Having endured an uncomfortable passage from Russia, arriving in Adak and the home comforts offered by this US outpost is very welcome to the crew of Sprit of Cardiff
Having endured an uncomfortable passage from Russia, arriving in Adak and the home comforts offered by this US outpost is very welcome to the crew of Sprit of Cardiff. Clive Tully reports?.
“It’s a bumpy and exhausting ride, doing our best to outrun the depression coming up behind us, but eventually we make it into Adak, battered and bruised. We’re taken to our accommodation for the night at the Sandy Cove Hotel. But this is no typical hotel. We have a house to ourselves, one of a line of former quarters for military personnel, shipped to Adak in kit form. Not that you’d guess – it’s a very comfortable house, with full amenities.
Adak was once part of America’s front line. The base was established by the Army and Airforce back in World War Two, then taken over by the US Navy. Here they stored nuclear weapons – bombs and torpedoes – along with massive amounts of conventional ordnance, much of it in numerous magazines dotted all over the hillsides. And it was an advance listening and communication post. From Adak they could communicate with American nuclear submarines anywhere in the world.
In its heyday, 90,000 people lived here. Now the population is around 100, mainly people connected with the fishing industry, or performing continuing maintenance on parts of the old base.
Adak is treeless, with just short tundra vegetation grazed by roaming caribou, and our view of snow-spattered hills disappearing into the clouds is very much the typical one. The buildings are functional, and the weather challenging. It’s definitely not the place to come to if you’re a fan of sunshine. We were talking about places where the average temperature is 70 degrees F, when Joe Galaktionoff says “the only 70 we get here is miles an hour – the wind”.
Much of the old base is like a ghost town, rows and rows of accommodation blocks, all deserted. We take an evening tour of the island with Rex and Violet, who run Bake and Tackle, the restaurant/diner and Bill “Shipmate” Wooten, who along with Rex served some time with the American military on Adak.
We stop off at a small inlet where the tide is coming in with ferocious speed, and inquisitive seals pop their heads up out of the water to take a look at us. They’re not disappointed, either. This is the point where the van we’re in develops a flat tyre, right on the single-track bridge over the entrance to the inlet. But it’s a good demonstration of the strong community spirit of the people who live on Adak. After a call on the VHF radio, someone comes out to us, although the van ends up being left overnight on the bridge. Not too much chance of a tailback here, I suspect.
Our night ashore is welcome indeed. The journey from Japan and Russia has taken a lot out of us, physically and mentally, and we all sleep the drugged stupor of the exhausted. For me, it’s only the fifth time in two months I’ve been able to go to bed stretched out properly. Spirit of Cardiff’s bunks aren’t long enough for me.
Our short stay in Adak has recharged our batteries, and once again we’ve encountered the most incredible friendliness and generosity, although it’s apparent that the people here have also enjoyed the fleeting visit paid by three crazy Brits in a boat that’s impossibly small for such a big journey. So thanks very much to Rex and Violet, to Shipmate and to Kjetil, whose company Adak Fisheries footed the 500 plus dollar bill for our fuel – that happened on the off-chance as I chatted with him in the Bake and Tackle. I can’t help thinking that if we’d had that kind of instant generosity from Cardiff businesses, who stand to gain a lot more from our venture, we wouldn’t be in the financial pickle we’re in now.
Now we’re on our way to Kodiak, the most northerly stop of our round the world itinerary. We’ve been promised the passage will be rough in places. Even in good weather, there’s a 50 mile stretch called the Pass which is perpetually horrible. It’s tempting to linger in Adak, but we still have a record to break.”