All posts by Stefan Quinth

Close encounter with an Elephant

Many people ask me if I’ve ever been scared, if I’ve every experienced something frightening in the wild. Sure – sometimes situations occur that can be a little…disconcerting.

We once had a bull elephant that every evening, right at sunset, crossed a shallow lake just a short distance from our campsite. I had seen him several evenings in a row and as he crossed the lake the sun’s rays danced across the ripples spreading out from his enormous body. I tried to find a spot from where I could film him but it was difficult because there were only a few low, thorny acacia bushes around the lake.

One afternoon I chose one of those bushes about 75 yards from the path where the elephant walked every evening. Sure enough, he came on time that evening, too. I had set up my camera so I could capture the glittering sunlight on the ripples as the elephant crossed the lake, but this evening was different. The elephant stopped near the water’s edge for a moment, then turned suddenly and walked briskly, straight to the little bush I was using as camouflage. He stopped right next to me and began to eat the bush, which just barely covered my head. I bent over the camera and held my breath. This was not good. Why had he changed his habits this particular evening and chosen my bush to eat?

I could see the enormous feet just in front of me and heard how he tore and pulled at the branches with his trunk just a hand’s width above my head. I also knew that the elephants in this area didn’t have the best reputation. People had been killed in encounters with angry elephants, especially the bulls. Now one was standing right in front of me. Running away would be futile. There was no other place to hide and outrunning an irate elephant is impossible; they are too fast. If I startled him, it would only make my situation more precarious. No, I sat still and contemplated my perilous position.

After a few minutes that seem to last an eternity, the elephant turned slowly to the next bush. I took a deep breath and felt that my chances of surviving increased with every step the elephant walked away from my bush. He stopped about 15 yards away and then turned around and came back! He finished off the last few branches that remained in my dry old bush that was now completely useless as camouflage. I sat still expecting him to grab me by the hair or wrap his trunk around my body. Strangely enough he avoided touching me at all, even though he ate every branch surrounding me.

When the last leaf was consumed the elephant turned slowly and walked away from my severely damaged hiding place and crossed the lake surrounded by thousands of glittering stars in the final embers of the sunset. I was far too stunned to start the camera and capture the mighty bull on film as he walked away. It’s quite humbling to be in close contact with one of the largest creatures on earth. I came away from there without a film sequence of the elephant but with images imprinted permanently in my mind. The words of my young friend from the Ahikuntaka came back to me – “Sir! Sir, don’t be afraid!”

People from Different Worlds

One little girl stands out especially in my memory, even though I only saw her for a few seconds. No more than six years old, she was digging through a pile of garbage in southern India. There was nothing unusual about the girl. In fact, I might not have noticed her if it hadn’t have been for the gigantic black pig digging through the same garbage pile. Just as we drove slowly past her, she looked up and caught my eye. While I sat comfortably in the car on my way to the hotel, she was struggling to find a little bit of food before the pig found it and gobbled it up.

My first production in India, 1980, was a documentary film about the Swedish orphanage, Elida Children’s Home. That trip to India gave me experiences that have influenced my life in many aspects. We landed in Bombay (now called Mumbai) early one morning in April. We left the airport before 6 AM and the taxi dropped us off in the middle of the city where we walked along streets where people dressed in rags still slept or were just waking up. A few luckier individuals slept on collapsed cardboard boxes. I was only 22 years old and never experienced anything like it – thousands of people! Many were children that appeared so frail they probably didn’t have the energy to wake up again. Others sat up, rooting among their few possessions – a rag, a bottle, a cup. A few eyed me carefully. It was surreal – everything seemed to move in slow motion.

Before embarking on this trip an older man told me, “When you come home you will be a completely different person. No one visits India without being deeply affected.” Why our Lord has given us such divergent circumstances and how we can find it so difficult to be grateful, are questions that have often crossed my mind. India has changed a considerably since my first visit in 1980, much to the better, but the memories remain.

