Lewis Brower was interviewed on February 26, 2016 by Karen Brewster at his home in Barrow, Alaska. In this first part of a two part interview, Lewis talks about learning about sea ice and whaling from his father. He discusses ice safety, the effect of wind and current, dealing with thinning ice, and the importance of understanding the whole ice environment. He also talks about the role of ice in whaling, setting up and moving whale camp locations, the importance of observing the ice, and making decisions about ice safety.
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Personal and family background, and growing up hunting and whaling
Adapting to changing conditions
Whaling and ice safety
Effect of wind and current on ice conditions
Determining safe locations for whaling camp and a place to pull up a whale
Building trails across the ice, and cooperation between crews
Dealing with thinning ice and holes in the trail
Identifying deep open holes, and being safe when traveling
Safety of flat ice versus rough ice
Pressure ridges, and the 2015 ice conditions
Movement of whaling camp
Pulling a whale up onto the ice
Currents, and dangers of ice breaking off
Danger of ice edge being hit by incoming ice
The 1997 ice break-off event
Understanding the whole ice environment, generational transfer of knowledge, and current applicability of knowledge
Deciding when ice is safe and when it's not safe
Understanding fault lines in the ice, being prepared for emergency evacuation, and maintaining the right attitude
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KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. Today is February 26, 2016 and this is Karen Brewster. And I’m here with Lewis Brower at his home in Barrow, Alaska, for the Sea-Ice Project Jukebox.
Thank you, Lewis, for having time in your day to visit with me.
LEWIS BROWER: You’re welcome. I’m glad that you have the time to visit.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So before we get into sea ice, for people who don’t know you, can we do a little background introduction.
LEWIS BROWER: Okay. KAREN BREWSTER: When you were born, growing up, things like that.
LEWIS BROWER: I was born in 1964. The same year that the gas -- natural gas started here in Barrow, Alaska, so I was very fortunate with that.
So, my background is hunting and fishing most of my younger career, with my -- with my parents.
I can’t remember. I think I was ten, eleven, or twelve when I started whaling with my family members. So at a very young age started going on the ice and doing our whaling.
And throughout the years in between whaling, we‘d go out and just go in the ocean, get seals -- bearded seals, walrus.
So with boats and outboard motors, at the time, that we have.
KAREN BREWSTER: Can you tell me who your parents were?
LEWIS BROWER: Sure. With that, you know, living out on the ice and stuff, we would live out there practically weeks at a time, and we’d only come back in when weather was harsh enough for us not to be out on the sea ice.
My parents are Arnold Brower Sr. and Emily Brower Sr., and both whom -- My dad was a whaling captain throughout his entire life, so his recognition has always been the ABC crew, Arnold Brower’s crew on there. So, until the day -- until his passing several years back.
So he’s been the mentor of my knowledge, of my hunting activities since the -- ten/eleven year old. Which includes not only the sea ice, but going up to the mainland in there -- up into the rivers where our hunting camps are. Which is one of the further cabins located in Barrow.
KAREN BREWSTER: Is that Chipp 9?
LEWIS BROWER: Chipp 9. Chipp 4. I mean we’re not the furthest ones, but we’re pretty far out there.
KAREN BREWSTER: Chipp 9 is pretty far up, isn’t it?
LEWIS BROWER: Yeah. Yeah, it’s about eighty-nine miles east of Barrow.
So he’s taught us a wide range of activity for hunting. And one of his legacies that we always follow is that we never hunt for five minutes or for the day. We hunt for the year over here.
And that’s still most of the way that we hunt for our family, for my family. And that’s -- that's been a very positive effect in the way that I live today.
So, you know, just following the things that my father and whom he’s been taught from, his -- my grandfather, still works today.
However, you know, the times are changed here. So there’s been differences in temperature, differences in the length of warmth that we have, and so that’s something that’s kind of like a platform that I guess each generation is going to have to learn to live with if they want to -- if we want to survive.
If I want to survive, I have to change my platform so that I hunt in the best conditions that I know to hunt with.
KAREN BREWSTER: So, with things having changed, the things you learned from your dad that you know, can you still use those or are you’re having to learn new things?
LEWIS BROWER: We’re not having to learn new things. We’re just having to learn to use them in the adaptive way that we see out there.
One of the things that I remember talking with my dad is that as he was a teenager he can walk out on the ice and walk all the way up to the Point (Point Barrow)
. Or dog team at the time.
Which is about nine -- eight miles from here. Maybe nine? I can’t remember the exact distance on that.
But he could walk on the sea ice all the way into June and sometimes into July when he was in his teenage years.
