Wednesday, July 26, 2017

When in Dutch Harbor- Tour Crab Boats & Eat Crab!

Last night's Deadliest Catch episode inspired me to share with you a special tour I got while I was in Unalaska for the Commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the Bombing of Dutch Harbor and Aleut Evacuation- a crab boat tour!  My friend and Unalaska resident, Lydia, surprised me with arranging a tour of her friends fishing vessel- F/V Baranof, on a rainy Saturday when all the warbird flights were grounded due to the lousy weather.  I was stoked!  I have been watching the Discovery Channel's, Dutch Harbor based crab fishing show for the last nine years, not in an effort to learn more about crustaceans but in a effort to learn more about the Aleutians itself and the type of environment that my grandfather would have encountered while flying P-40's there. It somehow connected me to his experience.   As a positive result,  I now have a new found appreciation for the fishing industry. 

Deck of the 180ft F/V Baranof

Anatomy of a crab boat: the launcher, the block, coiler and the crane (left).

F/V Baranof Captain Patrick Sjodin. Good sport.  Thanks for your time. 

I took quite a bit of teasing for my viewership of the show and especially for the LFS Bering Sea 2017 sweatshirt I donned while at sea during the WWll history tour that took us out along the chain to Attu and back.  Now understand, some people from those parts, have a beef with the show;  how is has become dramatic, fake, exaggerated, over glamorized (is that even possible of a fishing show?) and in a sense, invaded their community.  All sentiments I agree with especially in the latter years of the show but it is television and most TV shows are like that.  Real with a hint of exaggeration or outlandishness.  They almost have to be in order for the show come across the tube as compelling enough to watch.  It is the nature of television. It is 'entertainment' after all.  How entertaining would it be if the people on the show were as boring as dirt?  Exactly.

My buddy and retired Bering Sea crab fisherman, Travis Lofland
BIG props to you Travy and friends.  I don't know how you did it...

Aside from the stretch in reality that it may be at times, a positive aspect of the show is that it brings light to one of the many overlooked industries that we so easily enjoy the fruits of.. or in this case, the meat of.  These guys work in some horrendously treacherous conditions just so we can eat crab and other sea foods!  And after watching an episode a few weeks back where they fished through 30 foot seas and 50mph winds,   I have even more appreciation for those who catch the crab I eat.  I mean, I know what 10 foot seas feel like (see my short, measly in comparison, video below) and that was plenty enough.  And I was just sitting in the wheelhouse never mind running around on a pitching and rolling deck with freezing spray.  Seriously- that is some unbelievable shit they go through.  Almost unimaginable.  So why not recognize them- we (and I don't mean me.. just to be clear) celebrate the Kardashian's and Honey Boo Boo for goodness sakes and they provide us with nothing! I 'd say we owe these crab guys a great big freaking thank you!!!

Oh dear... and I digress, the crab boat tour...right.   Lydia, sweet soul Lydia, being the good sport and human that she is, indulged my inner guilty pleasure and set up a tour.  Alex, one of the CAF warbird pilots, came along and boy was he glad he did.  He and the engineer had a blast talking mechanics.  I thought they were never going to emerge from the three floor engine room.  The F/V Baranof is not your standard crab fishing boat, it also serves as it's own processor.  It processes and boxes all it's own catch right there on board to ensure the highest standard of quality and freshness.  The frozen and boxed product is then shipped and sold mostly to Asia.  Why? Simple. Supply and demand.  They are huge seafood consumers, much more than the U.S. and they buy the stuff up.   Luckily for us, not all of it went west that day, we were sure to leave with two boxes of freshly caught crab to be enjoyed on our last day of the commemoration.   And it was scrumptious!

Lydia and I on deck of the F/V Baranof
Alex, one of the CAF pilots with our dinner! 2- 11lb boxes of crab.
Scarlet King Crab (front) vs. Tanner or Snow crab (back).  Scarlet all the way.

Alex & Cricket enjoying a well deserved crab feast after a weekend full of flying.

So, I'll continue to withstand the friendly jabs at my show preferences because in the end, I actually feel grateful because it inspired me to learn more about the Aleutian Islands and what my grandfather persevered in the 1940's. It peaked my interest, and it helped motivate me to travel there. And look what has come of this so far?   No complaints here... nothing but smiles.  Fish on.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Work Is Worth It

Written 6/20/2017
Exhausted is how I left Florida in May.  Exhausted describes how I have been this entire year really.  Excited, yet exhausted   There is an expression that my daughters team uses repeatedly when they are in the thick of practicing for a competition- the work is worth it.   And it is. When you are working towards something you care deeply about, every ounce of work is worth it.  But as I laid my weary, tired achy body to bed one night aboard the rolling Puk Uk, our marine chariot for the 2017 WWll Aleutian Island history tour, I was questioning my desires.  

