Follow by Email

Friday, August 31, 2012

Knock on Wood

I LOVE trees and have always been fascinated by their different varieties.  I delight in being enveloped by them during walks through the woods.  It's as if a sudden peaceful force sort of replaces any prior wonder men go hunting.  

Imagine living in Nome (North Western Alaska) where there are no trees; just wide open tundra. It is too cold for most living things (including plants) to survive, therefore, usually only dwarf evergreen trees can survive. There is a frozen layer underneath the soil called permafrost which does now allow the growth of tree roots related to temperature. Therefore, there are very few trees anywhere near Nome.

So, if there are no trees in Nome, what do Nomeites burn in their stoves to keep themselves toasty warm in the harsh winter months? They burn driftwood that is found aplenty on the West Beach there.  Turns out that the way the Arctic currents flow allows for the many trees that are washed away from Russian forests to eventually drift into the shores of Nome and other areas of North West Alaska.

Mom, Dad and Tommy spent some time yesterday collecting driftwood of their own to stockpile and use when it becomes necessary.  They've installed a small wood burning stove in the container now, and will be ready for the below freezing temperatures that Fall will bring.

Last August was beautiful dredging weather in Nome.  This year has been a rainy bust!  Seems when the rain finally clears enough, the waves are still up around 5 ft in the dredging zones of the Bering Sea.    Those same furious waves that predictably serve up driftwood to the Nomeites, also wreak havoc on the gold dredgers.  Has yet to be a win win.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Risk Is an Intergral part of Business and Life

When our family (led by my Father) decided, last Fall 2011, that we would build a dredge and go mining in the Bering Sea, it was a matter of intelligent risk taking.  Let me explain... My Father is a cautious man.  But, he has also been known to take a few risks along the way.  In doing so, he has indeed lived a more colorful life for it.  He grabbed the reigns early on in his career, and has continued to be the master of his own destiny.

Short term thinking and risk aversion dominate this planet.  Fear of the unknown is too powerful for most, and the thought of taking a risk (like leaving a career to build a dredge and gold mine in Nome, Alaska) produces overwhelming anxiety (understandably so).  Making more money in the short term is what people relate to.  Instead of giving oneself permission to work hard toward a dream (having little to show for it at first), but holding on to that positive long term outlook.

The key to intelligent risk taking is to look far enough ahead.  What difference will this decision make over the next 5, 10 or 20 years?  Over that timespan even small changes that are made can create a huge long term payoff.  And the decision to do nothing today means you're automatically denying yourself any long term benefits.  Doing nothing isn't just neutral.  Doing nothing is way, way negative.

Don't get me wrong.  All risks are not equal.  The word risk implies danger, tension and possible loss.  But, risk also has a positive side; the chance of getting more on the back side than you invest up front. Some risks are just plain dumb (like selling all you have to ice dive for gold in the Bering Sea).  That scenario is too fraught with problems, and is especially life threatening.   

The short term may be a struggle, and often a painful one.  On our journey with Goldenrod we have had to deal with disappointments again and again, as constant repairs or revisions have been necessary.  But, we are not discouraged, as we realize that in the long term our dream of finding gold will be realized.  So, our team plows through the failures as fast as possible.  It's like a conveyor belt; there's a new success on that belt somewhere ahead, and the faster the belt moves, the sooner it will arrive.

Tommy arrived back in Nome this past Saturday, August 25th.  It took him well over 24 hours, as his flight was delayed due to heavy overcast conditions and construction of one of the airstrips in Nome.  When he landed, he hit the ground running.  The sluice boxes are now rebuilt and ready for mining.  And, the new cameras installed.  Goldenrod is primed to dredge.  The weather has cleared (for now).  Just awaiting calmer seas in a day or so.  The gold is there, we just have to find it!  The courage, persistence and enthusiasm of our team will eventually produce huge gains.  We hope.  