A few years later, in 1987, we filmed a series of educational films. I had also been asked to film some desert excursions for a Swedish charter company. Tourists rode on camels from Sakkare to the pyramids in Giza. (A fantastic experience that I’ve had myself.) Stopping at a small oasis with palm trees and Bedouin tents to rest, they were invited into the tents and offered a cup of tea.

I stood outside and filmed as the tourists went into the tent. After a while two women came out, enthusiastic and grateful for everything they had seen and received. One of the women expressed her gratitude speaking loudly, “Such beautiful children! Imagine these poor people opening their home to us and sharing the little they have. What a wonderful experience!”

They moved on and soon two other women came rushing out of the tent. They were not happy. As they came closer I heard them griping, “Did you see the flies in that little child´s eyes sitting on the ground? So disgusting. How could the tour guides takes us to such a dirty tent and expect us to drink that awful tea?” They hurried away toward the camels, complaining loudly about their experience inside the Bedouin tent.

People react so differently when confronted with something foreign or difficult to understand. You can face it with a positive or a negative attitude. When we’re looking for film ideas, we look for the good, the positive, even among the difficulties and problems. Our aim is to encourage hope and happiness even in situations that appear trying and despairing.

If everyone could focus on the positive in life, what a celebration it would be.

Egypt and the Pyramids of Giza

There are few countries in the world that are as thrilling for a filmmaker/photographer as Egypt. No matter where you are in the country or which way you look, there is something fascinating to focus on. I went to Egypt the first time in 1987 to work on an educational film covering everything – history, people, and nature. For six intensive weeks we covered the entire country and had the advantage of an archeological green card given to us by the government that allowed us into ALL the graves and historical places. I had been looking forward to this trip for a long time. My wife, LaVonne, and her brother, Jens, were part of the film team. We drove our Volkswagen van all the way from Sweden to Gaza, parked it with a helpful Palestinian and were then picked up at the border by a crazy driver from Cairo. On a terrifying trip to Cairo our driver drove so fast that I was convinced we would end up with a camel as a hood ornament. That first experience of Egyptian style driving was a bit like playing Russian roulette – with a little bit of luck it will end well. Before nightfall we made it to Cairo and to Giza.

After a quiet night at the hotel I lodged a few complaints and we were assigned a new driver who, thankfully, drove much more carefully. I also called the Swedish Embassy in the morning to let them know we had arrived. It was with their help that we had been granted a green card. Our contact person at the embassy told us that Egypt was one of the safest countries to visit with very little crime. That was nice to know since I had heard other rumors. (A few years later the situation in Egypt changed dramatically, but that is a story for another blog.)

We had a long list of historic sites, graves and people that we were supposed to film, but first I wanted to visit the pyramids of Giza, crawl through their narrow tunnels and breath in the atmosphere of thousands of years of Egyptian history.

Our new chauffer/guide/translator, who was going to work with us for the duration of our stay, picked us up at our hotel in the morning and drove the short distance to the pyramids. There we were able to walk around all three pyramids – Cheops, Chefren and Mykerinos.

They claim that the pharaohs that ruled Egypt more than 4500 years ago build these enormous pyramids for their final resting place. You have to wonder how they managed. They had no machines that we are aware of and many historians doubt that they even had a wheel. Each block of stone weighs about 2,5 tons, the largest ones probably closer to 15 tons. Historians and researchers are dumbfounded by their miraculous construction. Not even the Egyptians themselves have an explanation to how or even why they were built. The ideas and theories about the origin of the pyramids are as numerous as the blocks they are built of.

We paid our entrance fee and entered the largest, Cheops, pyramid through the so called “Robbers Tunnel”, along the narrow passage and up the staircase, through the gallery until we finally came to the “Kings Chamber.” In the middle of the chamber stood a very simple stone sarcophagus, which they claim was Pharaoh Cheops final resting place, but no one knows for sure.

Is it possible to climb to the top of the pyramids? Yes, but that’s another story.

Life Doesn’t Begin at 60… But That’s When it Shifts Into High Gear!

