Chris, Jake and I flew from San Diego to Anchorage on Sunday, with a brief overnight layover before Monday morning flights to Dutch Harbor. Chris and Jake had the 6:45 flight and I had the later 9:45 flight. These PenAir flights are on smallish Saab propeller planes that seat about 30 people. On both of our flights we had stopovers in King Salmon to refuel the plane about halfway through the journey. My flight was largely uneventful until the final approach into Dutch Harbor airport. For most of the journey we were high above the low lying marine clouds and were greeted by snow covered Aleutian volcanos peaking above the clouds, as shown in the image below.
On the first approach, just as we were dipping into the clouds, the pilot yanked back on the throttle and brought the plane back around to the east; shortly afterwards he reported on the intercom that there was another plane in front of us that hand’t landed yet and so we had to turn away and try again. So after 20 minutes repositioning to the approach, we started our descent again into the cloud layer. We descended deeper and deeper into the white abyss and just when I thought we would start to see the ground, I felt the plane rising up again and we shot back into the clear skies above the clouds. I couldn’t understand what the pilot said afterwards on the intercom but the other passengers were remaining calm so I took that as my cue. That’s when the passenger next to me told me that sometimes the fog is so thick that flights are diverted all the way back to Anchorage! Yikes, that wasn’t what I wanted to hear. Luckily the third approach was a charm and we punched through the clouds and into a very thin cavity of clear air in between the ground and clouds. It seemed like there was only 300-500 feet of clear space between the clouds –– not enough room to feel comfortable but enough to not feel like it we were in imminent danger. We raced above Unalaska Bay like this for a few miles, then took a hard turn to the left and quickly descended onto the Dutch Harbor runway with a clean landing.
Since Jake and Chris arrived 3 hours before me, they had already picked up the rental car and dropped off their personal gear on our research ship, the RV Thompson, which was tied up at the dock about 1 mile north of the airport. The first thing we did was to head over to the grocery store since my top priority was to pre-order the perishable food that will be flown over to the field camp at Fort Glenn this coming weekend. We could choose between Alaska Ship Supply and Safeway, and Safeway was the clear winner. Despite the remote location of Unalaska, the selection of fresh and frozen goods at Safeway was amazingly similar to that available back in California. Yesterday’s grocery store visit was just a reconnaissance to see what was available. Today I have to go back with the list of items to buy and make sure I order enough for 160 person-days on the island.
This is our new home for the next week, the RV Thomas G. Thompson, which is a research vessel operated by the University of Washington. The Thompson is a sister ship to Scripps’ RV Roger Revelle and both follow the same general design plan. I was on the Thompson for a previous cruise back in 2001 and it has almost the same layout as the Revelle, so it felt very familiar on board. Here’s a photo of the Thompson tied up at the Dutch Harbor dock, where now its the late afternoon and the clouds have thinned:
Since we don’t start loading up the ship until this morning, we decided to spend the late afternoon going around town for some brief sight seeing. Just around the other side of Dutch Harbor is Nirvana Hill and Memorial Park, which honors the memory of lives lost during the Japanese bombing of Dutch Harbor in 1942:
For those of you completely unfamiliar with Dutch Harbor and Unalaska, it is where the show Deadliest Catch is filmed, and fishing is no joke in this town. According to the town website, Dutch Harbor is America’s busiest fishing port with nearly $1 billion in harvested fish last year. The photo below shows Captain’s Bay, and if you look closely near the center you can see an otter floating in the water (otters are very abundant here).
Another common sight here is Bald Eagles. Everywhere you go there are bald eagles. They seem as common as seagulls are back home in San Diego and have similar behavior as they appear to be most concentrated around buildings and boats near the waterline. Many of them are currently nesting like the ones on the cliff behind the post office, where we saw this unique signage:
Look closely at this photo and you will see three bald eagles sitting on the crab pot stacks:
There are lots of shipping containers in Dutch Harbor. Most of the ones shown in the photo below have built-in refrigeration units on one end of the container. We assume these are for transporting the fresh (or newly frozen) catch to its resale destination.
Another view of Unalaska