GOLD – Augie Krutzsch, owner of Alaska Gold & Resort, demonstrates panning techniques to cruise ship guests, on Friday, June 21.

Nome welcomes 1,800 cruise ship visitors to town

After months of preparations, Nome greeted an unprecedented number of guests in one day for a port of call visit

The MS Westerdam, at 936-feet long with a passenger capacity of over 1,900 guests, unloaded the biggest number of cruise ship passengers to ever visit Nome when it dropped anchor outside the Port of Nome last Friday, June 21.

Town was aflutter with activity to properly welcome the visitors before the first tender ferrying them to town pulled up to the dock just after 8 a.m. It was the 11th day of their 28-day cruise that began in Seattle.  

“It was super fun to see the community turn out, Mother Nature included,” said Robin Johnson of Nome Discovery Tours, who organized many of the Nome activities for the guests.

The day was warm and sunny by Nome standards, with temps in the mid-50s, as the passengers disembarked. They were met with a variety of choices of excursions to experience Nome and the surrounding areas.
Local high school math teacher Rosa Wright and current UAF student Clara Hansen were at the docks ready to take some of the visitors on a Nome historical walking tour that was developed by Nomeite Carol Gales.

Wright said her favorite new discovery from the tour was the existence of the massive Pioneer Mining Company vault hiding in plain sight on Lomen Street that was now adorned with art, while Hansen enjoyed learning that the big gold pan in Anvil City Square is the largest metal gold pan in the world. (Apparently there’s a larger wooden one in Canada) The tour highlighted local architecture, historical plaques, and fun facts about Front Street and beyond.

They were merely two of over 40 locals hired to help with tours for the day by Nome Discovery Tours.

Another local helping with tours was Ethan Ahkvaluk, who usually works at KNOM. He marched a group of over 30 cruise ship passengers from the docks down to the Mini-Convention Center to experience local Native culture. Inside the Mini, Marjorie Tahbone, director at the Katirvik Cultural Center, and Vanessa Tahbone, coach of the local Native Youth Olympic team, greeted the guests and explained to them a variety of Native traditions, from language to oil lamps to sports, and more. The crowd filled the room and sat in rapt attention as the sisters bantered about their heritage while peppering the presentation with jokes and smiles. On stage also, Parker Kenick and Paris Hebel, both accomplished NYO athletes, helped by executing many of the unique cultural sports such as the toe-kick and ear pull for the visitors.

Out behind the Mini-Convention Center, Nils Hahn had his dog sled team harnessed up as he fielded questions from the inquiring guests about the dog’s diets, training, and breeding. His daughter Lizzy Hahn returned from her summer job in Anchorage to help for the day, too.
Across town, over by East Beach, Augie Krutzsch, owner of Akaugold/Alaska Gold & Resort, a recreational gold mining resort, was there with his family to give demonstrations to the guests about gold mining. He had a sluice box set up and a dozen or so panning stations. He welcomed the visitors with a brief family history about how he got into gold mining – his father first came to the state in 1933 to find color near Fairbanks – and threaded the narrative to explain how he came to operate his gold resort on the outskirts of Nome, which has been open since 2012.

As always, Front Street was not short on action. As Midnight Sun traditions coincided with the cruise ship visit, the Bering Sea Lions Club hosted a barbeque chicken feed that included coleslaw, corn, and a drink for the low cost of $15. Across the street Kawerak collaborated with the city to offer facepainting, seed planting, rock decorating, and bingo. The bright colors on the kids’ faces colluded with the shrill laughter as an immense example of the familial stronghold that is Nome.

Down Front Street, there were freshly painted bus stops that were used by local non-profits to sell baked goods and art to raise funds for their respective endeavors including the Nanook Biathlon team, the 8th grade trip to Washington DC, and the gymnastics team.

The National Park Service, representing the Bering Land Bridge Preserve, not wanting to miss out on the action while their offices are being renovated, set up a “touch table” in Old St. Joes, where visitors could see and feel the difference between mammoth and mastodon tusks or read about the difference between caribou and reindeer. But, Ranger Tori Crawford explained, people were most interested in getting their National Park Passport stamped, which indicates the date of their visit. They also offered Junior Ranger badges.

During their time on dry land, numerous cruiseship tourists shared with the Nugget that the M/S Westerdam had considered going up to the Arctic Circle before arriving in Nome but had turned around due to ice conditions. Considering the recent experience of the R/V Norseman, which was icebound for two weeks, and the fact that the M/S Westerdam previously suffered damage by sea ice in Yakutat Bay, back in 2011, this seemed a prudent choice. The Westerdam also heeded Little Diomede’s request to not cruise around the island due to ice concerns and the fact that subsistence hunting could be impacted.

Westerdam guests plied the Nugget with praise for Nome and its citizens. “Your warmth and positive spirit will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of our 28-day cruise,” Jennifer Jones, of Pelham, Alabama, commented.

Shauntel Bruner Alvanna, director of the Nome Visitor Center, shared that they had more signatures in the visitor’s book in a single day than they recorded in the entire last quarter of winter.

On the outskirts of town, in the afternoon, Joy Morgan, of Savoonga, led a group of 18 guests to the historical Dredge #5. The first hike to the dredge earlier that day, which Morgan also went on, had capped out at 36 hikers. She explained that the dredge was the second largest of its kind in the world, behind only one that operated at a diamond mine in Africa. Meanwhile elderly hikers took their time enjoying and photographing the tundra as they weaved beside and over a rather wet Dry Creek. When they reached the dredge, the guides showed videos of it in operation, which was functioning as recently as 1998.

The day’s biggest event took place at the Rec Center, where the Berry Festival, which usually takes place in August, was popping off from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. “It was absolutely packed,” said City Manager Glenn Steckman. The fest featured dozens of arts and crafts vendors selling jewelry, pelts, local foods, and much more. Eight different musical acts performed throughout the day.

Steckman also noted the importance of this cruise being a port of call visit, meaning the boat and its passengers spent the entire day enjoying Nome, instead of the only partial days that many past cruises have spent here. He noted that when the Port of Nome expansion is complete, it will be likely that cruise visits like this one would increase.

There are several more cruises set to visit this summer, including another with Nome as a port of call on August 21.

The M/S Westerdam is set to return next year.


The Nome Nugget

PO Box 610
Nome, Alaska 99762

Phone: (907) 443-5235
Fax: (907) 443-5112

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