Gone Floatabout

Sailing, Photography, Wilderness

End of the 2015 Voyage: Decommissioning, Salmon, and Aurora Borealis


Our last post, recounting our rather difficult 3-week passage from Point Barrow, ended with just one day to go to Dutch Harbor and with the highest mountains of the Aleutian Islands (namely Shishaldin Volcano, 75 miles away) just in sight. That final day was overcast and a little foggy, but the sea conditions were happily just as kindly as they had been the day before, when the fin whales had paid us a visit.

Ellen reading on passage

Ellen in the companionway on our last passage day  (no more wool hats – amazing!)

We entered Unalaska Bay around lunchtime and were thrilled to see the beautiful big green mountains rising up into the clouds all around us. It had been months since we’d seen mountains and the volcanic peaks of the Aleutians are stunning.

Priest Rock, Unalaska

Priest Rock and the entrance to Unalaska Bay

An hour or so later we had tied up to the dock in the fishing boat basin and were stepping ashore for the first time in 20 or 21 days – we’d actually lost track. It was so exciting to walk on land, and on such beautiful land as Unalaska. Our friends were there to greet us and we had a long chat before they had to head back home and the two of us went to the bar to celebrate!Full route map

That evening we sat out in the cockpit, savoring the warmth of the land – amazing to think that we would ever have considered the storm-tossed Aleutian Islands a haven of warmth and tranquility, but so it was after the Arctic and the long passage through the Chukchi and Bering Seas.

The next day we started in on winterizing Celeste for another season in Dutch Harbor while we would be back at work in Switzerland. It was pretty much a reverse of what we’d done in June (minus the upgrades). Here is a sample of what we did, off the top of my head. We were too busy to record any of this in the log, so this is just what I remember:

  • Replaced halyards with feeder lines to reduce windage and weight aloft.
  • Pickled the watermaker and ran it dry (important for below-freezing conditions).
  • Hooked up shore power to keep the batteries happy all winter (this was actually a pretty big job on account of the fishing harbor having different AC voltage than the boat…).
  • Arranged docklines, chafe gear, and fenders.
  • Rinsed and dried the anchor chain so it wouldn’t rust in the bow locker.
  • Lashed plywood to our solar panels to protect them from breakage (e.g. if an object hit them during a storm – Dutch Harbor occasionally gets 100-knot winds in winter).
  • Went up the mast to remove tricolor light, VHF antenna, and wind indicator. This is on account of the eagles that perch on the mast and tear anything apart that they might find amusing.Eagle on Celeste's spreaders
  • Removed all on-deck items (including dodger – too much windage) and stored them in our friends’ container (shipping container on their property).
  • Removed jib from roller furler and mainsail from boom and stored the sails in the container.
  • Removed all food and either stored it at our friends’ place or gave it away depending on ‘best-by’ date. This was on account of the rats that are reputed to live on the docks and make a mess of boats that are left with food on board.
  • Removed anything that might mildew – mattress, cushions, bedding, towels, clothing, books, charts, sails, lines – and stored it all in our friends’ attic (yes, we have the most amazing friends!!)
  • Normally we would change the engine oil and fuel and oil filters, but this time we had done that in Barrow and hardly used the engine since – we’d never been at a loss for wind! We did not fully winterize the engine because our friends run it for us periodically. (Did I mention how amazing our friends are??)

    Ellen changing filters

    Changing oil and filters in Barrow

  • Fully drained the water tanks.
  • Fully topped up the diesel tanks (to prevent condensation).
  • Topped up heater tank to prevent condensation.
  • Thoroughly cleaned the head (marine toilet) with white vinegar.
  • Wiped down all surfaces with diluted bleach as a preemptive strike against mildew – we really, really hate that ‘boaty’ smell!
  • Sponge-dried the bilge so that it was completely dry. (No boaty smell, thanks!)
  • Set up the big General Electric dehumidifier to drain continuously down the sink.
  • Gave the boat key to our friends.

During all this we made time to socialize with our friends who would be taking care of Celeste over the winter again, with new friends we’d made who live in Unalaska and run a dry-suit dive club (!), and with the crew of another boat. We also managed to draw the attention of the police when we went down to the town creek to take underwater pictures of the salmon spawning – they thought we were spear-fishing! It made for a good laugh all around when the misunderstanding had been cleared up. The underwater pictures didn’t come out wonderfully due to the algae in the creek, but seeing all those hundreds of salmon coming up the river was quite the sight!

Underover salmon

Salmon breaking the surface all over the creek

Underover salmon2

Underover salmon3

Two salmon and Ellen taking video with the ‘spear’ that drew the coppers’ attention (it’s actually a GoPro selfie stick!)

Then it was time to leave again and make the journey back east, first to New England for personal/family reasons and then eventually to our home in Switzerland, via Iceland where we were awed by the most spectacular display of the Northern Lights.

Northern Lights

Ellen watches the aurora from a breakwater in Iceland

We’ve had a very busy but also a good year back in Switzerland – stay tuned for some land adventure photo-blogs – and now that it’s spring we’re looking forward to re-uniting with Celeste and exploring ever more of Alaska!

11 thoughts on “End of the 2015 Voyage: Decommissioning, Salmon, and Aurora Borealis

  1. Pingback: Work and Play in Marina del Rey (January 2018) | Gone Floatabout

  2. Can’t wait for the next adventures to leave me breathless with admiration.

    • Thanks so much, Sandra! We try to keep the blog coming, hopefully more timely this summer, depending on the availability of internet!

  3. The good times have been & gone, now we have to get ready for the next season. I am so sorry to see what s ahead of you, I would love to be able to assist with repairs if I lived on that side of the world. I am 87 yrs today, and enjoy keeping up with your travels, so head down and go,go man I’ll be with you all the way, CHEERS TERRY

    • Happy birthday, Terry! Thanks so much for reading and commenting – I’m so glad you enjoy our blog posts! We hope to keep them coming!

  4. What a huge job! Other than the winterising of Celeste, have you got much maintenance to do after an expedition to the Arctic?
    Like the over under picks and LOVE the aurora.

    • Thanks so much, Chris! We SO excited to see the aurora – we only had one night in Iceland so it was super good luck!!

      Unfortunately we do have a lot of repairs to do upon our return this summer, but not on account of having sailed to the Arctic. In fact we wouldn’t have had much to do at all if it hadn’t been for a horrendous typhoon that struck Dutch Harbor this winter. Celeste heeled over so much that her toerail got caught under the dock and got really banged up. Her stanchions were bent as were the turnbuckles on the shrouds so they all have to be replaced. We’re also worried we’ll have to replace the chain plates on that port side. That’s a pretty huge job that we’re not looking forward to. We can manage it fine but of course we wish it hadn’t happened. Shouldn’t complain, though – many of the Dutch Harbor residents had windows broken and roofs blown off and all sorts of other damage. Fortunately no one was badly injured. Like I said, it was an unusually bad storm even for the Aleutian Islands – otherwise I think we would only have had some varnish to do!

      • Oh that sounds horrible. A tough start to your sailing season. Can it all get done there?

        • We’re definitely not too happy about it… but yes, I think we can do all the structural work there – we’ll have to have the parts shipped in but otherwise I think (hope) our carpentry skills are up to it! (Well, Seth’s are anyway!) We’ll most likely leave the cosmetic side of it (fairing and paint) to the spray gun team at the boatyard once we reach civilization again.

        • When are you going back up there?

        • Mid-June is the plan… coming right up!