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.

 

Question About Ice Dredging

Question from “topdogintampa”

The Pomrenkes sound like they didn’t do so well over the winter season

Basically no one does well over the winter season. It’s twice as hard, takes twice as many man hours per nozzle hour, and the gold per hour is less than half as good as it is in the summer.

I did through the ice one year in 2011, it was horrible. There was us and one other gold mining operation on all of the Bering Sea. I lost money on that venture. Even if I didn’t have any capital costs, and with gold at $1700/ozt like it was then, I made less than minimum wage.

The Discovery production company wanted us to do it again in 2012 when they filmed the first season under the ice; and we would have if they paid enough and had given us enough warning so we could have staged our equipment differently, as it was our gear was under a 15 foot snowdrift.

My ice hut did end up on one season, the green shelter on skis that they portrayed as Zeke’s. That turned out to be about $12.50/hr for the guys working on it; and they were by far the most successful.

The only reason anyone does through the ice a second year is for the TV show, or they live in Nome year round and have nothing else to do. They would do better working as a checker at a grocery store.

Construction of my ice dredging hut

Construction of my ice dredging hut

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.

View from inside ice hut though tailings hole.

View from inside ice hut though tailings hole.