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July 25, 2007


Finally, no more going down the Kuskokuim and up the Nushagak river, turning around and doing the same thing again. We ended up doing 3 round trips down to Dillingham to pick up gravel and bring it back to Bethel. They still needed another couple of runs, but they're going to have to find someone else, cause we got to get the barge down to Seattle on August 1st. Well it looks like we might be a few days late, but close enough. So we finally headed out of the Bristol Bay area and made our way down to Unimak Pass in the Aluteans. It was pretty socked in the entire way, but we did end up having a little visibility while we were passing Unimak Island and caught some fleeting views of the three active volcanos there.

I can't remember the name of this one, but it's the biggest of the three volcanos on Unimak Island:

We had some good 5-7 foot waves to buck into heading north towards Cook Inlet. Nothing too bad, but with how little fuel we had on board it was a bit rolly. The Ocean Mariner carries upwards of 55,000 gallons of diesel, but we had to get our draft down to 12 feet to make it up the rivers. We had a couple of close calls with 0.0 showing on the depth sounder. Not a terribly fun feeling when 4000 tons of gravelly death is following 100 feet behind and won't slow down if you get caught on a bar. Anyway, we made it out of the rivers safely and made it up to Seward before any really nasty weather hit. We're here in Seward now, picking up some empty cargo containers to bring back to Seattle. The weather was supposed to be bad today, so we actually had a night off last night. Ahhhh my first beer in 31 days. How sweet it is.

Corey(the other deckhand), Mitch(1st Mate), and myself in Seward:

Seward Marina:

Spectacular scenery and of course cruise ships. I just can't seem to get away from these damn things:

We're leaving tomorrow if the weather clears up. Then it's 2 days across the Gulf of Alaska and 5 days down the inside passage back to Seattle. See you all in a week or so.

July 8, 2007

Barge Slalom

We're back in Dillingham now after dropping a load of gravel off up in Bethel. The barge is being loaded back up again as I'm writing this. We'll make one more gravel run and then it looks like we're off to Seward to pick up a load of wrecked cars to bring back down to Seattle for scrap. As of right now, we're scheduled to get back into Seattle on August 2nd, but of course that's all subject to change. Here's an account that I wrote up almost a week ago:

July 03, 2007

Until yesterday, tug boating was getting pretty routine. Cook a few meals, bake some treats, haul some lines, get sleep whenever you can. Just about what I expected. Yesterday was a bit different. First, Tom, the other deck hand, calls me to the wheelhouse to check out a pod of Belugas swimming by. They never got too close, but very cool to add a new whale to my list. We were heading out the Nushagak river with a barge full of gravel. It's a wide river, but there are lots of shoals and we're very limited with the tug and barge's 12 foot drafts. Nomally the tug draws more, but we're running without any fuel in the aft tanks to get the stern up, otherwise we couldn't make it up the Kuskokuim river to Bethel. So we're shooting the shoalest part of the Nushagak at slack high water, unfortunately this happens to coincide with a 4 hour salmon opening. I t seems like the entire Bristol Bay fishing fleet was in the river. There were easily 500 fishing boats, probably many more. Now if you think that dodging 500+ 32' fish boats is a fun job, add to that the fact that most of them have 600 foot gill nets strung out across the river from their position. Oh yeah, add to that the fact that there's a 3 knot current pushing us out and if we don't go fast enough the barge like to make random turns on it's own and take off to one side or the other. So we need to maintain 6 knots net boat speed to keep the barge tracking behind us. So for over two hours, Tom and I were constantly looking through binoculars while Arve, the captain, steered us through the labyrinth of gill nets all the while repeating how he was never going to do this again.

I got a chance to snap a quick pic backward just as we were coming out of the gill netters:

More impressive, here's the radar as we're coming out of the fishing grounds:

Later that night Arve called me up to the wheelhouse again, this time for a humpback that was playing around and doing tail slaps. He just sat there and slapped his enormous fluke at us while we steamed by less then a hundred yards away. I'm not surprised when they do that with a sailboat, but this is a 94 foot tug towing a 287 foot barge, still the whale was unflappable....except for his tail which flapped a lot.

Here's that Humpback smacking his tail at us while we motored by:

July 1, 2007

Dillingham Alaska

Well it's been a week now since I arrived up here in the land of the endless sun. Supposedly the sun is up for about 22 hours a day right now, but I've yet to see it Oh well I'm not up here to work on my tan, that's what the Winter is for. I'm up here to make some money, and so far the gig isn't too bad. I've spent a couple of days out in the cold climbing on and off barges using little pigeon hole ladders and hauling ridiculously heavy lines around. But for the most part I've been dusting off the old culinary skills cooking two meals a day, keeping the galley and head clean and standing the occasional watch. I'm up a lot, but it's not bad duty. Here's a glimpse of what the inside of the Ocean Mariner looks like:

Here's the cooks cabin. The other cabins are quite a bit larger, but compared with sailboat accommodations it's downright palatial:

Here's the Galley where I spend most of my time. Not too bad, big fridge and freezer, dishwasher, garbage disposal, trash compactor, microwave. I've got it all:

And the other place where I spend a lot of time, the galley table. There's a TV and VCR/DVD in here so that we can watch movies, but we only really use them during meal time. Still we've powered through season 1 of “The Unit” and have started on season 1 of “24”

And here I am up in the Wheelhouse:

So we spent 4 days up in Bethel waiting for them to unload all the containers off our barge using a couple of big honking fork lifts. Then we did an overnight passage to Dillingham and as I'm sitting here writing this are being loaded up with gravel to take back to Bethel. I think that we're going to be doing this run a few time over the next couple of weeks. We may or may not make a run up to Nome. Either way the tug and barge need to be back in Seattle by August 1st, so I'll be up here working until at least then.

Gravel being loaded onto the barge, there's a big frontloader on the barge distributing the load:

And here I am poaching wifi off the fantail: