Text from Rich - Arrived Aasiaat last night nearly lost rig on end of fishing boat, lost wind generator instead! Glad I shouted to helm as otherwise could have been both!. All ok.
Quick texts from Richard - "Left Pond Inlet an hour ago. 550 miles across Baffin Bay to Greenland. Looking forward to getting back now".
Tues 24th Sept - "Monday am stopped at Clyde Inlet for 30g of fuel as light wind forecast until Thurs. Away after 4 hours. 200nm to Greenland. Engine issues this am, water in filters at 80%...contaminated at Clyde? Drained and cleared and on course again. Aasiaat next stop.
For those of you really worried - despite -0.8 degrees sea temp the hat is OK and resting ;-)))
Monday 16th September
Having reconnoitred Arctic Bay on the previous day, we were up smartly to get the various replenishments done early. Bob who is inevitably the early riser had itchy feet and headed off to the shore with empty jerry cans for fuel, he then returned and dis the same with the water cans, by which time David had joined him to be left marooned on the beach between return trips. Eventually we all were ashore: I purposely having washed the few items of worn clothing (my Slam thermals mainly) on board in warm salt water and bagged them for rinsing ashore. We ascended on Jacques at the hotel where we based ourselves for the next few hours; some of us internet'ing, reading, enjoying coffee on a level footing and using the shower. He kindly also allowed us to fill our water cans.
Having done a small food 'stock up' on Sunday (which created some onboard tension as we should be eating the cupboards bare from now on so Dodo's Delight is left to winter with an empty larder) there was little else to do other than enjoy the time ashore.
During a previous visit to Arctic Bay, Bob had met the regions curator of the heritage centre, whose main job is to promote the area for commercial gain; whatever that may be from tourism to industry. A Canadian Government employee, I met Clare on visiting the Heritage Centre at the top of the town to the east. He was most welcoming, I bought some locally crafted items. He is clearly a talented photographer and his large Apple desk top screen had a stunning photo, taken a night before of Dodo's Delight anchored in the bay with the towns streetlights illuminating the water. So that explains the bright flashes I had noticed the previous night from the boat!
Clare had asked Bob to call a "local" journalist for the main NW Territories newspaper for an interview, this was left to me to do, using the Heritage Centre's telephone to call her in Quebec and giving her a five minute overview of the trip so far. ~Jane was clearly knowledgable of the NW Passage and it transpired that she had completed part of it in the Canadian Coastguard ice breaker. The news interest perhaps more-so than normal as the Canadian Coastguard, which has been out helping a number of adventurers in danger in the past few weeks had just lost three crew in a helicopter crash here in the Arctic, though not during one of the rescues that we had heard about.
Tuesday 17th September
Whilst the residents of Arctic Bay slept, the crew of Dodo's Delight were up for an early start. A quick cup of tea and in a flat calm I had manually pulled in the fifty metres of chain as Bob came on deck, started the engine as I lifted the anchor off the bottom, heaved the last ten metres of chain and we were away. There is actually little point in everyone getting togged up in deck gear for a simple activity which lasts a few minutes after which they have to descend below again to strip off their layers. Karen took on the first watch and we were off.
The day was spent making our way north out of Admiralty Inlet before turning East around the top of Borden Peninsula of Baffin Island. The weather wind wise was not the executed North-westerlies but north-easterlies. By evening the plan, as always was flexible as to route, we had Navy Board Inlet to go to should we need to seek shelter. I had a cracking sail for an hour of my watch, reaching then close hauling and reeling in the miles with a knot of favourable tide under us.
By nightfall the sea conditions were confused, a 20 knot headwind against a 2 knot tide was creating short choppy seas. Motor-sailing into it I was doing long and short tacks and closing in on the top of Navy Board Inlet. After I went below Bob decided to heave to.
Wednesday 18th September
When my watch came back at 0300 hrs he was happy for me to make sail and I brought Dodo's Delight back onto course and we headed NE towards Navy Board Inlet, which runs between Baffin Island and Bylot Island. The weather forecast was anticipating a strong northerly and as the barometer started to fall it was decided to take shelter at the North end of the inlet at Tay Bay, a small inlet (or to me a loch!). I was awoken as the others dropped anchor, behind a small glacial spit at the NE side of Tay Bay. This small glacial loch (my phrase!) is stunning for its diverse geology, a gravel (moraine) spit, a steep mountain with tundra to the NE, a snow covered mountain to the SW, a rock outcrop at the entrance and a beach at the foot of the glacier. The morning sunlight was making the spectacular setting all the mores as we were anchored in a small area of pancake (newly formed) ice.
