June 14, 2009
At 6:30 a.m. I gave up and rolled out of bed, I just couldn't sleep anymore. I got dressed and made my way down to the second floor, grabbed a cup of coffee, and checked out what the free continental breakfast had to offer. It turned out that the "Super Start Breakfast" at the Super 8 Motel in Anchorage was not so super, so I decided to make my way downtown. After dropping my bike off at Pablo's and a hearty breakfast at the Sizzling Café by the Marriott, I walked around a bit, watched the Alaska Railroad depart for Denali and caught the shuttle back to the hotel.
I checked in for the 2:05 flight to Dutch early and phoned home for the last time. Verizon cell phone service is non-existent in Dutch so this was my last chance to talk to my wife until I returned to Anchorage 30 days from now. That, I admit was tough and five weeks away from home is not easy, for me or for her. I truly appreciate the relationship that we have and thank her for letting me take advantage of these opportunities that have come my way. After saying goodbye and promising to be extra careful while at sea, I made my way to the gate.
Penn Air flight 3296 left Anchorage about 20 minutes late and made an unscheduled stop to refuel in King Salmon. As a result we did not arrive in Dutch Harbor until 6:30 p.m., about one hour later than scheduled. The flight was less than scenic as it was overcast the whole way down but the final approach into Dutch was amazing. The plane flew right down the middle of the harbor before hanging a hard right, dropping fast, and slamming on the brakes so as not to overrun one of the shorter commercial runways in the world. I will never complain about flying into LaGuardia airport again.
I was met at the airport by Pat Kelly from the University of Rhode Island and David Shull from University of Western Washington. Pat is the marine research scientist with whom I will be working for the next four weeks. Pat had flown out two weeks prior to meet up with the Thompson in the Pribilof Islands and get a head start on collecting some data. The Thompson had just put into Dutch this morning and the scientist occupying my bunk was not flying out until tomorrow so they drove me to the Grand Aleutian Hotel to check in. After dropping my bags in the room, I hopped back in the car and rode out to get a quick tour of the Thompson. On our way we passed by the USGS Healy, a massive icebreaker operated by the US Coast Guard that was leaving the next day to conduct scientific research in the Beaufort Sea, north of Alaska.
The R/V Thompson is an impressive ship. A NOAA vessel operated by the University of Washington, she is about 270 feet in length and contained within her is a maze of corridors, staterooms, and research space. It is going to take me a few days to learn my way around the ship, as its layout is not as simple as the CCGS Amundsen that I was on two years prior.
Upon leaving the ship, Pat noticed that the left rear tire on the Ford Expedition was almost completely flat. A few more people wanted rides into town so 8 of us piled into the Ford Expedition and we limped the mile and half back to airport and returned the SUV to the rental place. We then walked the rest of the way back to the Grand Aleutian, had dinner, and continued on to the infamous UniSea Inn to meet up with some of the other scientists from both the Thompson and Healy. The UniSea inn was an interesting place to say the least. Populated by mostly fisherman and processing plant workers, it is the main place to unwind in Dutch after a hard day's work or a month at sea. It did not take long for me to realize that all oceanographic researchers either know each other directly or are at most are one person removed from knowing each other. I talked at length with Savik, a Native American man from Barrow, Alaska who was serving on the Healy as its community observer. His job is to watch all the stuff that will be taking place on the Healy over the next few weeks, participate in some science research, write about it, and bring it back to his community to share in a similar fashion to what I am doing on the Thompson. He showed me pictures of the Bowhead whale he and his friends had hunted this past spring. The Inuit are allowed to hunt whales for subsidence and preserve a part of their heritage, which is slowly eroding away. In one of the pictures he showed me, it was taking two front loaders to carry the whale back to the town where it was to be harvested. An amazing guy, he was looking forward to both learning what was taking place on the Healy and contributing his local knowledge of the area to those onboard.
After a few hours of conversation, listening to stories of research cruises past, and some of the worst karaoke I have ever heard, I made my way back to hotel. Tomorrow I should be able to get settled in on the Thompson and hopefully have a little time to explore the rest of the city of Unalaska before we put to sea on Wednesday. I am already amazed at all that I have experienced and am looking forward to tomorrow.