Nome’s Remote-Operated Submersible Gold Mining Dredges

Tramrod was Nome's first remote-operated submersible gold mining dredge.

Tramrod was Nome’s first remote-operated submersible gold mining dredge.

The Tramrod was Nome’s first remote-operated submersible gold mining dredge, operated by the WestGold mining company in 1989 and known locally as the “Underwater Miner”. There have also been several other attempts at diverless or remote-operated submersible gold mining dredges offshore Nome in the decades since. Here I attempt to document the various attempts and their results:

Tramrod; 1989, 1990; WestGold; Very little production, did not pay for fuel. Program cancelled, crawler refurbished and used in another part of the world more suited to it.

JAG Crawler (aka Pac Man); about 2003; Little to no production, did not pay for fuel. Placed in storage until 2012, see Rebel Crawler.

Casa de Paga Crawler; 2004 to present; Casa de Paga; Producing a profit for each of the past 11 years. Decent profit margins on good ground with high gold prices. Can still be out dredged by a diver on a 10″ in certain conditions. Gold mined has paid for fuel and upgrades, as well as modest income for operators. This is the crawler I operate.

Mad Max Crawler; about 2007; J5 Mining; Major design flaws. No mothership, support boat floats sold and reused on the Eroica. Promising trials, but severely mangled in storm, stored then parted out.

Gold Fish; about 2008 to 2011; John Mihelich; Successful remote arm, innovative design features. Poor coverage. Required ground that was both higher grade and shallow. Combination of resource depletion, DNR regulation changes, and lease owner policy changes caused this to be decommissioned and parted out.

A 1 atmosphere mining sub designed for offshore Nome. Never got enough gold to even pay for fuel. Has not moved since 2011.

A 1 atmosphere mining sub designed for offshore Nome. Never got enough gold to even pay for fuel. Has not moved since 2011.

G-Force Submarine; about 2009; One atmosphere submarine with rigid snorkel, designed to drive from the beach into the water and mine in depths up to 90′. Horrible design, but very well built. Never got enough gold to pay for fuel.

Persistence (aka Tiny Feet); about 2009, 2011, 2015; various owners, latest is Pacifica; serious design flaws in both crawler and mothership. Buyback crab boat. Has a few days of production each of the years it’s been tried, then a few years of refurbishment and repairs. Gold mined has not paid for docking fees let alone fuel.

Rebel Cralwer under development and testing offshore Nome, Alaska in 2012. Last seen for sale.

Rebel Cralwer under development and testing offshore Nome, Alaska in 2012. Last seen for sale.

Rebel Crawler; 2012; The pac-man crawler refurbished and rebuilt with a new mothership, a buyback crab boat named the Rebel. Failed to get enough gold to pay for fuel. Last seen offered for sale out of Dutch Harbor.

Kentucky Golden Rod; 2012; Palmerosa Mining; Serious design flaws, built by smart people with zero offshore Nome mining experience. Vessel refurbished as a 10″ diver dredge.

Alaska Golden Rod; 2012; Serious design flaws, expected free flowing sand. Vessel refurbished as a 6″ diver dredge.

“R.O.D.V.”; 2014;  Poor design, too small, no mothership. Has only gotten wet once, has not produced any gold yet. Built with support from a German TV show about Nome gold mining.

Golden Seahorse; 2015; Vern Atkinson and EddyPump; Poor design, too small, can easily be outperformed by a diver with a 4″ dredge. Designer thought gold was in free flowing sand. Used diver to watch crawler and 7 guys on surface to support the dredge. Was portrayed on the TV show Bering Sea Gold: Under the Ice as having made half of it’s capital cost in one month of ice dredging. Claim is dubious (the TV show is thought to frequently give false gold counts) and portrayed profit disregards the high operating costs. This EddyPump dredge sat idle for most of the summer 2015 season, and was finally taken out for a few days in September 2015.

Surf-Crawler-on-shoreSeveral more have been attempted to be built over the years but never got wet. There have also been several “surf crawlers” which are basically like the Christine Rose, except on giant tracks. All surf crawlers sat idle for most of 2015 due to inherent design limitations and poor grade.


Shipping UPS to Nome

Special instructions on how to make sure a package sent via UPS to someone in Nome arrives there promptly. Written by the Nome UPS manager, reposted here as a public service. This is very useful information, as shipping to Nome can be very frustrating, I am reposting this here for my own reference and to help out anyone else that finds this useful:

For 17 years I have been the UPS Person in Nome.

You can contact me at the number below; if for some reason
you forget, the national number 800-PICK-UPS will work well.

1. How to address your Nome-bound package.

We *cannot* deliver to PO Boxes or General Delivery, so
here is some information.

