Gone Floatabout

Sailing, Photography, Wilderness

Off to the Pribilof Islands! June 30 – July 2, 2015


Leaving Unalaska under the last of the evening sun

Leaving Unalaska under the last of the evening sun

As promised, the story resumes! After our whirlwind last day on Unalaska, we finally pulled away from the dock at 9:30PM on June 30 with the sun still golden on the green hills.  We were warming up the engine and untying the lines when our friend Josh called across the dock, asking when our departure date would be.  “Now!” we shouted back, and a few moments later Celeste was gliding out of her slip and Josh shouted back to us, “Oh, you mean really, really now!  Good luck! Look me up if you come back to Unalaska!”

Then we were off, puttering past the familiar sights of the crab fishing boats, the pollock plants, the Russian Orthodox church with its onion domes, and the lovely green mountains – so many of which we’d hiked.  We hoisted sail and set Celeste on a course to round the northern headland of Unalaska Bay. It was sad to be leaving behind so many good friends and beautiful familiar places, but new adventures were just over the horizon!

A bank of fog lay out to sea but the sun still shone on us as we had a late dinner in the cockpit and watched the cliffs and scattered rocks of Unalaska slip past.  We caught a glimpse of the Shell oil rig soon to be test-drilling in the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea where we were headed – the source of much controversy inside and outside Alaska.

Shell oil rig, soon to go to the Arctic

Shell oil rig, soon to go to the Arctic

Another bay opened up and there was a huge sheet of ice – a glacier as big as some we’d seen on the Alaska Peninsula the year before.  It brought home to us once again how wild and undiscovered these lonely islands are.

Glacier on Unalaska Island

Glacier on Unalaska Island

As the sun began to set, I headed below for a few hours’ sleep before my watch.

Sunset and moonrise over the Aleutians

Sunset and moonrise over the Aleutians

Once out at sea we were in the fog, and it persisted, on and off, with an added layer of middle level cloud above us. But the wind remained steady from the southeast at 10-15 knots so we had a pleasant start to July under our new 135% jib and our single-reefed mainsail (reefed to balance best for our autopilot). We watched the many birds that live off the nutrient-rich Bering Sea: Northern fulmars, Laysan albatrosses, murres, puffins, auklets, petrels, and kittiwakes.

Fork-tailed storm petrel!!

Fork-tailed storm petrel!!

And we saw a spy-hopping humpback whale!

spy-hopping whale

The wind increased as the day went on, but the fog burned off and the clouds started to lift, letting us get some good photographs of the birds – not easy to do from a rolling sailboat!

Northern fulmar, dark morph

Northern fulmar, dark morph

Laysan Albatross - 6.5ft wingspan!

Laysan Albatross – 6.5ft wingspan!

The wind built to 25 knots overnight so we put another reef in. Celeste rolled pretty heavily in the steep seas we encountered once we regained the continental shelf (we’d sailed into deep waters after leaving Unalaska but returned to the shallower waters for which the Bering Sea is known about 3/4 of the way to the Pribilofs – lighter color on map below indicates continental shelf), but we both felt great – fun to be at sea again and about to make landfall at a new place!

Seas build and clouds descend

Seas build and clouds descend

I spotted St George Island in the morning on July 2 but, of course, it took all day to sail the remaining 45 miles to St Paul Island where we were bound.

Map to Pribs

The fog returned and the wind built unexpectedly in the “lee” of St Paul just as we were about to negotiate the shallow and poorly-charted harbor.  Neither our paper nor our electronic charts (both 2014) showed the inner harbor which was built in 2011.  Instead they showed a marsh with depths of 0 feet.  We could tell by looking that an inner harbor in fact existed but we weren’t sure where the dredged channel was to enter it.  We called the harbor authority on the VHF, both to get a slip and to ask about the channel, and got no response. But we found it, correcting one way or another as soon as our depth sounder showed less than 10 feet, and tied up at the beautiful new floating docks – a definite incongruity on this tiny, remote, Bering Sea island, and testimony to the business acumen of the Aleut Native corporation that runs St Paul.

Tied up in the beautiful new harbor on St Paul Island. (Photo taken July 5, not July 2 when we arrived in the fog...)

Tied up in the new harbor on St Paul Island. (Photo taken July 5, not July 2 when we arrived in the fog…)

We turned in early that evening after a nice hot shower and spaghetti dinner and a few minutes watching the fur seals cavorting in the harbor.

Author: Ellen

sailor, writer, photographer

13 thoughts on “Off to the Pribilof Islands! June 30 – July 2, 2015

  1. Pingback: Passage to Nome, Alaska, July 7-11, 2015 | Gone Floatabout

  2. Pingback: Birds and Fur Seals on the Pribilof Islands, July 3, 2015 | Gone Floatabout

  3. Nice to get your posts again, we missed you!😊 The image of the albatross is stunning. What lens were you using?

  4. So great you’re back to blogging!

  5. Your picture of the Shell oil rig makes us thankful for Shell’s recent decision to abandon drilling in the Arctic. Great photos!

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