Rim of Red Water

Introduction: I started a book in the late 1980s paralleling the life and importance of sea otters with the growth and history of Alaska. I had completed a good deal of research and wrote first drafts of nine chapters and outlined two more with the understanding in my head that this would eventually become a generational novel. Then life intervened. First came the Exxon Valdez oil spill, then an unexpected pregnancy which led to a hasty wedding and eventually a complete change in life style from living the romantic life of a boat captain and in the off-season a writer working at his craft in the Alaska wilds into a husband, father and responsible (somewhat) career person attempting to provide for his family. I came across it a week or so ago and thought somebody might like to read it even if it is unfinished and please understand this is a hastily edited first draft and if it ever sees the light of day beyond this blog it will take some serious rewriting, including the development of that generational narrative.

WARNING: Nine chapters have now turned into 18.

'Rim of Red Water', Russia expands eastward

Petropavlovsk at far right was the main jumping off port for sailors
heading to Alaska. Irkutsk, near the center just north of the Mongolia 

border was where the furs were taken for trade with China.

From "Rim of Red Water" By Tim Jones
Copyright © Tim Jones 2019

In Kodiak, Alaska today and at several other settlements out along the Aleutian Islands, people wear T-shirts with an impression emblazoned on them that reads, "This may not be the end of the earth, but you can see it from here."
Out across those open turbulent waters to the west, the last to be explored by Europeans, is where Christopher Columbus, if he could have sailed farther might have taken his three ships right off the edge of the Earth somewhere west of Kodiak.  
            Twenty-one years after Columbus made his famous landing, when the Spanish explorer Balboa hiked across the Isthmus of Panama and had his first view of the ocean he called "pacific," he might not have used that term if he could have seen to the north toward that edge of the Earth in the waters where the weather begins, the Gulf of Alaska, the Bering and Chukchi Seas and the Sea of Japan.  The violence of the storms generated in those waters would have brought to mind anything but "pacific." The most recent United States Coast Pilot for the area describes it this way:  "The weather of the Aleutians is characterized by persistently overcast skies, strong winds and violent storms.  It is often variable and quite local.  Clear weather is seldom encountered over a large area.  About 30 to 75 inches of precipitation occurs on 200 to more than 300 days.  Example: at Adak there is an average of 335 days with measurable precipitation.... The poorest visibilities in the Alaska area occur along the Aleutians."
And, if the waters generated the violent weather of the North Pacific, the lands that bordered them proved no less volatile.  Formed by plates moving out from the center of the ocean and then colliding with the North American continent, sliding along it, subducting under it, and giving rise to the volcanoes that come with subduction, the land rose to steep mountains from the very shorelines, and erupted and separated into archipelagos and island chains. Through the middle of this maelstrom of nature's violence, the chain of volcanic islands that would come to be called the Aleutians rose from the subduction and vulcanism of the Aleutian Trench to stand in defiance of the storms, and formed the crown of the Pacific Rim.  Because of their history of volcanoes they also became part of what is called the Ring of Fire.
But, in forming their barrier between the Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea they also created a geological phenomenon that provided well for those animals and men who inhabited this 
land at the end of the earth.  Strong currents developing as far south as where Balboa stood flowed to the north and west unobstructed through the Pacific until they met the land mass of Alaska and the Aleutians.  In the islands as those currents slid along the continental shelf they created what are called upwellings, some of them constant or inertial, others wind driven and variable as to location.  What these upwellings did was cause vertical mixing of the ocean's water and in the process, draw rich nutrients from deep water into the sunlit shallows around the islands.  At Samalga Pass which separates Umnak Island from the Islands of the Four Mountains, modern scientists have found one of the highest nutrient concentrations in the world. The Samalga Pass upwelling is inertial and constant.  Others along the islands vary with the wind and changing currents.  These upwellings and the food sources they draw from the bottom provided a rich environment for a wide variety of life forms, from the smallest of microscopic fauna all the way up the scale to the great whales. 
It was into these rich waters that the last of the land mammals to enter the process slowly evolved into a creature of the sea.  At some time in prehistory, Enhydra lutris, the largest of the weasel family, changed its habits of life on land and hunting at sea and one day remained in the ocean, developing as it grew, webbed hind feet and a broadened flatter tail for propulsion, and retractable front claws for opening the mollusks that provided their main food source.  Last in the line of mammals entering the sea, they have yet to develop the underlying layers of blubber that keep most marine mammals insulated against constant immersion in cold waters.  Where other marine mammals developed that blubber and lost most of their hair in the process, the otter instead grew thick luxuriant fur that at once gave them comfort and in time almost led to their extinction.
Men eventually joined the other predators in those sustaining waters around the Aleutian Islands. Though the lands and waters of the north defied the myth of European discovery for more than 200 years after Balboa first saw the Pacific, the islands had been populated for thousands of years before.  If they needed discovering, the people living there didn't know it.  They had done their exploring and discovering long before Balboa, and, they had done it out of necessity as the land they had formerly occupied on the south shore of the Bering Land Bridge gradually disappeared under waters rising with the melting of the great glaciers of North America.  The land was already discovered as far as they knew.  
Along with other inhabitants of the land bridge they had ventured eastward toward the North American continent where the peoples of the bridge separated into distinct groups.  Inupiaq remained in the North and Yup'ik in western Alaska, while Indians moved farther east into the interior and then south deeper into the continent.  The first islanders, sharing a common heritage with Inupiaq, descended from a population dating back as far as 10,000 years before Christ.  They moved south along the coast of Alaska and then west again along the Alaska Peninsula toward the Aleutian Islands where they established themselves as early as 4,000 years ago.
What those early discoverers found was a chain of more than 100  windswept treeless islands stretching 900 miles out into the ocean and as time passed they ventured westward eventually occupying all of the major groups. 
  Sites in the Fox Islands, those closest to the mainland show evidence of occupation almost 3,000 years before Christ.  Examination of several living sites along the Aleutians shows those early discoverers moved from east to west rather than coming across the ocean directly from Siberia.  Evidence of populations in the western Aleutians is more recent, 1,000 years BC in the Andreanof Islands and 600 BC in the Near Islands, so named because they were the closest to Russia at the Kamchatka Peninsula. 
In the Aleutians though these first people found one of the worst climates on earth, they found the same richness in the sea that had sustained the otters and other ocean creatures long before they arrived. And it was to the sea they turned for their sustenance. The land provided little for these early settlers, grasses, birds and eggs, some small animals, but in the sea supported by the upwelling systems, a myriad of food sources awaited the savvy hunter.  And in directing their efforts toward the sea, the Unanguan peoples of the Aleutians gained an immense knowledge of the critters who inhabited it.  Because of this knowledge and the more constant source of food the ocean provided, the people seldom had to endure the cycles of feast and famine that plagued so many North American Natives. They studied the animals in their environment, testing, experimenting, using or ignoring those that fit their purposes and those that didn't.  Those of little use were largely ignored and one of those hunted infrequently was the sea otter that preyed in the same waters.
Probably more than 200,000 otters populated the shallow waters around the Aleutian Islands prior to Russian contact, largely unmolested by the hunters from land.  To be sure, they were hunted, but not often because their meat and skins had limited use.  Principally the fur was used for women's clothing as trim or sometimes in full coats.  The skin and fur were not particularly to the liking of the men, who needed lightweight waterproof clothing.  The fur proved too heavy, too warm, for men working.  The meat of the otter was all but inedible.  One Native who'd tried it said it tasted like mud. Only in the Rat Islands, the second most westerly group, were otters used for food and all evidence shows that stopped shortly after the Russians began hunting there. Nevertheless, otters were held in high esteem by the Unanguans.  At least in pre-contact times they considered the otter an honored animal and believed the animal had human origins.  In the mythology of the people, the otters were transformed humans who were most vane in the preference for fine dress and adornments, particularly those worn by women.  Many artworks recovered in the Aleutians depict otters dressed in some sort of ceremonial garb.  That otter fur was used mostly in women's dress may have complemented the legend.  Men preparing to hunt would observe several precautions to win the favor of the human presence in the otter.  They wore their own personal finery in keeping with the otter's preferences and even added articles of their wives" clothing because of this particular partiality of the sea otter.
In many ways the Unanguan culture advanced beyond their hunter-gatherer way of life.  Because of the plenty around them, they had time to examine more carefully their surroundings and the otter became one object of that study. Perhaps their belief in the human origins of otters came from their recognition that of all the animals around them, the otter was closest to man in physical structure.  Unlike seals and sea lions and whales, the otter had legs and paws rather than flippers.  It had ears and fur rather than blubber.  The people became knowledgeable about anatomy to the point of performing autopsies on people in order to learn how they had died.  As the animal most closely resembling humans the sea otter actually became the object of comparative anatomy. They actually dissected otters and compared what they saw with what they'd seen looking inside the human body. From their autopsies and from the dissecting of sea otters, the original people knew the basic functions of the organs of the body, the skeletal and musculature systems.
But for a food source the hunters moved in other directions.  Sea lions, seals and at times whales were much more to their liking and just as plentiful.  They fished for salmon when they ran in the streams at spawning time and for halibut in the deeper waters.  They hunted birds on land and took the eggs as well. And, they scoured the intertidal zones for crustaceans and mollusks.  Just how important the ocean and its upwelling systems were to the Unanguans is evidenced in an analysis of their basic diet. Fully 60 percent of the Aleutian diet came directly from the ocean, 30 percent from marine mammals and another 30 percent from fish.  Another 15 percent came from invertebrates, again these were mostly sea creatures. Birds and their eggs provided about 20 percent of the diet and these were mostly sea birds that gained much of their sustenance from the same waters. That left about 5 percent to come from the land. 
And the sea sustained the people very well.  Many lived into their 60s and 70s and it was not uncommon for someone to live to be 100.  In the 1870s an American churchman encountered an Aleut who remembered the first Russians when they came to hunt.  The man's estimated age was around 120 years. Before their contact with Europeans, an Aleut child who reached the age of 10 could expect to live about another thirty-three and a half years. The average longevity of an Aleut was about the same as a resident of the American colonies could expect in the 1770s. The bounty of the sea and the knowledge of the people led to this longevity which was uncommon in Native societies.  For instance, the Unanguans understood some complicated medical practises.  They knew how to handle a breech birth and they knew how to extract an attached placenta.  This helped slow the rate of infant mortality.  Older people, too, benefited from the environment.  In other societies when people reached their elder years they often became a burden on the rest of the group.  But in the Aleutians, though a man might no longer be able to hunt the open ocean, he could still fish the protected bays, he could still help with the salmon catch, in short an older man or woman could be a productive member of the society. and at least sustain life to some extent.