When I turned 17 my mother told me that ”17” is the best year of your life. I think she was right because that year was incredibly fun. I had already begun working as a journalist and was making good money even though I was still in high school. That summer we were working on our first film, a comedy titled ”Tarzan – Son of Moose” which Swedish Television purchased and aired for the entire population of Sweden. That was the year it all happened!

It’s always nice to celebrate birthdays. Unlike many of my friends and colleagues I think it’s fun when people come together to acknowledge that I have gotten another year older. There is nothing wrong with getting older; in fact there are a lot of perks that come with age. These days the conception seems to be that growing old is ugly, or perhaps we are frightened by the realization that we are not immortal. Wrinkles and wisdom often go hand in hand. Throughout the years, in my search for people with interesting stories and insight, more often than not it is an older person. Young people are perhaps outwardly beautiful but often have difficult problems to deal with. It could be that they just lack life experience, have not found the right career or achieved security in life. The nice thing about being older is that the chase for material gain has slowed down, and the need to prove yourself has subsided. Accept me as I am, or not! Wrinkles are like fine jewelry on a person.

Acknowledging our own mortality can also be liberating. Nothing is as impartial as death; rich or poor, no one will escape it. Some ancient cultures like the Egyptians, for example, buried their dead with great treasures so that they would be able to pay their way into the afterlife. But, as we all know, you can’t take it with you. When we meet our maker we’ll need a different kind of currency. (If you’d like to read about my experience with death, see my blog from June 12.)

When I was about to turn 40 my mother told me that the years between 40 and 50 were the best time in life. And you know, she was right again! I married LaVonne when I was 25 and we had our fifth and last child shortly after I turned 40. When our youngest was out of diapers we were able to take all the children with us on our trips around the world. Sometimes we stayed for extended periods of time in the US and Alaska, something the children remember as grand adventures that gave them valuable experiences.

I concluded my fourth decade by celebrating my 50th birthday with a party on Sri Lanka. We rented a beautiful hotel with a pool and a wonderful garden. More than 70 people from various countries gathered together to commemorate the day. For two weeks we celebrated with various activities and when the others had gone home, our family stayed for an extended working vacation. I doubt that any of the people who were with us for my 50th birthday will forget that evening or the weeks that followed.

Being 50+ was no hardship either. Everything sort of became easier and better with age. Things I had taken for granted became more valuable and new experiences more pleasant. As I neared 60, I began planning for my next “big” birthday party. We had begun working in Namibia, a place I immediately fell in love with. Namibia reminds me a lot of southern California where I met my wife, LaVonne, nearly 40 years ago. I soon decided that Namibia would be a great place for a party. We decided on Secret Garden Guesthouse in Swakopmund, a beautiful city on the west coast of Namibia. In conjunction with the party we arranged a two-week safari/tour of the country for anyone who wanted to join us. We arrived a week early to work on an exciting new project together with Peter Johansson and his wife, Marianne, from Vänersborg’s museum. Then our guests began arriving.

On my way to the airport to pick up our first guests, we had just left the capital, Windhoek, when our car hit something hard. It was such a jolt that I feared the car would be too damaged to drive. We stopped immediately to investigate and there, in the middle of the road, lay a dead leopard. Other cars stopped and there was soon a traffic jam. My chauffer grabbed the leopard by the tail and dragged it off the road. Somebody screamed that we should all get back in our cars because there were other leopards in the area that could attack us. Our car was not damaged so we were able to continue on our way, but we were deeply saddened. A couple days later, when all the guests had arrived, we set off on our safari to Etosha National Park to see lions, elephants and an abundance of various wild animals. Unfortunately, the only leopard I saw this time was the one that lay dead on the road.

After a week-long safari we met up with more friends for my birthday party in Swakopmund. We were there for five days doing all kinds of fun activities like whale safaris and quadrunner races in the sand dunes. And I turned 60! So now, suddenly, I’m 60+, and I’m wondering what adventures are waiting for me in the next decade.