A) Your street address.  Use this format:

    Jane Doe
    123 E 3RD           <=== see below.
    Nome, AK 99762

123C E 3RD (for Apartment C)
Duplexes, if unmarked are A for the one on the left or
downstairs or in front; B would be the one on the right,
back or upstairs.

123 E 3RD #103   For apartment #103

AVOID THE USE OF Useless information, such as the use
of ST, AVE, AVENUE, STREET, LANE, DRIVE, DR, or spelling
out things like APARTMENT, APT, UNIT or spelled out

Why?  They take up room on the label and often get cut off.

AVOID splitting your address.  It does not show up in the
information UPS sends me and *might* delay your package.

This is wrong:

Jane Doe
123 E 3RD
Nome, AK 99762

B) Often, shippers will tell you the address is invalid.
They use a Postal Address Database, and Nome has no post
office delivery therefore they only have the street
address of the post office building.  If everything else
fails, these sometimes work:


Here are a few hints.

** Try and have the shipper put your phone number on the label.
That way we could contact you when the package gets here.

** Disguise your PO Box number on the address.  Do it ONLY
this way:

113 W FRONT #2624   <--- for box 2624

Do not, under any circumstances put "BOX" or "PO" on it or
the shipper will probably reject it.  Just do it the way I
have it above.

This way, if your package comes by USPS mail, at least *they*
can get it to you at BOX 2624 ...

C) Package shows up with General Delivery or 113 W Front, no
phone number etc.

I suggest you track your package on  When it gets
to Anchorage it is generally here the NEXT day.  Ground packages
sometimes take an extra day.  Once it hits Anchorage, please
email, TEXT or call me.  Be SURE you have the tracking number
handy!  I will then make notes and get the package to you.

D) You been getting a few packages at General Delivery; won't
the driver remember me?

No.  UPS wants us to go package by package per the label.  Any
phone calls, texts etc. apply to THAT PACKAGE ONLY.  Next one
a week later, please call again.

E) **PLEASE** DO not call the Drivers.  They have their hands
full and their trucks are loaded certain way.  If you call them
they have to pull to the side of the road, handle your call, go
thru their tablet phone (needs to hang up with you for that),
bring up their information and it may be in the *other* truck
anyway.  Rinse and repeat.

Do not expect the driver to rearrange his load, and go out of
his way or meet you somewhere.  That is all best arranged by
contacting ME, and I will get this package to you shortly, and
the poor driver fella does not have to work extra 5 minutes that
day.  5 minutes is not much, but if you get 20 calls that is
almost two hours.

For that reason I have told the drivers to refer all calls to me.
We rotate phone numbers for the drivers also.  Also, we have
several drivers, do not assume it is always a particular one.

F) My package is broken!

OK, if it is obvious from the outside, DO NOT SIGN FOR IT.
Once you sign for it, we cannot return it to the sender.  The
label on the box is "used up" once you sign for it.  You will
then have to put in a claim.

If you do not sign, just refuse it, and it goes back without
further ado.

You need to contact the shipper either way about a Claim.  Unless
you paid UPS yourself, you cannot put in a claim to UPS.  Only
the person that paid UPS can.

Example, your order is busted and you discover that
when you open the box.  Don't call UPS about it.  You did not
pay UPS for the shipping; Amazon did.  I know ... hit
your credit card for shipping, but the money that UPS got is
from Amazon, not you.  Let Amazon worry about it; they are
*very* good about returns and customer satisfaction.

Other shippers ... maybe not so much.

So, if you hear glass rattling inside your box; DO NOT SIGN
FOR IT!  If you did, then see the above rant.

G) I have an OUTGOING package.

** It is a prepaid return.  Toner Cartridges, Amazon returns
for the shoes that did not fit, etc., you will be provided a
label by Amazon by eMail etc., ...OR.... sometimes they send
the label to the UPS agent (me).  Contact me and I will get
this label to you.

** You have a fresh package that you are paying for to go
out.  Call 800-PICK-UPS and make the arrangements.  Be sure
you have the size of the box and the weight.  Example:
11" x 12.5" x 18" at 33.5 pounds.  Or an envelope.

Once you have done the label thing and paid UPS via their
800 number, they will send YOU or ME the label and we go
pick it up.

H) I move and drive around.  Where can I meet you guys?

Well, we can meet anytime, but the best time for us is at
the Polar Cafe Restaurant between 1215 and 130 PM 5 days
a week.

I) Can I pick up my package on Saturday or Sunday.
Sunday deliveries cannot be made.  Forbidden to us by UPS.
Saturday, if you know your package is here, call 800-PICK-UPS
and see what you can arrange.  Good luck.  We are not allowed
to deliver Packages on Saturdays except as arranged through

Be aware that we get only about one Saturday delivery every
three years; so as a rule we are out enjoying the outdoors etc
on the weekends.  Try if you must, but good luck.