The Unanguans and the sea otters prospered in their intimidating environment and for many years after Balboa's first view of their ocean, defied the myth of European discovery.  While the seafaring nations of the world explored ever farther from their homelands, they concentrated in the warmer latitudes, seeking the riches of temperate climates and those like the Aleuts living on the perimeters remained insulated from intrusion by the very climate that at times could make their lives so miserable.  But those early explorers and later the merchants, ever restless, ever reaching out were relentless in their searches for new lands and new riches and as exploration spread it reached ever closer to the Aleutian Islands.  Many of the early explorations though not actually touching the islands had a a bearing on their future.
Spanish and Portuguese sailors traveled the middle latitudes in ever increasing numbers. The Portuguese established a colony on a little island off China in 1557 to attempt the beginnings of trade with the Celestial Empire.  In time Macao became the first station in the complicated process of trading in the Orient at the Chinese city of Canton.  Soon the British joined the list of exploring countries and Sir Francis Drake in his Golden Hind made the closest approach to Aleut territory in the 1570s when he sailed north along the American West Coast as far as what is now Washington and Oregon.  Although all of these early explorations by sea would have a bearing on the Aleuts and their islands, discovery was not to come from any of the early ocean explorers, but from a country not particularly known for its seafarers.  That was to come overland from a country all but landlocked by its geography in Europe.
In the 1500s Russia was confined to Europe east of the Ural Mountains and bounded on most of its borders by other countries.  Its only access to the ocean was through the Black Sea in the south but access there was largely denied by a traditional enemy in Turkey. Russia's prime route to the ocean was through the Baltic Sea in the north from the city of Kronshtadt and even then intermittent warfare with the Scandinavian countries often confined Russian shipping to a relatively small area.  For a long period, though Russians knew of the explorations and empire building of other countries, they seemed to show little interest. And even when they did expand, it was not by the grand design of world exploration, nor was it by sea.  Though the Russians were to instigate the original European assault on the Aleutians and Alaska, they did it more by accident of circumstance than through any idea of world conquest.
In the middle 1500s a criminal named Yermac Timofeief led his band of Cossacks terrorizing the countryside of southern Russia along the shores of the Caspian Sea. In time the residents of the area petitioned the Tsar to rid them of the outlaw gang.  Tsar Ivan Vassilievitch put a price on Timofeief's head and sent troops after him.  But the outlaw was too quick for the Royal Guards and escaped into the Ural Mountains.  Realizing the situation was too hot to return to Russia, Timofeief descended the eastern slope of the Urals and turned his Cossacks eastward toward Siberia in 1559.  This was no small outlaw band.  By the time Timofeief fought the pivotal battle in his foray, he commanded 5,000 men. With the Tsar's troops far behind west of the Urals, Timofeief fought, conquered, stole and burned and pillaged his was across much of Russia encountering only token resistance among small settlements of Natives along the way.  As this horde progressed across the face of the land they subjugated the people they encountered, impressed many into service and exacted tribute from them, mostly in the form of furs.  Timofeief, or at least some of his men may have reached the eastern coast, though this remains unconfirmed.  Little was known of his exploits for some time.
As he fought his way across the northern reaches of the Asian Continent, Timofeief learned of another army to the south, another horde.  This was an army of Tartars under the leadership of Kutchum Khan. Everywhere Timofeief went he heard of the Khan and found people more than happy to put up with him and accept his protection somehow safer than their previous life subjugated to the Tartars.  These two forces in motion on the continent had to meet.  By the time they did, Timofeief's army had been reduced by battle and illness to some 1,500 men, though these he deemed the strongest of those who started out from the Urals with him.  He had no idea of the size of the Khan's following. They met on a battlefield near what is now the western border between Mongolia and Siberia and fought for three days and nights.  Though reduced to 500 men when it ended, Timofeief's men won an overwhelming victory sending Khan and what remained of his troops running south toward China.  With his remaining troops Timofeief marched into the principal city which was called Sibir, the name eventually given to the whole territory. 
Realizing the tenuousness of his situation — the Khan had escaped and though defeated, still commanded a large army — Timofeief decided it was time to make his peace with the tsar. Before Timofeief's adventure, in 1558, Tsar Ivan had declared himself Lord of All Siberian Lands, and the new conqueror saw he could take advantage of this interest to his own benefit.
Timofeief sent an emissary accompanied by 50 soldiers to the court at St. Petersburg.  Through the emissary he declared his victory and reported his conquests in the east.  He told the tsar of the number of people under tribute and sent gifts of the rich sable fur he had extracted from the people now under his domain. Timofeief tendered all of his acquisitions to the throne against the promise that the tsar would promise to send support to defend and hold them.  Kutchum Khan was still around.  Though most of the people abandoned him upon his defeat, he was still attempting insurrections and Timofeief couldn't be sure he wouldn't succeed especially since the Cossack troops were so decimated.  This was what Timofeief asked, royal support to continue his rampage in Siberia.  And, this he was granted.
The emissaries were received well at court.  Their offers of fur and new lands greatly pleased the tsar and he listened to their offers and then their requests with a sympathetic ear.  Ivan pardoned Timofeief of all past crimes, sent money back with the emissaries and promised military support would be sent as quickly as possible.  An indication of how fully the tsar embraced Timofeief's conquests and petitions came with another gift.  Ivan sent Timofeief a fur robe, one he, himself, had worn.  At the time, an article of clothing worn by the tsar was considered the finest gift a subject could receive. 
Within a year after Timofeief learned of his acceptance by the tsar, a Prince Bolkosky arrived in Sibir commanding 500 of the royal troops.  With these reinforcements the newly confirmed leader of all of Eastern Russia decided to rid himself once and for all of Kutchum Khan.  
Timofeief leading 300 of his best men attacked a fortress held by Khan but could not take the Tartars. Finding the stronghold defended much more strongly than they'd expected, Timofeief and his men retreated along the Irtysh River back toward their own stronghold at Sibir.  What the Cossack didn't know was that Kutchum Khan and his men followed, looking for an opportunity to attack their weakened enemy.  They found it when Timofeief and his party took an evening camp on an island in the river. Wading the river at night and under cover of a noise-concealing rain, the Tartars attacked the Russians in their beds subduing most of them before they could even grab for their weapons. The Tartars killed all but one of the Russians, one who managed to escape back to Sibir and inform the garrison there.  Timofeief himself died attempting to reach a boat and escape.  Whether wounded or not, in his flight he fell into the river wearing heavy armor and drowned.
In the daylight Tartar troops found the body of their enemy leader and enraged at what had gone before, Khan made them exact the worst of atrocities on the remains.  Perhaps in respect for the bravery of their enemy, the Tartars rebelled against this treatment and eventually the body was interred with the finest of tributes in the Tartar custom.  Over time the remains of Yermac Timofeief took on legendary attributes and it was thought that merely touching the body of such a valiant man would cure all sorts of ailments.
When news of Timofeief's defeat reached the Russians at Sibir, they made a quick retreat from the country, abandoning it to Khan for a time.  But, the first intrusion had been made and Russians would continue their eastward expansion.  The Russians now knew the feared Tartars could be defeated and with ease.  Also, Timofeief's push eastward had left in its wake parties and settlements of Russians who did not leave with the armies and several groups of new subjects who preferred the Russians to the Tartars remained at least partially loyal.  As for Kutchum Khan, he never regained much of his old territory.  The scattering of his army by Timofeief led lesser princes to take over small parties of troops and isolated territories, fragmenting Kahn's power.  With the power of the Tartars scattered, Chinese to the south began a systematic conquest of the principalities, a movement that eventually led to conflict with the gradually growing population of Russians.
Over the next hundred years, Russians gradually expanded into the eastern lands much the way the pioneers did in the American west, little by little, building settlements as the went, extracting their livings from the land mostly in the form of fur trapping or trading with the Native peoples.  With each new toehold in the new lands, the Russians ventured a little farther until in the 1630s, a small detachment of Cossacks under Ivan Iur'evich Moskvitin exploring eastward established a winter quarters at the mouth of the River Ul'ia.  From there in the spring of 1643, a second detachment under Vasilii Poiarkov, crossed overland and reached the Amur River which they descended to the Okhotsk Sea, the first known Europeans to look out over those northern waters of the ocean called pacific at the end of the earth.  Still, it would be almost another hundred years before these Europeans would consider going east across the water.  They had an awful lot of country to fill before the idea of expansion was ever to lead into action. 
As the first wave of settlers began populating the Siberian lands, settlement followed and with them came the merchant classes of Russian Society.  The people living there needed supplies and the refinements of European Russia and they had in trade the rich furs of the east.  And as the merchant class followed the pioneers, they saw a new source of trade to the south of the new lands.  By the late 1600s the Tartars had ceased to be a force in Siberia, but the Chinese and Mongols who had taken much of their territory, at once offered a source of trade and a conflict over territory. The conflict reached such a level that in 1680 open warfare broke out along the disputed border.  For several years Russians and Chinese fought along the rivers and mountains where Siberia and China meet until the Russians finally decided to sue for peace in 1685.  In that year the tsar dispatched an Ambassador Golovin along with 1,500 men to Peking.  They reached Selenginik in the disputed territory in 1687 and from there Golovin sent messengers to Peking inviting the Chinese to negotiate. The Chinese stalled for more than a year, finally in 1689 agreeing to meet Golovin at the city of Neshinsk. Encouraged, Golovin and his troops moved closer to China, but when they finally met the Russian found himself with a decided disadvantage.  When Golovin at last saw the Chinese, they had brought such a large army and a train of artillery that he immediately sued for peace and largely at Chinese terms.  These set the boundaries between China and Siberia  and established the foundations for trade between the two countries. 
The treaty granted liberty of trade to all subjects of the two countries but the governors retained control of that trade by requiring the traders to obtain passports from their respective governments. This opened trade between Russia and China and allowed rich Chinese teas and textiles to flow westward into Europe.  But in agreeing to the trade, Golovin accepted a Chinese border proposal that would put immense hardship on those merchants bringing furs from the East Coast to trade with china.  The conferees set the southeast Siberian border along a ridge of mountains that lay north of the Amoor River and stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk to the source of the River Borbitza and then by that river to its influx into the Amoor.   What this did was deny Russians navigation of the Amoor a route that would have greatly shortened the journey from the coast to trading points along the border.  By this time Russians had established settlements along the coast of the Eastern Sea at Okhotsk on the Sea of Okhotsk and Kamchatka and Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula. But few if any had ventured beyond sight of land into that Eastern Sea and the eyes of traders were trained to the west, not the east.  For a time after the treaty, individuals traded freely along the new border, with Russian furs, principally sable going into China and teas, silks and nankeen, a rugged cotton cloth, going to European Russia.  
