Beautiful Day

March 18, 2015
Sikuliaq Ice Trials

Working deck view of the Sikuliaq in Dutch Harbor.
Working deck view of the Sikuliaq in Dutch Harbor.

First morning on ship. This time out my cabin is back towards the fantail and the kitchen. I know Matt’s making breakfast because music is ringing down the main corridor and I can smell the bacon. When the activity in the corridor picks up I force myself out of the bunk and climb slowly down to the floor. I tell myself to do it the way I’ll need to once the ship is moving. Slow. Pick the right foot to go first. Always have a good grip on the bars. Check the harness and the absail rope isn’t caught up in the bedsheets.

Once the light comes up, it’s another mostly clear day and good for tours and taking pictures on deck. The hills all around us are clear with white tops and brown feet. Doesn’t mean it won’t rain today. It will rain today. It’s only a question of when and how much.

Unalaska mountains as seen through the ship’s A-frame.
Unalaska mountains as seen through the ship’s A-frame.

The shipboard tours start with school kids are are followed by the community of Dutch Harbor. The kids are mostly quiet going through the baltic room and the wet lab and the main lab. But then they get to go to see the computer lab with its dozen big monitors and Steve Hartz being just the sort of crazy guy they were waiting to ask questions of — and all those monitors! Just think of the all the massive-multi-player gaming that can happen here. Maybe an epic turn-based civilization sim. Half the screens are displaying ship and sensor status, thruster attitude and the number of engines on line, and the other half — corridor and deck security video and bathymetric maps of the route behind and the adventure ahead.

One of the sikuliaq’s two large cranes.
One of the sikuliaq’s two large cranes.

Then there’s the bridge and the Captain and the captain’s chair. The museum always thinks about what photo-ops make sense for an exhibit. Now, the real Captain’s chair aboard the real Sikuliaq? This is a photo opportunity! The two-year-old might not know how cool this is, but it’s not lost on mom’s mobile phone.

After the community tours, more time is spent preparing for the cruise and shopping for last minute supplies. The hardware store is clearly marked “Ship Supply.” For dinner, most everyone’s going to the hotel for the seafood buffet. Fine dining before the slog.

Just down the dock from the ship, refrigerated containers are being loaded on and off a ship. A line of trucks waits their turn at the huge claw. Next along is the airport, the runway sandwiched between the mountains and chopping a good hunk out of one of them. The runway is busy with one plane at the gate and two planes landing one right after the other. At this hour this is probably it for the day. Next to the airport, the WWII museum is closed. The running joke is that it’s always closed. We’re walking by this time. We could check the sign on the door, if there is a sign on the door, but if we stopped for every little thing we’d never set sail and reach the ice.

Seafood Buffet at the Grand Aleutian. It’s all it’s cracked up to be. All you can eat king crab, halibut, smoked salmon, sushi, pacific cod, mackerel… Then there’s everything else. Dessert is consuming one small plate’s worth of art after another.

Much of the Science Crew eating a last meal ashore.
Much of the Science Crew eating a last meal ashore.

After dinner, back to the bar. Last call. By this time tomorrow we’ll have left Dutch Harbor behind us. Back at the ship I meet my bunk mate who has arrived on one of the last planes. Perry is from St. Lawrence Island. He’s made the ice-sticks we’re going to use out on the ice. The sticks tell you if it’s safe to walk on ahead, if the ice is thick-enough. Three good jabs at the ice and if the stick goes through, best turn around. I hope more on that later. Time for bed. We leave tomorrow.

Written by Roger Topp

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