Dodo's Delight is approaching Point Ley. Foggy and damp. 6kts under power, no wind.
0900 Monday 12th August.
Dodo's Delight is approaching Point Ley. Foggy and damp. 6kts under power, no wind.
6th August 2210 hrs (0710 7/8 UK)
Quiet day. I was on anchor watch from 0400-0600 and then stayed up for an hour or so. After an omelette brunch we lifted the anchor and once more motored closer to the town ship c. 2 nm West. We dropped anchor and leaving Bob onboard went ashore to fill the limited water cans we have up. These consist of well used, former 1 gallon juice bottles! Having previously met the mayor we went to the town offices, which are housed in what resembles a huge igloo. Actually a prefabricated 1970's structure that clearly leaks (buckets on the floor around the inside). It also doubles as the community bingo hall - and bingo in Alaska is a big thing! Point Hope operate their own desalination plant for water.
The library was temporarily closed so I downloaded my last blog entry from their external steps. As the wind swung east we returned to the boat and moved west once more to anchor.
Dinner was fish pie, using the left overs of a large Arctic Chard (a salmon family) that we bought yesterday from a local fisherman for US$20. These fishermen use drift nets from the steeply sloped beach and looking at his haul, are clearly very successful. Point Hope relies heavily on local hunting and fishing. Seals are caught and the town has a whaling quota, this year of 10 whales. To date they have caught 5 (Beluga and grey Bowheads - though they find Beluga meat too rich!). Apparently their sizes are down on last year. They keep the boats in the lagoon to the north of the town, from which they have to sail parallel to the coast for 10 miles before they can leave the lagoon for the open sea.
7th August 1015 hrs (1915 7/8 UK)
A quiet night, some local Easterly wind came in but the prevailing Northerly is still out there. Late in the evening a tug, towing a 2-250' barge started circling offshore - clearly taking shelter from the stronger wide offshore and to the north. It continues to circle now at 1015 hrs Wednesday morning.
Near critical issue just now, whilst reading I hear "running water" in the aft cabin. With so much moisture building up below decks it is important where possible (at anchor) to have port holes open and a through flow of air… David in his wisdom was washing clothes in a bucket and rather than throwing the water over the side was pouring it down the cockpit combings and thence through the port hole. The result one damp sleeping bag, clothes and nearly my lap top - fortunately this was inside its case. My kit is now drying in the wind - which is however damp and the items salt laden so unlikely to be fully dry in the near future as salt water has a tendency to never dry completely.
An early morning e mail to Bob, the skipper from a contact who monitors NW expeditions advised us that a couple of expedition attempts approaching from the East are having similar problems, namely; adverse wind direction and heavy pack ice. They are sitting it out like us but as every day passes I am more concerned than ever that we will get our weather (and ice) break. Even if the ice clears a little and we make the attempt, this years weather raises the concern that it could change again leaving us trapped in the ice - something I joked about with friends before departure but now something we logically and seriously have to weigh up - A 33' GRP production bat is not something you want to be on when the ice squeezes in around you and starts to drive you onto a lee shore, hundreds of miles from civilisation and out of range of the limited resources that feature up here.
I am also aware of the great sponsorship support for the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust that so many have contributed to. It was never a definite that this expedition was a dead cert or that it was a 'walk in the park' and perhaps we all have been too confident that the NW Passage was now easily doable as a result of global warming and the huge steps made in terms of communications, forecasts and equipment over the past 90 years during which year on year successes have increased. It is definitely looking like 2013 is the year where this pattern is interrupted.
7th August 2030 hrs (0530 8/8 UK)
I have spent the majority of the day installing the Autohelm self steering system that Bob bought in the US and I brought out the part he had omitted (the control head (or cockpit display). Prior to leaving Nome I fitted the wheel mounted drive unit (as the wheel required to be removed that was the logical thing to do in the safety of Nome harbour). Today was fitting the cabling, the helm computer and the cockpit control unit. The wiring on Dodo's Delight is a complex web of old, older and not so old with a few more recent additions. It appears that redundant cables are just left in place and even the defunct autopilot parts are to be found. By dinner the drive unit, control unit and computer were all installed in their relevant positions and connected to one another. Power and grounding (earthing) made and the unit is live -just awaiting the fluxgate compass to be fitted and then calibration. Lets hope we have need to use it now!