As the breeze filled in from the NW the pancake ice dissipated. We let some additional anchor chain out and as did so I replaced the midpoint shackle which was looking suspect with a bent pin. Before nightfall as a precaution we laid the second anchor.
Thursday 19th September
The classic day in the North West passage seafarer… weather watching… will it? won't it? The weather forecasts in the Arctic are always variable in accuracy. The wind increased and the swell increased as it forced its way up Tay Bay from Navy Board Inlet and Lancaster Sound to the North. In equally quick measure the sea's calmed and the boat wallowed on her anchors.
We spent the day reading, eating, sleeping and waiting. We did here from the Swedes aboard 'Anna'. They were 200 miles off Greenland fighting some tough conditions and clearly were looking forward to a safe anchorage. David and Jane aboard 'Polar Bound' are anchored in Clyde Inlet, which is approximately 230 miles SE of Pond Inlet awaiting an improvement in the conditions before heading to the southern tip of Greenland. A lone Arctic Fox, resplendent in it's winter coat of white fur, with just one small patch of summer brown strode over the adjacent mountainside preying for it's dinner. It zig-zagged up the hillside, occasionally stopping to investigate a hollow, before checking over it's shoulder and moving on.
From Tay Bay to Greenland there are two route options. Out of Navy Board Inlet, turn right (starboard) and along the remaining part of Lancaster Sound and into Baffin Bay, or south then East along NB Inlet before entering Baffin Bay. The differences in distance are negligible, but the later option has the town of Pond Inlet at the far end and the potential for a brief stop… there really wasn't an option in the minds of the crew!
Friday 20th September
Navy Board Inlet has provided some of the most dramatic and beautiful scenery to date. It has also provided some a couple f days of truly breathtaking sunrises and sunsets. Friday morning was no different. We lifted the anchors and motored into the incoming swell, hoisted the mainsail and turned down Navy Board Inlet. Having had the unscheduled stop we aimed to collect some water at Pond Inlet before the 500 mile crossing of Baffin Bay. The wind astern, and with a favourable tide we shot along. With the first watch I was coaxing the boat to catch following waves and managed to get 7.6 knots out of Dodo's Delight… and thats before the tidal benefit.
Soon after my watch commenced, with Bob, Steph and David still on deck enjoying the views disaster struck. As I was poling out the genoa to starboard so that we could goose-wing the sails (in order to sail directly downwind) the genoa sheet clipped my hat and we had a genuine HOB emergency (Hat over board!). Now, I have sailed on many boats where I have experienced this calamity. The seas are filled with caps and hats of all sizes, colours and types that have come to this hasty and tragic end. With sea temperatures at or below freezing, no hat, however healthy could survive these temperatures for long. A fit human being would have only a few minutes to survive before succumbing to the cold. With the proliferation of corporate identities and logos adorning many hats and often given away as 'freebies' most sailors simply adjourn to their hat drawer and pick another to wear.
MY HAT, however is something rather special. Firstly I have had it for 24 years. Secondly it has been with me through thick and thin including a circumnavigation and there was no way my old friend was going to be lost without a fight.
David was quickly spotting my hat as it fought the waves and we careered onwards. Steph started to untie the boat hook. Bob started the engine and turned the boat back on her track. I eased the sheet to enable this to happen whilst also keeping my eyes on the fateful spot where 'the hat' had fallen. After what felt like hours I was forlorn and feared the worse; a blue hat in a blue sea is well disguised. Then, just as the bow crashed off a wave I caught sight of it, we bore off and with the boat hook I managed to retrieve my old friend. I am pleased to say that as we had actually completed the manoeuvre in a total of just under three minutes, after a quick wringing out and a rest my hat appears to have made a full recovery.