And as he grew up, you know, that from the -- June became later part of June and -- or earlier part of June, so he noticed by the communications, he noticed that in his lifetime the -- that same walk had moved ahead of schedule almost by a month.
And we’re noticing the same thing here, too. That it’s moved up much more.
You can’t do that same activity in June. I mean, we’ve seen it here many times, that the ice recedes a lot more and doesn’t come back with any throughout the summer.
KAREN BREWSTER: So he was walking along the shorefast ice?
LEWIS BROWER: Yes. Yeah. So he’d do that, and the same thing can’t be done today, so our platforms are changing, you know.
We have to -- I believe we have to hunt earlier if we’re hunting in the ice -- in the sea ice, and we have to get out of there earlier.
And so, you know, those are just -- that’s just some of the observations that I see.
KAREN BREWSTER: And is that -- when you say hunting earlier and finish earlier, is that for whaling or for seal hunting?
LEWIS BROWER: For -- most of that is for the whaling activity. Sorry, I didn’t mention that in the beginning.
So, yeah, that’s the main portion. We do have a hunting period on there. It’s just beginning now.
We -- most of the guys are working on their boat frames and skins, so they’ll be -- once that’s done, the next part is going out and breaking trail and depending on where you’re going to be at, you know.
I mean, right now our ocean or our open lead is very close. And we’ve seen it like this before, and it’s just -- we’re just going to have to wait Mother Nature out to see what it brings at the time that we’re going to be going out to go hunt.
So that right now, you know, you gotta really pay attention to our weather patterns that we have now.
Because the way that it -- it opened up just this past week, you don’t want to be caught in any of that ice that’s breaking out out there.
And then, you know, we practice -- we try to practice what we -- what we’re taught, and so safety is always the biggest issue.
And so how do you -- how do we -- how do we pass that on? I think the first thing that you gotta pass on is you gotta make sure that you know what you’re -- when you’re out there, what you’re looking at and how to read it.
So, then one of the biggest -- one of the biggest factors that we have out here in the Barrow area is we have the most active sea ice in the world.
It rarely stays the same. It changes regularly. And so you have to adapt to that itself.
And, you know, we’re very fortunate here in Barrow that that’s what we -- that’s what we, you know, we try to pass that information on as we grow.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I think that’s why it’s so amazing what the Inupiat people know about surviving and living on the ice.
‘Cause, as you say, it is a very dynamic changing environment, and for thousands of years people have been using it fairly safely.
LEWIS BROWER: Yes. You know, we’ve had some occasions where we -- we’ve misjudged them and it -- at the time it affected almost the entire community that was out whaling.
So there was a big search and rescue effort on that behalf. Can’t remember the date and time, but out of that a lot of equipment was lost and we recovered as much as we possibly could at the time.
And so how do we predict that today? It’s -- it’s just something that an individual has to be able to catch, you know.
It’s weather patterns that -- that we look at, which includes watching the currents in the ocean, watching the wind, watching the -- the ice flow on the other side that’s moving.
‘Cause that -- once you see the ice on the other side, if you don’t pay attention to those and know what those meanings are, you know, you have -- you can make it a two-hour safety minute -- two-hour time limit for safety, or you can make it a fifteen-minute safety, depending on where you’re at.
We always called our naŋiaqtuġvik. That’s what we called our safe ice conditions, so if any weather is brought in, if you go beyond that, you’re considering yourself to be on safe landfast ice.
KAREN BREWSTER: So your naŋiaqtuġvik, that’s your safe camp? LEWIS BROWER: Yeah, that’s your safe -- KAREN BREWSTER: You know you're on safe ice. LEWIS BROWER: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Where you pull back?
LEWIS BROWER: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
LEWIS BROWER: With that, you know, we’re talking about weather patterns that would prevent us from going hunting. Winds that exceed twenty, twenty-five miles an hour from the east northeast. Fast currents coming from the south. I mean, we’ve seen --
KAREN BREWSTER: What's the Iñupiaq word for that current?
LEWIS BROWER: I think that’s qaisaġnaq. And when that occurs, that’s -- you know that there was a recent storm in the Bering Sea and all the water’s being pushed into the Arctic Ocean from the Bering Sea, which actually will lift up the ice when we’re out there.
And it also brings in warmer water from underneath, so that’s something that -- that’s got to be looked at and listened to very carefully.
Because if you’re in -- if you’re in the first-year ice, that can melt from the bottom, depending on how long that kind of current persists right underneath you.
KAREN BREWSTER: If you were on thicker ice, would that current from underneath still be a problem?
LEWIS BROWER: It would be. Like I said, you know, we -- we’re in the most active sea ice around here, and if you have multi-year ice, you’re -- that’s kind of the safe ice condition that you want to find.
