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.
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.
As the sun began to set, I headed below for a few hours’ sleep before my watch.
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.
And we saw a spy-hopping humpback 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!
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!
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.
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.
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.