As night fell the winds dropped. We motored east towards Pond Inlet, a full moon on the bow guiding us and illuminating the seas ahead. In the early hours, whilst I was off watch, we motored into the bay below the hamlet of Pond Inlet and anchored.
Saturday 21st September
The significance of Pond Inlet to those aboard Dodo's Delight is that whomever has an opinion on where the North West Passage starts and ends, we are most definitely beyond the Eastern end and therefore have completed the passage.
As I wrote during my last blog posting in Arctic Bay - where we had intended to make straight for Greenland, "if all goes well…" we should depart Pond Inlet later today, into a 20 knot Southerly wind which is forecast to decrease over the coming 24 hours. We have a number of alternative destinations in Greenland and these will be decided on as time progresses.
©. Richard Nicolson 2013
Saturday 07 September
The NW passage is something of an enigma, one minute I have experienced warm (well +14 deg), sunny weather, and literally within an hour or two it has been below freezing, foggy and snowing.
The enjoyment of Fort Ross, quickly tired. The 48 hour stop over has turned to days. Whilst one day the weather was good; the ice in Prince Regent was not, and the days the ice was good, the weather was not. Bob clearly does not like going to windward in Dodo's Delight. To be fair, a heavily laden cruiser such as she probably isn't the best craft to be slicing into near freezing waters. The situation has been that a 100+ mile long stretch of ice has curled round the top of Somerset Island and been pushed south into Price Regent Inlet. At times blocking our exit to the north and east, at times indicating that a split may open and allow us to break through to the East.
Saturday, as with the coming few days were mundane… waiting for the window to leave. With two actors laid, our position for once was stable and whilst the wind rose and then abated, they did their job. News from Peter and Pelle aboard Anna said they had made it t the north of Prince Regent inlet, and were holed up waiting to get east once their own gale and ice situation had improved. We heard that the Michaela Rose, and an American yacht had required Canadian Coastguard icebreaker assistance on their trip to Resolute out of Prince Regent Inlet.
Monday 09 September
Throughout Sunday night the seas were mirror like. Hardly a zephyr of wind was felt and I slept with the niggling thought that we should be underway. Early Monday morning Bob put it to us… should we at least make some Easterly ground before the ice closes such any further? The unanimous 'yes' was heard across the saloon. By 9 am we were motoring past a quiet polar Bound, David and Jane clearly still in their bunks. After some discussion between Bob and I we set a course due East. Our theoretical exit route is NNE but the ice running south from Lancaster sound meant we needed to get East first. The forecast also showed some strong NW winds. During my watch, I sailed a with a little north in my course, based on the assumption that when we meet the ice, we could run south along it down wind rather than trying to beat into the breeze to find the gap which the ice charts showed.
By early afternoon the ice had appeared on the horizon: A long, continuous band, clipping the horizon from the north to the south as far as the eye could see… both at deck level and 40' up the mast. The ice chart does indicate latitude and longitude lines, spaced at large intervals. From these i spent some time guesstimating where the neck of the ice midway down it was thin at 2/10th. The rest was 6/10th or worse. Karen was on watch as we approached the thick pack and on scaling the mast I could see what appeared to be a narrow, navigable break approximately 2 miles to our south. We ran off and started the chicane through the ice. It lasted for a couple of hours; at times we doubled back on ourselves, or headed south, north but not in the desired easterly direction until after about ten miles we sailed into clear water once more to the east of it.
Tuesday 10 - Wednesday 11 September
As daylight came in Tuesday morning we motored into Fitzgerald Bay, located on the western shore of the Brodeur Peninsula (which is in turn at the western extremity of Baffin Island). This bay has a complex entrance. The depth drops from 40+ metres to few, and at one stage we found the seabed rock! The bay itself to the north is shallow, and as we were expecting northerly winds we anchored in 6 m depth, but 3/4 mile from the beach. The limitations of anchoring in the 2 x 2m bay was also hampered by underwater Pingu's creating obstructions. As the wind built the inevitable dragging of the anchor took place. However switching to the heavier CQR (which incidentally stands for "Chatham Quick Release" ;-), and re-anchoring close to the sole island in the bay and we were snug again. Close to the east end of the small island, in the sunlight, the pingu below the sea surface caught sunlight and reflected an azure sea; you could, just by looking at that small headland and sea think it was in tropical waters as it almost resembled a coral reef, that is except for the cold temperatures of both the sea and the air above! It was here that ominous looking footprints in the snow down to the water were very clearly visible… Polar Bear tracks. For 48 hours we read, cooked, ate, slept and did anchor watches. More Arctic monotony but this little anchorage was rather a reassuring pace for me, I took a great likeness to it, so like Sophie Louise Bay in the Tasmania Islands, this one is now called "HEMN Island" after I named it after a not so little girl I know.