But it’s not going to be the entire landfast ice that’s like that. Even the shorefast ice that’s connecting everything, that’s first-year ice and that can melt from the bottom on there just as quickly.
KAREN BREWSTER: I was -- I was thinking, you know. I was asking ‘cause I was thinking, you know, in the old days when it was thicker ice and you guys were out there on, you know, five-feet-thick ice, if that current’s coming underneath, it was still dangerous?
LEWIS BROWER: Depending on the size of it. That’s --
We -- we always use those platforms for pulling up the whale. And in every location that you go out hunting, that’s what people -- that’s what we -- everybody looks for when we go out there.
What I mean everybody, the number of whaling crews that go out and that are breaking trail, that's -- that’s what we hope to find.
We don’t find that all the time, but at some point if you want to bring the whale home, that’s what you’re going to have to locate.
And it can be anywhere. And -- and when you -- once you’ve located it, you have to make a trail to get to it.
So everything is manually done and it’s all done by the local community that depends on going out whaling.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. And now when it’s harder to find those places for the ramp for the whale, do people -- do crews share it?
You know, we have one. We only found one this year, everybody brings their whale to the same place?
LEWIS BROWER: Pretty much. I mean, there’s been normally two or three locations on there.
But normally when we -- when the crews go out there, they’ll know almost instantly when they get to the edge how far they need to go to bring a successful whale home.
And sometimes you have to ask. I mean, if you’re -- if you don’t have a spot that’ll pull a whale up, you know, that’s a thing that we’ll do.
Communications is our key to successfully landing these whales.
KAREN BREWSTER: ‘Cause I was thinking, in the old days every camp had its own place to pull up a whale, right?
LEWIS BROWER: Well, every place has a place to launch its boat. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. Right.
LEWIS BROWER: And not every place will have a place to pull up a whale.
KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay. Even in the old days?
LEWIS BROWER: Well, back in the old days it was much more reliable. You had all this multi-year ice that -- that would come in.
And this year, you know, it’s gonna to be a challenge. We’ll see.
We’ll have to go out there and go take a look and see what we can come up with. So, hopefully.
KAREN BREWSTER: And you said people start going out and looking and deciding where to put trail. How -- how much before? Like are people looking now? Or it’s too soon?
LEWIS BROWER: Well, no. This is about the right time. You know, right -- Like I said, we have people that are -- that are preparing their skin boats, and I’ve seen it in social media here that that activity is going.
Once you’re completed with your boat and you know that captain is committed to -- to going out and taking care of his hunt, they’re gonna be out there, you know.
Then the trails that we make there, you know, they’re all going -- you’re gonna see that they’re gonna start interconnecting at some point in a certain location out on the ice.
Because everybody’s gonna be going out to go scout, to find a trail that they want -- they would like to make on there.
And it’s all -- it’s all -- it’s all coordinated with the whaling captain and his crew.
And in a lot of these trails, there’ll be more than one whaling captain that will decide to go and hunt in an area. And so when that occurs, you know, you might get two or three or four whaling captains and their crews coming in.
And once they get to the edge, they branch out and find a spot of their own that they’d like to do.
Some people, some of the crews, they huddle together on there, but most of them will spread out to make it that much more effective.
So, you know, we all -- we all want to go out there and be successful on there, but we only have a certain quota and it -- our number of our whaling crews doubled that number, so not everybody’s going to be bringing home the whale.
KAREN BREWSTER: I was -- you mentioned there’s more crews. So nowadays there’re so many more crews than there were, like, when your dad was running a crew. Are there more trails?
LEWIS BROWER: It doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s gonna be more trails. It means that there’s gonna be more people to help make the trails.
Like if -- and when they get out to the -- where they want to hunt. That’s gonna be where you might see the branches coming out.
And we haven’t grown in size. The number of whaling crews hasn’t doubled in the number of years. It’s only been added -- only a certain few.
So, I think if I can remember, there was thirty-three whaling crews when I was pretty young. And today I think there’s forty whaling crews.
And not everybody that has a whaling crew is active. So they may have a whaling crew and they may choose not to participate in the hunt.
So, out of the total number, you know, it’ll be easier to get that from the --
KAREN BREWSTER: No, no, I was just thinking about the changes of, you know, the numbers of crews, if that affected trail building. That’s all.
LEWIS BROWER: Yeah. Well, it -- it both. It helps when there’s more people to go out there.
And, you know, I’ve seen where it’s just a single whaling crew that goes out there, and that’s a lot of work.
But you gotta do what you gotta do if you’re gonna be participating.
And, you know, when you get out breaking trail, most of us think the easier it is, the quicker you’re gonna get out to the ice.
