Slow Boat to China
Chapter 1: Dutch Harbor
I sat in the Dutch Harbor, Alaska air terminal waiting for my two bags to come in; they were on the flight after the one I just arrived on. I was feeling the gut ugly desperation of an arrival in the most remote piece of shit town in America. I had arrived on a Fairchild, two prop, 20-seater (the pilot announced the model number, but I didn't listen. I had chosen to sit in the forward seat thinking that I had been clever by sitting in the only seat that had any leg room. When the propellers started turning I realized how bad my choice was. Out of the small window I could see that the propeller blades were inline with my knees and about 18 inches away from the skin of the fuselage. Memories of flying a Navy 119, with a red stripe painted on the inside of the craft where the blades would come through the skin of the aircraft if they ever came off the prop, put the fear in me. As I sat there and watched the blur of the blades less than two feet away from my knee caps, I took solace in the fact that if a blade had come off and sliced my legs off, the plane would not have survive. The rest of the miserable bastards on that flight would have perished as well.
I waited and soon Terry Anderson, the operations chief, showed up. Terry is a tall lanky fellow, about six foot, six inches tall with blond hair and blue eyes. He was part of the Scandahovian group from Seattle. We greeted each other as brothers would. Terry suggested that I check in to the Hotel and return when we heard the next flight roar overheard. And with that we drove over to the Grand Aleutian Hotel where I checked into my room. Terry and I had worked together many times and we got along well.
The Grand Aleutian. It was definitely a step up from the last time I stayed in a Dutch Harbor hotel. Ten years prior I had flown here after a good crab season out of Kodiak. Then it was February, the wind was blowing horizontal snow. God-damned eighty mile an hour snowflakes can put an eye out. In those days the Unisea Inn was the only game in town. But crab season in Kodiak was not profitable enough for me to paying money for a bed so instead I scrounged bunks from the different boats in town until I got a job on one. History, but good history.
Since then the the Grand Aleutian was built. It is a nice place. In my room were two queen sized beds and of course a hot shower. The restaurant had a good menu, if not good food. Too bad I couldn't have stayed there for awhile instead of having to ride a Russian tug boat to Shanghai, China. But, that's what I was there to do.
Here's the story; A Japanese freighter, the Kuroshima, had blown ashore about a year ago. The owner of the company I was working for had bought the ship while it was still on the rocks. He paid to have the vessel cleaned up and to have the holes patched. He then contracted a Russian Tug boat tow it to Shanghai for repairs. My job was to look after the owner's interest, ie; keep the Russians from stripping the ship before it got to Shanghai.
Terry and I drove over to Magone's salvage/repair yard where the Kuroshima and the Tug Lazarit lay alongside the repair barges. Magone's facility was, (and still is), something that would not be allowed to exist in many places except Dutch Harbor. The dirt road out to the repair site runs right up against the sea on one side and with steep hills on the other. All space available is designated storage for anything and everything: old 20 & 40 foot shipping containers, monster sized anchor chain, rotting wooden fishing boats, wrecked cars, rusted plate steel, miles of rusted cable, piles of shackles, old cranes, motors, and many more things that I haven't the energy to remember. Magone had two permanently moored barges as his work shop and office. If you have ever walked through the office of an auto junk yard, (an old junk yard, run by an old guy with one eye), that had pistons on the counter, or a half torn apart engine in the main entry, then you can imagine Magone's Salvage operation. Junk all over the place. Dirty greasy junk. We drove by, but didn't stop for fear of being waylaid and missing the flight coming in with my bags. We took the quick tour of the ship that was to be towed to Shanghai, the Kuroshima. Tied up ahead of her was the tow boat that would be my home for the next four weeks, the Lazarit. The Kuroshima looked like a very nice ship. As for the Tug, I didn't get a good enough look at it to make a judgment right away.
When we heard the Alaska Airlines DC-10 land, we turned around and drove back to the airport. It took awhile for my bags to get off, but when they did, we quickly retrieved them and got out of there. We drove the 200 meters down the road to the hotel and I stowed the rest of my gear in the room. Then we drove back to Magone's and walked through the cluttered maze to find the way onto the deck of the Kuroshima.
Flash back to November 1997. From the Athens Newspaper.
winds and waves
pound the grounded Japanese freighter Kuroshima, Wednesday night Nov.
26, 1997, after high winds caused the 368 foot ship to break free of
its moorings and run aground on Priest Rock at Cape Kalekta in Dutch
Harbor, Alaska. Two crewmen died in incident and 16 others were
HARBOR, Alaska - Salvage teams tried to work ahead of a storm Friday
and stabilize a fuel-laden Japanese freighter that was blown aground
by wind gusts of up to 100 mph.
Two people died when the freighter ran aground in this Aleutians port Wednesday, a crew member who may have fallen into a hatch and another who apparently had a heart attack.
As much as 12,000 gallons of bunker fuel - which is heavier than regular fuel and easier to clean up - leaked from a ruptured tank on the freighter, the Coast Guard said. About 2,000- to 3,000 gallons of that washed ashore and tainted an inland lake.
Worried that the oncoming storm will further damage the ship, the Coast Guard wants stabilize the vessel and unload the 165,000 gallons of fuel still on board.
"It's hard aground 150 yards from shore," Coast Guard Cmdr. Ray Massey said Friday. "It's rolling and yawing slightly in the surf."
Dutch Harbor, a commercial fishing hub, is about 800 miles southwest of Anchorage in the Aleutian Islands.
After the ship ran aground Wednesday, rescuers brought 16 crew members and the two dead men ashore amid high winds and snow. Fifteen rescuers suffered from mild exposure and frostbite.
The 368-foot bulk carrier, which had pulled anchor to seek a safer spot in the storm, was trapped by 15-foot seas and driving winds. The ship drifted about a mile and possibly struck submerged rocks before coming to rest on a beach.
A private salvage company has been hired by the ship's owners, who also have accepted responsibility for pollution cleanup.
Great picture of her on the beach in the storm.
As I walked throughout the empty ship, I saw that she was a fine vessel; well made and well taken care of. We started the generator up just to make sure we could get power to the winches for the un-mooring. Everything worked well. I spent the day walking around the ship looking for things that could break loose. I secured as much as possible and noted the things that needed to be taken care of prior to departure. Meanwhile, the crew of the Lazarit were supposed to be replacing the tow wire, but nothing was happening. Terry was upset but I was thinking that, with a Russian crew, this was typical. The Lazarit had a crew of 26 people. I shuddered to think of the low wage they must have been getting. The company I was working for had bid the job out. The bid was actually won by a Korean salvage company which in turn hired the Russian Tug for the job. The number of crew for a US vessel as large as the Lazarit, is normally about eight persons. Some US tow boats crew only four persons. To have 26 people on a vessel of this size and use, is amazing. Amazing also was the visible condition of the vessel. It was as we call it in the industry, “a rust bucket.”
Later that first day I met Mr. Kim, the agent for the Korean Salvage company. Mr. Kim was a thin man. His cheap suit hung on him as if he were a hanger in a closet. He smiled a lot. His insulin dispenser hung at his belt like a pager. He pretended not to understand English too much. We really pushed him hard to get the Russians to begin working on the cable replacement. But, from experience, I knew that nothing short of money in hand or a gun to the head would get the Russians to complete the cable repair in any reasonable amount of time. We spent the rest of the day just looking around and checking things out.
In the end it took three days for the Russians to replace the wire. Here is how it went; The Russian crew had not been paid by their company for six months and they knew that if they did not get some cash they would not see any money for another six months. They told us that they would not even begin to load on the cable until they got ten thousand dollars. Terry was about to go out of his mind. He finally arranged with the Korean Salvage company and the Tug owners to reduce the fee by ten thousand dollars and then he gave the $10K to the Tug Captain. Neadless to say they did not bust ass to get the cable on even after receiving the cash. They all took the day off so that they could go into town and buy stuff to resell in Russia. Before they had the money, the captain said, “We will not work until we have money.” After he got the money he said, “Why should we work so hard now. You just paid us ten thousand dollars. What are you going to do fire us?” Integrety is not Russian attribute. While all this was going on I tried to enjoy the nice room and the good food at the hotel as much as possible. I knew that my comfort would quickily change for the worst.