J) Please know where you live.  You would be surprised how
many people use addresses that haven't existed for over
14 years.  Or think "We are on the green house across from
John D. Blow".  Those are undeliverable.  EVERY house in
Nome has a number/street address.  If the number is not
on your house, or is defaced, see your Landlord or City
Hall and they will fix you up.

K) My package is coming to a PO Box.  Can you deliver it?
If you can only put a PO Box on the package, UPS is
sort of reluctant to accept it, but they do get by from
time to time.

If you call ahead (see above), we can get you the package.
Else, we will send you a PostCard to that PO Box.  Depending
on the foibles of the postal system, it could take a week
to get you that postcard.  After 10 days, we return the

L) How long do you keep packages?

If there is hope of delivering it; 10 days.

If you are on vacation etc., and let ME know, I can hold your
packages indefinitely.  Within reason.  We are not a warehouse,
but, yeah, if you are in Disney World with the kids for 2
weeks we of course will hold things for you.  Best you let me
know in case we have a brain problem here.

M) Can I get a package forwarded?  I moved from Nome back to
Tucson, Arizona and my order is coming to Nome!

Call me ASAP.  I can often get this intercepted in Anchorage
and on its way to you much sooner than if it comes to Nome

Either way, the package is often forwarded to your new address
at no cost to you.

N) Can I get my packages delivered at Norton Sound or the Schools?

No, we cannot deliver personal packages to Norton Sound.  Sometimes
you can make arrangements with the School District (at the high
school campus), but you have to talk to them about it first.
All school packages go to the District Office.

This does not apply to the apartments, those go there if you
are home.  We do not leave packages on the corridor.

Kawerak is much more liberal; we leave your packages at the Mail
Room.  But it needs to have your written instructions to do so,
eMail or TEXT etc.

Well, that was quite a rant.  Print it out, and eMail me if you
have any questions!

Ramon Gandia / Nome UPS / 907-304-1053
rfg8xx at


Safonatt Services LLC,
Andrew C. Lee

I provide scientific and technical consulting services, including:

  • Eco-friendly offshore gold mining equipment design, construction, and operation
  • Computer programming, especially scientific computing
  • Project management and design
  • Any lawful

Andrew C. Lee in Nome working on sub-sea crawler.

Andrew C. Lee in Nome working on sub-sea crawler.

Replacing/upgrading 18" suction tube for the sub-sea miner.

Replacing/upgrading 18″ suction tube for the sub-sea miner.

Design for ice hut sled.

Design for ice hut sled.

Outboard mount design for existing 10" dredge.

Outboard mount design for existing 10″ dredge.

Book Review: The Martian, by Andy Weir (Spoilers at bottom)

Construction of my ice dredging hut. No other human for 7 miles.

Construction of my ice dredging hut. No other human for 7 miles.

An excellent book for anyone that likes science-based fiction and space travel. Includes spoilers, far down the page. The Martian was a fun read. It was very realistic and everything was based in science or backed up by science and math. Except, as the author acknowledges in interviews, for the initial Mars weather event at the start of the book; but even that could be plausible. I enjoyed the technical details and the decision making processes used by our hero and the people trying to help save him.

I’m glad that this book is currently being made into a movie. Ridley Scott as director is an exciting choice and Matt Damon should be good as the main character.

Go read the book, then give it to a teen.

Spoilers below.

A few things in the book, although realistic and believable, were not how I would imagine the situation to play out. I don’t know if a Mars astronaut would have allowed the “Rich Purnell Maneuver” scenario. He could have told them not to do it, with the type of drive they were using, it could have been aborted within weeks of it being initiated. The Purnell Maneuver causes significant risk to his five crew mates, and postpones or cancels the next Mars manned mission. I believe that if I were in his situation, I would have not cooperated with such a move. Instead, the resupply direct to Mars could have succeeded. And even if it didn’t, the hero could have conducted extensive science before he ran out of food and died. He could have made the trek to the Ares 4 MAV with his collected and labeled samples; used his water to add fuel capacity to the MAV. His samples, his spare parts, and his body would be waiting there once the next crew arrived. They would bury his body and use the extra fuel to carry his samples to orbit after their 31 sol mission. And if the food-direct resupply mission did work, yay, he gets to go home.

In the future, I suspect Mars (etc) mission planners will read this and other similar books to influence their designs. For example, in the book it took two months for NASA to realize he was alive because public disclosure laws required the publication of all images within 24 hours of receipt and they didn’t want to show his body. This is a good policy, but there should be an exemption for images of macabre, saying they are not to be released for 20 years. I’m not sure how this would have helped, except that the rest of the crew would have stayed in orbit for a few more hours. And maybe sent down their extra food somehow.