Monday, August 27, 2012

"The Hardest Easy Money Anyone's Going to Make", Zeke Tenhoff

Hope you got the chance to catch the premier of Bering Sea Gold Under the Ice last Friday night!  Some of my observations about the show...   Shawn's new dredge, Shamrock, is the bomb.  "Go big or go home Shawn".  His dredge is 16 X 47 ft and the suction hose is powered by a 160 horsepower vacuum pump (Goldenrod has two vacuum pumps that are each 48 hp).   Can't believe the Shamrock crew did not check the dive light before Shawn jumped into the 28 degree water.  But, that is typical of dredging for gold; seems equipment never fails to malfunction. Fix one thing, and something else breaks.  It's just the nature of the job.   
"Gold don't care about ice.  If the gold don't care, neither do I," Shawn Pomrenke

The Clark crew is back too.  This time Zeke Tenhoff has hired both Emily and Steve Riedel.  I'm surprised Emily has completed her Master's degree in Opera already. Well done.  It is no wonder she is in such a cranky mood, given she moved from beautiful Vienna, Austria back to desolation.  And, it is such an oddity that given her choice of careers she has decided to roll up her sleeves for such a brutal job, AGAIN.  And, she curses (at her Father even)...seems atypical of an opera singer.  I love Zeke's work ethic.  He is an absolute genius for getting such ratty equipment to do what he does.  Bravo to Zeke for realizing he needed more manpower, sooner rather than later.  Every minute counts in this business.   Rooting for you Zeke, Emily and Steve! 
"This is the hardest easy money that anyone's ever going to make", Zeke Tenhoff.

The new crew has a dredge known as Lazy Gator.  One of their crew members became confused from hypothermia when the warm water pump briefly malfunctioned during his dive.  He completely lost his sense of direction and could not see the opening in the ice.  Not only that, his feet were so cold he couldn't feel them.  Truth is, he got way too cold.  That is how people get killed.  Hypothermia causes confusion, and all the sudden it's too late.  To there credit, this crew did get some gold during the first show (a check for $28,000 worth).  These guys sold everything they had to build a dredge and go gold mining. 
"Everybody thought we were crazy to do this.  We just shut 'em up with a mouthful of gold", Lazy Gator crew member. 

I'm not sure any amount of gold is worth risking your life under the ice for.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Rapid Arctic Ice Melt Down

Researchers are developing theories that may tie at least some of the erratic weather behavior to global warming.  Specifically, suspicion is focused these days on drastic decline of sea ice in the Arctic, which is believed to be directly correlated to global warming (a great contributor of the human release of greenhouse gases).

As the planet warms, more energy and water are entereing the atmoshpere.  A changing climate leads to changes in the frequency, intensity, unprecedented severe weather conditions and climate events.  Arctic sea ice is disappearing this summer much faster than scientists expected;  100,000 sq km per day. However, this pace nearly doubled for a few days in early August during a major Arctic cyclonic storm. The summer of 2012 has been characterized by variable conditions.

Global warming, has been extensively studied at the University of Fairbanks in Alaska.  It shows that warming has a cascading affect on the land, vegetation, animals, weather and humans.  In Nome, Alaska, the rainfall total in July was 6.72 inches, which is the second highest ever.  And August is looking like it may be a rain goal setting month too. 

Most people are aware of the issue that global warming has posed on polar bears, walrus and Native Alaskans.  The hungry bears are migrating from the ice into Native Eskimo villages and such searching for food. There are seven billion of us on our planet. Each and every one of us is affected by the health of the Arctic: by reflecting the sun’s rays off its ice, the Arctic shapes our weather patterns and the food we grow and eat.

But the Arctic is the frontline of our warming climate - heating up twice as fast as anywhere else. It’s also the frontline of the oil industry - one of the dirty, dead fuels responsible for the melting in the first place.  By stopping the new oil rush in the Arctic we are creating the conditions for a radical change in how we power our lives, accelerating the clean energy revolution that will fuel the future for our children.  Go to

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

No End in Sight

Still raining cats and dogs in Nome.  Buckets and buckets of rain poured from the skies last night.  Luckily, the Nome Home shipping containers are holding up and dry as a bone (now that they are sealed properly).  But, with the heavy rain, also comes wind and waves.  Enough to keep most gold mining operations cooped up.  As for the Goldenrod crew, Tommy isn't due back to Nome until this Friday.  Additional supplies for repairs and modifications to Goldenrod will arrive in Nome when he does.

GRC (General Refining Corporation) has a new office in Nome now.  They are one of several companies in Nome that will assay (determine the specific contents of the precious metals) and purchase gold from the Bering Sea miners.

This past weekend GRC held a Gold Miners Banquet in Nome.  Both Dad and Mom attended, and became acquainted with more of the mining community in Nome.  The banquet was actually quite a big hit!  Most of the Bering Sea miners were there.   I'm sure there was a lot of note comparing going on, as dredge mining is such an imperfect science.  The Discovery Channel film crew was on sight to catch any dramatic scenes.  As far as I know, no fist fights broke out at the banquet, despite the angst caused by the seasons poor mining conditions.   Just Bering Sea gold dredgers getting together and celebrating.