And sometimes that -- that leads you to finding a lot more of these soft spots or the first-year ice on there, which might be real flat so you could get, like, a puddle jump on there.
Those are the ones that kind of, when the weather starts changing, that’s what you need to really watch out there.
‘Cause I’ve seen in the last four years, maybe three years, when you go out whaling -- even the snowmachines when we travel out there -- even the snowmachines are melting the ice to the point where there’s -- in the first-year ice there’s -- it becomes a hole in the ice.
KAREN BREWSTER: Wow, just from the snowmachines crossing that spot?
LEWIS BROWER: Well, it’s not just the snowmachines you got. It’s also from the current that I was talking about earlier.
When those two hit together, warming from the bottom and the warming from the exhaust and the snowmachines that continuously pass through, it gets softer and softer and so --
KAREN BREWSTER: And the weight of a sled full of maktak.
LEWIS BROWER: Well, even your gear on there. So that’s something that -- that’s now, you know, it’s becoming more and more visible.
And so hopefully everybody that’s running those will be reminded that, you know, you see a hole in the trail doesn’t mean that you go water-skipping.
Especially when you’re a mile out in the ocean. It means that you find an alternate route so that you can go home.
KAREN BREWSTER: Because that hole could go all the way to the bottom?
LEWIS BROWER: Oh, yeah. The hole goes -- it -- it will. It'll -- We’ve seen -- you’ll see the differences on there when you’re out there.
The darker that water is, that means it’s straight through. There’s nothing gonna hold you up.
And most of the younger generation, they see the water and they want to water-skip. You know, they think, "Oh, I just got to step on the throttle a little bit more."
KAREN BREWSTER: Now that they have these big snowmachines, huh?
LEWIS BROWER: Yes. And so, it doesn’t always work that way, especially if you have a loaded sled on there.
So you gotta take caution where it is. And that’s the thing that’s gotta be communicated to the younger -- the younger hunters on there. Because it’s -- it becomes a life-safety measure if you don’t.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I remember when I lived here. You know, late spring going out there’d be puddles from the sun melting the snow and creating a puddle.
But it didn’t go all -- Well, people told me it didn’t go all the way through, so I believed them and you could kinda --
LEWIS BROWER: Well, there’s -- there’s a difference in the way that it looks on there.
And from -- from what I’ve seen, if you see puddles that don’t go all the way through, it’s gonna be much lighter in the reflection.
If it goes all the through, it’s like a black hole. So it’s -- it’s dark and it -- it’s something that you can’t identify it any differently.
KAREN BREWSTER: The puddle is sort of like that light gray-blue type of water, is that -- ?
LEWIS BROWER: Dark blue. Real dark, dark blue water, and the deeper it is, the darker it’s gonna be.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Right. That’s what I mean. So the puddle is kind of that light blue-gray.
LEWIS BROWER: Right. Even white on there. A white reflection on there means there’s some ice underneath it still that’s -- you might step on if you go through it.
So the darker ones means that you -- you -- you may go all the way through, and if you don’t have help on that --
I’ve seen and heard of a few people that’s gone through them, and were trying to go out there and trying to recover their snowmachines out of those holes on there.
So I’ve seen and heard of that a few times in the last fifteen years, maybe two, three, maybe up to five snowmachines.
KAREN BREWSTER: In one of the holes that goes all the way through?
LEWIS BROWER: Yeah. So in the number of years, about five.
So it’s not too bad, especially when there’s two, three hundred guys going out to go participate.
KAREN BREWSTER: And it’s nobody’s life. It’s just their snowmachines?
LEWIS BROWER: Just their snowmachines, so these guys -- the guys that’s been in those occasions, you know, I think that luck was on their side. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
LEWIS BROWER: And learning how to swim is one of the best things in the world to prevent life from disappearing.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. And learning how to pull yourself out of a hole?
LEWIS BROWER: Yeah. So -- And always having company or, you know, having somebody follow you is always a plus.
So that’s part of the way that we grew up.
KAREN BREWSTER: And, yeah. You were talking about the flat ice. That for -- for a tanik, you know, not from here, flat ice sounds nice. It sounds good. It sounds easy. LEWIS BROWER: Right.
KAREN BREWSTER: But it sounds like you’re saying all that flat ice for a trail is not a good thing.
LEWIS BROWER: Well, the flat ice is to get to -- from -- to a trail pretty quick on there.
It’s -- those can be anywhere out there, but the majority of that is -- would be on landfast -- shorefast ice that’s connected that froze over.
And the majority of that would be the first quarter mile of ice from the beach.
