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> August 25-27 – Simushir and Sea of Okhotsk, The end of our field season
Misty_Nikula_Ohlsen
post Sep 3 2006, 09:02 AM
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Sunday, 27 August – Transiting west across the Sea of Okhotsk
12:30 pm


We arrived at Vodopadnaya (a common place name on the Kurils – means “waterfall” in Russian) on Simushir Island about midday on Friday, the 25th, after about 24 hours of steaming south from Onekotan, where we had picked up the volcanologist group. We had come here again so that we could load on more water before heading back to Korsakov. By using the fire hoses, life rings and 55-gallon bucket again, the crew got water flowing from the waterfall and into the water tanks close to dinner time. We figured it would take about 20 hours to load water – similar to last time, so everyone on board continued working on their end of field season tasks. These include completing the inventory of the samples and filling out any remaining test pit forms, getting all of the geology section drawings completed, counting and double-checking the samples and sorting them out into the ones that will come back to Seattle and those that will stay in Russia (anything that is an artifact – such as stone or bone tools and ceramics – will stay in
Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk at the museum), as well as cleaning up, drying out and inventorying group field gear that will be saved for next year.

Before heading to bed that night, we watched the storm petrels and auklets flying around the ship for a bit – an activity that has become somewhat of a tradition now. The auklets get confused by the white ship
and its lights in the fog and often run into it. Then they sit around on the deck for a bit until they find both the energy and a path back off the deck or are they picked up by one of us and released “back to
the wild”. The storm petrels – hundreds of them – looked like a snowstorm as they flew around and around the ship through the fog. Strangely, they were mostly flying around the ship in the same direction, counterclockwise. We have seen them doing this same thing once before and wondered why. Both times they are flying counterclockwise. We have come up with no good hypothesis to explain this behavior. While we were watching the birds, picking many of them up and releasing them and laughing at how silly they seem as they waddle around on deck, Bre was first buzzed by a petrel as if flew right past her head and then a short time later dive bombed by an auklet as it flew by and threw up its dinner on the deck and also on her. Its dinner had consisted of tiny pink krill shrimp, which ended up strewn across the deck and on Bre’s shirt and pants in a slender stream of stinky pink slime. She and I were disgusted, Mike was fascinated and took a picture.

Early Saturday morning, we were all awoken around 3 am by the dramatic rocking of the ship from side to side. Things began sliding back and forth and even falling off of the shelves in my room as we quickly
tipped about 30 degrees to port and then starboard several times. I got up to use the bathroom and had difficulty walking down the hallway without being thrown into the walls. Shortly thereafter, a lot of
commotion began on deck that could be heard from my room – the crane that puts the zodiac in the water was in operation, the engines were started up and the captain called over the PA a couple of times. Then I
could hear the engines throttled up and eventually the anchors being lifted. All this time, we were still being rocked repeatedly by the waves.

About 45 minutes to an hour later, the anchors were dropped again and the engine noises quieted a bit. While the rocking of the ship had diminished some, it was still very prominent. I was even happier that I
was in my bunk and slept out the rest of the night.

When I got up in the morning, I learned that we were no longer loading water and were, in fact, now anchored about 1 km further north in Mil’na Bay, which was more sheltered than the cove with the waterfall. In the middle of the night, the wave swell had gotten worse as the weather continued to be rainy and windy. We were close enough to shore while loading water that we were in the area where the waves begin to grow
higher and get ready to break. This was making the ship roll considerably enough that the fire hose connection to shore broke. There were apparently some attempts made to reconnect the hoses, but the swell and break on shore were too severe and then the anchors began to drag.

At that point, the captain decided that the ship needed to be moved to a safer anchorage until it was daylight and the surf calmed down. This explained the commotion in the middle of the night.

We had only loaded water for about 8 hours and had developed a more significant port list as the water tanks were unevenly loaded, so needed to complete the task, both for water usage on the way back to Korsakov and for proper balance of the ship. At about midday, the wind and swell had calmed enough that we headed back to Vodopadnaya to resume loading water. Just after chai (tea) time, we were again loading water into the tanks. It was estimated that it would take at least another 12 hours to finish loading water so we had another afternoon and evening of being at anchor.

We were treated to a beautiful evening. The storm had blown away most of the clouds and in the evening we could see the stars! Other than one night on Paramushir – I haven’t seen more than a single star or two
since early July! It would have been better if there weren’t so many deck lights on the ship (for seeing stars – not for actually walking around the ship safely), but we could find some darker areas and shade our eyes from the lights to see constellations and a bit of the Milky Way.

This morning, we were still anchored at Vodopadnaya and when I went up to the top deck to check out the weather before breakfast, I discovered that it was going to be a glorious day. There was only a small amount of fog hugging low to the water and the tops of the bluffs around us were nearly clear with blue sky behind them. As soon as the fog burned off, it was going to be sunny and warm! After breakfast, Bre, Mike and I spent some time writing in our Journals on the top deck and in no time, others were joining us – either to take pictures of the mountains and waterfalls nearby or just to hang out in the sunshine.

Shortly before lunch, the water loading operation was completed, the hoses and life rings retrieved, the anchors raised, engines throttled up and we were on our way. More and more people came up to the top deck to enjoy the brief sun, take pictures of Simushir and its impressive volcanoes and to bid the Kuril Islands goodbye. By noon, potentially our last view of the Kuril Islands and our last view of land for the next two days disappeared into the fog as we headed off into the Sea of Okhotsk toward Korsakov. (See pictures below) The delay in loading water means that now we are scheduled to be back in port sometime on the morning of August 29.

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On the left: One of our last views of the Kuril Islands - Simushir as we last looked upon its southern volcanic peaks. From this angle, the several peaks appear as one large volcanic cone. (Yes, Virginia, there are days without fog in the Kuril Islands.)
On the right: Paul Hezel on the top deck amidst the fog that will most likely shroud our ship for the next two days as we transit through the Sea of Okhotsk.
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