Gold dredging is a very difficult job.  I've a great deal of respect and admiration for those who are willing to brave the Bering Sea for the 'deadliest catch' or for the precious amber metal we all so covet.
Hoping the weather clears for you all!

                                    John Mehelich, a friend and fellow gold dredger in Nome.

John visited our Kentucky home in Feb 2012 while roaming the Lower 48.  Here is a picture of my Mother standing with John.  

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Blueberry Days

For many native Nomeites and Alaskans of the surrounding villages, berry picking, salmon fishing and moose hunting are common and the way of living off the land.  Several gallons of berries picked in the summer means a source of fruit to eat in the winter. 
A successful hunt of moose or musk ox or a catch of several salmon provides a family with enough food to eat throughout the winter.  Hunting, fishing and berry picking aren't just hobbies; they are a means of survival for many people in rural Alaska. 

Blueberries are a main staple fruit in Nome and grow wild in grasses of the tundra.  A drive down one of the three main roads leading out of Nome provides one an opportunity to stop off for berry picking. Several hours generally yield several good sized buckets of blueberries, that can be cleaned, frozen and enjoyed during the winter.  Blueberry Delight is one of the local favorites.

Prep/Total Time: 15 min. Yield: 12-14 Servings

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1 package (3.4 ounces) instant vanilla pudding mix
1 carton (12 ounces) frozen whipped topping, thawed, divided
1 prepared angel food cake (8 to 10 ounces), cut into 1-inch cubes
1 quart fresh or frozen blueberries, thawed
Additional blueberries, optional

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and confectioners' sugar until smooth. Beat in milk and dry pudding mix. Fold in 1-1/2 cups of whipped topping.
Place half of the cake cubes in a 3-qt. glass bowl. Layer with half of the berries and pudding mixture. Cover with remaining cake cubes. Layer with remaining berries and pudding mixture.
Spread remaining whipped topping over top. Garnish with additional berries if desired. Store leftovers in the refrigerator. Yield: 12-14 servings.
Originally published as Blueberry Delight in Quick Cooking May/June 1998, p10

Today in Nome, in celebration of the coveted blueberry, there is a local festival going on known as The Blueberry Festival (that Mom and Dad are attending).  The weather is foggy, overcast and 51 degrees.  But, that won't stop the fun from happening on Front Street.  There will be live music, blueberry pie and lots of family fun today, despite the weather.   

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Stonehenge of Nome, White Alice

According to an article posted by Lonely Planet in June 2012, Nome has the #10 of ten of the spookiest structures in the world!  Overlooking the town and the Bering Straits from atop Anvil Mountain is White Alice, an iconic, weird Cold War relic. From down in the town, and if flying into Nome on a clear day, it looks like a bizarre space-age Stonehenge.  The four strange corrugated iron sound reflector structures are in fact the remnants of a radar/missile defense system from the 50's and 60's that was intended for listening to suspicious Soviet activity.  There are rumors that the Air Force is going to tear down the structures despite the objections of the town.

Read more:

Thursday, August 16, 2012

More Storms and Repairs

The past several days in Nome have been wet and now, stormy.  The seas at Nome beach are crashing in at 8-10 ft.;  enough to dislodge many of the small boats from their anchored locations.  The Goldenrod crew has been traveling out to the dredge and back to the beach (when dredging) with a small dingy (a.k.a. Zodiak).  That dingy is normally tied up on the beach around the Snake River.  However, with the seas as high as they've been, Dad and Mom were smart to check on it today, which resulted in search and recovery action, as they finally found it up the beach a bit (as have many others).  Fortunately, the dingy was undamaged and they were able to secure it from the current storms.

During the most recent weather situation, Dad has also been tackling the underwater sonar system and camera (which both require maintenance), and is also working to improve the sluice boxes.  He recently met with a Sluice Box Consultant who thoroughly examined Goldenrod's sluices and determined what needs to happen for maximum gold capture while mining. Those changes are currently in progress too. Seems there are varying opinions and practices regarding the sluice boxes.  I CANNOT emphasize the 'learning curve' of dredge mining in Nome enough!  It is just much more difficult than it already seems.   

Monday, August 13, 2012

Some Visual Perspective

                                          Back of Goldenrod...Twin Suzuki 90 engines.
                                          Birdseye of Goldenrod cab and midsection.
                                          Front of Goldenrod..sluices, arm and suction hoses.
                                         Full side of Goldenrod out of water.
                                          Tommy welding and repairing front arm of Goldenrod.
Goldenrod is a very powerful and complex machine!!!!.......Tommy is back in Kentucky for a short visit, then will be zooming back to Nome to work.  Jennifer is going with him this time.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

What About Goldenrod?

