Nome Sweet Nome

The sailors on board Ocean Watch are well under way in their exploration Around the Americas. "Herb's Watch" for our July 9, 2009, CW Reckonings

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During their kayak tour of the harbor at Nome, Alaska, the crew of Ocean Watch got a close look at several of the makeshift barges used by modern-day prospectors in the area to dredge for gold.Herb Mccormick

Greetings from Ocean Watch, our 64-foot steel cutter, and thanks for reading the first regular dispatch I'll be filing as we embark on a voyage Around the Americas. The plan is to sail from Seattle (we left on May 31) to Seattle by way of the Northwest Passage and Cape Horn. That'll all depend, of course, on whether we can make it past the Arctic ice this summer. The way was clear in 2007 and 2008, but every year in the north is different, and nothing is a foregone conclusion. Adventures are trips with unknown endings, and we're surely on an adventure here.

All that said, we're on our way. Our crossing of the Bering Sea from the remote Aleutian island fishing port of Dutch Harbor was blessedly easy; with the exception of about four decent hours of sailing breeze, it was a long motor over glassy seas. We arrived in Nome a little before midnight, with the sun still high in the sky. The bars were open a couple of more hours, said the harbormaster, but we couldn't take her word for it, so we went to investigate ourselves. She was most certainly correct. (See "North to Northwest," the story of our first leg from Seattle to Nome, in the September issue of CW.)

The next afternoon, after we'd cleaned up the boat and ourselves, I launched one of the Little Wing carbon-fiber kayaks we've been loaned for the trip and paddled into the Bering Sea. That's a sentence I never thought I'd write. (Technically, I wasn't precisely in the Bering but in the adjacent waters of Norton Sound. It was close enough for me.)

There's a long breakwater at the entrance to Nome's shallow harbor, which is continuously dredged in calm weather; even so, the harbor itself is shallow, about 10 feet, and since the 64-foot Ocean Watch draws nearly nine, we've been keeping a close eye on the depth sounder. Once outside the breakwater, the definite highlight of the paddle was having a close look at the makeshift barges, some of them pretty rickety, that a whole slew of hopeful prospectors use today in their search for gold. The original Alaska Gold Rush took place a little over 100 years ago, but a new one of sorts is under way. Gold is currently trading at around US$950 an ounce, and some of the boys say they're finding up to four ounces a day. All I can say is that they're earning their money.

The Fourth of July Parade in Nome was pretty humorous. The parade itself lasted about eight minutes, after which they kept the main drag closed to traffic and set up a course for all sorts of games, for young and old alike: three-legged races, pie-eating contests, tug-of-wars, the whole enchilada. Everyone soon retired to enjoy ice cream at the firehouse, then burgers and dogs at the park across the street. It was a wondrous slice of Americana in the distant north. As the locals love to tell you, there's no place like Nome.

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