Alaska - Summer 2006

The 14th Year

June 7th: Sam and I arrived in Nome June 2nd and it is very different this year. I am writing my journal for my darling granddaughter Emy. She is only four now but I will write to her as if she were an adult so she can remember her granddad warts and all. We were unable to land in Nome on our first flight and had to return to Anchorage. Twelve hours later we were able to fly back and land. John Trott met us and we went to our container and cranked up our ATVs and pumped up our flat tires. Summer has not arrived in Nome and it is cold here. The sea where we are going to dredge for gold is still frozen. We slept in John's container in town for three nights because we could not get our tent and equipment to our camp as fast as we normally would. Each day we made one trip across the tundra to our camp to haul out our stuff. The beach has too much ice and snow to travel on. Several times we were stuck and had to use all 3 ATVs to pull out the stuck one. Now we are all set up in our camp and I have time to write. The sea in front of my tent has about 50 seals that I can see laying on the ice. This is my 14th summer in Nome and it is the only time I have seen the sea still frozen. We have seen one bear and one moose out here. We are a little bit concerned about the possibility of polar bears coming in on the ice. They are so much more dangerous than grizzly bears and if we see any we will make every effort to kill them. We don't want them to be anywhere around here. Grizzly bears will usually go away if they can but polar bears will hunt people down. Sam told me that if a bear eats him he wants me to gather all the poop from the bear and send it home to his wife so she can bury his remains. John is staying with us for a couple weeks before he goes out to the Gold Prospectors main camp. We have been pretty tired each day from the tundra trip and haven't put our dredges together yet. Today we installed a winch on one of my ATVs and did a few repairs. Yesterday it snowed all day but we still were able to cut up driftwood on the beach for firewood. We also had to replace two walls in our outhouse that had either blown away or a bear may have tore them off. We tire easily when we first come up each year. In a few weeks we should toughen up and be better able to put in a full day of work. Lonnie is not coming up this year. Sam and I will really miss Lonnie in camp. He is one of our true friends. Lonnie has come to Nome each year with me since 1993. This year I am 60 years old and Sam is 71.
Thursday, June 15th: It's 11:00 PM now and I am too tired to write but I will anyway. Yesterday we finished building my second sea dredge. This is for Sam, Spencer and John to use. We ate supper in town at Fat Freddie's. I've been playing gin with John. I've won 19 games and he has won 5. John moved out of my tent and has gone to his hootch at the Gold Prospectors Camp. He is on the crew there and will have to work a few weeks for them. I expect him to move back to my tent in late July. Last night a couple young Eskimos shot a seal near our tent. They eat seals. Many Eskimos are shooting seals on the ice. Eskimos fish and kill animals but very few have jobs and work. I think many Eskimos consider it shameful to work. I've never seen an Eskimo mining gold. Gold is free for the taking but it requires hard work. Today Sam and dredged 4 hours. We were out on the dredge about 8 hours but we spent time looking for new places to dredge and had to fix several routine problems. I had to do some repairs to my airline and one of my pumps would not run. I took apart the fuel system and blew it out and cleaned it up. It runs fine now. We dredged in shallow water about 11 feet deep. Visibility was good, water temp. was 33 degrees, surface temp. was 55 degrees. We were dredging around and under the ice. Icebergs were moving around in the current and running into our dredges. They would push around the dredge and make the anchor break loose. It is sort of spooky to see ice going over you and some of the ice comes almost down to the bottom. When it was big ice I would get out of the water and sit on the dredge till the iceberg turned us loose. We were not able to stay in one spot. We found fair gold and I did find at least one small nugget.
Sunday, June 18th: Sam and I dredged 3.5 hours today before waves and fog caused us to come in. I found pretty good gold and 2 nice little nuggets. One is sorta heart shaped and weighs 2.3 pennyweight. If I can remember to I will have it made into a necklace for my Emy. The water temp. today was 44 degrees. This seems much warmer than a few days ago.
Tuesday, June 20th: Yesterday we had wind and waves so we didn't dredge. We cut another load of firewood from the beach driftwood. We went to Nome to eat a pizza last night. Today the sea was calm so we dredged. We went out in the fog but that cleared up pretty quick and we dredged 4.5 hours each. I had left my hose out with a float and my anchor. The line broke somehow and we used the underwater TV camera to locate it. Our GPS puts us close to the spot and the camera worked good. I also had to work on one of my pumps because the fanbelt for my compressor was loose. I was able to tighten it some while I was out but I need to work on it more tomorrow. We found good gold today. I guess we got about 2 ounces each. Sam and I are tired all the time now and we are losing weight. Water temp. 39 degrees, surface temp. 50 degrees.
