Emily rides the waves in search of gold
The reality TV show Bering Sea Gold is in its 12th season and one of its stars, Emily Riedel, captain and owner of the gold dredge Eroica, is out there on the Bering Sea with her crew scouring the seabed for the yellow metal. For Riedel it’s about the mining, not the TV show, which she confesses she doesn’t watch.
“We’ve been working as much as we possibly can,” said Riedel. “It’s been a weird year because there was so much ice out there. It delayed our launch significantly. We had a very cold spring.”
They got in some mining and then the wind picked up in the afternoons, making it too rough. “So we didn’t get a lot of time in. These weather patterns really hurt miners and our ability to produce gold. COVID has kept some from coming back so it’s a very small fleet,” she said.
Walking around the Port of Nome finds a lot of dredges tied up at the piers and even more of them hauled out on dry land. Looking out to sea there are not so many at work. Has the shine worn off the gold? Not for Emily. She’s thinking about a second boat, one that will go long distances and explore the shores. “I’m thinking about a dredge I can use in a different way,” she said. “My original boat, the Eroica, which I’m proud of and love, I’ve had for about six or seven years. She’s a great operation for what she is. But she’s not necessarily the most seaworthy vessel out there on the Bering Sea. I was really looking for something more mobile that I could take long distance and live aboard, that sort of thing.”
The 2020 ice mining season ended early. Another month and a half of shooting was planned for the TV show but COVID shutdowns cast a long shadow over production. The crews had to quickly pack up their equipment and get out of Nome. Transportation was shutting down and the 18 or so technicians and executives responsible for the show had to cut and run.
“This is a documentary style show,” said Emily. “We don’t have scenarios written up for us that we follow along with.” The producers can be out on the boat but the miners are just going about their business. “I think what happens on the Bering Sea is re-written into a story that is accessible for audiences. it’s going to be condensed and modified. I think the people on the ground, the people that are part of the production company, if they are doing their job right, they are among the community and getting to know the people who live here. Not just in the bars but in different settings and situations. There’s a general curiosity about how people live up here and how people think up here. And that’s what the viewers are interested in. The bars are representing just one aspect of Nome life. Sometimes that’s what gets all the attention but there’s a deeper richer situation happening here that I wish would get more focus,” she said.
In the early days of the pandemic it wasn’t for sure that the TV show would be returning to Nome for another season. They’ve now made a commitment and will be in Nome in mid-July, but according to Emily Riedel that’s late. “They’re getting here sometime in the next week or so and they’ll have to do their quarantine,” she said. “This is the first time they’ve showed up this late. They’re putting a lot of hope into us having a good fall out there. That’s not a good thing to put hope in because the weather is so highly variable.”
There will a shake up with the cast. Zeke Tenhoff will be back as will be Emily’s dad Steve Riedel.
“Shawn is doing some shenanigans,” she said. “They’re really banking on us having a strong fall weather wise and mining wise and we don’t usually get them. Every once in a while we get these nice Indian summers in September where we get days of calm. But the last four or five years I feel the weather has been pretty wretched that late. They’re talking about staying up until November.”
The number of dredges undergoing construction at the dock or in the yards is surprising. It’s time to look for gold. “The biggest mistake you can make is to sacrifice any time that the Bering Sea is ice free in favor of working on your equipment,” said Riedel. She says it’s important to be ready to go at the earliest possible moment. “Our business relies entirely on a well-behaved ocean. So guys who linger and tinker on shore trying to perfect their operation are making the worst mistake possible,” she said. “The strategy is early. I don’t know what these guys are doing, what they’re thinking. They bring barges up and rearrange everything in the middle of the damn season.”
She wonders where some of these miners get their money.
“I’ve never accepted investors and I never would. I don’t want anyone else to tell me what to do.” She feels taking in investors means you essentially have to lie to people who are innocent. “If you’re investing money up here you’re kind of a fool,” she said. “Unless you’re willing to come up here and put the work in and spend your time and suffer along with the rest of us, you’re a fool to think you can just come up here, throw your money at something and have it produce gold for you. That’s not how it works.”