Excitement builds as the Russian tanker, Renda, approaches Nome.
Vitus Marine LLC, the company that's coordinating the Renda's fuel delivery, says the Renda and its escort, the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, were anchored off of Nome about 7 miles from shore early Friday morning.
Mark Smith, CEO of Vitus Marine, is in Nome preparing for the Renda's arrival and says he can see the lights from the ship from his hotel room.
The tanker is expected to offload about 1.3 million gallons of fuel, a process that Smith says could take about 48 hours.
"After making no progress for a couple of days, everyone was in ebullient spirits," said Smith. "We're virtually on the doorstep of Nome and everyone is very excited."
Smith says the Renda traveled more than fifty miles on Thursday in its final approach to Nome. The tanker, however, won't immediately make a push to shore.
Smith says the Healy won't be able to navigate the shallow waters close to shore, which means the Renda, when it's about a half mile from shore, must proceed alone -- and care must be taken to make sure the tanker is positioned properly, so it can offload its fuel safely.
"There are a variety of concerns about the Renda coming in on the ice, and what we want to do is make sure that we have a safe path in -- a stable place to do the transfer," said Smith.
Plans also must be made for the Renda's departure.
"After the transfer is complete, the Healy will escort it out of the ice," says Smith. "I expect they'll part company somewhere around the Pribilof Islands."
During the transfer, the Coast Guard will restrict public access. It's staked off a 50-foot safety zone around the fuel hoses, as well as a 100-foot area around the tanker.
Smith says it's yet to be determined whether one or two hoses will be used to offload the fuel -- and how far they'll have to run across the ice. The Renda has more than a mile of hoses that can be used to transfer fuel.
"It's not unusual for a 4 inch line to deliver about 35,000 gallons of fuel an hour," said Smith, who described the Renda's journey as full of heart-stopping moments.
"I think a lot of us thought going through the ice was just going to be an icebreaker going ahead, with the Renda following along like a puppy. But the truth, is, it's a very complicated exercise. The current and the wind and how that affects the ice has been quite dramatic," said Smith.
But one of the biggest dramas has yet to unfold, the first winter delivery of fuel to an Alaska community that's locked in by ice.
"There's a lot of excitement here in Nome," said Smith.
"Tomorrow we should see the ship on the horizon and we should see the ship docked on the ice by Friday afternoon."