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Expedition Log: August 10, 2001

David Policansky

Unimak Island through Unimak Pass to Dutch Harbor

We arrived in the morning at Otter Cove, Unimak Island, the first of the Aleutian Islands heading west. The mystique of the Aleutians -- both their physical (volcanic) and their human history involving Natives, Russians, Americans, and Japanese arrival -- added to the enormous allure of Unimak Island. After a Zodiac landing on the beach, Bill Howard, Peter Hausmann, and I headed down the beach and across the marine tundra with our fly rods to try some fishing. The scenery, however, consisting of mountains, beaches, and abandoned buildings bathed in sunlight, and the wildlife (foxes, seabirds, an eagle, and wonderful wildflowers) made us stop repeatedly for photographs and exclamations. It took us more than an hour to begin to fish. When we did, we had some modest success. We each caught a fish or two, greenlings (a perch-like fish of rocks and kelp) and dolly varden char (a relative of salmon). Others hiked the beaches and the verdant hillsides. Finally, we had to leave the enchanted isle of Unimak.

grassy bluff

Grassy bluff on Unimak Island seen during long tundra walk. (Photo by National Ocean Service, NOAA).
Click image for a larger view.

But the voyage continued to provide pleasures and surprises. Unimak's three large volcanoes -- smooth Round Top; grotesquely double-peaked Isanotski; and the perfect cone of Shishaldin, at more than 9,300 the tallest mountain in the Aleutians--provided a marvelous and changing panorama in the sunshine (it was so balmy that my wife Sheila and I were basking on deck) as we cruised towards Unimak Pass and the Bering Sea. I've done studies that involved the Bering Sea, which is named after the great 18th century Russian explorer of Alaska (Vitus Bering), and so I've long wanted to be there. Passing through Unimak Pass meant the ship had finally reached the Bering Sea, nearly three weeks after leaving Prince Rupert.

volcano

Mt. Shishaldin on Unimak Island as seen from Clipper Odyssey. (Photo by National Ocean Service, NOAA).
Click image for a larger view.

We sailed alongside Akutan Island to stunning views of cliffs, caves, snowcapped mountains, and waterfalls. Our photographer, Kim Heacox, had said at dinner he was hoping for a fishing boat to enhance the scene, and as I went to the top deck with my camera, there was the boat. In addition to the scenery and the enthusiastic passengers drinking it all in (and photographing as if there were no tomorrow), there were hundreds of black-footed kittiwakes gleaming in the evening sun.

Then we headed for Dutch Harbor, the U.S. fishing port that lands the greatest volume of fish. The weather continued fair and calm and we cruised through large flocks of whiskered auklets, to the delight of the birdwatchers. A few hardy souls (including artist Kes Woodward, naturalist Dale Chorman, young explorer Clare Baldwin, birdwatcher Bill Howard, and I) stayed on the fo'c'sle deck watching the long, slow sunset, hoping to see the elusive green flash. Although that prize was not granted to us, the sunset was amazingly long-lasting. And it was glorious, a great prelude to our arrival in Dutch Harbor later that evening and the beginning of our time in the Bering Sea.

(View the day's photos)


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For information on the Harriman Retraced Expedition e-mail: harriman2001@science.smith.edu

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