And not always there and -- you know, because the way things freeze up, these -- the last several years it’s been a jumble of patches of ice that freeze together.
So it’s not the flattest ice in the world, when I say a flat piece of ice.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, but, I was thinking if -- It sounds like you said if people see all this flat ice, they want to put their trail there ‘cause it’s easier to build a trail. LEWIS BROWER: Yes.
KAREN BREWSTER: But are you saying that once you get farther out, all that flat ice could not be so safe?
LEWIS BROWER: Yeah. It’s gonna be very different on there, and you have to be able to identify the safety of all of that on there. Especially with the first-year ice.
The darker the ice color, the thinner it’s gonna be. If it looks like water, the color of water, that sikuliaq, which can get up to about four inches thick, still not ready for people to use.
So, you know, you have to be able to identify those out there.
Most of us -- most of the participants, most of the community recognizes that out there, and that -- that’s how I feel. Most of them will be able to recognize that and communicate that.
So, when they see those flat -- I can’t remember the name of them right now. But when we see those flat pancake ices, we’ll use those as a puddle jumper to make a quick route to the leading edge of the ocean out there.
So, you know -- and there’s always a lot of the sea ice that’s ivuqpak, so -- pressure ridges that can come up fifteen feet.
We don’t see the real big ones anymore on there. Fifteen feet might be -- that’s still a pretty good size, and that’s a barrier that we have to go over every now and then.
And these days, especially if you’re hunting later in the season, that might be where you have to break your trail in order to hunt later in the season. Is through all the pressure ridges that built up on there.
And that’s -- that’s worked very well for some of the crews. I know we’ve made a couple of them in that fashion on top of the pressure ridges, and those are -- those lasted throughout our hunting -- throughout our hunting time frame.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Well, I heard that last spring, which is this map of the trails of last spring, that there was more rough ice in spring 2015 than there had been in the last few years. Is that what it seemed like to you?
LEWIS BROWER: Some of them -- some -- You know, it’s different every year. KAREN BREWSTER: Right, right.
LEWIS BROWER: And depending on what the ice conditions bring, it’s hard to determine what’s gonna be a good year and what’s gonna be a bad year.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I was wondering if -- just what happened last year. Do you remember what the ice conditions were like?
LEWIS BROWER: There was a -- what we normally see is the first pressure ridge will be about a half mile out, and then it’ll freeze over again with a lot of the -- the ice floes, they’ll come back in.
They’ll meet up when -- which -- when they impact each other and it still moves along, and they refreeze on there.
Then at a later time, it breaks off a little bit further out, maybe another two miles out, so it’ll break off again.
And between the two miles when it opens up again, the other ice that’s out -- the ice floe that moves out there comes back in and re-pressurizes the entire thing. It’ll create a second set of ivuniqs out there.
So when that occurs, that -- that’s where the amount of ice can double, sometimes even triple from the first one.
And so when it -- when it pressure -- when the pressure builds up so much out there, it changes the landscape real quick on there.
And so I think that’s -- that’s -- was the number one contributor was the weather. The ice that came in could not withstand it all.
So it had nothing but to be able to ivu and pile up. And the pressure ridges were so great at the time, you know, that’s where it’s hard.
When it does that, when it ivukpuq, it gets hard for us to break trail. Because it’s -- sometimes it’ll be as high as this -- my house.
And then there’ll be a sheer drop straight down to the bottom. And then you gotta keep going. Oh, I hear my little one waking up. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay, okay.
KAREN BREWSTER: We were talking about last year’s sea ice and building trail. So last year did you have to go through a lot more pressure ridges? Than the previous three years?
LEWIS BROWER: Well, I think last year we moved around quite a bit on there. And that’s -- that’s the things that we do when we go out whaling. If one area’s not good, we’ll move around.
And in order to become successful, you know, you have to read what you have out there and you have to try to make the best choices that you can.
So, you know, we went out breaking trail in several spots more north than anything, and then came back. Had to move a little bit further south. More north being about Niksiuraq, maybe right out by Nuvuk.
KAREN BREWSTER: Is your trail on that map? Can you tell which number you are?
LEWIS BROWER: Let me see what we got here. Oh, yeah, we’re way up north, up by Nuvuk and past Nuvuk a little bit.
And I remember we scooted over and went out by -- straight out from the NARL on there.
KAREN BREWSTER: Do you remember why you changed?
LEWIS BROWER: It was -- I think the biggest thing is just reading what we have when we’re out there.
Everybody was -- At that time, they were counting and seeing whales pass by, and we weren’t seeing them. So they were outdoubting (avoiding?) us or they were going underneath us and swimming by.