I’d like to thank everyone who came to Swakopmund and everyone who couldn’t come but who called or send greetings. My mother is no longer living but I think she would have said, “The 60’s are the best time of life!”

Kodiak’s Scandinavian Heritage

Carl Grönn
Carl Grönn

When I first came to Kodiak, my curiosity was aroused by the numerous references to Scandinavia in the names of streets and places like Anton Larson Bay, Larsen Bay, Ole Johnson Avenue, and Benny Benson Road. Searching through Kodiak’s telephone book, I was perplexed by the names listed there ­– Carlson, Berggren, Billstrom, Peterson, Antonson, Christensen and Grönn. Where did all these Scandinavian names come from? Digging a little deeper, I discovered a history of Kodiak that has never been told, much less documented.

In the early 1900s, hundreds of young Scandinavian men arrived on Kodiak. They settled in some of the most remote villages on the islands, married native women, and had large families – ten to twelve children were not unusual. Most of them seem to have been fairly secretive about their past and their homeland. Their children and grandchildren know very little about that side of their heritage.

One summer, I was invited to attend the Sons of Norway Club’s annual barbecue on the beach. I was looking forward to meeting some of the Scandinavian-Sugpiaq people that had captured my curiosity.

One of the first to welcome me was the president of the club, Carl Grönn, who said, “I’m a proud Norwegian, but you are welcome here, even if you are Swedish!” It was, after all, a Norwegian club. Carl smiled, and added with a twinkle in his eye, “All Scandinavians are welcome!”

Carl, who is also a fisherman, stood watch over a couple of beer kegs. “Would you like some?” he asked.

Before I could answer, he lifted the lid off of one of the kegs and pulled out a large, newly cooked Dungeness crab. Carl, or “Kalleman” as his father used to call him, soon became one of my dearest friends.

It was a wonderful barbecue. I got to know several Scandinavian-Sugpiaq, who told me about their heritage and what they knew of their forefathers.

A couple of days later, I was invited to Carl’s home for a cleansing in his “banya.” A banya is a Russian sauna, but it is different from the saunas we are used to in Scandinavia. More primitive, it has no shower facilities, only a barrel in the corner with cold water dripping from a hose. To cool off, you scoop up the cold water in a stainless steel bowl and pour it over your head. Sounds excruciating, perhaps, but it’s actually quite invigorating.

As I waited on the doorstep for someone to answer the door, I noticed a sign hanging on the wall – “The GRÖNN’S.” It occurred to me that something was not quite right. I looked at the sign again, remembering Carl’s first words to me: “I’m a proud Norwegian … ”

A Swedish Ö is an O with two dots. A Norwegian Ø is an O with a line through it. There is no way that a Norwegian would spell his name with a Swedish Ö. I turned to Carl, and asked him if that was the way his father had spelled his name. “Yup, he sure did,” Carl said proudly.

“I’m so sorry, Carl,” I said consolingly, “but I suspect that you are Swedish … ”

It took some time, but Carl has now recovered from the shock and accepted the possibility of an alternate heritage.

(Excerpt from “Kodiak, Alaska – The Island of the Great Bear”. The book can be purchased from Camera Q )

Don’t miss our first ”Kodiak Scandinavian Film and Culture and Festival” on Kodiak, Alaska, November 6-12, 2017. See Camera Q for more information.

Under Scrutiny

Painting by Anders Björklund
Painting by Anders Björklund

Bears are often regarded as unpredictable, threatening and dangerous animals. They have the power to topple a tree, break through the wall of a house, or even tear a human to bits with relative ease. However, after years of working closely with the Kodiak bear, I’ve found them to be very intelligent and gentle giants. Numerous times, I’ve witnessed that bears are both inquisitive and contemplative, and also very tolerant.

One September day, I was filming in a forest when a large boar came meandering down the path. Bears are creatures of habit, and he probably walked that path everyday. It was like a picture from Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The boar kept a respectful distance, and I understood that it would take some luck and a bit of preparation in order to capture him on film. I decided that I would be there early the next day, set up my camera and wait for the bear to appear.