During this same period the Chinese were negotiating trade on another front.  Since the establishment of the Portuguese colony at Macao in 1557, trade between the two had been mostly exclusive.  But in the 1660s English ships began approaching the Chinese coast.  Unable to trade through the Portuguese colony they sailed to Taiwan.and established a brisk trade there.  Then, in 1663 the Chinese pacified Taiwan and in 1665 opened customs houses at Canton and allowed others besides the Portuguese to trade.
The treaty with China was one of the first indications of a change that was just beginning to sweep over Russia. Tsars and governments previous to this time had contented themselves with internal concepts both in terms of geography and society.  But, in 1782 that began to change with the ascension of 10-year-old Peter I to the throne.  For a time the young Peter shared the seat of government with Ivan V, a feeble-minded half brother by his father's first wife.  Ivan's sister Sophia was named regent, but when she attempted a coup against Peter she was defeated and Peter assumed control on his own in 1789 and in time effected monumental changes in the country.  For two years in 1797 and 1798 Peter toured western Europe, observing, learning, absorbing and brought back to the Fatherland what he had gathered from the advancing countries to the west.  He also brought back the idea that he could gain ground militarily.  He began these reforms the day of his return, actually cutting the beards off his noblemen and ordering them to wear western clothing henceforth.  He established a rudimentary civil service, with promotions based on merit rather than birth and enlarged and modernized his army. In his time at the European capitals he must have learned of the explorations under way by those countries and carried the idea of expansion home with him, too.  Just how landlocked Russia was at the time, and how provincial, showed in the fact that the government didn't even have a navy. Peter established one.  And, Peter looked to the east.  
Having seen Chinese goods in England, Portugal and Spain, Peter looked to this trade as well.  The trade by Russian individuals along the Chinese border was at best chaotic and worse in Peter's mind particularly with his new views of conquest,  few of the proceeds went to the government.  Peter took control of it, restricting the trading passports and finally attempted to eliminate the free trade by replacing it with government caravans.  Sponsored by the government, all profits from the trade would accrue to the treasury.  The first of these government-sponsored caravans crossed the border into China in 1699.  But even the strongest of government orders weren't going to change much on the frontiers.  Merchants already established in the business continued their trade and this clandestine border commerce transported as much as three times what the official caravans were doing.  Enforcement of Peter's edicts sounded fine in the capital, but thousands of miles away they carried little weight in the face of the demand for Chinese goods. The merchants traded freely with the Chinese and with the Mongols at their headquarters on the edge of the Mongolian Desert.  A dispute over trade with the Mongols finally brought Russia and China back to the conference table to resettle their trading difficulties.
The Russians traveled south from Irkutsk in central Siberia, more than 200 miles to the confluence of the Orkon and Tola Rivers at the edge of the Mongol Desert.  There they met the mongols in an annual rendezvous, traded goods and in time these meetings turned into drunken brawls with Russians receiving much of the blame for the degeneration.  China complained.  They considered the Mongols Chinese subjects even if the Mongols didn't and they wanted the rendezvous to stop.  When the complaints received only cursory response, the Chinese closed the border in 1722, stopping at least the government caravans if not the clandestine trade.
The Chinese had just about had enough of these foreigners they considered Barbarians to begin with. Russians were trading freely along their northern borders and British ships were constantly calling at ports along the coast.  Under the Manchu Dynasty, the Chinese attitude toward trade must have mystified the mercantile nations who attempted commerce in the orient.  The Chinese actually cared little for trade. Calling their domain the Celestial Empire, they felt they were the center of the earth and the only civilized nation.  They adopted the attitude that China had all that it needed, the one true land of plenty and when these Europeans came to trade, the Chinese saw it as an indication something was lacking in their own countries if they had to go so far to obtain products so much a part of life in the Celestial Empire.  The Chinese indicated to the Europeans that China was doing a favor for these underprivileged nations by allowing them to trade for Chinese goods. They could have cared less if trade proceeded or stopped and only felt they were doing the rest of the world a favor.  And, they insisted trade was not a right to be demanded, but a privilege granted by the Emperor and one that could be withdrawn by China for any infraction whatsoever of the established rules.  So, when the drunken rendezvous with the Mongols continued after protest, China simply closed the border, withdrew the privilege of trading.  
This was a condition the expanding world under Peter the Great could not tolerate.  In 1725 he sent emissaries to the Chinese court but the border remained closed for five years until Chinese and Russian negotiators again met in 1727 near the banks of a small river called Kiakhta.  This was about 160 miles southeast of Irkutsk, which by this time had become the trading hub for Russians in Siberia.  The conferees resettled the border and included the Mongols as part of China.  One caravan every three years would be allowed into Peking, but no more than 200 Russians could accompany it.  The Chinese didn't want to see any force large enough to be considered a military threat.  The new treaty also forbid  private individuals from bringing any merchandise across either border in yet another attempt to stop the contraband trade.  The further control this trade, the treaty established a restricted trading zone, and here the myopic vision in the Russian mentality hurt the merchants dearly. 
Russians already had established settlements on the coast of the Eastern Sea and Peter had set in motion the beginnings of exploration even before the border conference.  From his travels in Europe earlier he had studied the charts of exploration by other countries and surmised that somewhere east of his lands in Siberia, maybe even joined to it, lay the continent of North America.  The thought of undiscovered lands so close to Russia intrigued him.  Through reports from his government officials on the coast of Siberia he understood further exploration would have to come by sea and this restricted his expansion plans for some time.  In the course of developing the Russian Navy, he'd found few Russians who had even the most rudimentary knowledge of seamanship and navigation.  He'd had to recruit officers from other countries and one of these was a Dane named Vitus Bering. In his youth Bering had traveled to the East and West Indies.  Peter enticed him into the new Russian navy as a lieutenant in 1707 and by 1710 he was a captain-lieutenant.  He sailed from Kronstadt in the sea war with Sweden and his abilities hadn't gone unnoticed.  As Peter dreamed of Eastern conquest, the Dane became more important in his plans until in December of 1724 the Tsar issued a government decree entitled: "Instructions from the Emperor to Captain Bering to find out whether or not Asia and America are connected."  Evidently preparations had begun ahead of the decree because the first caravan of supplies for Bering's voyage left St. Petersburg in late January.  Four days later, while Bering was preparing his own supplies to follow the caravan, Peter the Great died.  In the hectic days that followed, Peter's wife Catherine I assumed the throne and reiterated Peter's instructions to Bering.  These final instructions were dated Feb. 5, 1725.  
For Bering, exploration wasn't a matter of walking down to the harbor, boarding a ship and sailing off looking for adventure.  He and his officers had 5,000 miles of Russians wilderness to cross before they even reached the sea, and then they had to build their own ships. Bering and two lieutenants, Martin Spanberg and Alexei Chirikov departed St. Petersburg shortly after February 5 following their caravan of 26 wagons of supplies eastward.  The reached the capital of Siberia at Tobolsk March 16 and then had to wait for the ice in rivers to break up before they could proceed.  They had to wait until May 16 before they could continue the trip.  They traveled through the summer and then spent the next winter at Ilimsk.  In the spring of 1726 they descended the Lena River as far as Iakutsk where they split the expedition.  Spanberg continued by river while Bering and Chirikov followed overland, the latter staying with the slower supply caravan while Bering went on ahead.  Bering and his small faster-moving detachment reached the sea at Okhotsk in the fall of 1726 but the others were delayed. After a rough winter journey in which his men ran out of food and were reduced at one time to eating shoe leather, Spanberg reached Okhotsk the first of January in 1727.  Chirikov, even farther behind, didn't arrive until July 30.  
Peter had set to motion the eastward expansion and the renewal of trade with China, but to the negotiators at the table along the little river south of Irkutsk, none of it meant much. Though Russians were looking to the Eastern Sea, in fact Bering's supply caravan was moving across the continent north of the negotiators at that very time, in their minds all things flowed from east to west in Siberia. Irkutsk was the center of commerce, and rightly the trade zone with China should be as close to Irkutsk as possible.  The treaty established that trade zone on the very spot of the conference, a city to be called Kiakhta.  Thus the Russians established their only trading connection with China 1,500 miles in a straight line from the Eastern ocean at Okhotsk and another 2,500 miles from the Russian capital at St. Petersburg. The rest of the world would trade with China at the sea port of Canton. 
The negotiators returned to St. Petersburg pleased that they'd reopened China trade and in a form more profitable to the state treasury, while Bering and his men began the preparations for their voyage into the Eastern Ocean.  Using a boat already there and anther they had to build, Bering and his men moved their shipbuilding materials across the Sea of Okhotsk to the Kamchatka Peninsula, then overland to Nizhne-Kamchatsk Ostrog, a small settlement near the mouth of the Kamchatka River.  There they began the labors of building the ship that would carry them on their exploration.  This took them through the winter into 1728.  They built a ship designed after the packet boats used in the Baltic Sea.  It was galiot-rigged with short, stubby masts and and small sails to conserve the precious sailcloth they'd had to carry across the continent.  The ship, named Gabriel after the archangel, was two-decked, sixty feet long, twenty on the beam and drew seven feet. By early July of 1728 the Gabriel was ready, loaded with supplies for a year's voyage.  July 20 Bering, Chirikov, Spanberg and thirty-seven other men set sail from the Kamchatka River into the Eastern Sea, the first Russians, or at least the first Russian flag expedition in full-fledged exploration at sea.  And as the Dane and his Russian proteges ventured out into that ocean from that shore beyond the end of the world visible from Kodiak, they signaled the closing in of the outside world on those islands where the Aleuts and the otters had hunted without harassment for thousands of years.
Meanwhile, the Spanish had been slowly inching their way up the North American West Coast from Mexico. British ships had seen the coast even farther north and more British and French traders were testing the rivers of Western Canada. Trade routes to the Orient and Western Europe were in place and now Russians were on the waters of the very sea that splashed against those islands with such violence.  This was the North Pacific Rim, waiting while the world closed in around it moving ever closer across waters that had insulated it for so long, waters that soon would run red not only with the blood of the sea otters, but with that of Native Alaskans and the Europeans who found them.  This was a violent climate in a violent geography to which the European discoverers would bring a violence of their own and turn it into truly a rim of red water.