And constant -- constantly doing that, you know, just made it -- we made the decision of not -- because we weren’t seeing them, we weren’t gonna wait for one to come up to us. We’re gonna come up to where they’re actually coming up on there.
And so we scooted over to a different trail and hunted there, and we were actually successful.
That was my brother, Gordon, and the whaling crew on there. So when they had done that, I was at home at the time, but they -- When they were gettin’ ready to pull the whale up, I had gotten down there.
And so I noticed that when -- as we were pulling up the whale, the strap was kind of slipping on there. So I told them that I -- we need to fix it.
And the whale was already a quarter of the way up, so we had a lot of pressure on the --
KAREN BREWSTER: Was it a big whale?
LEWIS BROWER: It wasn’t that big of a whale. I can’t remember.
But, you know, every -- I gotta say that that big of a whale still is pretty heavy, you know. They’re like -- gotta be twenty/thirty thousand pounds. I can't -- I don't know the whale.
KAREN BREWSTER: I think I’ve heard it said about a ton a foot?
LEWIS BROWER: Somewhere around there. KAREN BREWSTER: Something like that, yeah.
LEWIS BROWER: But -- And so, just -- just for the safety measure on that, you know, instead of re-drilling all the holes and redoing -- we locked up.
I had them lock up the block and tackles and then we had to redo the noose, and then --
We were lucky at the time that that happened, because that -- what we did -- what we did to prevent that that really made a difference in pulling the whale all the way up on there. And that’s what we ended up doing.
And I know I was told to be very careful by an elder. And I -- You know, I told myself, "Look, I know exactly what I want to do, and if I do this I know it’s going to pull it all the way up without coming off. And that’s what I believe I’m going to do right now."
And so we did it. Even though that they figured that that was too dangerous a move. We did -- I did it anyways.
KAREN BREWSTER: And it worked? LEWIS BROWER: And it worked.
One of the big beliefs that we have is when we pray for the whale, we always pray to remove all the dangers so that we may successfully harvest this whale.
And I had that in the back of my head. Once it’s been prayed for, you know, we’ve removed the dangers in prayer, and so I kept that in the back of my mind as we were doing this -- this change-out on there.
And so as that occurred, you know, we were very fortunate that no occurrences had occurred at that moment, or at that time on there.
KAREN BREWSTER: You mentioned that -- Did you have something else you wanted to say first?
LEWIS BROWER: Yeah, I was just going to say when we were doing a lot of this hunting out here in the north, there’s a lot of times that we’d see the ocean current change on there.
And I think it was because we were way up north past Nuvuk. I believe it was about one or two miles past Nuvuk and we -- I noticed that the currents were changing more there.
And so I think we were looking at the east current from the Chukchi Sea side bringing in and letting the ice floe move outwards a little bit more.
And so we -- I think at that time we just -- that might have been one of our helpful reasons to scoot back south from where we was at.
KAREN BREWSTER: So you think that the current was affecting how the whales were going? LEWIS BROWER: Not the whales, but the ice -- ice conditions.
KAREN BREWSTER: And then the ice affects where the whales go by, I’m sure.
LEWIS BROWER: Not -- not -- I didn’t have that in the back of my head. It was more the safety aspect of where we were at.
Ice breaking off north of us and coming straight out and going away on there. And it was -- you could -- From where we were at, we’d evaluate how much of that was coming off.
Because all the ice was doing out on the edge was breaking off from the edge and going out.
So when it came out, it was how fast it went out and how fast it went away from us.
And so when that occurred, I think a couple of us were thinking about the same timeline --
You know, that’s coming towards us. You know, the way that it’s breaking off is coming to us pretty quick.
It’s still quite a ways over there, but are we going to wait 'til it comes right here to move, or are we going to decide to scoot over and not worry about that?
And so every time the ice break off, it was -- it moved closer to us. And the next piece would be coming over, even though it was still a quarter mile away, you never know how big the next piece is gonna be.
So when that one broke off, it would come out and then it would go up north and then it would go out towards the open ocean.
And that’s -- that’s the part that really made me decide that, you know, we gotta -- we got to make sure that we’re not going to be leaving from -- I mean, our stuff are not going to be going out from here.
So at one point we did pull back our camp about -- it had to be maybe a quarter -- not even a quarter mile from the very lead edge.
We pulled back our camp on there, and so we would just go out with the boat and the windbreakers that we’d make.
And we’d go back and forth in between while we’re there.
So most people won’t want to -- not won’t want to -- but most of us that go hunt like that, we kind of tolerate it a little bit.
But most of the time when we go hunt, we want our tent and our gear right there with us. And so that’s when we decided that we’re gonna scoot back and move over to a different location.