Also, how hard is it to throw in some seeds of edible plants and freeze dried soil bacteria. A few dozen grams. Just for fun. Every mission should bring a mini seed bank, if for no other reason than to leave then in a time capsule on the surface. And maybe add 200 grams for a SSD with a cultural archive. In compressed SD format, modern storage devices could hold more than just one decade of TV and movies.

And what is the deal with sending astronauts up with laptop computers that cannot survive a rapid decompression? There are options besides LCD screens.

As for the RTG, I would not have bothered to put it back. It’s pretty safe, and is a good backup to have around within walking distance for heat and minimal power. He could have left it in the one uninsulated rover.

I know it was fairly unforeseeable, but why didn’t he have some potatoes growing in the rovers? He needed all growing the capacity he could get. This would have enabled him to recover from the hab explosion. I would have kept them in the rover with the RTG.

For the Rovers, I wonder if there was a better strategy than stopping to to recharge for the 13 hours of sunlight. Lets explore:

Solar power, he has 50 panels for the hab, each with a bracket to hold it up at a 14-degree inclination. Each panel is 2 square meters, 10% efficient, that area gets a solar insolation of over 500w/m^2, which comes to 100w per panel.

Battery capacity per rover: 9000whr, he has two rovers

  • Range for 1 Rover with both batteries: 80km/sol (225whr/km), needs 14 panels @13hours to recharge
  • Range for 2 Rovers Loaded on rough terrain: 50km/sol (360whr/km), needs 14 panels @13hours to recharge
  • Range for 2 Rovers Unloaded on easy terrain: 60km/sol (300whr/km), needs 14 panels @13hours to recharge
  • Limiting factor is battery capacity. Hab batteries are too big to fit without chopping up the rover.

Lets consider mounting the solar panels in useful configurations while driving. The author does not say the shape or size of the rover or the panels, just saying the panel area and that two fit on the roof of each rover, overhanging on each side. Later, he stores two panels per side of the rover, using brackets he added. Let us consider towing the second rover, this gives us double the surface area and requires only 33% more energy to pull, unloaded. Lets use the 100w RTG to power the rover headlights and internals.

  • Roof: 2 panels each, 2 roofs = 4 panels @ ok angle => 400w
  • Side: 2 panels each, 4 sides = 8 panels @ poor angle =>400w to 600w
  • So 12 panels is 800w to 1000w, @300w/km = 2.6kph to 3.3kph, for 13 hour sunlight = 34km to 43km per sol
  • Or 20 panels (stack 2 deep on all 4 sides, plug in exposed panel) takes 18,000whr/(20*100w) = 9 hours to charge, 60km/sol plus 4 hours of sunlight driving at 2.6kph to 3.3kph, adds 10km to 13km for a total of 70km/sol. Still less than the 80km/sol he got in the book.

Lets assume he can make a roof rack out of the panel frames, the rover benches, and struts from the MDV and MAV. These roof mounts are large enough that each panel overhangs the sides a little more than half way.

  • Roof: 4 panels each, 2 roofs = 8 panels @ ok angle => 800w
  • Side: 2 panels each, 4 sides = 8 panels @ shadowed, poor angle =>200w to 600w
  • So 16 panels is 1000w to 1600w, @300w/km = 3.3kph to 4.5kph, for 13 hours = 43km to 58km per sol
  • Or 24 panels (stack 2 deep on all 4 sides) takes 18000whr/(24*100w) = 7.5 hours to charge, 60km/sol plus 5.5 hours of sunlight driving at 3.3kph to 4.5kph, adds 18km to 24km for a total of 78 to 84km/sol. About the same as the 80km/sol he got in the book with one rover.

Looks like one key is to minimize the stationary recharge time by increasing the number of panels. This also increases the setup and take down time, only half can be done in the dark, in order to maximize solar powered sunlight driving. The other key is to maximize solar capacity while in motion.

Lets make the roof racks bigger, 2×3 per roof, overhanging off both sides and both ends. We can drive slower for safety.

  • Roof: 6 panels each, 2 roofs = 12 panels @ ok angle => 1200w
  • Side: 2 panels each, 4 sides = 8 panels @ shadowed, poor angle =>300w
  • So 20 panels is 1500w, @300w/km = 5kph, for 13 hours = 65km per sol
  • Or 28 panels (stack 2 deep on all 4 sides) takes 18000whr/(28*100w) = 6.5 hours to charge, 60km/sol plus 6.5 hours of sunlight driving at 5kph, adds 32km for a total of 92km/sol. Now we are making progress.

I don’t think it’s feasible to mount more than 6 panels to the roof. It could be, I just don’t know the shapes we are dealing with. Driving at half the 25kph battery speed, makes for 4.8 hours of night driving per sol.