Rim of Red Water Chapter 2 The Eastward Push Finds Alaska

Copyright © 2019 Tim Jones

I was taking a graduate student from the University of Alaska around the waters at the pipeline terminal. She was studying what the otters were eating and how long they spent with each animal. We watched an older otter, you could tell by the whiteness of the fur on his head. He swam toward two younger ones who were feeding near the pilings of the docks. The otter approached another one, looked it over and then swam on to a second young one that was eating mussels. He looked it over, then dove underneath and came up on the other side.  This older otter just reached over and scraped all the mussels off the other one's chest and then dove to catch them as they floated toward the bottom. He just stole that guy's food. — Dave Rentel, a Valdez, Alaska, charter boat skipper

July 20, 1728, with forty-four men crammed into her short hull, the Gabriel sailed from the mouth of the Kamchatka River into the eastern sea, initiating the first Russian voyage of discovery.  Charged with finding what connection there might be between Siberia and North America, a land they knew lay to the east somewhere, Bering, Chirikov and Spanberg followed the shores of the Kamchatka Peninsula, never leaving sight of land, they sailed north into the Gulf of Anadyr and past the mouth of the Anadyr River. They sighted and named St. Lawrence Island just south of the Bering Strait August 10, noting a few Native huts on the island. They sailed through the Bering Strait and into the Chukchi Sea passing through the narrowest stretch of water between the two continents but never saw the land to their right, to the east, though only about sixty miles of water separated them. Then, keeping land in sight to their port beam they turned slightly eastward to round the Chukchi Peninsula. August 15 they reached as far north as they would go at a latitude of 67 degrees, 18 minutes north.   
From this perspective, the coastline stretched off to the west and Bering assumed he had passed the extreme northeast headland of the Asian continent. To his mind he had accomplished his mission. As the Asian shoreline had turned westward, there was no possibility Asia and America could be connected.  This had been the charge given him by the court, find out if the two continents were connected or not, and Bering concluded they were not. At this point, Bering decided they had gone far enough and despite protest from Chirikov began the return voyage to Kamchatka. Again they passed through the Bering Strait and its fog and missed sighting any land to the east of their ship. During their voyage, they did chart the Asiatic side of the strait and gathered a good deal of information on the Chukchi Peninsula and the Chukchi people who inhabited it. 
But even from the Chukchi, though they probably traveled back and forth to North America, Bering learned nothing of the land to the east, though they did see some indication of it. The ocean gives many signs that land is near, floating debris, shore-based sea birds, even man-made flotsam. The one clue to the eastern lands Bering's crew found in the ocean was floating evergreen trees of a type not found in Siberia. They again hugged the coast on their return south, anchoring off the coast of Kamchatka August 29. But, during that night a storm rose so violent the anchor line parted and again they had to make way. It wasn't until September 20 they reached the Kamchatka River. They sailed upstream to the Lower Kamchtsk Ostrog and made their preparations to spend the winter there. Wintering at the remote fort gave Bering time to think and come spring, he decided to make another attempt at the Eastern Sea.
Early in June 1729 the ice had retreated, the ship restocked and again Bering and his crew set sail to the east. This time a storm out of the east northeast blasted the ship almost immediately after leaving the river and the Gabriel made only about 140 miles from the coast. Bering turned off the storm and sailed before it to the south and then around the Kamchatka Peninsula for Okhotsk arriving the 23rd of July.
Leaving his seconds-in-command in charge Bering set off six days later on horseback to make his report to the Tsarina, another 4,500-mile journey across Russia to St. Petersburg. He reached the capital March 1, 1730 and delivered the report of his voyage to Tsarina Catherine I and her ministers.  His account of the voyage and particularly his idea that no land lay close to the east was greeted with widespread disbelief and almost immediately plans were begun for a second voyage, this time one that would go east instead of north.
By the time Bering had made his voyage into the Chukchi Sea, Russians were well established along the Siberian Coast. In the 150 years since Timofeief had crossed the Urals, Russians had worked their way eastward establishing settlements and government as they went. Iakutsk was established as the administrative center of Siberia in 1632 and the seacoast town of Okhotsk, just 25 years later in 1647 and the population of Russians grew with the expansion. By the time Bering's men passed through Iakutsk in 1727, the town held 300 houses. Okhotsk on Bering's first trip had eleven houses but by 1738 then were 19 households and 70 to 85 Russians living there. Government bureaucracies had been established and the Natives of the area at least partially subdued. Natives continued to harass the Russians well into the 18th Century, affecting in time even the sea otter trade to come from Alaska.  During a rebellion by Natives in 1831 the very ostrog where Bering had begun his first voyage was destroyed in an attack.

