Dog and Pony

March 17, 2015
Sikuliaq Ice Trials

Sikuliaq in port at Dutch Harbor
Sikuliaq in port at Dutch Harbor

Woke up to the wind rattling the hotel windowpane. Still dark even though it’s eight-thirty. I have to think about this for a second, but decide either way it’s fine. Either way I’m not late. The ship arrived in the early hours and will be busy for a couple days boarding crew and fuel and supplies. We’re way west of Fairbanks and Anchorage and still on Alaska time. The days here are always skewed. Dawn always comes late. I’ve given myself almost twelve hours to fall asleep and wake up again, shower, eat the breakfast I brought back from the Safeway, and then meet the crew downstairs to get a ride out to the ship. Feels like a holiday compared to the last couple weeks preparing for the cruise. Take it while I can get it. And the leisurely breakfast this morning is a choice combination of the remains of a “47-strawberry, 3-banana” smoothie and the remains of a box of Fig Newtons. If these seem incongruous, dinner was the first half of the box, the first half of the smoothie, and a cup of ramen noodles. Shrimp flavor. I always pick the shrimp if I’m buying just one. I always pick the shrimp if I’m buying 2 or 3., or heck, even a pack of 12, because, you know, to save money. Not much else of the hotel room at the Grand Aleutian resembles a college dorm. It’s big and there’s not a lot of stuff in it.

Roger’s stateroom on board Sikuliaq
Roger’s stateroom on board Sikuliaq

Two beds, sharp at the corners like a child’s blocks. A futon has more give, but when I get up I leave a surprisingly deep hole that takes its time to rebound. I remember these from last time I visited Unalaska, some number of years ago I can’t remember.

Nothing too shabby about being picked up at the hotel by the ship’s agent and driven to the dock, especially with the continuing wind and rain. But I really did enjoy catching cabs in Montreal and then in San Juan the last two times out to the Sikuliaq — and telling the drivers I wanted to go to the port and then getting the obvious question, “The airport?”

“No, the port. Ships!”

And when in Montreal, “The Old Port?”

“No. Here,” I said, and this where the phone is again wonderful, showing him Maps’ interpretation of his city. “Docks. Ships. Port. The ship is right there. I’ll recognize it.”

Of course, in Dutch Harbor the cabbie would naturally assume I meant the port and not the airport, because the flights are probably cancelled and the only things coming and going are the boats and the eagles.

Dutch Harbor’s eagles are like Fairbanks’ ravens, but there are more of them. They might be like New York pigeons, though perhaps a few less of them and they like being stepped on even less. They glide majestically along the cliff faces and roost in the rocks. They stoop grim reaper like on lamp poles and cluster in noisy, squeaking gangs on trucks. They are hoodlums whether picking through trash in a dumpster or snatching a seagull off its own dinner carcass.

Oh, but what about the ship? Yes, got to the ship a little before lunch and it doesn’t look too worse for wear, with it’s rough ocean crossings, tropical sun, and Gulf icing. But more about the ship later. No sense getting all crazy about the ship while we’re still in port. There will be LOTS of time for that with three weeks at sea.

Yesterday on the island was wandering about in the van looking for the rumored wild horses, but ending up exploring old WWII bunkers and gun emplacements. Shetland ponies I suggested. Alice agreed. Something short with hair down to its hooves. Something that probably looks a lot like another patch of tundra from a distance. We never found them, but we did see a couple dogs crossing a beach against the wind. One was large as a pony, the other the exact size and shape of a weiner-dog. Behind them, a container ship approached the harbor.

Today is quick van rides to the ship and the school and the museum and a bar. Everyone suggests walking and then steps outside. It’s warm but a sideways sort of wet. Earlier there was a presentation at the school. This evening, it’s at the museum. Bob outlines the role of NSF and Carin keeps to the script on science in the Bering Sea and what the new ship is all about. Captain Mike adds color and stresses how much work the crew has done in the last year making the ship usable and livable. Steve gets to the good stuff and after some technical details. shows movies of where the ship has been. We see time-lapse video from the Great Lakes and Puerto Rico, the Panama Canal, Hawaii, and Guam. The punch line: All that was great, but now we’re really here. The Bering Sea. Now we get to see what the ship can really do.

On my way out of the museum I notice the museum is selling tote bags from a Museum’s Alaska Conference in Dutch Harbor from 2009. Guess I now know when I was last here. I know my tote bag well. Six years on it’s the only one of a dozen conference bags that I do use. Ten dollars. I should pick up a second one. No, now it’s off to the bar. Been a busy day getting settled on the ship, unpacking cameras and figuring out how to keep them useable but protected from the serious rock and roll ahead. Two days before we leave. Last chances to sit in a room with other people shooting the breeze, not doing much, and not worrying about how you hold you mug and soup-bowl against vagarious gravity.

Carin, Alice, Sam, Mike, Juha, Evan, and Bob of the science party after a busy day readying for the cruise.
Carin, Alice, Sam, Mike, Juha, Evan, and Bob of the science party after a busy day readying for the cruise.

Written by Roger Topp

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