The morning of departure day the chief officer showed me my quarters. It was a two bunk box with a sink and a desk. The room smelled of rat urine and dust. I threw my duffel bag into the upper bunk and went back out to observe the attachment of the tow chain. It took the rest of the day to hook the bridal to the tow wire. Each link of chain weighed 50 pounds and there was a lot of chain. Finally around 5 PM everything was ready to go. Two assist tugs came along side and we untied the Kuroshima from her resting place of almost a year. The tugs pulled her away from the dock and the Lazarit tightened the tow wire. Terry and I were aboard the Kuroshima to untie her. After putting all the lines away and doing a quick once over look, we climbed down the jacobs ladder into the the Pilot vessel. The Pilot Vessel got along side the slow moving Lazarit. The Pilot coming off the Lazarit and I traded places. As he got off the Lazarit I through the last of my bags on board the made the leap to another side of the universe. Very quickly the pilot boat drew away from the Lazarit. I felt I was surrounded by uncertainty. I waved back to the hands that waved to me. The sun would soon be falling behind the hills and in the low light of the late afternoon my journey began.
Chapter 2: Laririt
I stepped off the Pilot boat and began my voyage on the Lazarit. My link with the world pulled away. The low sun hid behind the Kuroshima. I took a picture of it with the digital camera. The Russian crew members looked at me sideways. I knew they were wondering just what the hell I was doing on this ship. I had nothing to do except make sure they did not pull along side the Kuroshima somewhere between here and Shanghai and loot her. Another trip in isolation. Nobody welcomed me; I was not wanted on this vessel. I walked to my cabin and dropped off the last bit of my gear, then went back on deck to take some more photographs. The green hills of Unalaska Island contrasted beautifully with cloud cover and the sun shine breaking through in patches. The tow cable was let out slowly. The wind picked up and the white caps blew the tops off the choppy sea. My gut sank when I realized that this trip was truly going to be slow. We were making two and a half knots, (Nautical Miles per hour). I had misplaced my Russian-English dictionary.
With all due respect I was given a room in the very bow of the ship. This position is the worst spot to have a bunk in a sea going vessel. It is the roughest ride, since it does the most up, down and side to side movement. I remember shaking my head and whispering, “Thanks assholes”.
I set about making my stay as comfortable as I could. It had been over a year since I had been to sea, so I was expecting my guts to be heav'n soon. I had a sink in my room, the toilet was down the hall. I went to check it out. The first thing I realized was that I would not have any trouble throwing up. The toilet was a mess. It stunk like a Porta Potty at the end of a Memorial Day holiday in a state park. If you have ever seen a Russian toilet you have to agree with me that the whole concept is wasted in their design. The only thing I can think, is that the guy who designed it was truly interested in doing turd inspections, because it is almost impossible to get the damn things to flush. A stack of magazines, with pages ripped out stood-bye to be used as toilet paper; a basket is stationed next to the toilet to dispose of the paper. Any thing that has not first passed through one's body will instantly plug these things up. I have to get a photograph of this ridiculous contraption because nobody would believe that such a device exists.
The first night was not bad but in the morning, the sea picked-up. All my gear quickly ended up on the floor. The stewardess knocked on my door to call me to breakfast. With a light stomach, I went to eat. Scrambled eggs. Good! I ate enough to keep my energy up and afterwards I went back to lay in the bunk. Later that day I passed on Lunch. Tea was served at 1730. I went. I also went to dinner at 1930. I endured a fitful night and then at 0730 I was called to breakfast, 1200 was Lunch, 1730 was tea and and 1930 was dinner. That was the eating routine. I read one book the first full day, another book the next. The bad weather continued for three days. The smell of mouse piss was giving me a headache. I woke up early one morning and heard a mouse crewing on something. The bastard had eaten the label off my peanut butter jar. There were probably mouse turds all over the damn room.
The second night out we pushed into a storm. The storm made the Kuroshima pitch and roll. The fact that she was empty of cargo made her stand up out of the water, it also made her tender - top heavy. The tug reduced speed. If the Captain had pushed the her to greater speed he would have risked driving her bow fully into the approaching breakers. Window can be broken out and undue damage can occur. So, we slowed down and rode it out.
Kuroshima pounding into a head sea
Finally, on the morning of day four, the swells had subsided enough that the captain ordered two engines on line. Our speed increased from two knots, to six. It began to look like I would be back to Seattle before the New Year. The next day we picked up some tail wind and it stayed with us. For the next five days were making over of eight knots. The weather charts showed all the low pressure systems going south of us.
A little about the weather in the North Pacific: From about September to June, and really all times of the year, low pressure weather systems are spawned in the South Pacific Ocean and in the North Eastern Indian Ocean. These systems line up like commuters on their way to work. Ninety-nine times out of 100 they are headed to Southeast Alaska via the Aleutian Islands. Ironically these systems stay on a fairly good Great Circle course. In the summer, most of the Low Pressure systems on their way north, run into the friendly “North Pacific High Pressure Zone”. This summer event tends to drain the low pressure system of their energy early and they don't get very far from the Japan area. That's not to say that one can count on clear skies in the summer. If the North Pacific High is hanging out too far South, then lows will sneak over the top and hammer the fishing fleet off Alaska and the transportation fleet on the great circle route from East to West. Sometime in September, the North Pacific High moves back down to its winter residence and leaves the route open for low pressure systems to make the trip to Canada/US. The Autumn and the Spring seasons are particularly heavy weather times of year on this route. It must be something about the change of the season, the dynamics of warmth leaving the High Latitude areas. Whatever it is, the fiercest storms are usually met in the Autumn season. We were getting close to that time of year, but luckily we had not yet encountered a big storm.
I looked at the weather chart one afternoon and took notice of two big low pressure systems in the area east of the Philippines. I thought then that we would soon be slowing down within 48 hours.
Some history of the North Pacific Trade route: The Spanish had a scheduled liner service ever that ran ships and supplies from the Philippine Islands to Acapulco, Mexico. This service went on for almost three hundred years. It was begun in 1565 and continued until 1850; by then the English and Americans privateers had looted them out of existence. The ships on this line would use the North Pacific route for the trip East. In the Western direction, the ships would use the Pacific Trade winds South of the Hawaiian Islands. That's why the Spanish never discover the great "Sandwich Islands". It took Captain James Cook to do that in 1778. The Spaniards never got far enough North to site the Aleutian Islands but they did use the prevailing winds to move them from Asia to North America.
During WWII, the Japanese tried to control the North Pacific route by occupying the Aleutian Islands. They were there for a brief amount of time, and they showed the US just how important the Aleutian Islands were. After the War, the US military made the Islands an important part of their operations. Attu Island was made into a semi-secret information gathering base. Attu is the furthest west reaching point of land we have, and it is very close to the Russian Port of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski, (PK).
PK was a major submarine base for the Soviets. After the collapse to the Soviet Government, it took six years for the Port to open up to foreign commercial vessels. I went into the Port of PK on the second foreign vessel ever to be allowed to do so. The rusting fleet of ships tied along the waterfront was incredible. The only oil free spot in the bay was the area directly behind our vessel, where our propeller pulled water to the surface and displaced the oil for a short time. The seene as we entered the harbor could have been film footage from a war move. The delapidated vessels tied to the docks appeared to bombed out shells. They appeared to not have been painted in 30 years. Many of the leaned heavily to one side or the other. To my surprise many of the ships hatched grim faces from broken portholes. Sour looking rag clothed sailors listlessly hung on the twisted railing of crumbing ships. No smiles no habd waving. I was stunned to see such obvious poverty and dilapidation.