The more prominent settlements at Okhotsk and Kamchatka had their port directors and tax collectors. The economy was largely supported by fur trading, and the most sought-after of those was the Siberian sable. Government hunters and traders exacted tribute from the Natives in the form of furs.  This iasak more than anything caused much of the resistance by local Natives. These furs, along with the ones collected by private merchants were shipped westward, either to trade with the Chinese at Kiakhta or farther yet, to the cities east of the Ural Mountains.  
While Bering was in Siberia preparing his ship and sailing the eastern sea, a Cossack chief named Afanasii Shestakov, had been in St. Petersburg petitioning the government to give him the men and equipment to subdue the Natives of Eastern Siberia and to explore to the east finding new lands and subjugating Natives there in the same manner. Granted permission, Shestakov departed the capital in June 1727, arriving in Okhotsk late in the summer of 1729. And there in the Okhotsk roadstead sat the Gabriel. Shestakov immediately appropriated Bering's ship to his own purpose. Establishing his cousin, the nobleman Ivan Shestakov as commander, he sent the Gabriel up the coast. Aiding the noble Shestakov were an assistant navigator named Ivan Fedorov and a geodesist who had been brought with the original contingent from St. Petersburg. This mapmaker and surveyor, Mikhail Gvozdev wrote the only journal ever found of the first Russian sighting of North America. Attempting to follow the Siberian Coast, the ship's crew found land to their east somewhere between 65 degrees and 66 degrees north latitude and close to the Chukchi Peninsula. Though where, remains a question. A latitude of 65 degrees lies through Fairbanks and the eastern tip of the Seward Peninsula. The Arctic Circle is at 66 degrees 33 minutes.What they saw convinced them they weren't looking at an island, but a large continent inhabited by a large population. Geodesist Gvozdev described the voyage, writing, "We sailed for five days with that land to our left without coming to the end of it, nor could we see the end and we turned back." Gvozdev even reported an Eskimo who paddled along with them for a while and through a rudimentary sign language and the few of his words the Kamchadal members of the Gabriel's crew could understand, he described the people and animals on that a land. Russians had discovered the coast of North America but as is so often the case in written history, the guy who shouts the loudest is the one who receives the credit. The one person the Garbriel's crew was missing was a publicist and news of the discovery passed very slowly.  The report Gvozdev wrote never reached official eyes until after Bering's second voyage when Spanberg, came across it while going through papers from the Gabriel. As far as anyone in St. Petersburg knew, the Eastern Sea was still a mystery and exploration toward discovery remained the prime goal.
At the same time, Bering along with Chirikov and Spanberg made proposals to the government for a new expedition, one that would attempt new discoveries, rather than simply confirm the separation of the two continents. For their previous exploration and to encourage the upcoming one, Bering was promoted to Captain-Commander, the second highest rank in the Russian Navy and Chirikov and Spanberg were named captains. The first imperial command to form the expedition was issued in April 1732. This proclamation ordered not one, but three separate voyages. One expedition was to sail eastward in search of new lands. The second would venture south in an attempt to establish the relationship between Kamchatka and Japan. A third was ordered north to find the northern passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, a quest attempted by many of the exploring nations and one that would continue into the 20th Century.
Spanberg departed St. Petersburg in February 1733 ahead of the main expedition contingent taking with him the heaviest equipment that was going to be needed for building more ships. Bering followed in April, reaching Tobolsk in January 1734 and then traveling by way of Irkutsk to Iakutsk in early Fall. There he established headquarters directing the transportation of provisions to Okhotsk where Spanberg already had his shipbuilding operations under way. Chirikov, following with more supplies, didn't reach Iakutsk until 1735 and was sent immediately on to Okhotsk.
While Bering's supply caravans laboriously crossed the miles toward the east coast, those already living along the coast were guessing at what fortunes might lay somewhere out in that sea waiting for someone to come along and gather them. Far from the comforts of European society, the restless frontiersmen always looked for new places to go, new riches to accumulate. Already officials in Kamchatka looked to the east, not so much for the joy of exploration, but for the riches they knew were hidden out there somewhere in the Eastern Ocean. In 1733 the Okhotsk port director sent one of his underlings, a Sergeant Emel'ian Basov to Moscow and St. Petersburg with a large consignment of Siberian furs including some otter pelts they had gathered along the Siberian shore. Basov met a Moscow merchant named Andri Serebrennikof and offered him a partnership in the merchant group he and the port director had formed in Okhotsk. In return, Serebrennikof showed Basov the ways of the capital and the court and with this tutelage, the Siberian sergeant eventually presented his gift to the Empress Anne I who had succeeded Catherine after the latter's death in 1727. Basov asked Anne for private official sanction for himself and his partners to hunt the Eastern Sea for sea otters and in order to gain the royal favor and permission, held out the promise of discovering new lands for the glory and domain of Russia. 
Anne and her advisors were disposed toward such commercial explorations. They cost the royal treasury nothing, possibly would add lands to Russia and in the long run, taxes on the proceeds and tribute exacted from any indigenous peoples would add to the government coffers. At the same time the government was planning and outfitting the second Kamchatka Expedition, a highly expensive proposition. After some time spent in consideration, Basov was given his permission and sent back to the Eastern Coast. Basov followed Bering and his expedition across Russia but with dreams of fortune rather than discovery in mind. 
Bering directed the disposition of his supplies from Iakutsk until the summer of 1737 when he traveled on to Okhotsk. By the time he arrived, Spanberg had almost completed the construction of two vessels for his exploration toward Japan. Bering ordered his shipwrights to begin building two packet boats similar to the Gabriel for his expedition to the east. Spanberg's Archangel Michael and Hope were finished at the end of the summer. Spanberg planned to set sail as early as possible in the spring, but ice conditions that year prevented him from leaving until the middle of June in 1738.  He sailed first for Kamchatka where he quickly built winter quarters against his return then sailed south. He reached only 46 degrees in latitude before autumn caught up with him and he had to return. The next spring proved a little better for sailing and he was able to leave in late May.  
Spanberg's voyage and a second he undertook to confirm the findings of the first consumed the bulk of the supplies that had been shipped overland for all of the explorations. The lack of equipment slowed Bering's project even further and refilling his stocks took the better part of two years. In the meantime carpenters completed the two packet boats, the St. Peter and St. Paul, for the voyage to America, along with two other boats that would be used to transport materials from Okhotsk to Kamchatka. In the fall of 1739 Bering sent one of his navigators with a ship left from Spanberg's voyage around the southern tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula with the idea of finding a suitable harbor where winter quarters could be built and the ships moored safely against winter storms. 
This voyage with supplies gained them almost 800 miles on their planned exploration, the distance across the Sea of Okhotsk. The ships these men sailed, seldom made as much as four knots, at best five miles an hour. With perfect wind in both direction and speed, they might make 800 miles in nine days. And, in these waters with the climate what it was, no wind ever was perfect, nor were sea conditions much to their liking.
 They chose the Bay of Avacha near the southern end of the peninsula and work began on storehouses and dwellings. The next spring Bering planned to take the rest of his ships, men and supplies around Kamchatka to the harbor but departure was delayed until the 4th of September.  The voyage that under perfect conditions might have taken them ten days, took thirty-two. Passing through the strait between the peninsula and the first Kurile Island Bering in the St. Peter took a favorable wind from the stern, but the tidal current passing through the strait slowed them to a standstill and at one point for more than an hour they could see they were making no headway whatsoever. Waves beat over the ship's stern and a boat being towed on 240 feet of line smashed repeatedly against the ship. Soundings showed 60 to 72 feet of water beneath the keel of the ship, but in the troughs of the waves, that was cut to a mere 18. Bering had hit the tide exactly wrong. For more than an hour he battled the seas under a wind so strong he could only use one foresail and a main topsail, not even a quarter of what the ship normally displayed. After more than two hours of this, the tide abated and the St. Peter gradually slid through the strait into open water. Chirikov following only an hour and a half later ran into no such problem, sailing through the strait on a slack or slightly ebbing tide.  This was September 26, already 22 days under way in the Sea of Okhotsk. The next day Bering arrived at the mouth of the Bay of Avacha but a thick fog prevented the ships from entering. Turning back to sea, they encountered a storm that further prevented their fetching the bay and it wasn't until the 6th of October that conditions allowed them to sail into the bay and their winter anchorage. Fortunately for Bering and his expedition, he had left two of his supply boats in the mouth of the Bolshaia River on the western side of Kamchatka. They quite possibly would have been lost in the passing of the Kurile Strait. Now in winter quarters, Bering arranged relays of dog teams to bring his supplies across the peninsula but this didn't work out. Two scientists had joined the expedition at Okhotsk the previous spring. These were Delisle de la Croyere, who would sail with Chirikov and Georg Steller, a German adjunct professor with the Academy of Science, who joined Bering. The two had followed the expedition as far as the Bolshaia River and remained there for the winter making studies of Kamchatka's plants and animals. The next spring when travel conditions improved they crossed the peninsula and joined Bering at the harbor on the eastern shore. 
Bering named his harbor Petropavlovsk after his two ships and their sainted namesakes and here he began making his plans for the voyage of discovery in the spring. Planning for this trip was made from two maps published previously, one Portuguese and one Dutch and both of which turned out to be erroneous. Both showed some body of land somewhere between 44 and 46 degrees north latitude some 12 to 15 degrees north and east of Japan.  Since the Aleutians lie north of 50 degrees and the nearest land to the east at that latitude is about 70 degrees of longitude away, it's difficult to imagine what formed the basis for those charts. This was in the days before navigators had any way of fixing accurate longitude positions. Nevertheless, Bering, Chirikov and their officers in conference decided this land must be where they were going.  They guessed land must extend north from those sightings and planned to sail southeast to the latitude of 46 degrees (about the latitude of the Washington-Oregon border), then if they found nothing, to sail to the north and northeast.  If they did make a landfall  on the continent, they planned to follow the coast to 66 degrees north (about the latitude of the Arctic Circle. Originally Bering planned to spend the next winter somewhere along the coast of the new land.  
As spring came across the Kamchatka Peninsula, work began to load the two ships for their voyage. Provisioning went slowly. Little had come across from Boloshia over the winter and problems with officials there and an uprising by local Natives further hindered the operation. Eventually one boat made the trip around the southern nos or point to Avacha and arrived in time to gather supplies to complement those already aboard. Bering had planned to leave sometime in May but one problem on top of another delayed the departure until early June. May 29 the two ships weighed anchor at Petropavlovsk and anchored in the roadstead at the mouth of the bay to wait favorable winds. From the start this was not to be a comfortable voyage at least in a modern context. The vessels were small and slow, provisions were marginal and many of the officers and men limited in their experience at sea.  The St. Peter and St. Paul were built along the lines of the Baltic packet boats, much like the Gabriel had been. Almost identical, they were 80 feet long 22 feet on the beam and drew 9 and a half feet. (I've driven tour boats bigger than that.)  They could carry about 220,000 pounds. This compares roughly in size with any of a number of tour boats around the country that take sightseers on day trips to various waterside attractions, boats whose operators wouldn't consider for offshore voyages. Into these small spaces were crammed 76 men on each vessel, plus all the food and equipment they'd need for a voyage of uncertain duration, perhaps two years or more. Ahead lay unexplored waters, uncertain land masses, all across that water at the end of the world visible from Kodiak. This was not the luxury cruise in the brochure.
The morning of June 4, 1740, conditions turned favorable for the explorers and they sailed out of Avacha Bay on their journey to the new lands. The sluggish packet boats sailed slowly even under favorable conditions, and after eight days they'd progressed only 155 miles to the southeast.  By June 12 they began to encounter signs of land nearby.  Becalmed they saw varieties of sea plants associated with land and several species of gulls, terns and even ducks, all of which were known to inhabit inshore areas. And, here, at least according to Georg Steller, the expedition began to disintegrate. Despite indications all of this evidence of land had come from south of them, the officers of the ships decided to turn north a change about which Steller complained. 
The German scientist in his journals wrote that he saw evidence of land to the south of the ships and criticized the officers who would not listen to him ostensibly because he was not a seaman. Since Steller wrote the most about the voyage and was published most widely, his version seems to stand out among historians. Yet, using ship's log and estimated positions, at this time, the ships already had sailed past the near islands and at their reported position of 46 degrees 47 minutes north latitude were as far as 300 miles south of the western Aleutians. No land lay south of them until somewhere in the tropics.  
The ships pushed north for eight days until a storm overtook them and in fighting the seas and then losing visibility in the drizzle and fog that followed they lost contact. June 20. No more was seen of Chirikov and the St. Paul for the remainder of the voyage. Bering and the St. Peter's crew searched in vain for the missing ship for three days, sailing circles between 50 and 51 degrees, then continued his search to the southeast sailing as far as 45 degrees north before abandoning. Chirikov, for his part, had pressed on with the exploration, turning east on the 48th parallel (about the latitude of Seattle) and sailing in that direction for several days.  Five days later Bering followed the same course only he was south of the 45th parallel and the two never saw each other again. Over the next three weeks Bering  gradually steered more toward the north while Chirikov continued eastward until July 15 when he sighted land south of 56 degrees north latitude and 60 degrees of longitude east of Avacha (This would have put him near Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska).  Though other interpretations of Chirikov's position differ with his own log, the generally accepted place where Chirikov landed was at Cape Addington on Noyes Island just off prince of Wales Island in southeastern Alaska.  Among other things Chirikov discerned was that he had made his landfall just 13 degrees of latitude north of the known explorations by the Spanish along the pacific coast of North America. Chirikov had connected previous explorations with his own save for about 780 miles of coastline.
While Chirikov sailed east, Bering in the St. Peter had gradually turned more toward the north, or rather, Bering's officers did. In Steller's complaints about the voyage he mentioned a conspiracy in which the Russian officers of the ship entered a conspiracy to tell the captain-commander as little as possible and to run the ship the way they wanted. This was abetted by Bering's proclivity to remain in his cabin for long periods of time. Already, these officers had decided they would begin the return voyage for Petropavlovsk if they didn't sight land by July 20 because more than half of their fresh water supply had been consumed. For many days as they sailed east and then northeast and finally north, Steller noted in his journals constant indications that they were following land. Then, July 16, just a day after Chirikov reached Noyes Island, the lookouts on the St. Peter hailed land in the distance. Slight and variable winds prevented a speedy landfall and it wasn't until July 18 the ship had approached close enough for the sailors to make out trees and forests along a coastal flatland at the base of a steep mountain range. Through two more days of tacking against contrary winds, the ship gradually made way toward and around the cape they named St. Elias for the saint whose feast day it was. Then Monday, July 20, they came to anchor on the west side of Kayak Island. 
