Our voyage to Attu started out with a bang. After grabbing our luggage, our group piled into 2 trucks and headed out to bird Adak until it was time to board the ship. The ride from the airport to the docks yielded a flurry of birds. In very quick succession, we saw a group of Bramblings, a Hawfinch and Gray-crowned Rosy-finches. This was a really good start.
Winds were strong but the sun was shining and our spirits were high. Our intrepid group boarded the Puk-Uk and introductions were made. The ship crew consisted of Captain Bill Choate, deck hand Mike Shelman and our cook, Nicole Arevalo. We would soon discover the marvels of Nicole’s cooking.
After boarding, our rooms were assigned. I would be sharing a room with 3 other women. Our room consisted of 2 sets of bunk beds and some cubby holes for our supplies. I was very lucky to get a bottom bunk. This cozy cave would be our home for 2 weeks. No internet, no phone service, infrequent showers. The forced intimacy that pelagic trips are made of.
There were 8 total birders plus our guides, John Puschock and Neil Hayward. The crazy eight included me, Patty O’Neill, Ann Nightingale, Brandon Reo, Dave Greening, Clarice Clark and our only couple, Greg and Monica Lyall. Aside from being friends with Patty and Ann, I also knew Dave from a previous pelagic trip.
Our Captain gave us our safety briefing and all of us had to put on the emergency immersion suits. These full-length orange contraptions had us all looking like giant lobsters. We had a few laughs watching everyone struggle to put these on.
We got underway with clear skies and nice views of the surrounding landscape. Soon we were seeing groups of Murres, Guillemots and Murrelets. It wasn’t long before we had our first Laysan Albatross. As I tried to get pictures, I missed an Aleutian Tern spotted by John. Little did I know it would be the only one of the trip.
Less than a mile out of Adak, the automatic pilot stopped working. We drifted in open water as Captain Billy and his crew worked tirelessly through the night trying to make repairs. At breakfast we found out we hadn’t gone anywhere in the night. This would now delay our arrival to Attu by almost a day.
Once underway, the sea waters lived up to their reputation. As we pitched and tossed, moving slowly at 5-6 knots, several in our group were miserable in bed, rarely able to make an appearance. At one point, a rogue wave sent everything flying and many cups were broken in the kitchen.
I was lucky for once. I spent the days on the water topside in the pilot house. It was too rough to contemplate being out on deck at any time. This room afforded the only views of the birds flying around the boat. I spent countless hours looking out the windows. Northern Fulmars, Laysan Albatrosses and Glaucous-winged Gulls were our constant companions.
The hours of boredom were broken up by an occasional eruption of excitement as we found a Short-tailed Albatross, Mottled Petrel, Red-legged Kittiwake or Humpback Whale. Groups of Crested, Least and Parakeet Auklets would make an occasional appearance as well as Storm-Petrels and Shearwaters. I added 14 new life birds on the water.
Nicole kept us constantly full with her culinary gifts. The cuisine varied from Italian to Japanese. The food was the best I’ve ever had on any birding trip. For those who could eat, meals were the highlight of the day as the hours dragged on.
Finally on Day 4(May 25th)we woke up and looked outside. There before us, stood the snow-covered hills of Attu.