That first visit to Russia was interesting to say the least. After we tied the ship to the dock. We went through an extencive paper work shuffle with the Russian Officials. Guards were posted at the bow, the stern and at the ladder. Non of the crew could step off the boarding ladder with first trading ones Passport and Visa for a shore pass. Even if the mate wanted to take a one minute look at the water level on the Bow and Stern he had to have his papers. Eventually we were allowed to get off and explore. A few of us walked about the city but nowhere could we find a restaurant a bar or even a shop. The stores were there tit was just that they were not advertised. Usually a restaurant, if it was not a state run operation, was run out of someones apartment. No one would look at us let alone talk to us. Everyone appeared to scared to make eye contact. The cook was able to ask a kiosk owner to sell him a bottle of his best vodka. He paid about $4.00 for a liter. Only upon later inspection of the label did he read that the vodka was a product of the USA. Since he was not interested in American Voka, he gave the bottle to the guard at the gate of the terminal where our ship was tied up as she let us in. She screeched with joy, snatched it out of his hand and ran inside the office. A couple of amazed faces pop into the window frame from inside the office before we disappeared around a corner.
Since I’m on the subject of Petropavlof it seems appropriate to expound on the Russian history of the Aleutian Islands, Alaska and the Kamchatka Peninsula. After defeating the armies of the Sibr in 1582, Russian conquerors claimed all of Siberia for the then tzar Ivan the Terrible. By 1639 Russian settlers had reached the Pacific Ocean. In 1648 Russian explorer Semyon Dezhnyov sailed through Bering Strait and rounded the easternmost tip of Asia.
Vitus Bering, (a Danish Navigator in the employ of Nicholas the 1st of Russia), sailed on what is now the body of water named for him, in 1728. He sailed from the Kamchatka Peninsula and went though the, (now called), Bering Strait, to arrive in St Petersburg, in 1730. He had failed to sight land further east of the Asian continent because of bad weather conditions.
Vitus Bering founded the city of Petropavlof in 1740. It subsequently became a major fur trading port. In 1741 he departed from Petropavlof on a third voyage of exploration with a fleet of two ships. The ship he was on made it across the Gulf of Alaska as far East as what is now known as Cape Saint Elias. On the way back, with most of his crew suffering from scurvy, his ship was wrecked on what is now Bering Island. Although he died of exposure soon after the wreck, his crew was able to put together another ship from the wreckage and continue the exploration. They made it back to Petropavlof by September of the same year. Think about that. These were a tough group of fellows. Sick with scurvy and malnutrition, and no trees to use in building a ship, they are able to do with what was available. The other ship, Captained by Chirkov, landed at what is now Prince of Wales Island and made it back to Petropavlov October 8th of the same year. Both Chirkov and Bering visited some of the islands in the Aleutian archipelago and paved the way for further Russian exploitation. In effect, Bering’s voyage established Russia’s claim to northeastern Asia and northwestern North America.
The Russian government, did not take much interest in its either its Northeast Asian territories or its North American territories, but the fur trading merchants were not shy in exploiting the vast fur resource. They were primarily interested in sea otter pelts and they harvested them from the Kamchatka to the Aleutians and on through to California. There was a profitable market in China for these pelts. From 1743 on, Russian fur merchants sent hunters who quickly subjugated the Koryaki in the Kamchatka region, the Aleuts in the Aleutian Islands, Tlinkets of Southeast Alaska and many other indigenous peoples all the way to California.. At least four-fifths of the Aleut are estimated to have been wiped out in the first two generations after Russian contact. European diseases such as smallpox, measles, tuberculosis, venereal disease, and pneumonia, as well as Russian guns, reduced the Aleut from an estimated pre-contact population between 15,000 and 20,000 to 2247 in 1834, and 1400 in 1848. By 1890 it was back up to 1702, due, primarily to intermarriage with the Russian’s.
The fur hunters moved eastward along the island chain as the supply of fur bearing animals thinned out. The farther from Kamchatka they had to go to get fur, the more it cost to do business. By 1770 three Russian fur companies dominated the whole of North American fur trading. When Catherine the Great became the ruler of Russia in 1762, the government was more aware of the Aleutians. She eliminated the tax on the Aleut natives in 1769 and although she announced that the natives should be treated better, she did not provide a method of enforcing better treatment, so the Aleut’s continued to be treated as slaves regardless of her good intentions. Both Britain, and the United States explored Alaska but neither attempted to acquire territory. In 1778 British Captain James Cook mapped much of the Alaskan coast. He visited the Aleutian Island at that time but did not explore very far West.
The Russian fur companies did no appreciate the new competition. They were used to paying low prices for pelts and getting high prices for their imported goods. The British were willing to pay more for the pelts and offered the indigenous people higher quality goods at lower prices. Up until 1784 the Russians did not have a permanent presence in Alaska. But, with the increased presence of foreign traders spurring the Russians to establish a more visible and established presence in Alaska, Shelikov founded the first settlement on what is now Kodiak Island. There was nominal local resistance to this act, but he defeated the local interests in a short skirmish and built the settlement on what is now Three Saints Bay.
Shelikov’s fur company became the dominate fur power in Alaska and in 1791 he hired Aleksandr Baranov to run things. Baronov moved the settlement from Three Saints Bay to what is now know as the town of Kodiak. The new site had a better harbor and abundant forest to provide wood for construction.
Baranov also the settlement of Novo-Arkhanglsk in the South East of Alaska. In 1799 the Tlingit Indians attacked and destroyed the settlement. Aided by a Russian war ship, in 1804, Baronov defeated the Tlingit. He rebuilt Novo-Arkhanglsk 3 miles to the south, where it grew to become the city of Sitka.
Shelikhov died in 1795 and control of the Russian-American Company passed to his son-in-law, Nikolay Rezanov. In 1799 Rezanov, obtained a charter for the Russian-American Company from the Russian Tzar Paul I. The new charter granted the company a monopoly of the American fur trade. It also empowered the company to take possession of territories already occupied by Russians north of 55° north latitude and to establish new settlements not only in that area but also to the south.
In 1812, In order to supply Alaska with food, Baranov established the southern most settlement in North America for the Russians, near Bodega Bay in California. It was called Selenie Ross and is now known as Fort Ross. The Russians remained there almost thirty years. Fort Ross was never able to supply food to Alaska profitably and in 1841 the company sold the fort to John Sutter, of Sutters Mill and California Gold Rush fame. When the charter for the Russian-American Company was renewed in 1821, it stipulated that the chief managers, or governors as they came to be called, had to be naval officers. The navy enlarged the colony’s bureaucracy, but unlike the previous managers they were not as motivated primarily by business interests. None of this had too much of an effect of the Aleutian Islands since they were rarely visited.
1824 was the year of the end of Russian expansion in North America. A boundary dispute with the United States was settled, setting the boundary of Russian land north of 54°40’ north latitude. Russia and Britain agreed on the boundary again in 1825, which defined the present shape of the eastern side of the state of Alaska. In 1839 Russia leased, to the Hudson’s Bay Company, some land in the Southeast part of the territory for Hudson’s Bay’s promise to supply Alaska and Kamchatka with food and manufactured goods.
After Russia had lost the Crimean war against the British and French in 1856 the Russian government decided it could not afford an American colony. In 1867 the Russian ambassador to the United States was instructed to negotiate a sale of the America colony to the United States. The last charter to the Russia-America had run out in 1864. In March 1867 the Treaty of Cession was drawn up and sent to both governments for ratification. The agreed price was $7.2 million. The United States took possession of Alaska on October 18, 1867. Russian had control of Alaskan territory for 126 years. For this length of time the Russian population never exceeded 700 throughout the colony. The Russian’s activities had been mainly limited to the Aleutians, Kodiak, and the South East. There was some exploration of the Interior, but little or no settlement. The greatest legacy left by the Russian experience is the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church and its priests among the Aleut and Tlingit, which continues today.
