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Morning in Aniakchak

The Endeavour anchored in Icy Bay last season

May 31, 2023

I’m on the Endeavour, anchored in Aniakchak Bay on the south side of the Alaska Peninsula. It’s 0530 on May 31. The clouds are low and dark but broken, with streaks of bright blue showing through. It's 36 degrees outside. There are very few trees and the grass is still brown from winter. I’m in the pilot house, drinking black coffee out of a dented steel mug and writing in the ship’s log.

My stepson and Bella, the boat dog, are both still asleep below. We left Homer a week ago and will be in the village of Chignik Bay this evening. Since Homer, we’ve seen a total of two boats. During the fishing season, Chignik has 60 or so people. We have friends there.

The river that empties in front of us starts in the caldera of the Aniakchak volcano, 22 miles upstream. I’ve anchored here before and happen to know there are dinosaur footprints in the rocks on the cliffs off to my right. Three toes. Hadrosaur, we think, somewhere between 86 and 66 million years old.

I’ll swap crews in Chignik and over the next couple of weeks will make our way west to False Pass, cutting through the Aleutian chain into Bristol Bay, then head northeast to Dillingham, where we pick up a television crew to film walruses for a month. Then in late July we head further north through the Bering Strait to the Arctic to recover whale-tracking hydrophones for a large conservation society. In early August we’ll head back south by way of the Diomedes Islands and Russian water to St Lawrence Island then Nunivak Island, then back through False Pass to Kodiak to pick up six high school students and their teacher for a benchmark study in Kukak Bay, not far from where we’re anchored now. After that, we’ll cross the Gulf of Alaska entering the Alexander Archipelago at Glacier Bay and continue south to Admiralty Island for a whale-monitoring expedition. It will be the end of October and we will have covered a bit more than 5,000 nautical miles. Not including side trips.

Right now, I have to wake up my crew and dog, raise the anchor, and get underway.

—    Bill Urschel


My favorite book on the human and natural history of this mid-section of the Alaska Peninsula is The People of the Volcanos, by Michelle Morseth, published in 2003 by the National Park Service. It’s a detailed and authoritative study, beautifully illustrated and laid out. My thanks to Chickie Carlson of Chignik for lending me her copy last year. I’ll get it back to her tomorrow.

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