On Board With: Emily Riedel

Emily Riedel is a prospector on Bering Sea Gold.

Emily Riedel: Bering Sea Gold Prospector
Emily Riedel: Bering Sea Gold ProspectorEmily Riedel

There aren’t many 26-year-old boat captains out there willing to prospect for gold in the Bering Sea. As far as we know, there’s only one who also happens to be a talented aspiring opera singer. We caught up with Emily Riedel, star of Bering Sea Gold on the Discovery Channel, about her life.

Did you ever doubt your decision to pursue dredging?
Every single second was a second of conflict. Every day was the question: What the hell am I doing here?

What made you buy a dredge?
For me, boat ownership was a necessity. There are a lot of chaotic decisions up there, and I didn't like it. I wanted to do my own thing. In the last three years, I definitely have had a lot of negative experiences learning how to be a boss and a leader. But being a master of your own destiny … it was the only way to continue.

Describe your dredge.
It barely qualifies as a watercraft (laughs). My boat is a catamaran-style aluminum pontoon boat with two 50 hp Yamaha engines on the back. It draws about 17 inches and can carry roughly 7,000 pounds.

What's the Bering Sea like?
There's a lot of gold, but the Bering Sea is an angry bitch. It's got a different wave pattern and frequency. It gets nasty at 25 knots, just frothing insanity. It can be calm, then in an hour, it's a raging sea. The weather forecast is wrong half the time.

How does weather affect you?
We can't mine in over 18 to 20 knots of wind; the platform becomes unstable. We work in Norton Sound, which is more protected, but it can be agonizing. We spend a lot of our time racing to reach harbor.

Have you had experiences that were life-threatening?
Imagine, you're diving at 25 to 30 feet, with 5-foot visibility and very cold water. You're tethered and weighted down, running heavy mining equipment. It's so easy to mess up and get tangled. You're always on the brink.

How do you feel about your career choice these days?
This is the most bipolar profession, other than gambling. It can be pure bliss when the water is flat, the "viz" is clear, and the gold is there. That's true satisfaction and happiness. The feeling never goes away; it's like being a kid in a candy store.

Are you still drawn to pursuing a career in music?
I often feel pulled both ways. Is the pull of Alaska stronger? I'm not sure. I love being out there. It's beautiful and challenging, and the heart lies in the adventure of it.