KAREN BREWSTER: Do you feel safer having the tent, so in case there’s a problem, you have all your stuff?
LEWIS BROWER: Well, it -- it makes -- it makes it safer when there’s more of you at that -- at the moment that you need to get out of the way on there.
And it’s teamwork that puts everything together in a very short amount of time so that we can get out of the way on there.
And I’ve seen it to where, you know, sometimes you may have five minutes. So if you have five minutes, you gotta -- you gotta pick what you want to bring back.
So that was -- we -- we -- we try not to get to that part, but sometimes it occurs and sometimes you’re not so lucky. So we always talk about the luck the most.
KAREN BREWSTER: You mentioned the ice moving out and that’s why you moved. LEWIS BROWER: Hm-mm.
KAREN BREWSTER: So, there’s the danger of ice moving out and you being out, but there’s also the danger of ice coming in, right?.
LEWIS BROWER: Yeah. Yeah, there is. When that occurrence -- When that occurrence starts to present itself on there, the biggest asset that you have is knowing how to judge how long it’s going to take.
And it’s not always gonna work on there, but if you have -- if you’ve been there long enough you can watch the way that it moves.
How fast it’s coming in, how fast it’s going either south or how fast it’s going north. When -- when that occurs on there, you -- we start --
And I know that I do in the back of my mind, that that movement as it comes closer and closer is going to impact wherever it hits.
And just because that it might not hit where you’re at, if it’s big enough and it hits, let’s just say about from where my hand is to where my camp is.
If it hits at a mile north of me on there and it's moving south from us, wherever it hits, if there’s a kind of like a fault line that’s all these pancake ice and that’s all this thin ice and it comes out and comes right behind you and you know about that, that’s what I got in the back of my head that starts wanting me to time how long will it take me to get to that fault line with all my gear. Plus I got to pack it all and then move out of the way.
So that’s what I -- what we start trying to evaluate, start looking at.
And before it impacts anywhere, we always want to pack up and be prepared on there. Because if you don’t prepare yourself for that readiness and it breaks, you only have a short distance and you’re going to be stuck right there.
But if you’re ready, you can pass the fault line.
The map itself kind of has some trails that go back and forth on there. And those are -- that’s part of the shorefast ice that we were talking about earlier.
And that’s all the scouting effect efforts that we have that’s been done before everybody starts making their trails.
But in -- in the picture itself you see all these lines. I mean they’re all over the place. Behind them you see the darker spots. Those are the flat ice, and that’s what we look at.
If -- If, for instance, if right here at the northernmost trail that’s where it hit the hardest, it can break -- break off through a lot of this back here.
And if it does that, this -- there’s a kind of a fault line that comes right through here that would be more where the open lead is.
And if it breaks off behind that and you don’t tell anybody -- ‘cause we use the marine radios, VHFs, to communicate with. And you say something, you’re saying it to everybody on there.
If it breaks off there, you’ve just -- you have -- these guys are informed that there’s a possibility that it can break -- break off behind there.
So -- and we -- we always let them know we’re signing off because we’re gonna pull back. On the VHF. We do that just before we start moving.
And then we get a -- we’ll move back. Just from the one communication might allow these other whaling crews that are situated in these areas.
It’ll give them time to think, "Do we want to do that or are we far enough away from that danger on there?"
So each -- each one of the other whaling captains should already know how many of those fault lines did they cross before they get out to the open lead.
I know that -- I keep that in the back my head all the time.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I think one of those big ice breakoff -- I don’t know if it was the ‘97 one or the 2013.
I think isn’t that what happened? It hit way north and then it broke?
LEWIS BROWER: It actually hit from the south side. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, it hit from the south side?
LEWIS BROWER: Yeah, so it hit from the south side and, yeah, that one did break off quite a bit of it on there.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So it hit farther -- it didn’t break off where it hit. It hit someplace else and it caused this ripple effect kind of? LEWIS BROWER: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: It’s very interesting.
LEWIS BROWER: Yeah. That, we -- You know, I wasn’t in that event at that time. We were very fortunate we -- that year that we struck and caught a whale early in the season on there.
And so once we -- once we did that, we ended up going east and going out hunting for geese. And so, during our return trip is when we noticed this that had occurred.
So we didn’t really get wind of it, but we saw the helicopters flying all over the place and trying to pick up people. Then from there we --
I think almost all -- I think all our crew almost right away got into a search and rescue mode. You know, what can we do to help?
So I remember I got into -- got into town and got into search and rescue at the time, and then we -- they put me in a chopper and we went back fifteen/twenty miles north of Barrow, picking up gear that belonged to several whaling captains and then brought them back. So that’s what I could kind of remember off of that.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. But also what you were saying about how when you’re at your camp, you’re thinking about the ice above you and below you.