Many times while traveling in Russia I heard from Russians that we Americans stole Alaska from them. I never failed to point out that we have had control of it for more time than they did and we have developed it nicely.
Russia still had a challenge maintaining its hold on the other far-east Asian lands it acquired. The Kamchatka peninsula became part of the Far East Territory of the USSR in 1926. In 1938 the Far East Territory was reorganized and the Kamchatka Peninsula became an Oblast, (similar to what a state is here in the USA). Petropavlov-Kamchatsky is the center of government for the Oblast and was a primary submarine installation, ( it may still be), second only to Vladivostok in the Russian Far East. Now it is a major fishing port.
By the time we were south of Petropavlovsk on our great circle route, I had lost track of the days. We did not enter the Sea of Okhotsk through the XXXXXXX Straight but instead continued down the eastern side of the Kurial Island. The captain said there was heavy weather on the west side of the islands and that we would wait an other day or so to let it subside before we entered the Sea of Okhotsk.
The Kuril Island chain is made up of about 50 volcanic Islands. The whole chain reaches from the southern tip of the Kamchatka peninsula to the northern tip of the Japanese Island of Hokkaido. The chain separates the Sea of Okhotsk from the Pacific Ocean and has the effect of reducing the influx of the warm pacific current into the sea. This causes the Sea of Okhotsk to freeze over late in the year and remain frozen well into the spring of the next year. The Kuril islands are well forested and supply abundant quantities of salmon, crab, and other sea fare. The Islands were settled by both the Japanese and the Russians in the 18th century. The indigenous inhabitants are called the Ainu. Both Japanese and the Russians absorbed Ainu into their imported cultures.
In 1875 Japan gave Russia control of Sakhalin Island in exchange for full possession of the Kuril Islands. The USSR took the Islands back after Japan’s defeat in WWII. Although Japan ceded the majority of the Islands to the USSR, they maintained a claim on the four southern most Islands, a claim they still maintain to this day.
We passed into the Sea Okhotsk two days after arriving in the vicinity of the Kuril Islands. There was a strong northerly current on the east side of the chain of Islands, bucking it was slowing us down considerably. Once we got into the Sea of Okhotsk the weather changed for the better and our speed increased. In about four days we passed the southern tip of Sakhalin Island.
Another little personal history story: I had sailed for a year and a half as a refrigeration technician on four different Russian crewed vessels. Three of those vessels were ex-Soviet ice breaking merchant vessels. Two of the ex-Soviet ice breakers had done extensive voyaging in the area north of Siberia. On February of 1997, I was on the M/V Kemerovo when it got stuck in ice for 18 hours.
In the winter of 1996 I was sailing on an Ice Breaker Container ship called the M/V Kemerovo we were coming south from Magadan, (a city whose previous notoriety was a Gulag), headed for the ship's home port of Korsakov. The alcoholic captain had tried to cut too far into a corner of the ice pack, on the eastern side of Sakhalin Island. Normally we were able to crash through ice up to a meter and a half thick, but the ice we encountered had been piled up from drift ice originating from a river. So, it was much harder, versus the softer salt water ice. We went into it and even with two engines blasting out 20,000 horsepower, and an ingenious system that blows bubbles up the sides of the ship to keep ice from sticking to the steel, we got stuck. Stuck hard. Ice, ice ice, for as far as one could see. We went backward we went forward. We were stuck. The captain was getting nervous, real nervous. He was sweating. Twelve hours into it, the Chief Engineer came up to the bridge to see what he could see. He was one rough looking sailor. He must have just awakened from a three day drinking binge. Absolutely possible. He and the captain were regular hard-core drinkers. I saw the captain drink a water glass filled with vodka for breakfast, one time. At an earlier time, I watched as the Chief Engineer drank himself into a stupor. But here he was, to assist in this problem with the sticky ice. He wobbled over to the bridge window, gave one of those one eyed squints that half drunk people do. He studied the situation for about 30 seconds, then grunted out a suggestion to the captain and wobbled his way back out the door and back to his drink - I suppose. The captain was a bit less than enthusiastic about the suggestion, but what else could he do. He did it and it worked. We were out in six hours. I'll tell you what he did but first I have to tell you about the ship.
There used to be a large fleet of these type of vessels in the Soviet days. For those of you that are interested in this sort of thing, these ships are XXX meters long, XXX meters wide, with a dead weight of XXX tones. They were built in Finland and are powered by two 10,000 horsepower Wartsilla engines; I'm sure that some of these ship had a different power plant than the three I worked on. The crew capacity in Soviet times was over 40 members. Now that they are out of the Russian fleet they don't have to comply with the over manning requirement of the Russian Maritime. The crew size I worked with was 22 persons. The Russian flagged tow boat I was currently hitching has a crew of 26! The Ice breakers all had a small basketball court, sauna, and swimming pool on them. The steel on the bow is over 9 cm thick. They were affectionately called carrot ships, because of they were all painted with orange paint. They have five cargo holds. The furthest forward hold is a specially protected compartment that can be used to carry explosives. There is a crane located between holds number one and two. The crane has a capacity of 20 metric tons. Another, (double), crane is located between holds number two and three. This crane can lift up to 80 Metric tons. The crane between holds three and four is another 20 ton'er. Then there is the after hatch. It also has a 20 ton crane. The superstructure is located between hatch five and hatch four, and it stands XXXX meters high off the water. There is a ramp that lowers down from the ship which opens into hold number five. This ramp is used to drive vehicles into the ship. There is a tunnel under the superstructure that leads into holds four, three, and two. Each separator between holds is sealed with a large water tight door. All the holds have what are called "between decks", which means there are hatches in the floor that open up into more cargo space beneath.
Figure 5.0 show the sister ship to the M/V Kemerovo.
The way we got out the ice is as follows. The Port anchor was dropped onto the ice and a couple of men were sent down to attach it to a cable from the number on crane. The anchor was repositioned with the crane as far astern as possible. Crane number one was disconnected and crane number two was attached. Crane number two, again, pulled the anchor back as far it would go, the same was done with crane number four. Now the anchor was about in line with the wheel house. Both engines were put to full power and the anchor was pulled tight against the jumbled 15 foot high mashing of pack ice. Slowly the ship moved back. When the anchor was even with the hawser it was again carried back to the stern, and by repeating the process the ship was soon backed out of the "hard ice". We were able to skirt the ice and make it into port with minimal time lost, (eighteen hours). The drunken Chief engineer proved himself to be a very clever man. And although my respect for him increased, I still had my dislike of his drinking on the job.
Since I'm on the subject of ice and carrot ships, I have to at least describe the following event. Setup: The ship was headed north into the port of Magadan. Before we reached the pack ice we went through water that was covered with ice Lilly pads. Little, ten to 20 foot wide, semi-frozen sections of ice. At the edge of the frozen spots, little wavelets of sea water had pushed up onto the edge of the pad forming a ridge around the ice pad. It looked just like a field of giant white Lilly pads. It was fantastically beautiful and surreal. The closer we got to the pack ice the larger the Lilly pads got, until the water was completely covered with them. The ridges still stuck up but there was no water between. It looked like some wild skin. Deeper and deeper we traveled into the ice. Finally we were in a vast field of white. As far as the eye could see. Ice. The ship pushed on. Now the ice was over a meter thick. The ship would ride up onto the ice sheet and break through when the ice could no longer bear the weight of the ship. The sound was eerie and quite loud. The squeak and moan of the ice, the shuddering and thumping of the steel. We pushed through up to two meters of the soft sea ice and arrived in Magadan to see people scattered all over the ice field, ice fishing. They were quite a distance from the shipping area. It took us over an hour to make the turn into the port. It is not easy to turn a ship in two meters of ice. The ship has to break its way through with numerous back and forward trips. On the way out of the ice pack the captain went on a zigzag course, breaking a path for six different ships that were stuck in the ice. Some of those ships had been stuck in the ice for as long as three weeks. The regular government ice breaker was not being operated due to a lack of funds.