8th August 2035 hrs (0534 9/8 UK)
A cold, wet and windy day. Gusting force 7-8. Mid morning we re-anchored having dragged c. 300m from 4 to 7 m in depth. Otherwise sitting it out. Pleased with the advice of Vendee and offshore sailor Alex Thomson in bringing an chamois leather out here - useful to keep the condensation build up below at controllable levels.
9th August 1315 hrs (2215 9/8 UK)
Wind looking to break Sunday. Hope to head north then, however the likelihood of making it more than a few hundred miles East is still a concern. Also autumn up here is not far away. During the night, French Canadian yacht Balthazar with Guy and Claire the owners aboard (who had crossed paths last season with Dodo's Delight and then wintered in the Mackenize river) sailed south from Wainwright and anchored 400 m from us. Bob, Steph and I rowed across for coffee and hellos. They had brought a bottle of wine from Fort Ross (E end of Bellow straight) which had been left in the old Hudson Bay Trading Post by the owner of another boat, Billy Budd, which Bob had worked aboard as ice pilot. This afternoon we aim to row ashore to try and download e mails in Point Hope.
Yesterday PM was the first time I realised that actually this expedition may be halted by the ice… I really didn't think that after 89 years the ice would be the worst in all that time (allegedly), but early this morning I was looking at the ice chart and it really is impassable for a stretch of 350-400 miles.
Dodo's Delight remains anchored 2 nm East of Point Hope. The weather forecast continues to predict northerly winds for the coming 5-7 days, which in turn is pushing ice south. Things aren't looking good. Communications with David Scott Cowper, aboard "Polar Bound" located further south in Dutch Harbour confirms our fears that we are running out of time (Scott Cowper was the first person to navigate the NW Passage single handed and is another experienced Arctic Explorer with a purpose designed and built motor yacht for the Arctic elements).
The open ice pack season in the Arctic is shorter to the West than it is in the East. We have a 1000 mile passage to make with no real cover and are very reliant on favourable winds. How long can we sit here, restlessly wanting to move north then East? Once we have made the dash across the north of Alaska things will become easier. Places to run to in inclement weather and from 125 degrees west the coast changes from an uninspiring tundra to a maze of inlets, islands, navigable sounds and thinner ice.
The normal navigable passage season is in August and September, and as we are basically treading water every day that passes makes success less likely - at least in 2013. Whilst the past two decades have seen the ice melt increase in longevity year on year, 2013 had been to date a reversion of the trend. Many are talking about it being a "bad ice year".
We are in communication with a couple of other boats attempting the passage both from our side (the West) and from the Atlantic. All are concerned. At present the ice is between 5 & 7/10ths from Barrow East for a distance of approx. 350 miles - impassable by most yachts, including Dodo's Delight.
Last night we had a crew discussion on options. If we get a break, we potentially could get to 135 degrees west before the winter bites back. At this longitude the Mackenzie river runs inland into the canadian Yukon territory and c. 120 miles inland there lies the town of Inuvik - a potential wintering hide. However the Mackenzie river has a complex outfall into the Arctic Ocean with many lagoons and tributaries with limited accurate charts. Just getting up the river would cause challenges.
So for now we sit and wait, fingers and toes crossed that we get a consistent Northerly.
Whilst we are protected, and have now found good holding (for the anchor), cabin fever is now on the cards. Five people, all with very different characters, on a small boat which is damp, condensation running everywhere, food staples being tinned varieties and the constant movement is bound to bring friction. We did buy two loaves of bread from the Native Store in Point Hope yesterday - US$10 a loaf! Our living area is little bigger than a garden shed or small bathroom.
The Isle of Wight County Press's weekly column on Richard is online.
We departed Nome at 0800 hrs (1700 hrs GMTl) on Tuesday 30th July. A surprisingly warm southerly wind pushing us north, aided by a 1-2 knot current flowing from the Pacific into the Arctic ocean and being squeezed through the Bering Straight.
With just a few sea birds to keep us company two hour watches began. By early afternoon our first problem arose. The engine, aiding our northerly course stalled and wouldn't start. I was off watch and asleep. Unbeknown to me, once again the skipper and crew of the good ship "Dodo's Delight" see me as the fixer (more recently this role has become official). An hour later, I had replaced both fuel filters (the old ones looking in good fettle however) and the air filter had been cleaned, dried and reinstalled. The engine fired back into life and our progress north was once again sped up.
