The John and Olaf

fishing vessel covered with ice

The John and Olaf was a new 80’ shrimper, operating out of Kodiak, owned by two popular fishermen, John Blaalid and Olaf Welzien, fishing in the Puale Bay area of Shelikof Straits in late fall, 1973, with four on board. They’d radioed a mayday, said that they were icing badly and, worried that they were about to capsize, were abandoning ship.

The Coast Guard contacted a nearby boat, the big 170’ crabber Shelikof Strait, to proceed to Puale Bay. But when skipper George Johnson finally came around the point and made his turn up into the bay, his ship was assaulted by winds that he estimated at 150 knots and a blinding ice fog that quickly blew him out again. He tried again and again, but each time the wind would simply push the bow of his powerful boat sideways.

Above him a big four-engined Coast Guard C-130 was also trying to find the John and Olaf. The pilot reported encountering heavy freezing sea spray, 700 feet off the water! And was forced to turn back. Only 48 hours later did the wind ease and a Coast Guard cutter was finally able to make its way into Puale Bay. They found the John and Olaf, ashore on a reef, totally encased in ice but still more or less upright. An unspilled cup of frozen coffee was still on the table. Her crew was never found.

The area where the boat was found is known to be particularly dangerous in winter. In certain conditions a bitter wind rushes down off the Alaska Peninsula, accelerating as flows it down the valleys at the head of places like Puale Bay. It hits the water with such force that it creates sort of an ice mist that causes boats here to ice up heavily, even while anchored!

In a bitter reference to what happened here, some fishermen have taken to calling this part of Shelikof Straits “John and Olaf Country.”

USCG photo