My home for three weeks, the 70ft M/V Puk Uk.  It is one of the only vessels that travels all the way to Attu. 

Normally, I feel strongly guided to move in a certain direction lead by some kind of extraordinary circumstance that directs me to move one way or another.  With all the busyness of this year coupled with several misleading heart flutters, I have been missing or perhaps numb to the strong pull of my guide wires, the ones that make it clear what my next step is.   Don’t get me wrong, there are some incredible things on the horizon for 2018, and in actuality next summer is already full with exciting events!  But something, at least as of that night, was missing.

I suspect this contemplation stems from the utter feeling of devitalization from the last 300 some odd days of planning this summer’s events.  I’d say,  if there is one place for me to get replenished, it would be here in the middle of the Bering Sea.  I mean, we are totally disconnected, surrounded by the breathtaking marvel of the sea, the mountains and marine life. The history alone should be enough to clear all ones uncertainties away.  The most challenging part of the year is over.  Our trip is half way through, we have our sea legs, the long days of hiking are behind us, and I am fully caught up on sleep. It is now time to exhale, slow down and open up to the experience of what may be next.

Barren Islands, Alaska
And as for the long awaited events that brought on such contemplations?  Phenomenal. All of them.  For now, here is quick slide show that highlights some of the festivities and people involved with the 75th Anniversary weekend

Welcome to Unalaska!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The 75th Anniversary of the bombing of Dutch Harbor has been filled with a weekend long remembrance ceremony in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor. We were blessed with the presence of nine WWll veterans, forty evacuees along with speakers, warbirds and an outstanding community that came together to honor those whose lives were effected. 
After nearly a year long of planning for this commemoration, it was a huge success all around, even when the Aleutian weather reared it's unsettled head.  It is an event quite worthy of a separate post, perhaps even multiple, which will have to come at a later date.

WWll Veteran from the 7th Infantry who landed on Attu May 1943, Signalman Frank Vaughn.
Right now, final preparations are being made for a second WWll historical tour through the Aleutians that leaves just hours from now!  This years tour has a very diverse group with three Japanese film makers, two ladies, both daughters of Aleutian Island veterans and four Alaskans, plus me- the Canadian.   Makes for a well rounded trip, I'd say.

As I so often do, before I left I wanted to sit down and investigate what the 111 (F) Squadron, RCAF were up to on this day 1942.  Around this time 75 years ago,  the squadron, then stationed out of Patrica Bay, British Columbia (now the Victoria Airport) were just days away from making their long trip north to Anchorage in defense Alaska.

Below are a few entries from the Squadron diary leading up to their arrival in the last frontier state.   After reading this and coupled with the memories fresh in my mind from last weekend, reminded me of exactly why I am out here and how all the blood, sweat and tears of this last year, is totally worth it.  

Patricia Bay, B.C

June 10th, 1942
No flying.  Servicing Ships.

June 12th, 1942
F/S Baird and Sgt. Stusiak returned to Pat Bay from leave and left that evening for Prince Rupert enroute to Anchorage.  Balance of squadron arrived at Wrangell and departed at 19:00 hours.

June 13th, 1942
Squadron Leader Nesbitt leaves the squadron to take the post of C.O. of the Canadian Wing at Annette Island.  He will be sorely missed by all personnel of the squadron.  F/L Kerwin appointed C.O. of our squadron.   The balance of the squadron arrived in Juneau at 07:00 hours. 

June 14th, 1942
Squadron left Juneau at 06:00 hours and arrived at Valdez at 14:00.  Squadron offices set up at Elmendorf.  No flying today. 

June 15th 
Squadron took over readiness (24 hours) with six Kittyhawks. Balance of squadron departed Valdez at 07:00 hours.

June 16th, 1942
P/O Lynch and *Whiteside on orders from W.A.C. moved by air to Sea Island (Vancouver Airport) for the purpose of flying two Kittyhawks of the 14 (F) to Anchorage, in formation with the three that are already at Sea Island.  All machines to have belly tanks.  Balance of squadron to arrive at Seward at 14:30. Disembarked at 19:30, embarking on train at 21:00.  Church services were conducted each Sunday by the Adjutant. 

L-R- my grandfather P/O Lynch, wife Eileen, Baird's wife Muriel, *F/S Baird at Patricia Bay, B.C. just before departing for Alaska.  F/S Baird was killed July 16th when he and four other Canadian Airmen were killed when lost in the Aleutian weather.

* P/O Whiteside did not survive the war, he was in the same formation as F/S Baird (above) when they got lost in the fog and crashed into Unalaska.