Lets work the problem backwards to find out how many panels we would need to mount on the rover to drive the whole 13 hours of sunlight without stopping to setup panels. Overnight RTG power charges batteries enough for the internal functions for the whole sol.

  • For 80km/sol @300whr/km & 13 hours => 6.2kph, 1850w (18 panels), 3×3 per roof, still too many unless we know the dimensions.
  • For 90km/sol @300whr/km & 13 hours => 7kph, 2100w (20 panels with RTG since we don’t need headlights). That’s 40 square meters of panels.
  • For 108km/sol @300whr/km & 13 hours => 8.3kph, 2500w (24 panels+RTG), 3×4 per roof. Now I’m just being silly. With that much overhang, turning may be an issue, depending on the gap between the rovers. Although, if he had a couple masts placed on the centerline of the roof, one towards the front and one towards the back, then lines going out to the roof rack for support, maybe he could pull off this many watts of power. Especially if he placed two panels back to back, vertically against each mast.

Ok, lets say that in addition to the 6 panels per roof, he can store the panels on the sides two wide and three deep. They were designed to stack and so that should be fine. This allows stationary charging with 36 panels, leaving 14 with the hab. He can charge the batteries in 18000whr/(36*100w)=5 hours. Assuming he sets up in the dark and needs 1/2 hour of sunlight to pack them away, this leaves 7.5 hours for sunlight driving. In driving configuration, the panels provide 1500w. At 300w/km = 5kph, for 7.5 hours this is 37km per sol. Plus the night battery driving of 60km is a total of over 97km/sol. Now this is enough to shave some time off the trips. Of course the Pathfinder would take up the space of one roof panel, so it would only be 93km/sol.

Solar powered driving would have also saved him from backtracking to determine the direction of the dust storm, because he would have been able to read the panel output in real time, at several select times a day for a couple days. Also, the slow driving would have reduced the chance and severity of his crash. Although longer driving time and fatigue could have increased this risk.

Reddit IAmA Gold Miner, AMA

I am Andrew C. Lee, a Bering Sea Gold Miner. AMA.

I’ve been a gold dredger for 9 years, mining offshore Nome, Alaska. I’ve designed, built, and operated several gold dredges, 6″, 8″, and 10″. My 10″ dredge was featured on Discovery Channel’s Bearing Sea Gold. Because the name “Ziggurat” was deemed too brainy for American audiences, it was called “The Edge” and later “The Eroica” on the show.

Currently I am a partner in the largest most successful suction dredge operation offshore Nome. We operate an 18″ ROV suction dredge on our 3200 acres of mining leases.


Ask Me Anything. There are certain topics that I will not answer in detail because they are trade secrets, such as gold production and certain technical details.

Read my AMA on Reddit: I am Andrew C. Lee, a Bering Sea Gold Miner. AMA.

Bering Sea Gold Nuggets, mined by Andrew Lee

Bering Sea Gold Nuggets, mined by Andrew Lee

Andrew C. Lee, Bering Sea Gold Miner

Andrew C. Lee, Bering Sea Gold Miner

Andrew C. Lee with a few pounds of gold he mined off the Bering Sea floor near Nome, AK

Andrew C. Lee with a few pounds of gold he mined off the Bering Sea floor near Nome, AK

A several pound sample of placer gold mined from the floor of the Bering Sea near Nome, Alaska.

A several pound sample of placer gold mined from the floor of the Bering Sea near Nome, Alaska.

Gold sample drying on an outdoor propane camp stove.

Gold sample drying on an outdoor propane camp stove.

Gold sample. Dried and screened to several sizes to determine the distribution of each mesh range.

Gold sample. Dried and screened to several sizes to determine the distribution of each mesh range.

Construction of my ice dredging hut

Construction of my ice dredging hut

View from inside ice hut though tailings hole.

View from inside ice hut though tailings hole.

Using 48" chainsaw to cut hole in the ice.

Using 48″ chainsaw to cut hole in the ice.

The main pieces of equipment. Mini-ex, tracked ATV, and my ice hut design.

The main pieces of equipment. Mini-ex, tracked ATV, and my ice hut design.

Andrew C. Lee in Nome working on sub-sea crawler.

Andrew C. Lee in Nome working on sub-sea crawler.

Estimating Nome Dredge Gold Production

One of the biggest errors I see with new operations, besides the wrong equipment and a total lack of experience, is their projections when it comes to estimating gold production and revenues.

Here is what the inexperienced newbie often does: We can have a crew of 3 (or 4) and work 8 hour (or 6 hour) shifts each, so that’s round the clock 24-hours a day. And gosh darn it, we are hard workers, so we are going to work 7 days a week. June, July, August, September, and (because we are hard core awesome) October is 26 weeks. So we are going to do 4368 hours of mining per summer. And because I heard a rumor once about a guy getting 1 ounce per hour we figure that will be 4368 ounces per season. And since the price of gold once hit $1800 per ounce that comes out to well over $7.8 million, yee-haw!