Thursday 12 - Friday 13 September
The weather window was upon us and by mid morning we had hauled in the anchors and were cautiously negotiating our way out of the bay. There was a leg of 100 nm northwards to the end of Prince Regent Inlet. From there we would turn east once more. Days are becoming rapidly shorter, with darkness falling by 9pm local (we are still operating on Tuk time which is -7 hrs from BST). Thursday was fairly uneventful but we were seeing a fairly high number of growlers and small bergs flowing on the wind southwards and towards us, albeit they move very slowly. After my watch ended at 2300 hrs we hove to, so that the others could keep a drifting watch, as I was just falling asleep there was an almighty scrapping sound close to my ear… on the outside of the hull. Despite being hove to, we had drifted down onto a berg and run into it. There followed a series of mechanical noises as the engine was started, rammed into reverse, then accelerated into reverse and then flung into full ahead, at the same time as the boat veered to port and then starboard… it later transpired that the engine throttle had been used a little too enthusiastically, and then had been jammed into reverse so far that it locked into the steering wheel!
Quickly redressed I was on deck with Steph and Bob. Whilst they doused sails, I turned the radar on to see that we had drifted into a fairly large group of bergs. We slowly motored SW to clear water, and then lay-a-hull for the remaining darkness.
During Friday we steadily progressed out of Prince Regent Inlet. This took us on a course of North, gradually slowly turning East at the head of the peninsula. We are close to magnetic north pole as whilst steering a GPS true course of 035 degrees, the main compass is reading a course of 200 degrees! This also means that the auto helm compass has decided it's not playing… so no autohelm, no sitting under the cuddy keeping warm and no popping below to make a cuppa (whilst holding both hands round the kettle to extract any redundant heat into two layers of gloves).
Many years ago, when my father, having finished building the most recent family yacht had omitted to install an engine, and we therefore learnt to sail the proper way, without any gizmos and always sailing onto and off her moorings I quickly, like my siblings, became quite good at it. it then got to a stage that after a weekend away on the Clyde, I would send everyone below so I could do this single handedly. Then once that was mastered I got the clever idea that I could do all the manoeuvres from her foredeck and started rigging rope lines, (or "reigns) from the tiller, around a block (pulley) along each side deck and all the way to the bow from where like a chariot driver in reverse I could helm her onto her mooring. Needless to say, using the same trick, I rigged up lines in a similar manner from the top of Dodo's Delight steering wheel and forward to the companionway hatch. Thereby enabling steering in more comfort! The occasional use of the plastic fish slice from the galley is required to clear the ice from the buddy windows.
The temperature dropped, sea temperature being below freezing at -1.5 to -2.4 deg and much of the spray landing on deck and turning immediately into ice. The land we were following is rugged, high, steep rock faces, snow lying where it can or falling steeply down to where it can cling. In the same way as the land rises so steeply, so too are the depths. At just over a mile offshore the depths are over 400 m deep.
Saturday 14 September
We had agreed to make a call as we reached Lancaster Sound and turned East as to where we should stop. If for no other reason than a run ashore. Aside Fort Ross, where the only other civilisation was aboard other boars or in the cold refuge hut, we have not set foot ashore in a settlement since Cambridge Bay. We agreed that Arctic Bay, in Admiralty Inlet was a good place to go, partly as the main alternative is Pond Inlet which has an exposed anchorage.
The NW Passage over the years has been viewed as the area between either Point Barrow (Alaska's NW corner) or the Bering Sea to either Lancaster Sound or Baffin Island. Others will have their own views or definition. As far as Bob was concerned, Lancaster Sound is the easterly end and some would therefore say that as we entered Lancaster sound on Saturday morning we had completed the passage, albeit we still have some way to go before the trip is over.
