On a Slow Boat to Dutch Harbor

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Jacob Resneck/KMXT

During the warmer part of the year, the Tustumena sails south twice a month from Kodiak. The four-day voyage calls on many of the communities on the Alaska Peninsula until reaching Dutch Harbor. Jacob Resneck boarded the ferry from Kodiak and files this report.

— amb – waves breaking

From the bow of Tustumena we’ve put Kodiak Island behind us and are heading for Chignik. Aboard are the usual mix of residents and tourists from places like Anchorage, Fairbanks and New Zealand and Switzerland.

Aboard is Doug Stuart, a naturalist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He acts as a guide as the ferry slowly progresses westward into a very remote part of coastal Alaska.

— stuart1

But there’s also environmental issues, the region’s history and wildlife from small birds to massive grey whales.

— stuart5

— amb – ascending stairs

— amb – wheelhouse

Up in the wheelhouse Captain Robert Crowley has been a Tustumena skipper since 1997.

— crowley2

He says the Tustumena’s twice-monthly Aleutian run is important for coastal villages, some of which have less than 100 residents.

— crowley6

It’s important to note that the 296-foot Tustumena is the only ocean-going vessel in the fleet small enough to tie up to these village’s docks.

Take for example Cold Bay, a former military base that was integral to war effort in the 1940s and again a key Cold War asset. Since 1990s most of the military has pulled out and only about 70 residents remain, most of who work for federal agencies.

We stop for three-hours for a rare glimpse of the community and Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

Refuge volunteer Mandy Jackson is originally from Hull, England. But since 2008 she’s lived here with her husband who works for the FAA. She describes day-to-day life.

— jackson1

Refuge manager Nancy Hoffman says it’s great to see people given a chance to experience Izembek.

— hoffman2

In fact her refuge is one of several helping pay for naturalist Doug Stuart to act as a visitor’s guide aboard the Tustumena. That’s because funding dried up last year, she says.

— hoffman1

Stuart’s not only a history buff telling the story of the Aleutian campaign during the Second World War. He also wants to talk about environmental challenges to coastal Alaska, particularly climate change. — stuart3

— amb – waves breaking

As we approach False Pass, it’s the end of mainland North America as the first of the Aleutian Islands comes into view.

— stuart4

The following morning we finally sight Unalaska and pull into Dutch Harbor. It’s been three nights aboard since leaving Kodiak.

Captain Crowley says the Tustumena allows people to see a side of Alaska rarely experienced by outsiders.

— amb – wheelhouse

— crowley5

In Unalaska, I’m Jacob Resneck.

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