To me that sounds like as a captain you have to know what the whole ice area looks like. Not just where your camp is. LEWIS BROWER: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: You have to know about those cracks and those pans someplace else.
LEWIS BROWER: Well, you’re not going to see it all on there, but knowing the things that I kind of describe you know they’re there. You know that they’re somewhere on the ice that I’m hunting on.
And for me, it’s always -- life safety is the key to all of it, you know. And we never try to hunt to the point where we’re gonna lose a life on there.
Of course, what we do over here is very dangerous. And, you know, just living in the Arctic I should say is very dangerous.
And so for us, we just live with it and we live along -- along that line.
And so growing up with it, being taught to do the things that we do, and going out there and trying to pass that on to the next generation and hopefully -- hopefully the information that we provide them is still usable for the younger generation. Because I know it’s going to change.
Just like what my dad experienced and what I’m experiencing, there’s total changes on there, but we still use the ice the same manner.
We still have to learn to read it, and it’s all about being out in the conditions that we have and being with it. Kind of like being as one.
When you’re out there, you learn -- you learn real quickly what you listen to. You know, if you hear the creaking in the ice, if you hear how the wind howls, if you hear the waves, you know, what do you do with all of that?
How do you put two and two together so that it’s safe for everybody?
You’re not going to learn that in one day. You’re not going to learn it in a month. You’re going to try to understand it in that month, and then as the years that you hunt -- they start connecting together.
I remember when it was real windy from the east. It was fifteen miles an hour. We were still hunting.
But then it became fifteen to twenty-five miles an hour and then it was thirty, and then all of a sudden the hunt stops. You have to get out on there, you know, stuff like that.
And the ice, it’s calm -- real calm day out there and sunshiny and we’re out there hunting. But the ice from the other side starts coming in and it’s coming in rapidly.
You know, all of a sudden your -- you have to figure out: Do we say something or do we -- what do we do?
You know, when the ice is coming in and it’s a calm day. Well, we’re going to -- most people want to hunt when it’s calm, nice weather out there.
But if that ice is coming in and it’s coming in pretty fast -- Let’s say, if it’s -- if you can see it at a mile and then it’s twice as big fifteen minutes later or twice as close fifteen minutes later, you might not have fifteen more minutes before that ice hits you. You might have maybe twenty.
And if that occurs, you know, we have to make that decision. Somebody has to make that decision. Pack! Get up! If they’re sleeping, you have to get ‘em up.
Because, you know, when you’re out hunting it’s a twenty-four-hour-a-day until you’re successful.
It might be one day, two days. It might be two weeks. It might be a month long that you might be out there.
But at some point you’re gonna go back and forth, but the hunt doesn’t stop out there until you’re done.
But on a daily basis the weather changes and that’s what we have to deal with. Is the weather at the time.
And if it’s calm and the ice is coming in, that’s very dangerous. KAREN BREWSTER: Why is that dangerous? LEWIS BROWER: It becomes a danger because we have the pancake ice.
If you have fault lines behind you that you know of, that ice is -- is telling me that it’s going to ivu somewhere.
It might not ivu right there, right where you’re at, but behind. When it hits that -- the uniq, when it hits the lead -- lead edge, it puts -- it hits with such a force that you might not feel it right there, but behind you -- quarter mile, maybe half a mile somewhere behind you -- if it’s a weak spot, it’s gonna crumble.
It’s going to ivu upwards and then you won’t have a trail to go home to or go at least homeward on there.
Even when that occurs, if you get caught like that, we still manage to try to get home because we -- we don’t give up.
When we hunt and we’re caught like that, the next thing that we’ll do is we’ll go out there, we’ll pull out the ice picks and we’ll make our trail.
We’ll make another trail just like how we got there. It might take us an hour or two, but definitely -- we’ll definitely break trail until we can get across on there.
If it turns around the other way and it opens up, you have no choice but just to stay on that ice, stay safe, and hopefully make a rescue effort with what you have.
Because we bring boats and stuff and we’ll put everything on the boat and bring ‘em to shorefast ice, drop ‘em off, and hopefully go back.
And we’ve had to do that couple of times in my lifetime. So we’ve been caught.
The thing is we never give up. We never try to panic, and we continue with what we do.
And, you know, just 'cause we get caught in a piece of ice that breaks off and we’re floating away doesn’t mean that we end our hunting season. It just means that we just go back to the ice -- the shorefast ice -- regroup with what we have, and say we can go right here.
And so we -- we’ll make our effort and we’ll go back and we’ll go hunt -- continue our hunt.