A perspective on the Russians I have met:
Arrogant, insecure, and more often than not, basically lazy. I have never met a Russian male that admitted he did something wrong, unless he was caught red-handed. I also never met a Russian man in a position of authority, that would admit he did not know everything about his job, never admitting that even some little bit of knowledge had escaped him. This is very frustrating to Americans trying to work with them. It gives the impression that they will lie and steal. But, in reality, I think, that this behavior reflects their insecurity and ineffectualness. It manifests itself from a sense of inferiority and of having no control of their own destinies. The Captain of the tug boat, (Lazarit), made $500 per month. The Chief Officer made $300 per month. I don't know what the rest of the crew made, but it can't be much. When I got on the stug they told me that they had not been paid for 6 months. I fully understood that this could have been a fabrication of thiers but I also knew that conditions were very bad for them. Russian companies frequently were not able to pay their employees. If you look at the $500 per month that the captain was makng you might say to yourself that, “he was getting paid well for a russian.” And you would be correct. Some russian workers that lived in the city were only making $50 a month. But, when you look at this $500 per month, you must realize that the Far East Region of Russia has to import everything. So, everything cost more. Food is typically twice, to three times what it cost in the USA. In the summer most people were able to make ends meet by growing vegatables in their Datcha but in recent times many of the datcha have been sold. In the winter, food costs are very high. Heat is non-existant. Hot water is made on the stove. Electricity is sporatic. Sometimes that running water is off for days at a time.
The company I worked for specialized in shipping food stuffs from the USA and Korea into Russia. We shipped thousands of tons of frozen hotdogs. The russians called them sausages. I got sick of eating hotdogs. I’d go to a resturant and they would have hotdog soup. Or, hotdogs and green peas for breakfast. You could order some sort of a hotdog meal for breakfast, lunch or dinner. We also shipped many thousands of tons of frozen chicken drumsticks. Later, we were shipping fresh fruit, ice cream, “real” Sausgaes and other more traditional foods. The goods were sold in large stores, in small kiosks, and in the open markets. All of these markets were controlled by the local "Mafia". I came to understand that the term "Mafia", did not necessarily refer to a centralized criminal organization - although it could have. More often than not, it refered to the local thugs that strong arm the people in their area. These local thugs may have in fact been controlled by some Mafia thug higher up in some more powerful position. Probably a political, police or military official or group of officials. I may have been worg but I saw the Russian Mafia as not existing as a single entity, but as more of a shifting alliance of ruthless individuals that sometimes included police, or other officials. During my time in Russia any Russian businessman was seen as part of the Mafia by the regular working people.
Every apartment I have seen, except one in Korsakov, in every city I have been in, had two doors. The first door was a solid 1/4 inch steel plate, with unexposed hinges. Nobody opened a door without first seeing who was out there. The second, was a normal wooden door. Criminal activity was rampant. They didn’t have a neighborhood watch system. Nobody wanted to get involved.
Although the people appeared to be proud, they did appear to take any pride in doing quality workmanship. In the markets, I’ve seen vegatables put up for sale that were covered with dirt. With just a little bit of effort, by the people selling the foodstuff, they could clean up their produce and sell a more presentable product. But, they know that they would not get any more money for their clean vegetable because the shoppers are only interested in price. Therefore, the whole system breeds this attitude of mediocraty and apathy.
The government officials and the businessmen act as if America owes them something. I had a couple of people tell me that since they were left out of the world economic expnsion we, (America), should give them what we have. The whole situation parallels Author, Marvin Harris’ book Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches. The book is an anthropological study of several primitive cultures. In it he describes the Cargo God culture of New Gunia. These people saw a massive influx of material goods be flown into the areas where they lived by WWII military sources. All they knew was that some guys that looked just like them spoke into their hands and looked up into the sky. Later great big birds arrived and delivered “stuff”. Later after the military operations ceased nad the troops departed. Anthropoligists noticed that some of the natives bulit grass shacks that looked similar to the radio shacks. The natives would sit in their chairs and talk into grass radio’s, transmititng nothing through their grass antennas. One native even went to college in Austraila and represented the People of New Gunia in the Austrailian parlament. When he got to Parlament he demanded that the people of Austrailia share the Cargo of the gods with the people of New Gunia. Even after all his education he was unable to accept the fact that mear mortals could build the incredible machinery and structures that appear to just rise up from nowhere. Like the natives of New Gunia, the common folks of Far Eastern Russia can not fathom the time and effort needed to evolve a society like America from one of Post WWII depression to the economic boom of the late 1990’s. They just want to have the “good stuff”.
Back to the tow boat. We approached the Kuriel Islands and were soon we were though XXX Passage and in the Sea of Okhosk. There were a series of low pressure fronts streaming our way and I believe that the captain wanted to get in the lee of the Island chain. The hold alarm had been flashing on the Kuroshima for two days. There was a sensor in each hold connected to a strobe light on the front flag mast of the ship. A light went off when water in any one of the holds, reached high enough to set the alarm off. At the time, I believed that the water was not a problem. The stability of the Kuroshima looked good and the water line had not gone down at all. Of more concern to me was the fact the Navigation lights on the Kuroshima had stopped working. This possed a navigational hazard. At the time there was not much vessel traffic. But, later when we were to get into the Sea of Japan, we would need Navigation Lights. The Navigation light system on the Kuroshima was put together by Magone's gang in Dutch Harbor. The lights were powered by the ship's battery bank. Theoretically, there should have been enough capacity in the battery bank to get the ship all the way to Shanghai. They had installed a photocell in line with the circuit that shut the light off during the day. I suspected that had beena problem with the wiring. The Captain of the Lazarit wanted to send a launch full of sailors out to the ship and inspect the hold and check the lights. I resisted and to my relief, when we entered the Sea of Okhost the sea conditionswere not not favorable to board the ship via launch. The Captain and I desided to wait until we got closer to La Parusa Straits or even into the Sea of Japan before we would inspect the Kiroshima.
I knew that the batteries on the Kiroshima were dead when the navigation lights went out. The tug did not have any spare batteries and the generator on the Kirosima only had enough fuel in it for about six hours of operation. The Captain assured me that towing the Kiroshima without navigation lights would safe. I needed to keep the generator on the Kiroshima operational so that we could rise and lower the anchor and operate the line handling winches when we tied up in Shanghia. With the word of the captain assuring me of the Kiroshima’s safty, I stopped worrying. (But I also knew that if anything did happen to the Kiroshima, my company would be held responcible).
The Kuril islands used to belong to Japan. The Soviets took them after WWII. This has been a bone of contention between the USSR, (and now Russia ), and Japan since then. The large Island of Sakhalin also used to be part of the Japanese Empire. Massive amounts of oil have been found off shore of Sakhalin Island. The Kuriels are a string of Islands similar to the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. They have the same barren landscape and the same bountiful aquatic resources. Since they are part of the "Ring of Fire", there are numerous volcanoes, and earthquake activity. There seems to always be some earthquake activity in the region with lots of destruction and loss of life. The Company I worked for was given a contract to ship the replacement housing for this disaster. The housing modules were built in Canada. Many Canadian companies are involved in the Russian mining business. I don't know if there is a connection to the housing project and the Canadian mining industry, but I'm sure that acts of humanity are points in favor. Ironically 60% of the housing modules are to be installed near the city of Sakhalin. On Sakhalin Island. These houses will end up being lived in by higher officials of the Sakhalin government. The locals call the housing development the, "Canadian Village". Which is not far from the "American Village". The American Village is being put together be a consortium of Russian, American and Japanese Oil interests.
Island is separated from the continent by the narrow (7.4 km ) and
shallow Nevelskoyi Strait, the Amur Estuary, and Sakhalin Bay.