The island, separated from mainland Alaska by only a couple of miles, stretches out into the northern Gulf of Alaska in a northeast-southwest line at just about the center of what's now known as the north Gulf of Alaska Coast.  After four days of jogging and tacking, the St. Peter's crew dropped the anchor at about the center of the 19-mile-long island on the northwest side, still a favorite hiding spot for vessels caught in the  storms that howl across the gulf from the southeast.  
Since more than half the ship's fresh water supply had been used, that was the first order of business and Bering ordered the smaller of the ship's two yawls manned and sent ashore with barrels to find a suitable supply. The second and larger yawl, he placed under the command of the ship's master Khitrov to explore the country. Steller, who was under orders to gather as much information about the new country as he could, particularly its minerals, was to be left behind. This he protested loudly, asking "We have come to America only to take American water to Asia."
Bering relented and allowed Steller to go ashore on Kayak Island with the water gatherers while the more important task of exploration was carried out by seamen. Bering allowed Steller all of six hours on shore and Steller applied himself as best he could. He noted what animals and birds crossed his path, gathered and described new plants as he wandered the beach and nearby woods. Steller stumbled across a place where Natives had eaten their lunch that day and apparently vacated at the sight of the intruders. Later he found an underground cellar where food and utensils had been stored. The water bearers and Khitrov also found indications of human occupation but none of them actually saw a Native. The only animated sign of the population they saw was a plume of smoke rising from a hilltop some miles distant.  The Natives had taken every opportunity to avoid these intruders from the sea.
Chirikov's men to the south didn't fare nearly as well. Faced with a steep cliff along the shore he'd found, Chirikov had to anchor at some distance. Also in need of fresh water, he sent a longboat and ten men to shore furnished with provisions for several days. They rowed around a point of land and though they sounded the required signals with their canons for several days, they were never seen again.  When the first party failed to return, Chirikov sent another boat July 21, this time with carpenters aboard in case any repairs were needed to the first one. This boat, too disappeared around the point. All this time they could see a smoke column rising continually from shore. The next day two boats approached the St. Paul and all hands rose to the deck to greet their returning comrades. These boats, however turned out to be American Natives and seeing all the men on deck, immediately turned and paddled back toward shore. Chirikov and his crew began to lose hope they would ever see their comrades again. A storm blew up and he had to raise anchor and depart the dangerous lee shore. He sailed circles offshore  for a couple of days and when the weather turned mild he sailed close to land again. But still, he saw no sign of his missing men and boats. At last,  a council with the rest of his officers decided unanimously to begin the return voyage to Petropavlovsk and the St. Paul set sail to the west July 27.  Chirikov had landed along a coast populated by quite a different group of Natives than inhabited Kayak Island and the nearby mainland. Over the next century the Southeastern Alaska Tlingit would continue to harass and battle Russians as they pushed farther and farther into the Natives' territory.  
Bering stayed at his anchorage only a day. After filling only half his empty water casks and leaving gifts for the Natives in the cache Steller had found, Bering and his officers decided to set sail and attempt to go north to 65 degrees if they could. The St. Peter weighed anchor July 21 and the crew almost immediately found they could not sail north. Following the coast, at a distance they found themselves bending more and more to the southwest and then to the south as this was the general bend of the land along the gulf coast. Ten days later in the dark after midnight and after being out of sight of land for several days, the lookout took a sounding and shouted four fathoms. Shallow water, in the open ocean and nothing visible in the dark, land was close. Immediately the ship was ordered about and upon reaching a depth of eighteen to twenty fathoms, the crew dropped the anchor. When daylight broke they found themselves only two miles from a large island in the middle of an otherwise endless ocean.  Steller begged to go ashore, but Bering turned away from him and that evening, August 2, sails again were set and the ship headed again to the west.  The island they'd almost hit was Chirikof, later named by George Vancouver, which lies some 70 miles southwest Kodiak.
By this time in the voyage, they had been at sea for almost 60 days. Some of the men, including Bering, had never left the cramped quarters of the 70-foot ship, 70 men jammed into a vessel the size of a tractor-trailer, and the effects of the voyage and its deprivations were beginning to tell on the men.  Scurvy, the nemesis disease of all long voyages at the time, broke out with meaning. Almost daily new cases debilitated men, gradually whittling the crew down to a bare few who could function. Even those still working were suspect and an overview of the ship's course from this point on makes it look like a crazy man was driving. The ship wandered back and forth, gradually making way to the west.  Around noon on August 3, the mainland appeared about 14 miles from the ship in the form of high snow-covered mountains. Then, two days later while sailing south, the crew spotted a group of several high wooded islands actually surrounding the ship.  Again in low visibility they had blundered into dangerous waters. For the next five days the ship tacked back and forth among the islands, always finding land blocking its passage, while outside the wind blowing mostly east or southeast could have propelled them at their normal average of about 36 miles a day, some 180 miles on their way toward Avacha.  Instead they sailed the bay among the Semidi Islands almost due west of Chirikof. Steller as he could noted all the wildlife he saw and wherever he went he found and made reports of the abundant populations of sea otters, a report that would have the greatest effect on the future of the country. 
Finally, August 9, the ship sailed away from these islands and once more headed west in front of a southeast wind. Then, August 12 a council of officers decided they'd done enough exploring and with the summer waning on them, it was time to head directly for Avacha. Almost immediately a contrary wind hit the ship and the explorers spent the next five days tacking to the north, then to the south to make way against the steady westerly. Gradually they worked their way to the west and south, but covering only about a hundred miles toward their goal in the next 18 days.  On August 27 a council among the officers decided to turn north toward land to replenish their water supply. Twenty casks had been left empty at Kayak Island and now that mistake was telling on supply. They didn't know how long it was going to take them to return to Avacha and water again was getting low. They decided to find a supply somewhere on the land to the north. The westerly they had been fighting aided their course toward land and two days later they approached five islands they could count with the mainland visible some 12 miles in the distance. They sailed the St. Peter in among the islands and anchored. This time Steller was invited to go ashore with the first of the boats where almost immediately a controversy developed. Steller in his journal says he set about finding a suitable water source, discovering in the process several fresh-water springs.  The ship's officer, however, decided to take water from a pond near the shore, which Steller was sure exchanged water with the sea during the tides.  It was brackish, slightly salty, but no argument from the scientist would convince the sailors and they filled their casks from the pond. After his to-do over the water, Steller went about his business of gathering plants and making his observations.  Among other things, Steller gathered herbs he hoped would restore the health of men debilitated by scurvy. According to his journal, Steller had found the ship's medicine chest notably devoid of anything that would help with the problems of scurvy and asthma so common on long voyages. Some of the sick men were brought ashore to rest on land away from the ship for a while and Steller attended to these, giving them Lapatham which he said after eating for three days firmed up the teeth of most of the seamen who used it. But, here on the shore, the first member of the crew died almost immediately after reaching land and was buried there. In his honor the island was named Shumagin.  Later this island was given the name Nagai, but the entire group became known as the Shumagin Islands. 
Steller and the others were able to spend two days on shore, but at the end of the second, all were called back to the ship because of an approaching storm. Steller had to wade through breakers running before the storm in order to sail the boat back to the ship. The Master, Khitrov, who had gone ashore to search for the fire they'd seen from the ship, didn't fare as well. When they attempted to launch the smaller yawl into the waves it capsized and was thrown with all hands on board back onto the beach.  Here they remained trapped away from the ship while the storm blew for more than two days. At times Bering was afraid he would have to abandon the men on the beach and sail away in order to save the ship, but on the morning of the third day, the weather cleared and he sent a boat ashore to rescue them.  the small yawl was damaged beyond repair and had to be left on the beach.
The next day they attempted to put to sea, but again a contrary westerly pushed them back and they came to anchor near a little bay on the northwest side of Bird Island. Not long after they'd set the anchor, two boats put out from shore and approached the ship and here Bering, Steller and the rest of their crew had their first sight and first contact with American Natives. One of the Americans approached the ship and through various signs indicated there was food and water to be had on shore, at least that was the interpretation by the crew. Steller, Lt. Waxell, an interpreter from Kamchatka and nine sailors and soldiers went to shore, taking firearms and sabers along with gifts for the Natives. But, with the westerly storm brewing the water proved too turbulent, the shore too rocky to make a landing. Instead, the interpreter and two others undressed and waded to shore while the rest remained bobbing in the boat. the Aleuts welcomed the Russians, particularly the Native interpreter whom Steller wrote resembled them both in appearance and dress. However, as the wind rose, those in the boats entreated the three on shore to come back before the boat was dashed to pieces on rocks. At this point the Aleuts attempted to restrain the visitors physically and a tussle ensued. Some of them grabbed the line to the boat as if to haul it to shore not realizing, according to Steller, the danger this presented. Deciding no time could be lost, Waxell ordered three men in the boat to fire their guns over the heads of the Natives.  At the reports, the Aleuts looked stunned and fell to the ground, dropping everything. The three men on the beach ran for the water and waded out to the boat.  The men then rowed quickly and regained the ship just in time for a storm to blow up from the south.  throughout a rainy night the St. Peter's crew observed the people around their fire on the beach.  The next day the wind changed to the southwest buffeting the little ship and Bering weighed anchor to move around to the north side of the island into shelter.  Again a group of Americans approached the ship and through signing Steller indicated he would like one of their hats, conical wooden hats with a visor over the eyes. The Natives offered two of these and in return the crew gave them an old iron kettle, some sewing needles and thread.  This seemed to appease the Aleuts and they paddled back for shore. The next day with winds southwest by south, favorable for their return to Avacha, the St. Peter once again set sail for the west amid cries of farewell from the beach, at least that's how the crew interpreted the shouts and waves.
By this time of year, the St. Peter was sailing into the worst of the weather the Gulf of Alaska and the waters of the Aleutians could offer.  Storms around the autumnal equinox seem to march across the waters at three day intervals blasting everything in their way. As the ship gradually moved to the west the men encountered violent storm after violent storm, interspersed here an there with a day of calm. Scurvy continued to run rampant through the crew until more than half including the captain were debilitated by the disease. As fewer and fewer men were available to work the ship, even the healthy ones eventually started dropping from exhaustion. At times the officers considered finding a suitable anchorage to spend the winter in America, but always they continued to the west, always figuring they were closer to Avacha than they were. By September 23 after sailing for 14 days in open water they saw land in front of them, many islands and high mountains in the background. This is believed to be Great Sitkin Island in the Andereanof Islands about two thirds of the way along the Aleutians from the east.    Then a storm the likes of which none of the experienced sailors aboard had ever seen before blew them to the south. The storm howled for 17 days and they lost almost two hundred miles before it finally abated. By October 12 when the storm finally let up, they found themselves at 48 degrees North. Men were dying almost daily and others had to be led by the hand to the helm where they held on until they dropped of exhaustion. The ship couldn't carry its full complement of sail because should a storm arise there weren't enough healthy men to take in the sails.
Chirikov on his westerly voyage encountered no less. Running out of fresh water and with his longboats gone having no way to get more, the men were reduced to distilling sea water. But his voyage from southeastern Alaska to Avacha was a more direct one and while Bering was attempting to avoid land south of the Aleutians, Chirikov and his men sailed into Petropavlovsk October 8.  From the crew of 70 who'd departed, only 49 remained, most of the dead victims of scurvy, a disease that even debilitated the captain who lay sick for the last 18 days of the voyage.
October 8, Bering and his men had still a long way to go. Almost daily men were dying aboard the ship and the remaining healthy ones worked themselves to exhaustion. At one point only four men were deemed healthy enough to man the lines of the sails and all of this when healthy men were needed to battle the incessant storms. Between the 25th and the 28th of October they sailed through the Aleutians into the Bering Sea, passing Attu and the Near Islands on their port side and Buldir Island and the Rat Islands on their starboard and here they began to make the mistakes that illness and exhaustion can breed.  First, they thought the islands they saw October 30 were the first of the Kuriles, those directly off the southern tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula. Secondly, though they were very near the latitude of Avacha at 51 degrees north, the officers decided to sail to 56 north a course that took them well out of their way and eventually led to disaster. By the end of October, Steller noted that men were dying at a much more rapid rate, "quickly and numerously." Even with the sick men to care for and the growing depression aboard ship, Steller continued to make his notes and observations recording on every one of these approaches to land he saw large populations of sea otters.
They sailed on and in the early days of November turned to the west. The skies had been so overcast for so many days they'd been unable to take sights with their rudimentary instruments for fixing their positions and didn't know at what latitude they turned.  But the winds favored a western course and they knew the coast of Kamchatka was somewhere in that direction. Then, in the morning of November 5, officers ordered sail shortened to prevent the ship from running aground, an order given so matter-of-factly it was barely noticed. By nine o'clock land was sighted, raising the hopes of everyone on board. Even those half dead from disease crawled to the deck to observe their deliverance. With sketches of the Kamchatka coast in hand, the officers tried to convince themselves they had indeed found their destination. However, the sun showed later in the morning and a noon sight fixed their position somewhere between 55 and 56 degrees north, at least 180 miles north of Avacha and Petropavlovsk.
That same evening crewmen discovered the shrouds supporting the masts all along the starboard side had split. Those on the port side couldn't be far behind. They could only carry minimal sails from then on for fear the masts would be carried overboard. In council they decided to approach this land many still took to be Kamchatka.
They sailed toward the land and on approach to a small bay on the northeast side struck bottom hard twice, though a lead line had indicated they had five fathoms of water beneath the hull. A swell carried them over a reef into a protected bay. As luck would have it even though the ship hit bottom they had crossed the only safe spot in the reef. A few feet either way and higher rocks would have demolished the ship. And here the ship was to stay. They had reached what later would be called Bering Island, one of the two Commander Islands about 150 miles off the coast of Kamchatka and 300 miles northeast of Petropavlovsk. And here they would stay the winter.