First time dredgers who go to Nome are in for a rude awakening.  They sooner or later find out that dredge mining for gold isn't as easy as it seems.  Often times it takes at least one full dredging season for a dredger to get all equipment working as it should and to get the hang of it.  Goldenrod and the team are not so different from the usual newbies.  There is not one true science to gold dredging (that works for all).  Like it or not, there is a learning curve.

First of all, Goldenrod was originally designed and built in a barn in Shelbyville, KY (beginning in around January 2012).  It was never tested in water, as there just wasn't time for it.  So, she was first launched into the Bering Sea (after being reassembled in Nome) around the 10th of July, when it was immediately discovered that the front end was heavy.  Therefore, part of the anchoring system on the front was removed (which corrected that problem).  Then, it was realized that the  dual Kubota engines that power the suction hoses were not running at the proper RPMs to drive the water pumps, thus needed regearing.  The engines are now operating at around >2300 RPMs versus the original 1500-1900.  Issue solved.  Then, the crew was informed by the local seasoned miners that the 'miners moss' carpeting in the bottom of the sluice boxes needed to be different to catch the finer gold.  So, that was replaced (and that issue resolved).  In addition, the underwater lighting system did not provide enough light, making it difficult for the crew to effectively see to do their dredging work from the cab. Additional high intensity LED lights were added and is no longer an issue for the crew.

Then the weather was a constant bust for about two weeks (actually one of the wettest on record in Nome). Once the weather broke, so did the front arm.  Not once, but twice.  That needed repair (two times) and and is currently stronger than ever and ready to push the underwater rocks around with several thousand pounds of force.

The Lowrance enables underwater displays
with combined sidescan and down-looking imaging,
for a complete, wider and high-definition view of the
underwater world.

Current necessary changes to made on Goldenrod:  The crew recently discovered that they could dredge for 20 minutes and the sluice boxes were filled to the brim, which is obviously a flawed system.  While trouble shooting the sluice, seems there is a built in dam that Keene Engineering places in these boxes.  It needs to be removed, as does the mesh screen (which needs replacing with a different metal). These sluice boxes were specifically ordered by our team for dredging in the Bering Sea.  Turns out they may work fantastically well for river dredging, but simply require altering for mining the Bering Sea, an all together different animal.

Gold settles underneath the rocks on the seafloor, hence the need to move them. Most recently during dredging, the end section of the arm (rock ejector) was damaged while pushing heavy rocks around.  When the arm pressure is applied it is causing Goldenrod to drift and change positions in the water. Idea is, find rocky area, move rocks and suction under them.  The anchoring system needs some immediate attention.  

Another pressing issue is getting the panoramic sonar imaging system (Lowrance, a high definition fish finder) working accurately, which will provide information regarding the seafloor topography.  This information will be used in the step of prospecting for gold.  Testing the area is very important, as gold isn't everywhere on the seafloor off Nome.  Our team has only tested and dredged less than 1% of what we own and have access to.  Idea is, drive to a possible hot spot (as indicated by the sonar system), anchor, suction for a few minutes, then test the findings.  If there is gold, continue dredging there.  If not, move on.

Understand this. Gold mining is a love, a passion, and an avocation. Or rather, an expensive hobby conducted outdoors that has the possibility, at times, of generating money as well as satisfaction. So if you're interested in becoming a recreational miner, do so because it fires your imagination, not your sense of greed.  This has been a grand adventure thus far for my family, as opposed to an epic failure... We've come so far so fast!!!

The following are gold totals for the famed dredging operations of  The Discovery Channel
Bering Sea Gold series last season:

Christine Rose               The Sluicey               The Clark             The Wild Ranger

766 oz. / $1,302,200      44 oz. / $74,800         38 oz. / $64,600             .75 oz. / $1,200

By the way, the new season of Bering Sea Gold airs August 24th on The Discovery Channel.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Richest Gold Ground in the US

As glaciers have melted over an estimated two million years, gold has been washed into the bottom of the Bering Sea. Prospectors in Nome, Alaska continue to search for the precious metal that can gain them riches.  Over the decades, Nome has given up five million ounces of gold, according to the federal Minerals Management Service.

Of course, the Pomrenkes are running what could be described as the largest (and most successful) dredging operation at Nome...their seasonal gold recovery is typically $1,000,000 to $1,500,000 or more.