Sakhalin is separated from the island of Hokkaido (Japan) by La
Perouse Strait. The warm waters of the Sea of Japan lie to the south
and west, and the cold waters of the Sea of Okhotsk to the north and
east. The coastline of Sakhalin is gently indented. The largest bays
(Aniva and Terpeniya) are located in the south and in the middle
parts of the island. The Kuril Islands are an archipelago of
volcanic islands very similar in nature to the Alutian Island of
Alaska. The Kuril Islands are at the boundary between the Sea of
Okhotsk and the Pacific Ocean, stretching from the island of Hokkaido
to the Kamchatka Peninsula. The archipelago consists of two groups
the Greater and Lesser Kurils.
The islands of the Greater Kurils extend almost 1200 km from Cape Veslo on Kunashir Island (43°39'N) to Cape Kurbatov on Shumshu Island (50°52'N.) This group includes about 30 main islands, the largest of which are Kunashir, lturup, Urup, Sinnushir, Onekotan, Paramushir and Shumshu, in addition to a great number of smaller islands and rocks. The Kuril Islands take up a total area of about 15,600 sq. km, or about 3,220 sq mi. The Islands are separated from the Kamchatka Peninsula by Pervyi Kurilskui Strait and from the island of Hokkaido by the Straits of Kunashirskyi, Izmeny and Sovetskyi.
The islands of the Greater Kurils extend almost 1200 km from Cape Veslo on Kunashir Island (43°39'N) to Cape Kurbatov on Shumshu Island (50°52'N.) This group includes about 30 main islands, the largest of which are Kunashir, lturup, Urup, Sinnushir, Onekotan, Paramushir and Shumshu, in addition to a great number of smaller islands and rocks.
The Lesser Kurils stretch parallel to the Greater Kurils for a distance of 105 km, between 43°21'N and 43°52'N. They include six small islands (the largest of which is Shikitan) and many rocks.
The total area of the Kuril Islands is 15,600 sq. km. The Kuril Islands are separated from the Kamchatka Peninsula by Pervyi Kurilskui Strait and from the island of Hokkaido by the Straits of Kunashirskyi, Izmeny and Sovetskyi.
The shores of the Kuril Islands are primarily rocky and steep, sometimes with a narrow strip of sandy beach. Well-sheltered anchorages exist in a few bays along the twisting coastline.
Low and medium altitude mountains occupy the majori ty of Sakhalin. The Western Sakhalin Mountains comprise a group of parallel mountain chains and ranges, stretching for 650 km along the lenth of the Island. They stretch from the northwest region, near the Tatar Straight, and run southward to Cape Krylon. Kamyshevyi is the main ridge of the mountains, with its highest point being Mt. Vozvrashcheniye's Peak Zhuraviev (1325 m). Lamanon Mountain is also a part of the Western Sakhalin Mountains, as are the extinct volcano cones Krasnov (1093 m) and Ichara (1022 m).
The Kuril Islands represent the highest summits of a huge mountain system, most of which is under water. These mighty submarine rocks rise 12,000 m from the deep-water Kurilo-Kamchatsky trough (9717 m deep.) The islands all show evidence of their volcanic past. Individual islands may look like a whole or fragmented volcano, while others resemble volcanic chains.
Islands of the Lesser Kurils, lying to the south of Shikotan, have a lower profile, rising only 20-40 metres above sea level.
More than 60,000 rivers and brooks occur on Sakhalin. Many areas of the largest rivers are navigable. Sakhalin rivers are covered with ice from December until April-May. Spring floods result from snow melting on the plains and mountains. Maximum flows in summer-autumn depend on typhoons and cyclones.
About 4000 rivers and brooks, all of which are small, occur on the large Kuril Islands. Most rivers are of mountain origin and flow quickly. The highest waterfall in the Russian Federation is Iliya Muromets on lturup (141 m high.)
Sakhalin contains more than 16,000 lakes with a total area in excess of 1000 sq. km. Sakhalin lakes are classified into lagoon, delta and flood-land (water-meadow) varieties. Lagoon lakes are located along the coastline and include Nevskoye (179 sq. km), Tunaicha (174 sq. km), Ainskoye, Busse, Bolshoye Vavaiskoye (41.1 sq. km), and Bolshoye Chibisanskoye (11.1 sq. km.) There are many bogs, partic ularly vast areas in the Tym-Poro-naiskaya and Susunaiskaya Plains and along the coastline of Severo-Sakhalinskaya Plain. The total area of treeless bogs in Sakhalin is nearly 3500 sq. km
The Kuril Islands include nearly 1000 lakes with a total area of 100 sq. km. Many Kurilian lakes are of volcanic ori gin. The largest lakes are Lake Koltsevoye (26 sq. km) in the crater of Krenitsin Volcano on Onekotan, Lakes Gory acheye and Kipyashcheye in the caldera of Golovnin Volcano on Kunashir, and Lake Biryuzovoye in the crater of Zavarnitsky Volcano on Simushir. There are also flood-land, delta, and lagoon lakes. Some of the small Kuril Islands are dry. Hot mineral springs, some which are considered to have medicinal proper ties, result from the volcanic activity.
The whole territory of the Sakhalin Region is situated in a zone of seismic danger. Powerful earthquakes and tsunami waves have damaged the economy of the region and caused great human sacrifices.
The ancient and medieval history of Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands is full of mysteries. Archaeological discoveries of recent decades have added only limited knowledge of events in the period of the Palaeolithic age and it is unlikely that the identity of the islands' first inhabitants, or when they arrived, will ever be known.
Pioneers in the 17th century found the Ainu in south Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands and the Nivkhs in north Sakhalin. Probably the Ulta (Oroki) had already lived in the central and northern districts of Sakhalin.
Russian pioneers played a great role in exploring Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands. V.D.Poyarkov's expedition discovered the north-west coast of Sakhalin in 1645 and V.V. Atlasov discovered the existence of the Kuril Islands in 1697. By the 18th century, the process of exploring and the gradual inclusion of the Kuril Islands as part of the Russian state had begun. The Russian pioneering of the Kurils was car ried out by D.Ja. Antsiferov, I.B. Evreinov, F.F. Luzhin, P. Spanberg, V. Walton, D.Ja. Shabalin, G.I.Shelikhov and many other Russian explorer-pioneers.
The Japanese commenced penetration of the southern Kurils and the far south of Sakhalin concurrently with the Russian exploration of the Kurils from the north. By the second half of the 18th century Japanese factories and fisheries appeared. Research expeditions were commenced after the 1780s, notably those led by Mogami Tokunai and Mamia Rinzo.
Since the early 19th century, Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands have been the subject of a Russian-Japanese territorial dispute. In 1806-1807, Japanese settlements were devastated by Russian sailors on south Sakhalin and Iturup. In reply, the Japanese imprisoned V.M. Golovnin, a Russian navigator, on Kunashir Island for 2 years. For the past two hundred years the Russian-Japanese frontier has been changing. In 1855, according to the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of Shimoda, the boundary between Russia and Japan passed "between the islands Etorofu and Uruppu" and Sakhalin remained "unpartitioned between Russia and Japan". In 1875 Russia ceded to Japan a group of the Kuril Islands which it possessed, in exchange for the cession to Russia of the island of Sakhalin. In 1905, as a result of Russia's defeat in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), Japan managed to seize South Sakhalin. In 1920-1925 North Sakhalin was occupied by Japan. The Russian-Japanese boundary last underwent changes in 1945 when Russia made Japan return South Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands as a result of its victory in World War II.
Oil and Gas Industry
The oil and gas industry's current share of the total commodity output of the region is almost 15%. The industry is concentrated on North Sakhalin. During the last decade oil extraction on Sakhalin has continually declined (from 2.6 million tonnes in 1984) due to substantial depletion of most of the known onshore oil and gas fields.
Future development of the Sakhalin oil and gas industry is connected with the significant resources of newly discovered oil and gas fields located off the northeastern shore of the island. Crude oil from northern onshore fields is presently transported to an oil refining plant in Komsomolsk-on-Amur via an oil pipeline through Okha. The island also has its own local oil refinery plant, with an annual oil capacity of 200,000 tonnes, that has been operating since 1994.