Wednesday, June 21st: Today we were too tired and lazy to dredge. I worked on my pump with the air compressor and Sam worked on the old Honda ATV. He is replacing the bearings, seals and housing on the rear drive. We needed lots of parts and were lucky that the GPAA camp had extra parts. I bought the parts and Sam will start replacing them. We talked to many of our old friends at the camp. Tonight I cooked ribeye steaks and fried potatoes. We will dredge tomorrow if the weather lets us.
Friday, June 30th: The weather has been bad for the last 10 days and we have been unable to dredge. Nothing much has happened and Sam and I have just been reading and burning firewood to keep warm. Spencer came up 2 days ago and will be with us for 2 weeks. We cut another trailer load of firewood this morning. This is our 5th load this month. Usually we only burn 2 loads in a summer. We have been eating some King Crabs that we got in town. Last night the waves let up and I went out on my dredge but as soon as I got out the fog came in heavy. I had left my suction hose out on a float with an anchor. The hose had filled itself with sand and rocks and it took me 2 hours to get it up on my dredge. Sam was not able to come out because a wave had swamped his dredge and his outboard motor would not start. We have been visiting some with the people at the Gold Prospectors Camp.
Tuesday, July 4th: On Saturday Sam, Spence, Perry Massie, Sandie and Georgia Massie and I went into the interior for 2 nights. The weather would not let us dredge in the sea so we went to one of my inland claims. We went to the Casadepaga River to the camp on Monument Creek. We traveled on the road for 46 miles from Nome then went 12 miles up the Solomon River and over the hill to the Casadepaga. We have several good hootches at the camp so we could be out of the weather. We did not take a dredge so we were just prospecting and sightseeing. The rivers were still holding much ice. In some places the ice went across the whole river. The trip in took about 5 hours to go 60 miles. Sunday Perry and I tried our luck at finding nuggets with metal detectors. Perry found a nice little nugget that weighs about 1 pennyweight. They fished and caught 6 Arctic Graylings that we ate for supper. Georgia Massie is Perry and Sandie Massie's daughter and she is 11 years old. She is a real good ATV rider for her age. She rode her own ATV on the trip and is a better rider than most of the adult riders in the prospectors camp. We also rode over and looked at two of my other claims on Ridgeway Creek and Ruby Roadhouse. Ruby Roadhouse is just a falling down cabin about a hundred years old. Today we are back on the beach and tried to go dredge but the waves came back and ran us out. The water temp. is 41 degrees and there is no vis at all. We lost our suction hose and nozzle that we had left out with an anchor and float. We may be able to look for it later if the waves let up and the vis returns. A 30 ft. hose and nozzle cost about a thousand dollars.
Friday, July 7th: Well, the weather has finally turned nice for the last three days. Yesterday we dredged 4 hours, water temp. 43 degrees. Today we took Sam to the airport and he went home. Spence and I dredged 4 hours each today and Spence found 2 real nice nuggets. The 2 were laying next to one another and they weigh a half ounce together. We had to get some welding done on one of our wetsuit heaters in town. I hope this good weather lasts for a while since I am way behind on my time in the water this year.
Tuesday, July 11th: We continue to be blessed with great weather. Spence and I have been able to dredge gold for 5 straight days and are planning to go out again today. We are very tired now and our muscles ache. The water is clear now and no waves. I hit a good area yesterday and think we should do well today. The salmon are running along the coast and we see them jumping all around our dredges. They seem to be excited because they are on their way to their home river where they will spawn and then die. They are probably more excited about the spawning part. Spence and I went to Perry's house last night and ate crabs. Spence goes home in 2 days and of course I will miss him. Today will be his last day of dredging this year. Tomorrow he will take apart one of my dredges and store the pumps in the container. We will also go to the Gold Prospectors Camp and borrow a highbanker to clean up Spence's concentrates. He has 5 or 6 5 gallon buckets to run. We will concentrate these to about half a bucket. I will then pan this out tomorrow night so Spence can see how much gold he has found. The water temp. yesterday was 49 degrees and the air temp. was about 70. We are still hearing rumors about the diver that drowned. I think he got fouled in his airline and anchor. He was wearing a dry suit instead of a wetsuit. Dry suits are extremely dangerous and we don't like them. They require too much weight and are difficult to control if you get upside down.

You can see all of this year's pictures HERE

A True Diving Pioneer Passes - Bill Tant - "Cap'n Scuba"

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