mount Newhall today! Chico and I started up about 2:45 after mailing some packages at the post office. There isn't a trail after about the halfway mark and I made some uninformed route decisions that left me about 150 vertical feet short of the summit with no real safe way to advance so I ended up traversing to the left and glissading down on my butt back to the trail with no damage except the loss of most of my jeans on my left butt cheek. I took these pictures at about the 1300 foot mark and they form a right-to-left panoramic view if you connect them in order from top to bottom. You can see from the bottom photo (doesn't that rock formation look just like a man's face in repose??) that it was already 45 degrees of wet grass at that point and it got steeper further up. The view was pretty much the same from further up - I just didn't want to dig out my camera from the pack while I was clinging desperately to pieces of moss with my hands and feet trying not to slide to the bottom (until I was ready!).

The top photo is cool as it shows the whole of Mount Ballyhoo which I climbed a couple weeks ago. On the right side of this photo is the open Bering Sea; on the left side you can just see the airstrip - not very long is it? A lot of folks don't realize that the only body of water that can properly be called Dutch Harbor is the water between the spit in this photo and Mount Ballyhoo. In the second photo you can see the town of Dutch Harbor with Hog Island in the distance. The water to the right side of Hog Island is where we have been watching whales from Mount Ballyhoo these past few weeks. The third photo shows some of Dutch Harbor and the town of Unalaska towards the left. You can see Alyeska Seafood jutting into the East Channel just above and to the right of center.

I got home with one tired dog and found that Goldfish had gotten prime rib and baked potato with all the fixings for me from the galley, so I didn't miss out on supper - all in all a pretty perfect day! We're going to watch a movie and turn in as there is lots of fish tomorrow. Cheers!

From The Living Room Window

A couple days ago I watched the crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter SPAR service the navigational buoy at the entrance to the East Channel. In the top photo you can see Mount Newhall in the background, and in the bottom picture you have a better view of the buoy being hoisted onto the deck of the SPAR in preparation for servicing. You can read more about the SPAR at the Coast Guard site here, or the Wikipedia entry here. The SPAR is home based in Kodiak, Alaska and services navigational aids all along the Aleutian Chain, earning it the nickname "Aleutian Keeper" which is painted on boom arm of the large deck crane.

Friday, September 21, 2007

So Quiet

With only a few people working today the whole area is quiet and still, no truckloads of fish shipping out to the dock, no forklifts whizzing around, no distant hum of machinery. Just the ping - ping - ping of the baseboard heat and the bubbling of water on the stove coming to a boil for tea . . . .

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Three Months

I didn't post yesterday as we went out for our monthly celebration of another month on the island. I spent the afternoon walking the beach on the spit with Chico gathering a particular kind of seaweed I want to use in my soap making, then Goldfish and I went out for Chinese food. Today we hiked on Ballyhoo and watched the whales, spouting and cavorting 3 to 400 yards offshore. We picked up Keri's dog Kali on the way so Chico would have a play buddy to run with.

With the passing of the three months comes the changing of the season, from summer to fall. The salmon berries are gone and the blueberries are growing scarce. The fire weed has peaked out and the tundra vegetation has begun to change to reds and browns from vibrant green. And of course the pink salmon run is slowing down and spawned out carcasses are washing out to sea with the tides . . . . I look forward to the change of seasons and all the new things that await!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Wind From The South-East

Most of the fleet left for the fishing grounds today so there will likely be a gap before another delivery. Last night's storm was fantastic - it is still blowing a bit but the sun is shining with mixed clouds. One of the benefits of being so far out west is although it get light fairly late in the morning, we are blessed with daylight well into the evening, even this time of year.

