First Cruise Stop is in the Last Frontier

Day 7, Grand Asia 2018

Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, Dutch Harbor, Alaska:

Rugged mountains, eagles and whales – Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska delivered it all.

The day started out with questionable weather as the predicted rain came in late morning. The lines for the three school buses that transported us two miles into town were long. I was thankful that I wore layers – shirt, hoodie and all-weather coat – and carried an umbrella as the heaviest rain fell while I waited for the next bus.

By afternoon the weather improved with just occasional sprinkles and mist – not enough to need the umbrella but too much moisture for my sketchpad.

For the Amsterdam passengers, the “center of town” was the Safeway. Its signage and layout are familiar except for the tall industrial shelving with stocks of food and other supplies. Boats in the fishing fleet, made famous by the Deadliest CatchTV series, can run up bills in the thousands of dollars when they provision.

Ship passengers wandered through the store while waiting for the rain to let up. For some it was an opportunity to pick up things forgotten in initial packing. But mainly I saw people stocking up on snacks and chocolates. I easily moved on without making a purchase – the two dark chocolate bits on my pillow each night will suffice, along with the possibility of endless meals, snacks and desserts onboard.

We really weren’t in the “center” of town that is about a mile or so away, as the roads stretch along between the hills and the water. Some people took taxis to the Russian Orthodox Church and other points of interest in the real town center two miles away. Many visited the nearby Museum of the Aleutians and the World War II Museum.

The stacks of huge crab cages, end-of-season wildflowers and rugged mountains drew my attention. I experimented with my new Ollo lenses on my iPhone and briefly wished I had my DSLR camera with its telephoto lens when eagles perched on light poles. But I know from last year’s experience that I would seldom use that relatively heavy lens in the other ports.

I heard some restaurants had crab on the menu, but the season hasn’t started so I figured they weren’t local. Instead I feasted on halibut fish and chips at the Great Aleutian hotel’s restaurant – perhaps the best fish and chips I ever ate.

The Crow’s Nest was full and lively during sail away, although without the band that played Anchors Aweighlast year. As we sailed out of the harbor along Unalaska Island, several pods of whales passed us going in the opposite direction. Their surface blows alerted us to their presence, and then they crested the waves and disappeared for a bit. Despite requests from the Crow’s Nest crowd, the whales didn’t breach and flip their tails above the surface. The sight of so many whales was thrilling nonetheless.

As we sailed west, I watched the passing island chain from my balcony. Even this late in the season snow covered the northern slopes of the mountains. I was especially glad we made the port and the passage after missing them last year due to adverse sea conditions.