However, even the one and two-person underwater suction dredging operations at Nome can pull 6, 7, 10 or even 12 (or more) troy ounces of placer gold from the Bering Sea floor on a good day. There are few, if any, locations in the Lower 48 where you can pull this much placer gold from suction dredging in a single day (or week, or month for that matter).  That's an absolute fact.

Two troy ounces of pickers gold found on seafloor of Nome.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Dredgeable Days in Nome

The weather in Nome is finally clear and the past several days have been dredge worthy.  The team has been out and about doing their best to make up for lost time.  They've managed to successfully dredge for a good number of hours now.  The best they could do is dredge 24/7 everyday during the summer, which is just not possible in Nome.  A good summer in Nome would mean 85-90 dredgeable days starting in early June and ending around the last week of October.  In essence, our team needs to push hard to meet our goals this season.  No gold totals to report just yet.  But, I know some of you are itching to find out.  Me too!
Conversations on dredging in Nome...
Ian and Scott Foster from The Sluicey are shown in the below photo.  Dad and Tommy have gotten to know Ian while working in Nome this summer.
Tommy returns to Kentucky this evening for a short stay with his son (Zach) and girlfriend (Jennifer Mason).  Can't wait to see him! Dad and Mom will remain in Nome.

Video |

Video |

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

U.S. Coast Guard in Nome

The Coast Guard, along with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, City of Nome, Nome Volunteer Fire Department and National Weather Service spoke with local dredgers to make sure they are equipped with all of the tools and resources necessary to safely dredge for gold this season.

Gold dredging in Nome first caught the attention of the Coast Guard in 2011, when a recreational dredger passed away in an underwater dredging accident. Borg and Albright, Representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard, who were sent to Nome to investigate the incident and found that many of the dredging vessels were unsafe.

“Our main focus was vessel safety and ensuring the vessels engaging in the dredging activities were properly outfitted with federal requirements for safety equipment,” Borg said.

“We noticed that there was a large population of these vessels and many are haphazardly put together.
With the purpose-built crafts that we’re looking at, a lot of them don’t take the fuels and oils and so forth into consideration when they’re building the boats,” Borg said, “So that was a big thing just to make sure they understood what their responsibilities were in the event that they released anything into the water.”

An oily sheen was released into the water when Goldenrod was first released into the Bering Sea (residue from a small hydraulic fuel leak).  However, that has since been rectified as she now meets environmental and safety standards.  Large fines are associated with vessels of those who do not comply with the Department of Natural Resources' standards that the state of Alaska sets.

These photos are pictures of several different dredges.  As one can plainly see, because they are home built crafts, they are now inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard for safety and environmental issues.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Rain Rain Go Away

Record-breaking rainfall and stormy conditions have been keeping gold miners from working, and things have been “cozy” inside the Nome harbor as all kinds of boats and vessels have been snuggled up next to each other.   According to the National Weather Service in Nome, 4.72 inches of rain came down starting on Tuesday, July 24, making it the greatest seven-day total ever observed in Nome. Last week rivaled that of a torrid rainfall in the autumn of 1935 that produced 5.25 inches of rain in seven days. On the days of July 25 and 28, the rain broke standing records. The pouring rain on Saturday broke a 101-year old record set in 1911. This July with its 5.93 inches of rain will go into the record books as the third-wettest July on record, behind the wettest July in 1920 with 8.43 inches and 1922 with 6.2 inches.  Up until last week, the total precipitation for this year was 4.37 inches.  It continues to be overcast in Nome today with 3ft seas, keeping many miners from dredging.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A High Price to Pay

Nome is not on the state's road system and goods have to be shipped or flown in, which increase the prices.  The measure of how challenging it can be to live in Nome, Alaska, starts with a dollar sign. There are plentiful, painful reminders all over the community. At the grocery store, it's $39.25 for a 12-roll package of paper towels. Toilet paper costs $37.85 for a 36-roll package.  Want a 2-liter of Diet Pepsi? It's on sale this week for $4.49. At a restaurant, breakfast for one will run about $16.  And milk will cost you $8.00 a gallon.  Gas is selling at $5.94 a gallon and diesel at $6.19!  Imagine what Goldenrod will guzzle on a good day.  It costs nearly $1000 just to fill her tanks!  Ugh...

"The rent here is a lot more than what I'm used to, and the cost of living is a lot higher," a Boston native said. "It's a fantastic place to live, but you never have to worry about it being overcrowded because a majority of the people don't have the guts to live here," he said.