By Lori Saldaña
Background: Two weeks ago I got a call from a friend who has captained merchant and research ships around the globe for many years. We’ve known each other’s family for decades, and have done some local sailing off San Diego.
He recently retired from Scripps in La Jolla, and now coordinates research vessels out of Moss Landing, near Monterrey. He called to ask: have you ever been to Dutch Harbor Alaska? What he really meant was: want to volunteer on a research cruise?
So… that’s where I will be for the next two weeks: aboard the R/V Point Sur, helping collect ocean water samples from the Bering Sea off Alaska and northern Pacific, as we cruise back to California.
I left San Diego late Saturday night (July 26), spent a few hours in Seattle before a 6 am flight, and just finished breakfast in the Anchorage airport (surprisingly tasty, in Silver Gulch Brewing & Bottling cafe: “America’s most Northern Brewery.”) Interesting decor.
It’s relatively chilly here- mid-50s. Landing in Anchorage was beautiful: towering snow-capped mountains in the distance, deep green forests below. And (fresh) water, water everywhere: what a change from my travels to Cabo Pulmo in Baja Sur last month!
Unfortunately, I packed most of my warmer clothing in the bag checked thru to Dutch Harbor, and my current outfit reflects the weather I left behind: 80 degrees with tropical humidity in San Diego last night.
So even though this is my first time to Alaska, and I would love to see more, I have the wrong wardrobe, and only have a few hours layover before heading west. Not enough time to see much of Anchorage, but I’m enjoying the exhibit of traditional indigenous carvings, drums, masks, baskets and bead work on display in a viewing area over the gates. Lovely!
Many of the works are not only technically impressive, but reflect a strong spiritual connection between humans and the animals they relied on for sustenance. The carvings of whale bones and walrus tusks are intricate and vivid. They use all parts of the animal, not just for food but for functional items that will be worn, used for creating music, or in sacred ceremonies and other activities. These daily reminders indicate how closely the human lives were (are?) to the local wildlife. Such abundance, and also reverence.
I’ve read that half the population of Alaska live in or around Anchorage- but since the entire state population has only about 700,000 residents, it’s a pretty small place. There are more moose and caribou than people, or so I’ve heard. (A woman in the restaurant told me moose sometimes wander onto the tarmac during the winter- not your usual aviation hazard.)
Indoors and out- lots of early morning activity. Just watched a long line of all-male passengers board a “Conoco-Phillips” flight. Judging by their boots and attire, they were either hunters or oil field workers- or both.
Next stop: Dutch Harbor, on the western end of the Aleutian Islands. I’ll meet the researchers there, and we will board the ship tonight, then depart early Monday. We should have internet access from aboard ship, and I brought lots of camera gear.
No alcohol is allowed on board. Research vessels are not “dinner and dancing on the Lido deck” kinds of places. I’ll be wearing a hard hat as the research equipment is deployed/recovered with a crane, and I packed boots, parka, gloves, rain gear and watch cap. We will work 6 hour shifts, but in between… I can’t wait for the views of whales and whatever else might be out there!
I will keep you posted as we transit a few thousand miles offshore, before arriving back to Eureka in mid-August.
This series was first posted at our online media partner, San Diego Free Press.