I returned to the forest just before sunrise and, with great anticipation, focused on the path. He could show up at any moment. It was incredibly quiet in the forest that morning. Only the wind whispered mournfully in the trees, declaring that winter was approaching. Birds and squirrels awoke at first light and began eagerly preparing for winter, but my attention remained riveted on the path where the bear could soon emerge.

When the day was half spent, I dug out my sandwich, consuming it without taking my eyes from the spot where I expected the bear to appear. Afternoon waned into evening, but the bear never showed up. Disappointed, I packed up and hiked back to my tent.

Why hadn’t he come? Could he have already left the area? Had I missed him by one day? Hoping for better luck, I decided to return early the next morning.

Frost glistened in the grass and the air was crisp. The spruce forest slept quietly in the darkness when I set up my camera and sat in solitary silence by the path. When the sun’s rays began to seep through the spruce branches, the forest came to life as the birds and woodland creatures resumed their activities. With each passing hour it became increasingly difficult to remain focused on the path, waiting for a bear that might never return.

Midday, I took out my sandwich. Sitting there quietly chewing, I became aware of a squirrel rushing back and forth quite close to me. He was burying seeds, mushrooms, and cones in small holes that he had dug between the spruce trees. He was so intent on his work that he seemed completely oblivious of my presence. It was entertaining to watch him eagerly filling his winter pantry.

After observing him for a while, I took the camera off the tripod and, placing it right next to one of the squirrel’s holes, settled down to wait. It didn’t take long before he was back, stuffing more winter provisions into the ground. I got some wonderful footage. Lying down across the path, I pushed the camera a little closer to the holes. When the squirrel returned with another load, he nearly jumped into my lens.

The solitude, which had begun to be oppressive, was quickly transformed into curious camaraderie. Another fascinating citizen of the forest had replaced my obsession for the absent bear. I filmed that little squirrel for about two hours. Completely absorbed by his antics, I was unmindful of any movement nearby.

I was waiting for the squirrel to return with another load of seeds when I suddenly perceived that I was being watched. Furtively, I turned my head and glanced over my right shoulder . . . and there he was! The bear stood a foot away, staring down at me where I lay stretched out over his path.

I have often lectured hunters and nature enthusiasts on how to act if you meet a bear in the woods, but this was an unusually close encounter. I concentrated on remaining calm. With my camera in one hand and the tripod in the other, I slithered over the squirrel’s pantry, keeping one eye on the bear. His puzzled gaze followed my peculiar movements. Half expecting him to pounce at any moment, I raised myself to a crawl and then, in a crouched walk, proceeded in a large half circle to return to the path about 30 yards in front of the bear.

Back on the path, I noticed that the bear hadn’t moved. I set up my tripod, but when I tried to attach the camera, my hands were shaking so badly I couldn’t slide it onto the base.

After two days of waiting, I finally had my chance to capture this bear on film. It was now or never. Exerting great self-control, I managed to still the shaking enough to slide the camera carefully onto the base until it clicked into place. With my eye to the viewfinder, I located and focused on the bear. Just as I pushed the button to start the camera, the bear began lumbering toward me. When he came close, he stopped and waited while I retreated 30 yards to set up and started filming again. We did this three times before the bear proceeded down the path to the river to fish.

I’ve often thought about that bear and wondered how he felt about our encounter on the trail. He was undoubtedly just as surprised as I was and probably also curious about this strange creature stretched out over his path. I’m convinced that he also contemplated just how to react. Bears have an unforeseen ability to think and solve problems, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he realized that I had been waiting for him the whole time.

(Excerpt from “Kodiak, Alaska – The Island of the Great Bear”. The book can be purchased from Camera Q)

Don’t miss our first ”Kodiak Scandinavian Film and Culture and Festival” on Kodiak, Alaska, November 6-12, 2017. See Camera Q for more information.