Goldfish is baking muffins and I am sourcing materials on-line to make soap. If tomorrow is a day off I'm hoping for decent weather so I can tackle Mount Newhall. The photos show a Russian icebreaker that is part of the Shell Oil exploration fleet that has been parked here in Dutch harbor for awhile on stand-by at the cost of a million dollars a day while their environmental permits to drill in the Beaufort Sea are reviewed. I took the picture from Ballyhoo while the ship was passing by Hog Island - to give a sense of scale, the escort tugboat is 80 feet long.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Finally Storming

And the internet seems to be acting up so I can't upload photos. I walked the dock after work tonight and counted 11 boats, rafted up two deep in most places, with only one of our boats out braving the storm and fishing. Today was another busy one while we dealt with the influx of fish. I just love the storms out here - both walking in them (with good raingear!) and being inside with a warm cup of tea while it rages outside. I'm going to sign off so we can use the laptop for movie night - cheers everyone!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Busiest Day Yet

I thought we were going to get one million pounds off loaded during my shift but we ran into a few problems towards the end and just got 900,000 - still a good day. It is absolutely gorgeous out, 55 and sunny, the calm before the storm. 24 hours from now there is supposed to be 30 foot seas in the Bering so the fleet is almost all back here with whatever fish they have on board creating a bit of a bottle neck so we're going full bore to get everything processed.

I took Chico for a walk in the pass after work today and on the drive there we saw this fox - what you can't see in the picture (taken through the windshield) is Chico going absolutely beserk, trying to eat his way through the dashboard to get the fox. You can see the fox is completely unimpressed . . .

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Loads of Fish

There are lots of boats heading to port full of fish, just in time to avoid the big storm heading this way. We'll be working like crazy for a few days, both pollock and cod, then will probably get a day or two reprieve. I'm trying to fight off a cold so I can stay in good shape for the onslaught.

The salmon berries are becoming harder to find but the blueberries are in full swing. I picked some yesterday - but ate them just as fast as I picked. Goldfish found the awesome double blueberry in the top photo last week. The whales are closer to shore and really putting on a show tonight according to our friend Keri but I'm making an early night of it and heading to bed - cheers everyone!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Great Food

We just got back from the birthday party, wow there was a lot of great food there. It's interesting, the social structure has almost come full circle from pre-contact times in this area. Long ago, the sea and the land provided everything the tribe needed and there was a great emphasis on family. You had potlatches and seasonal celebrations and taking care of the tribe was more important than "things" or status.

Today, our basic needs are met with food and shelter provided by the company so there can be that emphasis on people again. It took awhile for me to understand why anyone would cook anything when the galley is always open, but it is the social aspect of food and the care that goes into the preparation that is important. In most places you just don't see 20 to 25 people gathering, all with food, for a birthday party - every birthday party - but here the societal fabric seems to be woven a little tighter . . .

Anyways, there is fish in the morning, I need to get to bed. Folks liked my salmon berry pie so that was fun, and my belly is full of many wonderful dishes and desserts I had never tried. The picture is taken along a beach towards Summer's Bay - I am always drawn to documenting old nets, gear and timbers along the beaches, usually at the high water mark, driven ashore by winter storms. There is supposed to be a big storm coming that will bring a lot of the fleet back to port so it will be very busy for a few days . . . cheers everyone and good night!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Let's See . . . .

What have I been up to? I didn't get a chance to post yesterday because I was working on my resume and cover letter for a job opening. Goldfish had a hair appointment so Chico and I walked on Ballyhoo and watched the whales for awhile. Tonight we went to a slide show at the museum given by Reid Brewer and Roger Deffendall showing some of the findings from a 75 day dive trip along the Aleutian chain in 2006 and 2007; good stuff. I baking a salmonberry pie for a birthday party tommorow night while I type this - it's only the second time I've done this recipie, I hope it turns out.

