Le Soleal anchors in Dutch Harbor, on Unalaska Island, early this morning. Dutch Harbor is a small but sprawling settlement, the only deepwater port in the Aleutian Islands. Below is the NASA image of the settlement. As a deep water port with year-round fishing harvests in a challenging environment, the location features often in the Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” series. Even I’ve seen an episode on an in-flight entertainment system somewhere at 40,000 feet.
It’s Sunday, so most of the businesses in Dutch Harbor are closed, however, Ponant has arranged for the WWII museum and the Museum of the Aleutians to be open, and have paid the entry fees for the passengers. And chartered a couple of old fashioned yellow school buses for those that can’t or don’t want to walk. We also clear U.S. Immigration here, with the immigration agent flying to Dutch Harbor, then boarding Le Soleal to process the passengers one by one in the theatre. It is well organised, with the passengers resident on each deck called in order.
There are two landing sites, both wet landings. The second landing site is at the Museum of the Aleutians, and is a short distance from the main road. Crossing the main road leads to the other side of the bay, ringed by volcanoes and mountains. The Norwegian Rat Saloon seems to be doing a roaring trade on a Sunday morning, and it looks like the local welder is a creative sculptor in his spare time.
It’s easy walking, and I walk as far as the tiny Tom Marsden airport, then double back and investigate what seems to the be the largest building in the town after the Grand Aleutian Hotel – the local Safeway supermarket. This is a massive building – a cross between a large supermarket and a warehouse, and very well stocked with all of the dry, fresh and frozen goods you could ever need, a café, hairdresser and a chiropractic clinic!
It’s a longer hike along the road to the first landing site, but rewarded with some nice bald headed eagle photos. There are many eagles here, habituated to the easy food source from the fish waste products. There are many juvenile scrappy looking eagles, and some adults in better condition.
I couldn’t resist the irony of the wreck of the ‘Nirvana’, beached on the shoreline next to an equally derelict building.
There is a historic Russian Orthodox Church here – in contrast to those in Petropavlosk, this one is made of wood and needs a coat of paint. It has a very photogenic church yard though, with pink and white daisies forming a carpet around some untended graves. The walk I’ve taken has covered 10km, and a couple of hours.
Le Soleal cruises out of Dutch Harbor, exploring the coastline with its volcanic features and waterfalls, and there are a few humpbacks to be seen along the way, along with my first sighting of a sea otter. It is floating on its back and resembles driftwood. Something about the way it is floating inspires me to take a photo, and yes its a sea otter just floating along, looking rather bemused by the ship passing by.
A young humpback is more interested in spy-hopping and playing whilst its mother is presumably on a feeding dive, and approaches dangerously close to Le Soleal’s propellors, but swims away unscathed. The water here is deep and clean – the whole whale can be seen under the water.
We’re now heading to Unga Island, the last of the islands in the Aleutians before the Alaskan Peninsula.