The fishing industry's share of the total commodity output of the region is almost 29% (1995 prices.) The fish industrial complex represents the most developed and equipped sector of the Sakhalin Region. Fishing is the basic industry in the area.
The Sakhalin Region is served by all basic types of transport: sea, railway, road, pipeline, and air transport.
External transportation is carried out to a considerable extent by air transport. Due to the remoteness of the region air transport is much more important here than in any other territory of the country. Regular flights connect Sakhalin to Moscow, Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Novosibirsk and other cities of the Russian Federation. International air service to Korea and Japan is also available.
Sea transport plays a leading part (due to the region's island nature), carrying the main traffic volume between the island and the continent as well as foreign countries. Intra-regional sea traffic between Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands and between southern and northern districts of Sakhalin also occurs. Port facilities consist of 8 ports and 4 port points. The main port in the region is Kholmsk, connected to the mainland by means of the year-round train ferry between Kholmsk and Vanino. Korsakov is the second important port of the region.
Railway transport ranks second in overall cargo turnover, carrying the greatest part of freight and passengers within the region. The main island railway runs from Korsakov to the district centre of Nogliky on the northeastern coast. In the southwest the railway line runs between Shakhta and Ilijnsky. Both lines are connected to the Iljinsky to Arsentjevka railway line via the Poyasok Isthmus. The institution of train ferry service in 1973 provided Sakhalin with rail link to the continent.
The population of the Sakhalin Region (as of January 1, 1996) totals 647,800 people, of which 556,100 are urban dwellers (85.8%), and 91,700 inhabit rural areas (14.2%). The average population density is 7.4 people per square kilometer.
People of more than 110 nations and nationalities live in the Sakhalin Region, including Russians (81.7%), Ukrainians (6.5%), Koreans (4.9%), Belorussians (1.6%), Tatars (1.5%), Mordovians (0.8%), Chuvashes (0.4%), Japanese (0.05%) The indigenious population is represented by the Nivkhs (0.3%) and Ulta (0.04%).
The proportion of male and female inhabitants of the Sakhalin Region is nearly equal, at 50.3%, females and 49.7% males (1995.) Most of the region's population is of able-bodied age. Males 16-59 and females 16 - 54 comprised 63.5 % of the total population in 1995.
Until 1992 the population of the Sakhalin Region increased at a stable rate, due to natural increase and migration, reaching a maximum of 719,200 people as of January 1, 1992. The population declined to 713,900 by January 1, 1993 and to 647,500 by January 1, 1996.
The demographic situation in the region has recently worsened as a result of a general diminution of the population's standard of living and climbing death rates, which are now in excess of birth rates. Furthermore, in the 1990"s more people are leaving the region than are coming in, as for example, in 1995 when 38,800 residents left and 19,100 came in (ie. population decrease of 19,700). The situation is related to a certain extent to the weakness of the Russian Federation Government's regional policy, but also to the lack of dramatic action on the government's side to overcome recurrent natural calamities, including earthquakes on the Kurils in 1994 and on Sakhalin in 1995 (Neftegorsk).
(Find the History of Sakhalin during WWII)
Sakhalin Island just lies off the eastern coastline of the Asian Mainland. It extends from Cape Krilyon in the south (at 45°54'N latitude) to Cape Elizabetha in the north (at 54°24'N latitude.) In longitude Sakhalin Island extends between 141°38'E and 144°55'E. The island is 948 km, (430 mi.), long, with a maximum width of 160 km, (73 mi.), and at the Poyasok Isthmus it has a width of 26 km, (12 mi.). Sakhalin Island totals 76,400 sq. km, (15,785 Sq mi.), in area
There are only two Ports on the Island that are open 12 months out of the year. The Port of Korsakov and the Port of Kholmsk. Another Port on the North end of the Island, Oha, can be accessed for about 6 months out of the year.
I have been to Korsakov many times and although it is a beat up looking place, where food can be scarce and is always expensive, I grew to like the bucolic feel of it. The winters are long and cold. The streets are pot-holed; dusty in the summer, flooded in the rainy season, and ice in the winter. The building are crumbling and in need of paint.
The Island opens to engulf XXX bay in the south. Korsakov is situated in the far north of the bay. Two jetties project from the land. For ships tied up and discharging cargo, this is the only protection from the fierce storms that blow in at times. We have had 40 foot shipping containers washed off the terminal area into the bay.
The first Russian crewed ship I worked on was called the SOCOL 2. It was a relitivily small container ship that was not ccapable of traversing the ice laden waters of the Sea of Okhast during the winter. The American company I was working for had chartered a Finnish built former Russian
Looking at a chart of the area and comparing the development of the Japanese Island of Hokkaido with Russia's Sakhalin Island, it is plain to see that the Japanese have built many more roads and settlements on the same type of land. The Russians have not been able to develop the Island. Development money must come from Moscow, and Moscow, is not interested in improving the living conditions of the residence of the Far Eastern section of the country at this time, or in the past. This may change with the discovery of oil off the North East Coast of Sakhalin Island. Right now there are plans to invest over 10 billion dollars in the development of these oil discoveries over the next 10 years. This money is coming in from companies like Exxon, Marathon Oil, Mitsubishi and others. It remains to be seen weather or not the local inhabitants of the Island will derive any substantial benefit from the development. All the Russians I have talked to believe that only a very small portion of the revenue from the oil will remain on Sakhalin Island.
The major problem with Russia, (I believe), can be summed up in the following: Russian Brooms. They don't work! If the Russians could get their brooms to actually sweep anything, then, and only then, will they have gained the knowledge to tackle larger problems. As it is, legions of pensioners spend an inordinate amount of time making sweeping motions, with their Russian Brooms, upon the streets and sidewalks of Russian cities everywhere, but never actually get any dirt or debris off the street. The paradigm shift that they need to make is the recognition that what they are doing is ineffective, but not only is it ineffective, they need to recognize that they need to do things effectively in order to progress.
This morning, at first light, I went up to the wheel house. There was quite a bit of fog. The Kuroshima was shrouded in a mist. She looked like a phantom ship. The wind and sea were behind us. The large swells caused her to pitch drunkenly. She appeared and disappeared from view. The tug boats fog horn blew at its prescribed interval. I stood at the window and watched her for half an hour. The mystery ship.
When I first began visiting Russian cities, I started collecting photo's of the different statues of Lenin that are always located in the main square of each city. Korsakov's Lenin is small compared too most. The largest Lenin I have seen is in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski. Very impressive fellow.
The weather is being kind. We should be about even with Vladivostok by this evening. Wow, the long part is about over. I say six more days, maybe five, and then we are there. The books I brought are boring. My Adobe PhotoShop crashed and I don't have the setup program to re-load it. Erg. I have written three Visual Basic Internet applications. Also a little play graphics program that I make funny designs with.
We had bone marrow again today for the afternoon tea break. Liver for lunch. I don't know why, but I just can't eat liver unless it is fresh and lightly cooked. The stuff they put on my plate was strong tasting. Too strong. I do like the pickled herring with onions that they have for breakfast every once in a while. I do miss a good hot cup of strong coffee. French Roast.
I have washed my cloths twice now. Both times in the shower while I bathed myself. No wringer, spinner, of dryer. I don't know, these people can be so well educated and still be so damn poor. I mean any culture that eats bone marrow on a regular basis reflects a history of periods of severe starvation. Maybe I'm just prejudiced. But, I doubt it. I stayed a week at a friends apartment in Korsakov. The water came on for one hour in the morning. There was no hot water from the tap. No water heater in the apartment. Hot water is made in a central facility in town and piped to each and every apartment complex in the city. Electricity is off at 9pm sharp. I think the reign of terror is not over in Russia. Even now the Russian people are being brutalized with fear and apprehension, uncertainty and loss. Their men die at an average age of 55. Leaving loved ones alone, unable to fend against the male aggressors that prey upon all segments of the general population, when ever and where ever the opportunity presents its self.