The Art of Filming Crocodiles

Crocodile
Perhaps he had crossed the river just to see if I really was a crocodile.

While working on Sri Lanka I often saw crocodiles that quickly disappeared beneath the surface before I was able to capture them on film. That was kind of frustrating. I had, for several years, tried building hides up in the trees, inside hollowed trunks, hides virtually invisible for the human eye, but the crocodiles, which are highly intelligent creatures, always knew I was there.

Over the years I had gotten to know the Swedish wildlife filmmaker, Jan Lindblad. One evening we were talking and I asked him what I should do to film crocodiles. He hadn’t really worked much with crocodiles and didn’t have any concrete advice, but he told me that he had learned a few tricks over the years. “One way,” he said, “is to sound like the animal, smell like the animal, or move like the animal that you are trying to film.”

Well, crocodiles grunt similar to pigs but most of the time they’re pretty quiet, so imitating the way they sound wouldn’t be easy and I wasn’t really interested in smelling like a crocodile. Moving like a crocodile, that might be worth trying.

A couple of days later I decided to try it. In a clearing in the middle of the jungle I found a mudflat dissected by a meandering river. Through the binoculars I spotted five crocodiles. I left the rest of the team in the jeep that we parked about 400 yards away, far enough to avoid scaring the crocs. A few yards from the jeep I laid down and began the slow, arduous task of crawling on my belly like a crocodile, pushing the camera in front of me on a specially-made sled. After every push forward I stopped to make sure the crocodiles by the river hadn’t moved. Three hours later I reached the edge of the river. The crocs were still maybe 50 meters away.

Suddenly one of the crocodiles on the other side of the river slid into the water. “Well, that’s that,” I thought, “it’s not going to work this time either.” I lay perfectly still, my head in my hands, waiting for the rest of the crocodiles to do the same thing, but nothing happened. Strange! Surprisingly, off to my left, a pair of eyes slowly broke the surface just a little bit more than an arms-length away from where I was lying by the river’s edge. Apparently the crocodile from the other side had not been frightened, but had come across to check me out. Was he simply curious, or was he looking to see what could be on the menu this hot afternoon? It didn’t matter to me in the least. I was so ecstatic that my efforts had paid off, I had finally gotten close to these shy giants. Slowly I turned the camera and focused on the crocodile’s eyeballs. I started the camera rolling and we laid there, staring at each other for a couple of minutes. When I had gotten my sequence, the eyes slowly disappeared under the water and the croc swam across to the beach on the other side of the river. When he had gotten comfortable in the afternoon sun, he opened his mouth. That is a sign that the crocodile feels safe and happy.

Perhaps he had crossed the river just to see if I really was a crocodile. Apparently he decided that, despite some rather obvious defects, I was acceptable. For the rest of the afternoon, until the sun was going down, I crawled around amidst the crocodiles like I was part of the group. It’s important to test every possiblity in order to succeed, even in some things seem a little crazy.

Birth of a Filmmaker

Stefan Quinth - age 3
My interest in wildlife and nature began at an early age.

My motivation is to produce films that will encourage people and help them see new possibilities. We need positive messages in a world where the media has, unfortunately, become pessimistic and violent.

You know that children are fascinated by anything crawling on the ground: worms, beetles, and all kinds of animals. I was the same way growing up. Wherever there were bugs, I would be there digging them up. I grew up near fields and woods. My father, who didn’t really share my interest for wildlife and things that crawled on the ground, told me often, “Be careful in the woods, son, and never go close to the stone walls because there are snakes there.”

Snakes? Well, at four or five years old, I just had to find out what was so dangerous about those creepy, crawly creatures. I had no choice but to crawl on and around the stone walls looking for the things I was supposed to look out for. So that’s what I did and my interest in wildlife and nature was sparked.

