Atlasova Island and Pti'chi Islands - Wednesday 15 Aug, 2007
Our arrival at Atlasova was greeted by a complete arc of a rainbow that seemed to precede the Odyssey. Our morning landing, on a black volcanic ash beach, was easy, although walking in the soft material mildly challenged our legs. The lines of drift on the beach included logs, dried kelp, small mussels, butane lighters, vodka bottles, and plastic fishing gear. Dilapidated wooden structures were all that remained of the fox farm and the former women's prison. Several substantial piers in the lagoon suggested that the lagoon might have been connected to the sea in the past.
The birders roamed with Brent by the lagoon, while the long walkers led by Thomas explored around the old lighthouse made from concrete. There were a few bags of hardened cement and an interesting jury built cement mixer that consisted of a fuel barrel with rebar mixing rods mounted on a shaft inside the horizontal barrel. The mixing bar assembly was turned by hand using crank handles fixed to each end of the shaft. One could easily imagine women prisoners taking turns cranking out gobs of cement. The beach on the opposite side of the little peninsula from the landing was less cluttered with drift.
After lunch we cruised through the Kuril Straits, between Paramashir and Shumshu Islands. Daria and Wayne on the bridge wings told about their previous visits here on research expeditions in 1987 and 1992. From the ship they pointed out the town of Severo-Kurilsk, and the many rusted hulks of ships wrecked on the beaches from the disastrous tsunami that hit the harbor and town on Nov. 5, 1952.
Just outside of the Kuril Straits was our next destination -- the Ptichi Islands. We could not land there because these islands were just rocky islets that provided shelter for harbor seals and sea otters, and nesting sites for birds. As we slowly motored around these weather-beaten rocks, harbor seals constantly popped their heads out of the water to investigate us. Sea otters would sit up to see our approach, only to dive underwater when we approached too close for comfort. Tufted puffins, redfaced cormorants, and common murres were on the rocks, on the sea, and in the air all around us. Some of us even saw tiny kittiwake and cormorant chicks perched on the rocky ledges with their parents.