Rim of Red Water CH 3, First pelts delivered to the Russian mainland

I made this rudimentary map to give an approximate location of places mentioned
               in the narrative. I will be adding places over time. The Aleutians would be diagonally
               through the lower right-hand corner. For perspective the distance between Kamchatka
               and St. Petersburg on the Baltic sea is 4,138 air miles. Travel over land a lot longer.

By Tim Jones
Copyright © 2019 Tim Jones
We were cruising the shoreline and glassing the upper slopes for mountain goats. We spotted something in the water and went over to investigate. What we found was a dead sea otter pup floating there. We looked at it and left it, keeping it being illegal. Three days later while anchored in a nearby bay with the hunters high up on the mountain, I saw what I thought was an otter swim past the boat at some distance. In the dimming early winter light the motion was unmistakable but the shape was wrong. In time the motion stopped and the dark shape separated into two, one remaining floating, the other swimming and diving.  The otter dove several times, floated on the surface in between dives obviously eating and then collected the floating object. It swam out of the bay but this time closer to the boat. It was an adult otter swimming on her back with a dead pup on her belly and I couldn't help thinking it was the same pup we'd seen three days earlier. I wondered how long she'd keep it; when does she give up; how long had she kept it already?— An Alaska Hunting guide.

A lot of barroom talk in Alaska even today focuses around the word "tough." People still challenge the elements living in rugged climates, sail the same treacherous oceans, cross seemingly endless stretches of wilderness and in those situations often are called upon to use the physical strength, the mental clarity in a tight situation that are included within the perception of "tough." These early Russians defined the word.
Here they were on an island in the middle of an unknown sea with the Arctic winter rapidly approaching. They didn't really know where they were, more than half their number including their commander were dead or dying from scurvy, they had been cramped in the confines of a small ship for more than five months, they had only rudimentary tools and minimum clothing and now they had to prepare to spend the winter in an unknown land in the northern extremity of the globe, the end of the earth they claim to see in Kodiak.  If ever a situation called for "tough" from within the individual, those survivors of the St. Peter were well into it.
Georg Steller was the first to go ashore, along with a Cossack who had been assigned to aid him in his work. They set about exploring a short section of beach, building shelter and finding food sources. Though at the time ship's officers were attempting to convince the crew this was indeed Kamchatka, what Steller was finding left those men disquieted. As they approached shore in the ship's boat, four sea otters swam out to meet them, curious about this new element in their environment. Steller quickly understood these animals had never been hunted. Other animals also showed no fear toward the humans and Steller concluded they were on an uninhabited shore that had seen few or no humans throughout history. In time through exploration, the still healthy Russians realized they had landed on an island and one unknown to those on shore at Kamchatka.  
Through November 1740, the crew moved to shore little by little, hunting for food and building shelters against the winter. The officers planned to beach the St. Peter to protect it against the winter storms, but in late November a storm took care of that for them. Unfortunately, the storm drove the ship so far up on shore, they would have no possibility of floating it again in the spring to continue their voyage.
Bucking against the rough seas, the ship tore its anchor line and was thrown onto the beach not far from where the crewmen were sleeping in their dugouts. The grounding collapsed many of the boards in the hull, allowing sea and sand through the holes to a depth of about nine feet, with water rushing in and out with the tides. This destroyed many of the stores the men had counted on for winter food and made the ship unusable for their voyage in the spring to Kamchatka.
Among the first brought ashore were the sick from their bunks aboard the ship. Many of these died quickly in the open air, on deck waiting for transport, in the boats on the way to shore and more yet on the beach. Having learned a lesson from this, the bearers were more careful when Bering, too ill to move, was taken ashore. He was wrapped carefully in blankets, transported in a litter and placed immediately in a tent and thus he survived at least the trip to the beach. But, his condition continued to deteriorate and he died December 8, to be buried on the island named in his honor.  
If in the storm, the sea took away much of their winter supply by grounding the ship, the sea also provided for these shipwrecked Russians with a plentiful array of marine mammals. At first they lived on sea otter until they discovered others. They found the meat, distasteful, though and could eat it only in small bites. Of all the people involved with sea otters over the years. Georg Steller was the only one at least published, who liked to eat sea otter, at least that's what he wrote in his journals. Other accounts of the voyage credit Steller with a positive attitude and he may have said this just to keep the troops happy with their meager fare. Steller wrote:, "The meat is rather good to eat and tasty, but the females are much tenderer and tastier, and they are against the course of nature most fat and delicious shortly before, during and after giving birth. The nursing otters ...  can be compared at all times with a nursing lamb because of their tenderness, both roasted and boiled."