I was staying in the Hotel Vladivostok for a couple of nights waiting for a plane flight to Seattle. One morning I went out the door and happened upon an incident. Apparently someone was found dead in an automobile in the parking lot of the Hotel. Of course I had no way of knowing that , but I was curious as to why all the police were hovering about brandishing guns and looking mean. I thought it was strange that absolutely no one would even look in the direction of the incident. So, me like a dumb ass American, just walk over to see what I could see. I attracted quite a group of police. But, I couldn't speak Russian well enough to understand them. I got the general idea that I should leave. Later I found out that some guy was murdered and left there. I must have been an important person for they closed off about four blocks to traffic. A couple of moths later I read a story in the American language expatriate News Paper, that another fellow was gunned down in front of the same Hotel as he was coming out of the casino. The article went on to say the "Businessman did not have any ties to the Mafia", and the incident two weeks prior when his car exploded, killing a passenger, was an accident resulting from the transportation of explosions in his trunk.
Another time I had an American, (Tim), along on the vessel. He was being trained to take my position. It turned out he was a bit of an alcoholic and not too reliable. But, not only that he was one hell of a crazy guy. I had a girl friend in Vladivostok at the time. Him and I went to dinner with Katya and her sister, Natasha. Of course I was wanting to get Katya back to the Hotel as soon as possible, but her sister was making things difficult for me. So anyway, the women left us after dinner. I was ready to go back to the Hotel and get some sleep, but Tim wanted to get laid. He asked where the prostitutes were. I didn't know, but I knew that there was a lot of women around that did not have a lot of money. We were right across from the train station, it was about 11 PM. I told Tim to just ask the next woman that came by, "skolka stoit dlya zabeeze." How much for heaven/sex. So, he did. $20 dollars was the reply. I laughed. A group a young thugs got interested in the situation and I faded back. A woman propositioned me. We talked as I followed Tim and the gang around him. He was going much too slowly and arguing much too much. I thought he was being an idiot. I wanted to get back to the Hotel. I passed him up as he was passing money to the fellows. I grabbed him by the shirt sleeve and he batted me away. So, I went up ahead and shouted for him to hurry. He was trying to get the girl to move faster but she was drunker than hell and moving much. Walked up and then back. Finally he made it into the hotel, still with his ragged group of hanger'ons. Outside the hotel, Tim told me that one of the guys had a pistol and that he had already drawn it on him. The guy wanted all of Tim's money. But, Tim just gave him another 20 dollars and put his wallet back in his pants. The guys were drunker than shit, and so was Tim. He had been drinking vodka the whole way up to the hotel. Tim was not going to let that drunk assed woman he had just paid $40 for out of his clutches for anything. They followed us into the hotel and the security guard hustled them back out. In so doing he felt the pistol in the belt of the leader. That's when the shit hit the fan. He had all four of them face down on the deck. Him and his buddies kicked the shit out them. Then the police came and they kicked the shit out of them. Then some more cops came with machine guns and they kicked the shit out of them. Tim ran off to his room as soon as the gun showed up. I think he really did not want to get those guys in trouble and he was bummed that they followed him into the hotel. He really tied to tell them they were fucking up and that they needed to back off. He didn't get laid either.
One of the Motormen gave me a haircut this evening. He did a pretty good job. I feel a lot better. I gave him ten dollars. That's like me getting $200 for giving a guy a haircut.
Early morning. Clock went back an hour last night. Have to wait an extra hour before breakfast. We are making excellent time. A slight wind on the stern. Over nine knots last time I looked. I'm starting to get a bit anxious. Faster, faster.
The weather is getting much warmer as we get further South. Nice.
The weather has pitched up a bit. It's blowing from the East at about 20 knots. When the wind is on our beam, like it is now, the Kuroshima trails behind us toward the windward side. Due to her large superstructure, the wind pushes her aft end much more than her bow, thereby driving her into the wind. Looking off the stern of the tug boat, the Kuroshima is at about the two o'clock position. Due to the fact that the tow cable is having to drag through the water sideways, it is vibrating like mad. Looking at the cable from the top of the wheel house, it doesn't seem all that strange. But, if you stand next to the cable you will get an understanding of the force that is needed to shake that cable. This is a cable that I can not get my hand around. Maybe three inches in diameter.
We are maintaining speed, but we are not as fast as the fishing boats that speed by us on their way to some destination beyond. It looks like we are in the midst of the Korean fishing fleet. Boats are speeding past us on both sides. The fishing boats are long and thin. I believe they are commercial hook and line, (long liners). We passed some longline gear up a while back. The wheel houses are far back and the bows are shaped like race boats. They cut the sea efficiently. This choppy sea does not hinder them at all.
We are almost ready to make the turn at the bottom of Korea. By this evening we will be on a straight course for Shanghai, China. The new warmth has had me in my underwear whenever I hang out in my cabin. I leave the porthole open whenever I can. I have been wearing shorts and a tee-shirt the rest of the time. Now that we are in the warm latitudes, I'm thinking that sailing is awfully nice. Those North Latitudes can really put a damper on things.
I have determined that the carpet in here is the culprit with regard to the stink of mouse/rat urine. I wish I could shove it out the port hole: I won't. It will only be a couple of more days. I can survive it. My silly pride keeps me from complaining about anything to the Captain, or Chief Mate. I don't ask anything from them and they don't ask anything of me.
It is now dusk and the lights of the Korean fishing fleet are spread across the horizon. I have been in the fish market of Pusan. Fishes of every type are there for the buying. I stood and watched live eels being skinned; what a gruesome task. Lots of live fishes. The Korean way of eating is not always to my liking, but I do enjoy some of the treats. Sashimi with Wasabi is the norm. My stash of peanut butter is getting very low.
Insert here some history about the water between Korea and Japan.
It's early morning. The clock went back one hour again. There is a low pressure cell that has stalled out west of us. It is creating a bit of rough weather, but nothing that should slow us down. The Captain is planning on arriving at the pilot station at 0600 Friday morning. That gives us three days to cover 380 nautical miles.
It is hot and humid in my cabin. There is a cool breeze on deck. As the sun went down that evening, I was entranced by the peacefulness of this sea that I have never been on before. On the horizon the lights from fishing boats dotted a perimeter around us. The relentless splash of the boats wake calmed me and reminded me that I was home. Oh, to be on a small vessel plying this sea myself.
Just before supper this evening, two sailors knocked on my cabin door and offered me a warm Budweiser and a can of pear halves. I accepted them. Funny, on every Russian ship I have been on it is always the young and ones with no rank that are kind and open. The officers don't care to show a side of themselves that seems to want acceptance of them from me. And I have come to find out that the smiling, talkative gregarious American of the norm is regarded as a laughing fool by most Russians in authority. I hardly talk at all to anyone on board, mainly because we have so little in common with each other. If I tell them of my life I make them uncomfortable. I don't ask them about their life. I have seen enough of the way they live. It is so, Russian.
So much for me not getting involved with the crew. Last night three young sailors walked into my room with a video camera and proceeded to film me. In retrospect I should have demanded that they get out. They were only looking for ways to capture foolish behavior on tape so that they could laugh about it later. I did not turn them away. I talked to them. But, I was upset about the lack of respect for my privacy. I turned the camera back on them for a bit.
It is sultry hot this morning. The water is glassy still. We ply through it easily.
Eight hours from the pilot station. Then an 18 hour wait for a pilot into Shanghai. Yesterday I was finally approached about the cost of this voyage. They want $5 per day for food and $10 per day for the room. I was under the impression that Mr. Anderson had already paid for the food. I hadn't heard about the room charge. I think I will defer this to someone else. If they would have informed me I was going to have to pay $10 per day for the room at the beginning of the voyage I would have demanded more. Like the room being cleaned up or someone else changing my sheets and doing my laundry. It is not anything to do with the amount, it totally has to do with the service. Russians are the worst hosts I have ever seen. I have a new inside joke now, "You clean house like a Russian house cleaner." What an insult.