Ok, that is an extreme example, and I’ve only seen it that bad a few times, but more often than you might think.

More reasonable, but still way too idealistic is the following example, that I’ve actually heard: We can have a crew of 4 and work 5 hour shifts each, so that’s round the clock 20-hours a day. And gosh darn it, we are hard workers, so we are going to work 6 days a week (only because Sunday is a day of rest). Mid-June, July, August, September, and through mid-October, minus a few weeks for storms is 14 weeks. So we are going to do 1680 hours of mining per summer. And I heard that a skilled crew, when they are on the good stuff can average 1/3 ounce per hour we figure that will be 560 ounces per season. And the price of gold has been around $1200 per ounce that comes out to well over $670,000, yee-haw!

Ok, now we are getting the the realm of possibilities. There have been dredges that have got that much gold in one season. These have been commercial 10″ dredges with a veteran crew of highly experienced divers, on the best leases out there. And even then, they don’t do that every year.

So how should people estimate, what do I recommend based on my 9+ years running dredges offshore Nome with 6″, 8″, 10″, and 18″ dredges of both recreational and commercial scale. There are several factors that go into the estimate, multiply them together to predict the range of revenue you can expect:

Ounces of gold mined per hour: Now we’ve all heard the 1ozt/hr and even the 2 or 4 or 6 troy ounces per hour stories. Ignore them unless you have first hand knowledge of you doing that yourself. These rumors are mostly not true, or are for a very select subset of time. It is true that with an 8″ dredge I have mined over 10ozt in 8 hours, but that was a very hot spot where I was singing in my mask for 8 hours. For estimating purposes, we need to figure on the long term average gold per nozzle hour, including prospecting, moving sand, weak days, and yes, the super hot hours. The more skilled the operator, generally the better the rate. The better the lease, the better the rate. Here are some guides which I would use:
6″ dredge: 0.05 to 0.25 ozt/hr (Typical 0.20 for skilled on good ground)
8″ dredge: 0.10 to 0.33 ozt/hr (Typical 0.33 for skilled on good ground)
10″ dredge: 0.25 to 0.75 ozt/hr (Typical 0.50 for skilled on good ground)
Excavator: 0.10 to .75 ozt/hr (Not enough info for a typical estimate)
18″ dredge: (Secret)

* Hours in a day: This depends on weather, seaworthiness of the vessel, endurance of the divers, number of divers, etc. This is for actual nozzle hours, working, sucking up the gold hours, it can easily take 12 wall hours to get 8 nozzle hours. Here are the numbers I would use:

6″ dredge: 4-8 hours per day, number of divers doesn’t increase this because the day breeze will kick you out, a fit diver can do this by themselves daily or two divers could each do 4 hours daily, 4 divers could each do 4 hours every other day.

8″ dredge: 4-12 hours per day, number of divers doesn’t increase this because the day breeze will kick you out, a fit diver can do 8 to 9 hours by themselves daily or two divers could each do 4-6 hours daily, 4 divers could each do 6 hours every other day.

10″ dredge: 4-20 hours per day, a fit diver can do 5 to 6 hours by themselves daily. You better be a skilled and fit diver to do this every day.

Excavator: 16 to 18 hours per day, time is lost due to maneuvering, anchor management, maintenance.

18″ dredge: (Secret)

* Days in a season: This depends on weather, equipment, fatigue, ice/seasons, endurance. In general, you can count on sea ice to leave by June 15th, but if your stuff is on the barge, don’t plan on being ready until early to mid July, because of final assembly and troubleshooting. Things start freezing overnight at the end of September, Sometimes October can be wonderful, sometimes the opposite. Count on about 4 total weeks of storms/turbidity during the season. If you are here in Nome from May 21 through October 10th, with working equipment, and able crew, then these are the typical numbers you will see, sometimes more, sometimes fewer:
6″ dredge, 30 to 45 days/year
8″ dredge, 35 to 55 days/year
10″ dredge, 35 to 65 days/year
Excavator, 65 to 80 days/year (depends on size/type of platform)
18″ dredge, 65 to 80 days/year (depends on size/type of platform)

* Cost of the lease: If you are small enough to work in the Rec areas, this is 3% to Alaska for anything above $40k. If you are on a lease held by someone else, then also first take 20% off the top for the typical deal.

* Net Smelter Return (NSR), this is often overlooked by newbies. The gold that you mine is not pure, it’s a natural alloy. Plus, depending on how skilled you are at cleanup, it may be dirty which will increase your melt loss from your raw dry weight. I discuss this in more detail in another post. Question About Selling Gold. Basically, take your clean dry weight and take off 15% to 20% to get your pure gold equivalent.

