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Harriman Expedition Retraced


Expedition Log




Expedition Log: August 11, 2001

Debbie Chalmers, Teacher -Young Explorers Team
Clare Baldwin, Student - Young Explorers Team

This expedition log was written in two sections to provide a student and teacher perspective on a memorable day in Dutch Harbor.

Dutch Harbor

Debbie Chalmers, Teacher - Young Explorers Team

The M/V Clipper Odyssey slipped into Dutch Harbor at 11 p.m. Friday night, August 10. I reluctantly turned away from the rail of the ship as the magenta sunset paved a glistening path across the sea. Lights from the boat harbor welcomed us as we savored the remarkably clear skies and balmy 45-degree summer temperatures. I entered the harbor's location on my GPS (global positioning unit) and was surprised that the harbor's location at N 54, W166 degrees was further south than Juneau. The Young Explorers decided it was a perfect night to sleep out on the deck. They settled in with their bedding, lots of clothing layers, and a supply of chocolate to get them through the night. For a split second I toyed with the thought of joining their campout but decided to retreat to the warmth of my stateroom. Clare and Natashia made an Alaskan statement by lasting through the chilly night.

Morning promised an unbelievably cloudless day with temperatures of 51 degrees Fahrenheit reaching into the low 60s by mid-afternoon. Community members joined us onboard for a panel discussion that focused on the endangered Stellar sea lion and how related fishing regulations have affected the fishing industry. The panelists all supported a need for additional research to explore solutions to restore the number of sea lions found in the Bering Sea.


The container ship dock at Dutch Harbor. (Photo by Megan Litwin).
Click image for a larger view.

I sorted through my notepad full of information presented on the complex issues facing the fishing industry as we scrambled into the waiting school buses for a tour of Unalaska. My first surprise was that Dutch Harbor was just that - a major shipping and fishing harbor rather than a town. The town of Unalaska housed the local residents and was accessed past the airport and across a bridge. The local sights included the only brick building on the Aleutians, a jet runway that is just four feet longer than the minimum required length and is considered by some to be the "superbowl" of Alaska airport landings. Reminders of America's military presence during WWII were everywhere. A WWII power supply building with four-foot walls that withstood a 1942 Japanese attack is still used by the town. Ballyhoo Mountain's domed top rose behind the community and served as a fort during WWII. Underground tunnels housed servicemen for six-months without community contact. A WWII secret submarine base was also located in the harbor. Some of the passengers visited an archeological dig of an Aleut midden site (historic garbage dump). It amazed me that thousand-year-old artifacts were uncovered so close to recent construction. A sewer pipe laid during WWII ran through the center of the site.


A memorial dedicated to those who lost their lives at sea is inscribed with a poem adapted by Robert Freeman. Additional memorials were dedicated to war casualties at sea. (Photo by Megan Litwin).
Click image for a larger view.

The bus dropped us off at the Russian Orthodox church. I tried to identify the stories depicted in the gold-leaf icons that adorned the walls and doors as the priest described the saintly figures. Some of the icon paintings were dated from the early 1800's. We toured the cemetery that honored soldiers lost in WWII and fishermen lost at sea. The memorial fronted the beach beneath an orthodox cemetery that followed the slope of the hillside with freshly-painted white Russian Orthodox crosses bordered by a white picket fence. Our tour included exploring a fascinating display of Native artifacts and WWII history at the local museum.


View of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Ascension, Unalaska Alaska. Exceptional artwork inside the church includes twelve monthly icons painted on wood that are dedicated to the saints. Saint Innocent of Alaska and icons saved from neighboring villages dated back to the 1800s. (Photo by Megan Litwin).
Click image for a larger view.

I was disappointed to discover my cell phone with nationwide coverage wasn't working here so I hurried to find a pay phone for a quick call home before boarding the ship for departure to Bogosloff Island. David Policansky, one of our scholars, provided an overview of some of the marine fisheries issues raised during the morning panel discussion. The ship had been granted permission to pass the Bogosloff Stellar Sea Lion rookery from one mile. We could also view the rookery by Zodiac from 500 meters away. The Zodiacs were outfitted with GPS units that located accurate distances from shore to assure that we maintained the required minimum distance. The rolling Zodiac ride provided more excitement than the Steller sea lion on the distant beach.

I appreciated our group's precautionary measures that contrasted with the 1899 Harriman Expedition to Bogoslof Island. The 1899 Harriman party landed on shore and caused quite a disturbance among the sea lions and the seabirds. Merriam's diary noted that "Whenever Fisher fired (to gather specimens of murres), millions of airres shot out into the air and darkened the atmosphere…so vast and incomprehensible is the number of these birds. Many green eggs fell when the birds left too hurriedly." The island was created by a volcanic eruption in 1796 and an additional island section was formed in 1883. It must have been a thrill to Harriman and his scholars to walk on new earth. It was a thrill to glimpse this remote island from the rocking Zodiac.

Clare Baldwin, Student - Young Explorers Team

You would think a town 800 miles from Anchorage with a population of 4,200 would be limited. Yet Unalaska has a massage parlor and an Olympic-size swimming pool. One hundred and thirty-two different languages are spoken in the school. The skateboard park is next to the clinic and across from the police station. That said, Unalaska is still remote.

In talking with residents, you do get a sense of the remoteness: the airstrip meets FAA regulations by four feet. There are no doctors (there are physician's assistants) on the island and it costs $20,000 to med-evac a patient to Anchorage. There is an eagle nest in the neck bracing of a crane beside the road.

Dutch Harbor was settled by the Unangan people 10,000 years ago. Today, the commercial fishermen who live here land and process 700 million pounds of fish each year. The fishery is valued at over $124 million. "We now have extremely efficient, highly mobile advanced fishing machines," says Shirley Marquardt, from the At-Sea Processors Association. Nearly everyone who lives in Unalaska fishes.

When we went ashore, I visited the church. I am always surprised by the reach of the Russian Orthodox Church. In Unalaska, the church was established in 1896. The priest who told me this was dressed in a long black robe and a gold cross on a thick gold chain. He also told me that the residents of Dutch Harbor donated furs for the items they needed for worship. The Russian Orthodox Church has a very elaborate spirituality. Services are an hour and a half and the congregation stands. Devotions are sung acapella in Aleut, Slavonic, and English. Everyday is dedicated to a different saint and there are entire months described in icons.

We also made a brief stop at the cemetery beside Iliuliuk Harbor. Traffic on the nearby dirt road was slow, salmon berries were thick, and the green hills vanished into one another.

Back on the Clipper Odyssey, we cruised to Bogoslof Island. Bogoslof Island is tiny and has very little vegetation. It is volcanic in origin and is surrounded by a 3-mile no-entry zone because of the Steller Sea Lion rookery it supports. With a special permit from NOAA, we could Zodiac to within 500 meters of the beach. We were too far away to see details, but the barks and roars of the sea lions carried well over the water.

(View the day's photos)

(Community Profile: Dutch Harbor/Unalaska)




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

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