Though faced with a serious survival situation Steller didn't ignore his original orders and he made observations of the animals he encountered, and with otters so easily approachable on the island, he wrote a good deal about them. Steller observed the animals as true otters, rather than beavers as many had done before him. He hypothesized that the animals originated in North America because while they were found along the southern Kamchatka Coast, the land closest to the Aleutians Islands and North America, they were not found farther north where a large body of water had to be crossed.  He also noticed large numbers of them floated in with the sea ice when the winds blew it from the direction of the American Continent. He described them as usually five feet long and about three feet in circumference and the largest weighing 70 to 80 pounds. Steller found them comical in their actions. He also said he saw them lying together as families observing males with females, half grown young and nursing young all in a group. This has not been borne out in more recent research which shows the males and females actually seem to inhabit different territories except when mating.  
Steller noticed, too, the strong connection between mother and pup, even after separation. "Not even the most loving human mother engages in the same kind of playing with her children, and they love their children in such a way that they expose themselves to the obvious danger of death. When the young are taken from them, they cry aloud like a little child and grieve in such a way... that within ten to fourteen days they dry up like a skeleton, become sick and weak and do not want to leave the land."
With time on his hands Steller watched the otters at length, though often times in the act of stalking them for food. He saw them throwing their young in the water and catching them, and when fleeing taking the nursing young in their mouths and running for the water.  He saw them cornered by the men with clubs and noted they blew and hissed like cats.
And, the quality of sea otter fur didn't escape the scientist. "The skin lies loose on the flesh as in dogs and shakes everywhere while the animal is running. It is so far superior in length, beauty, blackness and gloss of hair to the river otters' pelts that these can scarcely be compared with it."  Even in their worst condition and not knowing if they would ever see civilization again, the remaining crew of the St. Peter killed almost 900 otters and saved the pelts for sale on their return to Kamchatka. 
Other animals also provided sustenance for the men on the beach. In late fall and once again in the spring, a whale washed up on the beach and these two were butchered and eaten. Another animal was also to be important in the coming sea otter fur trade and was named after Steller, the man who made the first naturalist's description of it, at least in these northern waters. 
Forty-five men survived the winter on Bering Island but by spring many of those were weakened. When attention had to be turned from hunting to building some sort of vessel to carry them the rest of the way to Kamchatka, that left fewer for hunting to keep the rest fed and healthy. That was when the crew turned to the Steller sea cow so plentiful in the shallow waters around the islands.  Related to the manatee observed by the Spanish in Florida, the sea cow was a docile animal, feeding on the seaweed beds in the shallow estuaries of Bering Island. They were easily approachable, but their tough hides proved too much for the first attempts at capturing them. These animals were up to 33 feet long and weighed as much as 22,000 pounds. Unafraid of the hunters they even allowed humans to rub their backs. After several attempts to capture one with hooks, the Russians finally approached them using harpoons in a method similar to whaling. In late June 1741 they finally managed to kill one by harpooning, then stabbing it with long knives and pulling it up on shore. To their surprise they found a meat supply much to their liking. Steller wrote the fat was not oily or flabby and excelled even beef fat. He likened the meat of young animals to that of veal and wrote that meat from adults was indistinguishable from beef. Even more to their liking, they found the meat had incredible keeping abilities. Sea cow meat exposed to summer heat for more than two weeks didn't turn rancid. Steller also noticed an improvement in the health of all of the crew members who ate it. They not only had a ready supply of meat while they built the new vessel, but also knew what they would take with them for food on the voyage.  
Shipbuilding progressed in earnest. From the remains of the St. Peter, a Lt. Waxell directed the building of a new one, 36 feet at the keel, and 42 feet from stem to stern, about the size of a large Winnebago. Everyone stayed busy, in addition to the ship, they built a storehouse on the island for the equipment they had to leave behind. Others tested the bottom of the bay for the best way out. A few actually wanted to spend another winter on the island gathering otter pelts, but they were shamed out of it. Finally, August 9, 1742, they launched ship into the sea. Three days later they had the mast stepped and supporting shrouds attached, shrouds they'd had to remanufacture from the decaying ropes of the St. Peter. The men began loading water, provisions and personal baggage. This was to include the load of otter furs gathered over the winter. Meanwhile the carpenters began building a boat to be loaded on deck for use in an emergency. On August 13, the stranded Russians left their crude homes on Bering Island for the last time and boarded the ship and the next day they set sail for Kamchatka.
Weather blessed them with a fair wind and calm seas and they made way south by west in the general direction they assumed they would find Avacha and safe harbor at last. But, they were to have one more adventure before deliverance. Toward midnight August 15, a new terror ran through the ship when an inspection of the holds showed the ship was filling with water. Because the ship had been packed so tightly with provisions, they couldn't even find the leak and to make matters worse, their pumps plugged almost immediately with wood chips left by the carpenters during construction. After coming so far they faced sinking out of sight of land. Working in darkness, some of the crew began digging through baggage to find the leak while others dumped water overboard using any kind of container they could find including tea kettles. Others threw whatever they could find overboard to lighten the load, including cannon balls and shot. One of the ship's carpenters had guessed the location of the leak and once the crew cleared baggage out of the way, he found it, by then above the water line. As the load lightened, the ship rose in the water and the carpenter plugged the leak. They raised sail again and two days later fetched the mainland of Kamchatka opposite Cape Kronotski about thirty miles north of their harbor in Avacha Bay. Those thirty miles took them nine more days, much of the time spent rowing in dead calm water sometimes 24 hours without a break until during the night of August 26 they arrived at the mouth of Avacha and the next day dropped their anchor at Petropavlovsk.  
Their joy diminished quickly when they learned everyone had considered them dead and the belongings they'd left behind had been taken by others.  
The next day the crew of the St. Peter met for common prayer to thank the Almighty for their preservation and then went about renewing their lives. Steller almost immediately headed overland to his headquarters at the Bolshaia River while the naval officers planned to continue on to Okhotsk.  Unable to complete the voyage that late in the season, they returned to Petropavlovsk where they spent the winter living off stores left by Chirikov and sailed on to Okhotsk in the spring. delivering in the process more than 600 sea otter pelts from Bering Island.  Chirikov had delivered another 900 and those numbers didn't go unnoticed by the people on shore in Okhotsk.
Although with the news of discovery, the world closed a little tighter around the land at the end of the earth this was the first recorded landing of sea otter pelts from Alaska onto the Russian mainland, setting off the rush for furry gold across the Bering Sea, and in the process the actions that would turn the waters along its shores red with blood.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the superb contribution to my magazine, Tim, I hope it encourages many people to read your entire history, for it is an outstanding telling of an important part of our past!


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Makeup is not for the faint of heart—the makeup guerrilla

“I’m going to relax in a very adult manner.”—Danica Patrick after sweating it out and qualifying half an hour before Andretti

“Asking Congress to come back is like asking a mugger to come back because he forgot your wallet.”—a roundtable participant on Fox of all places

As Republicans go further back in the conception process to define when life actually begins, I am beginning to think the eventual definition will be life begins in the beer I was drinking when I met her.—me again

Hunting is a “critical element for the long-term conservation of wood bison.”—a state department of Fish and Game official explaining why the state would not go along with a federal plan to reintroduce wood bison in Alaska because the agreement did not specifically allow hunting

Each day do something that won’t compute – anon

I can’t belive I still have to protest this shit – a sign carriend by an elderly woman at an Occupy demonstration

Life should be a little nuts or else it’s just a bunch of Thursdays strung together—Kevin Costner as Beau Burroughs in “Rumor has it”

You’re just a wanker whipping up fear —Irish President Michael D. Higgins to a tea party radio announcer

Being president doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are—Michelle Obama

Things sports announcers say

He's not doing things he can't do."

"… there's a fearlessment about him …"

"He's got to have the lead if he's going to win this race."

"Kansas has always had the ability to score with the basketball."

"NFL to put computer chips in balls." Oh, that's gotta hurt.

"Now that you're in the finals you have to run the race that's going to get you on the podium."

"It's very important for both sides that they stay on their feet."

This is why you get to hate sportscasters. Kansas beats Texas for the first time since 1938. So the pundits open their segment with the question "let's talk about what went wrong." Wrong? Kansas WON a football game! That's what went RIGHT!

"I brought out the thermostat to show you how cold it is here." Points to a thermometer reading zero in Minneapolis.

"It's tough to win on the road when you turn the ball over." Oh, really? Like you can do all right if you turn the ball over playing at home?

Cliches so imbedded in sportscasters' minds they can't help themselves: "Minnesota fell from the ranks of the undefeated today." What ranks? They were the only undefeated team left.

A good one: A 5'10" player went up and caught a pass off a defensive back over six feet tall. The quote? "He's got some hops."

Best homonym of the day so far: "It's all tied. Alabama 34, Kentucky 3." Oh, Tide.

"Steve Hooker commentates on his Olympic pole vault gold medal." When "comments" just won't do.

"He's certainly capable of the top ten, maybe even higher than that."

"Atlanta is capable of doing what they're doing."

"Biyombo, one of seven kids from the Republic of Congo." In the NBA? In America? In his whole country?

"You can't come out and be aggressive but you can't come out and be unaggressive."

"They're gonna be in every game they play!"

"First you have to get two strikes on the hitter before you get the strikeout."

"The game ended in the final seconds." You have to wonder when the others ended or are they still going on?

How is a team down by one touchdown before the half "totally demoralized?"

"If they score runs they will win."

"I think the matchup is what it is"

After a play a Houston defender was on his knees, his head on the ground and his hand underneath him appeared to clutch a very sensitive part of the male anatomy. He rolled onto his back and quickly removed his hand. (Remember the old Cosby routine "you cannot touch certain parts of your body?") Finally they helped the guy to the sideline and then the replay was shown. In it the guy clearly took a hard knee between his thighs. As this was being shown, one of the announcers says, "It looks like he hurt his shoulder." The other agrees and then they both talk about how serious a shoulder injury can be. Were we watching the same game?

"Somebody is going to be the quarterback or we're going to see a new quarterback."

"If you're gonna play running back in the SEC you're gonna take hits."

"That was a playmaker making a play."

Best headlines ever

Owners of a Noah's Ark replica file a lawsuit over rain damage

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Alabama governor candidate caught in lesbian sprem donation scandal

Sister hits moose on way to visit sister who hit moose.

Man loses his testicles after attempting to smoke weed through a SCUBA tank

Church Mutual Insurance won't cover Church's flood damage because it's 'an act of God'

Homicide victims rarely talk to police

Meerkat Expert Attacked Monkey Handler Over Love Affair With Llama Keeper

GOP congressman opposes gun control because gay marriage leads to bestiality

Owner of killer bear chokes to death on sex toy

Support for legalizing pot hits all-time high

Give me all your money or my penguin will explode

How zombie worms have sex in whale bones

Crocodile steals zoo worker's lawn mower

Woman shot by oven while trying to cook waffles

Nude beach blowjob jet ski fight leads to wife's death

Woman stabs husband with squirrel for not buying beer Christmas Eve