* Price of gold: Gold buyers typically use the London PM Fix, it is generally safe to use the lowest price that gold has been in the past 5 years. If gold goes higher, great a bonus, but this will give you a good margin of safety.

So lets put it all together:
(Gross Revenue) = (Gold per hour) * (Nozzle hours per day) * (Days per season) * (1-Cost of lease) * (Net Smelter Return) * (Price of gold)

Example 6″ dredge with 2 fit operators in their second year on the rec area: (0.10ozt/hr)*(8hr/day)*(45day/season)*(.97 after State tax)*(.85 NSR)*($1100) = $32,650 per season. Subtract expenses and split two ways. Assuming fuel, moorage, and incidentals were $7,650, that’s $12,500 each for 6 months of time.

Example 8″ dredge with 2 fit skilled operators in their fourth year on a good lease: (0.33ozt/hr)*(12hr/day)*(55day/season)*(.97 after State tax)*(0.80 after lease fee)*(.85 NSR)*($1100) = $158,000 per season. Subtract expenses and split two ways. Assuming fuel, moorage, and incidentals were $18,000, that’s $70,000 each for 6 months of time. Sounds pretty good, but of course this assumes skilled operators and that the equipment is operator owned and paid off, and doesn’t count the high cost of living in Nome.

Example Excavator with low-paid operators, run by unqualified managers, who raised money by paying 10% of capital raised to professional money raisers, who have never successfully mined before, despite years of trying, and are mining on low grade leases very far from harbor that they own: (0.10ozt/hr)*(12hr/day)*(65day/season)*(.97 after State tax)*(.85 NSR)*($1100) = $70,750 per season. Subtract expenses and multiply by 70% for the investor’s share. Assuming fuel, moorage, crew, management, and incidentals were $430,000, that comes out to a loss of $360,000 per year. In this example, they would need to find ground that could produce an average of 7.3 ozt per day, or 0.60ozt/hr just to break even; or for a mere 10% return would need 1,200ozt/yr which would need a sustained very high average of 1.50ozt/hr for this type of operation. (You may think that I’m talking about Blue Water Gold, or their new company called Blue Water Mining, but I will not confirm nor deny this. Investors should always be leery of companies like Blue Water Mining are trying to raise yet another round of several million dollars, and using projections that they will be able to mine more every day than their past performance has been able to do in a month.)

If someone is trying to get your money to invest, they will typically have outrageous numbers, which are fairly easy to spot if you know what to look for. Be wary if they project the price of gold going up significantly into the future, especially if they need the price to double within 3 years to make their investment sound appealing. Be aware of large numbers of ounces projected to be mined every day. Be aware of large numbers of days projected to be mined. Be aware of idealistically low projected expenses. Be aware if they omit Net Smelter Return, especially when they project a large number of ounces mined each day.

If you are experienced with offshore dredging in Nome, you know what you can make or lose. If you are not, then I would suggest you use as an upper limit, the estimates I give in this post. Never estimate more gold than you got last year doubled plus 100ozt. For a newbie this would be no more than 100ozt even if the formula above shows something higher. For a new crew or new dredge, increasing the number of workers typically only adds more expense, not more production.

If you are a small operation, under 25 acres mined per year, and have a hired geologist on the staff, whose main role with the operation is to do geology work, then you will likely fail, divide these estimates by 10. The geology around Nome is already well studied and well understood, sampled, researched, and published. It has been for well over 20 years. Sure it’s fun to understand what rocks are what, but that does not help with gold recovery in this area. If you are not familiar enough with gold mining offshore Nome to understand how a geologist is no longer needed for a dredging operation here, then you likely have other serious flaws in your plans and designs.

A several pound sample of placer gold mined from the floor of the Bering Sea near Nome, Alaska.

A several pound sample of placer gold mined from the floor of the Bering Sea near Nome, Alaska.

Andrew C. Lee with a few pounds of gold he mined off the Bering Sea floor near Nome, AK

Andrew C. Lee with a few pounds of gold he mined off the Bering Sea floor near Nome, AK

Product Review: Goldfield GoldTron (videos)

One of our best upgrades in recent years want the addition of this shaker table to our gold cleanup room. We had been using a batch centrifugal concentrator, which worked very well, but could only hold about 70ozt per batch, and had quite a bit of mob/demob time per batch. So we only used it for larger runs, and never for sample processing.

With the GoldTron, we can quickly and easily run a one gallon of concentrate from a sample area up to and beyond hundreds of gallons of material. We can breakout the batches quickly or blend them all together. It’s as easy as letting the hopper clear and swapping the collection buckets.

Continuous cleanup is the way to go if you have a lot of concentrates, and if you want to go through them quickly and keep track of many batches.

