I’m on a Boat!
When I decided to work on a fish processing vessel headed for Dutch Harbor, I knew I was signing up for an adventure and believe me, it’s been over the top. Within 36 hours of setting sail from Seattle we ran aground in Canadian waters. Someday I’ll tell you the whole story, but probably not in writing, and certainly not without a shot of tequila first. Promise we can do that? Drink belly up in a dark bar and swap stories like salty sailors? Please? Oh, and have I mentioned I’m working on a dry boat with zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol? All winter!! I’m making history here people. My sugar and caffeine intake has tripled and I’m brushing my teeth sixteen times a day. BTW, we gratefully accept creative, drug-free care packages. Our mailing address is:
Angela & Cota
C/O Gordon Jensen
PO Box 920488
Dutch Harbor, AK 99692
I can’t really describe what it is that inspires 204 people to live and work together on a boat, tethered to an island between the Bering Sea and the Pacific Ocean. It’s more than the paycheck or the adventure calling us here. Sometimes I think it’s a cruel joke, ha! There’s no reasonable explanation for half of the things that happen here, but I guess that’s what this lifestyle is about–organized chaos at it’s finest. The tribe of cultures and the flow of friendships are as fluid and promising as the whir of the machinery. Music gets cranked up louder and the repetitive motions of seafood processing pick up speed. Eagles swoop down for their fish and the beat goes on... Another day in paradise.
When life demands reality, we surrender to the miracle of this experience, to all the adventures and misadventures that carried us on the wind to this crazy moment. We are, after all, living the dream. Boat life in Alaska in the middle of winter is a good place to find that reminder, like sunshine stored away in your pocket.
Dutch Harbor is a strikingly beautiful landscape. A few days ago, Cota and I hiked up Mt. Ballyhoo and stood on top of an Aleutian Island between the Bering sea and the Pacific Ocean. Bare, snow-covered, jagged mountains jut out from the sea. It’s isolated and bleak, yet the oceans are swimming with life and the seafood industry harvests over 700 million pounds of fish worth almost 200 million dollars every year out of Dutch. Opinions on the fishing industry aside, it is an incredible human feat to harvest, process, and distribute that amount of anything in a year.
Not only is Dutch Harbor home to one of the worlds richest fisheries, it also has a deep and fascinating history. Two islands along this chain were taken by the Japanese during World War II and Dutch Harbor was of strategic significance to the United States. Artifacts from the area also date inhabitants of the islands back 8000 years!
Besos from the Aleutians! We miss you!
History lesson taken from interpretive sign on top of Mount Ballyhoo:
Aleutian World War II National Historic Area
US Army Fort Schwatka, Mount Ballyhoo
During World War II, this isolated mountaintop fortification was home to 1,000 US Servicemen, their duty to protect Dutch Harbor from Japanese seaborne attack. Through the coordinated efforts of Army spotters, position plotters, and gun crews, an enemy vessel could be tracked, its position determined, and weapons aimed and fired. The fort’s big 8-inch guns could rotate 360 degrees on their Panama Mounts and hurl a 240 pound high explosive shell twenty-one miles out to sea. Together with three other coastal artillery positions, Fort Schwatka formed the “Ring of Iron.” Over 100 buildings once marked this defensive location and included Quonset huts, wooden barracks, and concrete bunkers with connecting tunnels. At 897 feet above sea level, it is the highest military post in the United States. The Fort’s concrete observation posts and command center were designed to withstand earthquakes and 100 mile per hour winds. Together with the gun mounts, these structures still stand as some of the most intact military constructions of their kind in the country.