Story last updated at 1:31 p.m. Thursday, June 6, 2002

Dutch Harbor offers a touch of war history
Nick C. Varney
photo: oped
  Photo by Marjanne Schneider
The streets of Akutan feature boardwalks instead of streets.  
Riding the Tustumena ferry is an even more extraordinary adventure once you get to know its experienced and highly professional crew. Their cordiality and openness was a major highlight of the trip. I was especially impressed because they actually allowed me back on the ship after each stopover.

Even though I hold the trusty Tusty team in the highest esteem, I must, for the sake of future passengerkind, plead with them to rotate, expand or just mercifully euthanize the video collection available in the mini theater. Yeah, I know I chose to sleep too close to it. Yeah, I know movies were not allowed after certain hours. But, after 15 screenings of "Raider's of the Lost Ark" and the pig flick "Babe," I started having dreams about strangling Harrison Ford with his whip and inviting Babe over for a pork-rind fry. Other than the fact that they should have required the fruit-n-granola dude to sleep on the fantail after consuming his bedtime concoctions, I have no complaints.

When we arrived in Dutch Harbor, there was a five and half hour layover, so I decided to amble into the burg of Unalaska. I hadn't gone a quarter of a mile when a minibus, commandeered by the Poop Group, offered a ride. We ended up at The Grand Aleutian Hotel where the gang decided to have breakfast. My budget allowed for a breath mint so I split for The Museum of the Aleutians. It was a fascinating stop and, if you would like to know more about it, take a look at www.aleutians.org. I was especially fascinated by one depiction of ancient hunters taking on whales the size of nuclear subs with nothing more than small kayaks (baidarkas) and harpoons. I figured "No way, those guys must have ended up being towed to Maui during the fall migration." Then, I spotted a notation that they tipped their weapons with aconite. I'm not sure what kind of potent toxin that is, but I wouldn't be surprised if I couldn't get the same results dipping a spear in my dog Howard's drool.

I departed the museum to poke around the myriads of old World War II defensive bunkers and pillboxes dotting the area -- coincidentally, today marks the 60th anniversary of Japan's bombing of the Aleutians -- and spotted The Group loading back onto the bus. They had convinced the congenial driver to drop them off in Unalaska. I figured that I'd better go along in case someone needed bail. Besides, I wanted to make a pilgrimage to the area that boasts the world record, sport-caught, 459-pound halibut. Easy now all you Homer charter homeys, they probably had to use aconite on the beast.

I returned to Dutch a bit before the last hotel shuttle in order to complete some vital shopping. My food supply was so low that I was putting toothpaste on Triscuits. To my surprise, I found many of the prices equal too or less than those in Homer.

Tip: You don't have to pack rat enough groceries and snacks for a round trip. If Slim and Gid had been aware of this, their stateroom probably wouldn't have resembled the inside of a convenience store after a major earthquake. According to confidential sources, walking around in there was like log rolling on pepperoni sticks.

Our send off from Dutch Harbor was spectacular. The fire department was on hand to give the Tusty an impressive farewell salute with water. I'm still not sure if part of that wasn't just because city officials had confirmed that a certain segment of the morning's arrival had round-trip tickets.

On the swing back, the ferry docked at Akutan Island, with its quiet and picturesque village featuring boardwalks instead of streets. Marjanne Schneider discovered a store and got a steal on a $2 pear (they don't let her out much). My highlight was discovering a beautiful huge dog tied next to the dock. It seemed to be excited to see the visitors and was wagging its tail like a wiper blade on meltdown. But, it was muzzled so I asked its master why. "Oh, he's really a friendly pup, but he's half Husky and half wolf. The Husky half will lick you to death but the wolf part sometimes has a tendency to try and finish the meal."

Next: A tour of the engine room and helm. A 75th birthday bash and sundry notes taken on the way home.

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