National Geographic : 1942 Dec
Riddle of the Aleutians parts of the Aleutian Trough to the south and west of Attu and Agattu. The year before, Captain Lloyd V. Kiel horn, the Chelan's commander, and his navi gators had charted a submarine range north of the islands, which inclined in a direction con trary to the coastal ranges enclosing the shal low Bering Sea. The Captain was now anx ious to discover whether this range also ex tended south of the islands. We Find a New Reef Though actually no trace of it was found, the Chelan's navigators charted a new reef between Attu and the Komandorskies, a region formerly thought to be very deep. Despite my longing to see the flora of all the peaks which rose to greet our graceful ves sel, I soon found this ringing up of Neptune by the echo-sounder, or Fathometer, almost as fascinating as the discovery of a new flower. I was grateful to the Captain for letting me share this unusual activity. When we tapped the new reef, the Fathom eter without warning recorded shoal sound ings of only 49 fathoms. It was not long after the "Lady Guest" (as my place-card at the dinner table politely called me) had with her own ears listened in to the deepest sounding made on the voyage, 4,199 fathoms. "Trust a woman to be at the bottom of everything," said my good friend the doctor, when he heard about it. One night I had just turned in and lay watching through my porthole a white wisp of moon chased by a dark cloud. We were close to the Soviet shore. More than once we had sighted the peaks of moun tainous Attu. Suddenly I heard a commotion. The engines slowed and stopped. The officer of the deck had pressed the oscillator to give old Father Neptune a night call. He got a startling surprise, for Nep tune had answered almost instantaneously. There was scarcely a gap between the sound of the bell in the ship's bottom and its echo in the earphones of the operator. We were riding the crest of some submarine Everest and had to retreat hurriedly and "mind our toes," as Captain Kielhorn put it, for the rest of that night. The navigators had a million-dollar ship in their charge and had no wish for it to share the fate of a sister cutter, the Tahoma. In 1914, while that cutter was steaming south of Buldir Island, between Agattu and Kiska, she suddenly piled up and became a total wreck on a reef now charted as Tahoma Reef. We spent the next day defining our new discovery. A brief digression is in order here for a word about the island of Bogoslof, which I was summoned to inspect from the bridge on our first morning out from Unalaska. Bogoslof is a submarine volcano about the size of Vesuvius situated 25 miles north of Umnak Island. Only its splintered crests rise for a few hundred feet above the ocean. First sighted by the Russians in 1796, the island is constantly changing position and appearance by unexpected flare-ups (pages 778-9). The U. S. Fish Commission steamer Alba tross in 1906 came upon the island at a mo ment when she was "shooting her mouth off," and made valuable observations; so did U. S. revenue cutters at various times thereafter. But as we approached over the gray and silver sea, lighted by a fitful sun, the only sound from the strange shores was the wild and mel ancholy roaring of a herd of pale-coated sea lions using her sulphurous beach as a haul-out place. Dr. Hulten, who landed in 1932, found some vegetation despite the active volcanic condi tions, for there the blue-gray flower of lonely beaches, Mertensia maritima, had her home along with the beach pea (Lathyrus mariti mus) and the sea grass (Elymus arenarius). Aleutian women still weave sea-grass baskets for which their islands are famous. Next day, when we landed at the inhabited island of Atka in the Andreanof group, I saw one of these elegant baskets, but I was told that the finest and best were to be obtained only at Attu.* The inhabitants of Atka were a small and rather miserable remnant, about 50 in all, who lived on the shore of Nazan Bay's inner har bor. An American teacher and his wife lived on the island, where there was a good school. On our return journey this couple accom panied us to Dutch Harbor, for they had to act as witnesses at an unusual trial for mur der, the defendant being an Atka native who had killed a trader on the island in a fit of marital jealousy. Aleutian Wildlife Refuges From Atka we sailed to Amchitka, in the Rat Islands group, and close to the 52d par allel. The Brown Bear, a small vessel belong ing to the Alaska Game Commission, had pre ceded us, bringing the Game Warden, Mr. Homer W. Jewell, and his staff of the U. S. Biological Survey. * Occupation of bases in the Andreanof group by American armed forces was announced on October 3 by the United States Navy. American bombers op erated from these new vantage points against Japa nese-held Kiska in the Rat Islands group, and Agattu and Attu in the Near Islands-Editor.