I saw a sea lion by the plant dock yesterday and today, same time, while I was waiting to punch out. If the weather cooperates tommorow I'm thinking about doing a big hike up Mount Newhall in the afternoon before the birthday party - hopefully pictures to follow tommorow night!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

And On A Happy Note

As a more cheerful counterpoint to the dead beached whale, here is a fantastic photo taken by Lynda Lybeck-Robinson a few weeks ago here in Unalaska. Lynda is Goldfish's boss's piano teacher, so although I did not take this photo, I know who did. The splashing in the background is from another whale beating it's tail on the water. These are the same whales in Broad Bay that I watch from Ballyhoo Mountain sometimes. They should be getting closer to town later in the fall. Anyways, I wanted something cheerful so I made an exception to all the blog photos being taken by me - at this point any whale photos by me would show tiny splashes in the distance . . . . this is probably the favorite whale picture I have ever see because these are "my" whales. Cheers everyone!

Another Try

Looks like Blogspot is cooperating today, so here are some photos of that beached whale. It turns out it is a full grown female humpback and she actually beached at Broad Bay nearby and was towed to Captain's Bay so it was more accessible to the public for educational purposes. Broad Bay is the spot where we watch the whales play from Ballyhoo sometimes. There are a couple articles on the local radio/TV news channel about the whale here. Apparently they originally hoped to fly in a specialist from Seward to perform a necropsy but the whale may be too badly decomposed for that at this point.

Monday, September 10, 2007


Blogger is giving me a hard time tonight when I try to upload photos so I'll try adding photos to this post tommorow. Today was a strange one - this morning there was a full scale gale blowing; some of our boats had come in to the harbor to avoid the heavy seas in the Bering Sea. Based on this, we were going to have an indoor movie night tonight and enjoy the storm raging outside.

By the time I got out of work however the skies were sunny and the storm was just a memory so we headed over to Little South America to look at a beached humpback whale we had heard about (pictures to follow!).

Saturday, September 8, 2007


You can see in the corner by my living room window I have a new addition - a kayak paddle. I got this in the mail yesterday from my youngest son Trevor as a birthday gift. I've always tried to support Trevor in pursuit of his dreams and ambitions and I am so very proud of the young man he has become - and now it appears he is supporting me in mine. I mentioned to him that I wanted to get an ocean kayak because this place is the perfect place for one - most days Dutch Harbor is flat calm, and it offers the opportunity to see seals, sea lions, whales, puffins and other sea life on a daily basis. I've always wanted to kayak in the ocean, since I was a teenager, so thank you Trevor for listening and giving me a nudge . . . . within a year the paddle won't just be sitting by the living room window . . . .

Friday, September 7, 2007

Cod Season Begins

Cod season started September 1st and after the normal price negotiations our boats are out on the grounds and making cod deliveries. The photo is of one of our boats, F/V Arctic Mariner, after it had loaded up it's pots prior to leaving. All of the boats that fish cod for us fish crab as well, and the gear is very similar. This is exactly what the Arctic Mariner will look like when it heads out for crabbing in October. We are a little short handed at work with cod processing in addition to pollock.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Well . . . .

Maybe one more day of tugboat photos, what do you say? The top picture shows the view of the container ship we towed off the dock on our approach, the middle picture shows Captain Rob talking to the other tugboat on the other end of the container vessel, and the bottom picture shows the deckhand attaching the towline to the small messenger line dropped down from the deck of the container ship. You can see we lost a lot of daylight between the top photo at around 9:40 PM and the bottom photo at probably 10:30 PM.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Summit of Ballyhoo

I had yesterday off and I used the opportunity to call my Dad and hike to the summit of Ballyhoo. I had hiked around on Ballyhoo (that is where I watch whales from) but never to the top so I was pretty excited. You can see from the picture of Chico it was extremely windy near the summit - I'm guessing gusts to 30 or 40 knots. In the top photo I am about two thirds of the way to the top ducked behind a rock outcrop to get out of the wind for a bit. The bottom picture looks along the summit ridge towards the open Bering Sea. On the summit I lay on my belly and watched the whales for awhile before hiking back down. I'm just sorry I took so long to make this hike because it is definitely do-able in the evening after work and the view is spectacular.
Goldfish made the hike today on her day off and there was almost no wind so she hiked in a t-shirt the whole way - what a difference a day makes! She has bettter pictures from the summit than I do - better camera, better weather and a better eye for the shot - but I only use my pictures on this blog, so you're stuck with my view . . . . .cheers and goodnight!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A Different View

