In my last post, I introduced Pat and Sue, a wonderful couple who take Arctic sailors under their wing. Seth and I had talked (with each other) about rowing our dinghy up the Snake River that empties into Nome’s harbor, but on our very first full day, Pat and Sue took us up it in their motorboat for a fishing expedition!
So we not only got to see a whole lot more of the river and the country than we would have in our rowboat, but we had excellent company and a better chance of catching a salmon for dinner (with four people fishing instead of two).
As we started up river, Sue mentioned the local musk-oxen. They’re one of the Arctic creatures Seth and I had really wanted to see on this voyage: a shaggy beast that survived the last ice age and that looks like a kind of Arctic highland cow, despite the fact that its closest living relative is a Himalayan antelope! They’re called musk-oxen because of the musky smell that the males emit during the rut. Their range used to be fairly wide, but the Alaskan population was wiped out in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. They were reintroduced to a few places in Alaska fairly soon thereafter, including Nunivak Island in 1935 and the Seward Peninsula (Nome area) in the 1970s.
Sue said that the airport (we were speeding past it in the motorboat) often has trouble with musk-oxen ambling onto the runway! Just as she was telling us this, we came around a corner and there was a whole herd of them! Males, females, and babies! Pat immediately shut off the engine so we could drift and watch them. Despite their size, their movements seemed graceful thanks to the long swaying guard hairs.
Then we continued up river to get down to the real business of the day: fishing! We were fishing for pink salmon, and whenever we saw a school of them, we’d stop and start casting. Seth taught me to cast for the second time (first time was last year, but I’d forgotten) because – and I realize this isn’t normal – the only fishing I’d really ever done was deep-sea: we often trailed lines on our circumnavigation and we’d caught a few tuna, mahi-mahi, and wahoo. All of us tried hard, but only Pat and Seth hooked anything and only Pat actually landed his salmon. Happily it was a nice big one!
Everywhere we stopped, I noticed the beautiful wildflowers, the birds -including a raven’s nest! – and the enormous moose and bear tracks.
On our way back down the river, we stopped at a point where a small hill rises from the river. Sue stayed with the boat and kept fishing, while Pat, Seth, and I walked up it and got some nice views over the country. We also saw a flock of Sandhill cranes! Very exciting – one on any birder’s list!
Back on the dock that evening, we asked the sailors of the Dutch boat Necton over for drinks on Celeste, which then turned into potluck dinner aboard Necton. They were on the final leg of their amazing multi-year voyage from the Netherlands and back (not all the way around the world, but maybe even more creative and interesting!): Holland – Mediterranean – Canary Islands – Brazil – Argentina – the Antarctic Peninsula – Chilean channels – South Pacific – Australia – Indonesia – Japan – Aleutian Islands – Nome. They were headed over the top of Canada and then down Greenland and across the Atlantic for Holland. (Story spoiler: they made it!) We got a tour of the boat, which was even larger than we’d expected with two levels – staterooms (bedrooms) below and dining/navigation area above. And we got to see a lot of their gorgeous photos of the many beautiful places they’d been! Really nice people – fun to get to know them a bit.
Again, it was after midnight, with the sun still shining bright, when we went to bed. Another great day!