When I was 15 years old I worked after school, evenings and weekends as a photographer and journalist for the local newspaper. It was rewarding to tell stories with words and pictures. But I was soon introduced to something even more exciting and rewarding, filmmaking! When I was 17, my friends and I produced a film that got a lot of attention. We didn’t really have a name for our film until after we held a press conference. On the front page of the local newspaper was a picture from the film under the headline, “Tarzan – Son of Moose.” We thought that sounded pretty good. Later, I sent the film to Swedish Television and they called the very next day and asked if they could purchase the film. I’ve never sold a film that quickly to a television station since then.

When the film had been aired all over Sweden the verdict was in. The Daily News (Dagens Nyheter) wrote the next day:

”There are many talented and ambitions wildlife and documentary filmmakers in this country. But the film that took up the majority of the last episode should have stayed within the confines of the closest friends, to be shown only after consuming the sixth or seventh cocktail of moonshine and Coca-Cola. That anything so embarrassing and asinine could be shown on Swedish Public Service Television is disgusting. Is this what our license money pays for? If I worked for that organization and had been responsible for choosing that film for public viewing, I would go underground and not emerge again until the trumpets sounded on judgment day.

Well, he certainly didn’t spare our feelings but, can you believe it, the Daily News’ critic had suffered through our entire film and written about it!?! It didn’t matter to us at all if he liked the film or not. That was my first film to be aired in every house all over the country. The door to a world of filmmaking stood wide open.

Gone in Seven Minutes

Uyak Bay, Kodiak, Alaska
Uyak Bay where the SS Aleutian went down in 1929.

The S.S. Aleutian sailed from Seattle in the spring of 1929 with 300 passengers. Her captain was John Gus Nord, a Swedish-American with an unblemished, 30‑year career sailing the North Pacific. During the night of May 27th, most of the passengers disembarked at one of the canneries where they would be working over the summer. The weather was calm and the visibility good as the ship continued deeper into Uyak Bay with the remaining 15 passengers and a 135-man crew on board.

At 5:30 a.m., just south of Amook Island, there was a violent tremor, followed by a horrifying noise coming from the hull. The flagship of the Alaska Steamship Company had struck a submerged rock. Captain Nord, who understood immediately what had happened, ordered full steam ahead, hoping to beach the ship, but she was too damaged. The rock had torn an enormous hole in the hull, and the ship quickly filled with water. With her propellers high in the air, she sank, just seven minutes after the collision. An eerie silence was all that remained after the ship went down, reported one of the crewmembers. Not even a ripple disturbed the surface of the water.

In what was later lauded as the most efficient act of live-saving at sea, the captain and his crew deployed the lifeboats and evacuated everyone on board, with one exception. Manuel Dorras, a young crewman, drowned when he left the lifeboat, returning to the sinking ship to rescue his lucky horseshoe.

Everyone was stunned by the tragedy and their narrow escape. Captain John Gus Nord never quite recovered from the shock. He mourned his ship as if it were his own child.

It was assumed that the S.S. Aleutian had sunk in very deep water, and no attempts were made to salvage her. In 2002, seventy-three years after the accident, Steve Lloyd, author and shipwreck historian from Anchorage, Alaska, found the ship resting just 220 feet below the surface.

Following the dive line into the inky darkness the first sight of the ship is the two masts, now covered in white anemones, rising out of the darkness like ethereal watchmen. The ship is still intact after all these years despite the powerful currents. Shipworms have devoured most of the wood fittings but the hull remains, and the Aleutian is now a living museum, deep below the surface of Uyak Bay.

(Excerpt from “Kodiak, Alaska – The Island of the Great Bear”. The book can be purchased from http://www.cameraq.com/eng/books.html )

Don’t miss our first ”Kodiak Scandinavian Film and Culture and Festival” on Kodiak, Alaska, November 6-12, 2017. See www.cameraq.com  for more information.

Finding the Kad’yak

Newspapers
The discovery of the Kad’yak made headlines all over the nation.

The California gold rush, which started in 1849, flooded the state with people and increased the general wealth. Along with a higher standard of living came a greater demand for ice, which was a difficult product to obtain and deliver.