I'm always posting pictures on here of the view out my living room window and of the Russian Orthodox Church down the street - well here is the view OF my living room window (top picture, just to the left of the big satellite dish) and of the church (bottom picture) as seen from the water, specifically the wheelhouse of the James Dunlap as we motored out the channel. You can see Haystack Hill rising in the background on the other side of the creek.

Monday, September 3, 2007

James Dunlap

In the top picture you can see the James Dunlap behind the much smaller Saratoga. James Dunlap carries a crew of 3 that live on-board for their entire 75 day work rotation. It is 101 feet long powered by two 2000 horse diesels with Z-Drives that allow it to turn in any direction and basically spin circles in place if it wants to - it also has an auto pilot system that keeps the vessel stationary with no operator input. When actively towing, it burns over 200 gallons per hour - at one point when we were pulling the freighter away from the dock at full throttle we were burning 4 gallons a minute.

The lower picture shows one half of the engine room showing one of the main engines and part of the auxiliary power generators. The engine room, like the entire vessel, was spotless. The captain had us wash our feet off immediately after boarding to keep from tracking anything. In the top photo, left hand side, you can see Haystack Hill and part of the Alyeska dock across the channel. With it parked within view all the time, is it any wonder I had become fond of this tug?

The James Dunlap was on scene when the Selendang Ayu freighter ran aground on Unalaska Island and broke in half back in 2004 but was unable to attach a tow rope due to the extreme conditions and no way to fire a messenger line to the freighter to attach a tow rope, a feature that has since been added. You can read about National Transportation Safety Board's description of the grounding - which included a crashed rescue helicopter and the loss of six lives - here . There are 79 photos from the Daily News showing scenes from the grounding, including the crew of the James Dunlap here . And finally, there is a good description of the mechanical systems and a photo on the Dunlap Towing website here.

Birthday Continued

I saw a lot of cool things yesterday besides Dutch Harbor from the pilot house of my favorite tugboat - although that was the coolest. When I was at work I saw a sea lion with a brand new baby swimming up the channel by my "office window". It looked like it was fishing based on the frantic salmon jumping where ever it swam. Later that afternoon the winds kicked up and a flock of seagulls was flying down the channel against the wind, going absolutely no where for 10 minutes, apparently on purpose. It was the flying equivalent of running on a treadmill! And finally, after work but before I went on the James Dunlap, there was this beautiful rainbow with Mount Newhall as a backdrop ending at the outside channel marker.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Happy Birthday To Me!

I'm posting very late but for a great reason. I don't know if you can remember, but in an earlier post I mentioned my favorite boat on the island was the tugboat James Dunlop. Well, by some miracle Goldfish made arrangements for me to get a ride on the James Dunlop for a birthday surprise! We were on it for two hours while we moved a big cargo ship off the dock and got it pointed out to sea - what an experience! The captain has been doing it for 18 years up here, 75 days on/75 days off, and he was a super nice guy who patiently answered my million questions. I'll post more pictures tommorow. Additionally, Goldfish got me two sets of Frog Togs raingear and an Aluet Dictionary - but it was the tugboat ride that was the frosting on my birthday. Cheers everyone, it's late and we're getting our first cod delivery of the season tommorow.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Wow, Where Did August Go?

Seems like August snuck by pretty quick - here we are with a fresh new month sprawling ahead already. The beginning of September also marks the start of commercial cod season out here so there will be some changes in plant staffing and we flew in 27 additional employees to help with the cod processing.

I've got a bunch of goals for September - seems like the new month has me in a goal setting mood - but I won't share them here. Life is good! I'm not sure what the bird is in the photo - maybe one of you knows?