The need for the engine at this stage is not critical, we have sea room (space) but as we close in to the NW corner of Alaska, should the weather turn foul, the likelihood of no escape routes, shallow water and on shore winds makes having an engine all the more reassuring.
Whales were spotted twice over the first 48 hours, on both occasions some 400 metres away, minding their own business, their flukes lifting 2-3 metres in the air before they dived.
By Wednesday evening we had received updated weather and ice forecasts, these can be irregular in this part of the world, and often conflicting depending on where they come from. Northerly winds (to F7) were due towards the end of the week, this gave us us few options than to look for shelter. One thing I should make clear - this boat, with the weight of stores and equipment we are carrying, is not designed to go to windward unless you are desperate.
Unlike the Solent, Alaska only has one marina (so I found in the Alaskan equivalent of Yellow Pages!) - which is no where near where we are going, so our time is spent scouring charts looking for bolt holes - safe potential anchorages. We aimed for Point Hope, the last peninsula "sticking out" to the west of Alaska before we can start slowly heading East to Barrow. The benefit of Point Barrow is that is had two potential anchorages, one north protecting us from the southerly wind and one south doing the opposite. Many of these peninsulas are interwoven with lagoons, some of which in the right conditions we could attempt to enter to be even more secure in a gale.
Asleep once more off watch, the engine died and again wouldn't' start. Confident the issue was not fuel filter or air filter based I quietly set about working out what it could be. I am no engineer - but pragmatic and practical & I enjoy tinkering and know "there is always a way to resolve"! Conclusion was that the glow plugs were not helping to start, and the injectors could be an issue once the engine was firing. The former are all now replaced with pre-used spares. The injectors will have to wait for another day as they are torqued up and I fear breaking something if I try to force them. However so far so good and the engine is running once more. And all this soon after someone had managed to block the heads (toilet)… guess who had the lovely job of unblocking it!
Thursday 01 August and we anchored to the north of Point Barrow of a lagoon. Desolate, cold at night despite the almost constant daylight. We are now well inside the Arctic circle. The holding (seabed) is like marbles - so getting an anchor to hold takes perseverance.
I have been in offshore sailing attire since we departed on Tuesday, my wonderfully warm Slam thermals, mid layer thermals and outers, though so far no need for oilskins. I have been wearing my new Dubarry Crosshaven boots since departure and have to say I'm impressed. With leather and Gore-tex structure they are soft, comfortable and allow the feet to breath so no other shoes (or boots) are needed. Bearing in mind we have limited fresh water, no water maker and I had luggage allowances to con side, it is far to say clothes changes are infrequent (read = none to date).
On Friday we motored south around Point Hope as the forecast Northerly breeze approached and anchored close to the settlement. A landing craft acting as a supply tug with a barge alongside was unloading directly onto the beach-head. As the night came in the and increased to F6 the wind suddenly veered to the East. Despite having 50m of chain and two anchors out in 6m of water woke to hear activity. Getting on deck could see the breaking sea on the beach c.70m away and we started to raise the anchor. This the the anchor windlass was not working so it was a heavy work, but soon we were in open water and hove to (backing the sails to leave us effectively stationary, wallowing in confused seas but safe from danger). The tug and barge team had the same issues and had withdrawn offshore slowly motoring in circles, despite being 120' and 250' respectively.
On the morning of Sunday 4th August we were back into the lee of the new Northerly wind at the south side of Point Hope. We moored c.2miles further East in a more consistent depth of 5m. This time the anchor has held well. The forecast (strong Northerly's up to F.7) has us here for potentially 5 days so despite discussing options to head back to Nome to sit it out, or indeed to Kotezebue, a town 120 miles to theSE we are in favour of waiting. During Sunday, the now official "Mr Fix It - myself" traced the anchor windlass wiring and found a poor electrical connection… now repaired we have the luxury of a winch to lift the anchor once more!
Monday's plan is to go ashore and explore the delights of Point Hope, establish if we can top up on fuel and water supplies. We know the village (population 764) has a general store and a hotel! The former is important to me as I have found we are missing one critical ingredient within our stores: tinned tomatoes.
Brief text from the Sat Phone - "We are at Point Hope, circa 300 miles north of Nome. Northerly winds are closing the ice, so we are waiting here for Southerly winds to return.
I spent the first 2 days at sea fixing the engine, touch wood I've sorted it!"
Richard Nicolson - Sailing West to East across the North West Passage in aid of the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust.
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