By the mid-1800s, the economy in Russian America had hit bottom. The sea otter population had diminished, and the fur trade on Kodiak collapsed. Thankfully, a new source of income presented itself. In 1852, the lake on Woody Island, an island near the city of Kodiak, became one of Alaska’s most valuable assets. In the winter, the ice on the lake was sawed into blocks and shipped to San Francisco. When the first load sold for $75 a ton, the Russian American Company realized that ice was a very profitable commodity. They soon had competition, however, when the first ice machines were invented. Twenty years later, machines had taken over the business entirely.

The Kad’yak was one of The Russian American Company’s smallest ships. She was a three-masted bark, 120 feet long and 30 feet wide. Her hull was covered in copper to prevent the growth of barnacles and other marine organisms.

On March 30, 1860, the Kad’yak left Woody Island bound for San Francisco, loaded with 356 tons of ice. Perhaps he was running late, or perhaps Captain Illarion Arkhimandritov was not superstitious. For whatever reason, he failed to observe the usual custom of paying his respects at Father Herman’s grave to receive a blessing for the voyage. Locals would later blame Kad’yak’s fate on this omission.

Shortly after setting sail, the ship hit a rock, tearing a large hole in the hull and quickly filling with water. The crew abandoned ship and went ashore in the lifeboats. But the ship didn’t sink. Her cargo of ice kept her afloat, drifting between the islands. Four days later, she sank in Icon Bay, off of Spruce Island. Ironically, the top of the ship’s mast and yardarm, still visible above the water, formed a cross marking her watery grave, directly in front of Father Herman’s chapel.

Since the 1970s, people had been searching in vain for the sunken Kad’yak, using the location parameters recorded in the ship’s log. Bradley Stevens suspected that those parameters had been misinterpreted and,143 years after she sank, believed he had new clues about Kad’yak’s position.

On July 21, 2003, we left the Kodiak harbor on board the Melmar. Our captain was Joshua Lewis, a teacher and fisherman from Kodiak. With great expectations, we arrived in Icon Bay, lowered the magnetometer into the water and fastened it behind the boat. A magnetometer, a device that resembles a miniature submarine, is an ultra-powerful metal detector that can detect metal buried or submerged far below the surface. Towing the magnetometer back and forth, we mapped the floor of the bay. When we reached the position Bradley had marked on his map, the magnetometer indicated the presence of large metal objects. Could it be the Kad’yak?

We began diving that afternoon, and by evening, we had found several pieces of copper. Cautiously optimistic, we returned to Kodiak.

Early the next morning, we were back in Icon Bay, and on our first dive, we found what appeared to be part of the ballast. We also found two cannons, an anchor, and a chain that matched the time period of the Kad’yak. Convinced that we had made a substantial discovery, we reported our findings. The news spread across the nation, and all diving was stopped in Icon Bay. Because of the historical significance of our find, all exploration rights for the shipwreck had automatically transferred to the State of Alaska.

The following summer, the East Carolina University organized a marine archeological excavation of the lagoon, and we who had found the shipwreck were invited, somewhat reluctantly, to join the expedition. With support from NOAA and the National Science Foundation, the university had the resources and the competency to complete the task. Though many artifacts were uncovered during the excavation, the most significant find was the copper hub of the ship’s wheel with the name “Kad’yak” inscribed in Russian letters, which positively identified the shipwreck.

When the excavation was completed, the remains of the Kad’yak were again buried in sand. A large portion of the hull and other artifacts from the ship lay in wait for someone with the authority and the resources to uncover her secrets. Barring that, Captain Arkhimandritov’s old ship will rest in peace at the bottom of the lagoon for centuries to come.

(Excerpt from “Kodiak, Alaska – The Island of the Great Bear”. The book can be purchased from Camera Q )

Don’t miss our first ”Kodiak Scandinavian Film and Culture and Festival” on Kodiak, Alaska, November 6-12, 2017. See Camera Q for more information.