This table is very easy to use. It does require more tweaks, attention, and maintenance than the batch bowl we had been using, but the processing speed is so much faster and doing the adjustments while is actually enjoyable most of the time.

Major drawbacks include the requirement for very clean water and a constant water pressure. This is not a challenge for everyone, but for us who get our cleanup water from a pond with biomass, it has been an issue. We managed to hobble together a fine enough filter (20 micron is plenty) with enough flow to not bog down our pump. Next year we will bring up a large pool or spa filer and housing, which should solve this issue. Without clean water, little stuff would clog all the little jets, which we would clear by quickly turning up then down the flow on that jet.

The table likes a consistent flow of material, no surging. This is accomplished by the hopper and screw, with careful monitoring by the operator. With clean water, we found that one person could both feed the machine and keep the jets adjusted properly.

Like all tables, there are differing strategies on how clean to get the top, middle, and bottom outputs. We always try to keep all gold out of the bottom. Sometimes we run the top dirty, so there is little to no gold in the middle. Sometimes we run the top clean (and the GoldTron gets it very clean); and leave the middle dirty, then rerun it later, with different jet settings.

We always screen our material to 1/8″ before feeding it in, the gold we get from the Bering Sea is small and rarely has pieces over this size. The plus 1/8″ is easy to pan, especially if we screen off the 1/4″ and pan that separate. The table cuts the material into three sizes, and there are different options for which sizes these are. One size goes to the right side of the table, another to the left side. The larger size goes across a mini sluice. We were skeptical about this sluice at first, but are happy with the outcome. The water bar for the sluice could use some improvement, the water flow is uneven.

All in all, we are very pleased with this shaker table. It’s not for everyone. First, you need to actually get enough gold for the $15k to $18k price tag, plus shipping. Don’t spend more than 5% of your annual production on cleanup. If you have more time than gold, then use a $100 cleanup sluice, $200 in screens, and $50 in pans; then work almost as well, but take a lot more time and skill. But if you have a large amount of concentrates that you need to work through frequently and quickly, without needing panning skills and strenuous/tedious panning, then maybe the GoldTron is for you.

We should have bought one sooner.

Nome sees sharp decline in offshore gold dredgers, port usage

2014 saw a sharp decline in the number of active dredges mining for gold offshore Nome, Alaska. Despite the high numbers of valid mining permits for this type of gold mining, the number of gold dredges moored in the Port of Nome (including the inner harbor, the Snake river channel, and the outer cells) numbered merely 76 at its peak this summer. Gold mining vessels in dry storage on Port of Nome property that never got in the water during 2014 numbered around 28. A similar number of dredges were being stored throughout town on private property in people’s yards; like Blue Water Mining’s $250k 8″ dredge that was in dry dock all year.

This compares to around 90 dredges operating out of the harbor in peak years of 2011 and 2012, when gold prices were 50% higher, and right after California outlawed gold dredging. The decrease in total dredges is mostly due to fewer 6″ and 8″ dredges in the water; these recreational sized operations mostly last less than one year. The lower gold prices combined with lower unemployment and better opportunities at home have decreased interest. And with good reason, most first-year Nome gold miners would have been money ahead if they had stayed home and worked a minimum wage job.

While the number of 10″ dredges has remained about the same, there has been a slight increase in the number of larger excavator-style operations. These vessels take up more space in the harbor, so the overall feel seems to be about the same, as far as crowding goes. The pullout of the Cashman Mining operations, after blowing $7.5M has opened up some space. I expect that Blue Water Gold aka Blue Water Mining won’t be able to afford to return again with their $600k 10″ dredge, after getting less gold than a decent 6″ inflatable dredge for the third year in a row; that should open us some more room.

The Port of Nome reports a sharp increase in port usage since 2011, but this is a flat out lie manipulated figure, designed to try to get more state and federal funds. The increase in numbers is due mostly to the fact that the Port started requiring docking permits for vessels parked in the Snake river (which is probably a violation of state law to charge for this) and they started counting and charging for skiffs. For example, 2011 and prior, we were one vessel; 2012 and after we are counted as 3 vessels (one boat and two skiffs).

For 2015, I expect the trend to continue, much fewer 6″ dredges, several fewer 8″ dredges, about the same number of commercial 10″ dredges, and about the same number or a couple more of larger commercial gold dredges. Most likely there will be some newer in each category, and not all of the past ones will return.

If you are interested in coming to Nome, contact me for more information.

Dry dock all summer 2014

Dry dock all summer 2014

Dry dock all summer 2014

Dry dock all summer 2014

Dry dock all summer 2014

Dry dock all summer 2014

Dry dock all summer 2014

Dry dock all summer 2014

Dry dock all summer 2014

Dry dock all summer 2014

Dry dock all summer 2014

Dry dock all summer 2014