We rounded the tip of the peninsula during day break… and right into 3/10th's ice. Whilst Dodo's Delight is not seriously hampered by this ice, it reverberates through the hull if you run into a piece, and constant battering won't do the waterline any good. More serious however is the potential for a piece to be driven by the propellor into the hull and damage either part, or the 'P' bracket (which holds the propellor shaft to the boats hull) or bearings. We gouged our way through it and gradually eased our way offshore to clear round it to the north. Soon thereafter David encountered 'pancake' ice - newly formed light pieces that form what looks like residual fat mixed with water in a saucepan. Again we drove on, and by the time I took over from him I started to move offshore again to circle around it.
By late afternoon we had motored south down Admiralty Inlet into Arctic Bay. The approach, for the last few miles is impressive. A near vertical, reddish rock face of 300' in height and about four miles in length welcomes you to the bay. For anyone who has seen or been to Suez or the Corinth Canal's - this looks like one side of it, almost cut by mankind it is so straight. We motored into the bay, a gentle circular one with a steep gradient rising away from the shore to the hill behind. The hamlet or town set in a semi circular fashion around the beach with the usual array of houses, sheds, two supermarkets, small generating station and government buildings nestling within it. The beach littered with abandoned skidoo's, long wooden sledges, aluminium motor boats and abandoned broken outboards.
Sunday 15 September
During the day we all went ashore. We bought what should be our last food provisions, mainly fresh (bread, milk, a little veg) as we aim to run stores down by the end of the trip. I walked through the hamlet, which as with most paces we have been to doesn't take long and stumbled upon the "Inn". A double story prefabricated metal clad building, with small regularly place windows. As I walked up the steps Steph came out, beckoned me in and introduced me to Jacques (Quebec Canadian). He runs the local hotel, which also has a restaurant. He kindly offered, for a small fee, for us to use a room for showers during our visit and use of the internet. He also, it later transpired the person to arrange fuel and water through. Despite speaking fairly good English it also allowed me to practise my french - albeit we both agreed that my English French and his Canadian French were incompatible we actually had a fairly long discussion.
The intention (at the time of writing) is to take on a small amount of fuel tomorrow, as diesel is subsidised in Greenland by the Danish so we will run tanks down between here and there and some more water.
I spent an hour or two on the hotels internet whilst watching CNN news - the first update on the outside world though most was US sports news on the lobby TV and skyping Sophie then walked back to make phone calls using the supermarket public phone. Bob had taken the dingy back to the boat and by the time the remainder of the crew had assembled on the beach and shouted across it was clear he was enjoying an afternoon siesta! The local chidden, always very inquisitive in these parts assembled around us, and before long Steph had been coerced into spending her dollars on an assortment of animal remains (local artefacts ;-)).
After 40 minutes Bob finally appeared on deck and started to row ashore to collect us. Fortunately the weather was almost balmy. I sat on the beach enjoying the sun. Steph decided she would swim out to the boat and was half way there when Bob started to row inshore. Despite some concerning minutes whilst Steph tried to get out of the water, she eventually managed to get her feet around the unhinged boarding ladder (in it's 'up' position) on the stern and clamber aboard. The remainder of the crew followed in the dingy; dry.
So what next? The wind is expected to turn to 20-30 kts of Easterly, dissipating by late Monday to Tuesday. We intend then to head north around Baffin Island to then turn southeast to Greenland. Once there we will be finding a safe place to lay-up Dodo's Delight for the closing winter and the NW passage trip will be completed. If it all goes according to plan (it never will!) we should be looking at flight schedules and availability in two weeks time.
In the meantime I still have a few personal boxes to tick in respect to Arctic experiences, and I hope to be able to write about these next time, or to tell you what they are and how I will fulfil them at another time, place and probably on another boat.
©. Richard Nicolson 2013
Monday 02 September
We awoke early, the nights weather had brought a thick covering (5') of snow both to the decks of Dodo's Delight and to the land surrounding us. No longer could we see rock, just a blanket of fresh whiteness. We weighed anchor and motored back to Fort Ross and Depot Bay. This time, on finding a good spot, we laid two anchors, the first with c. 60m of chain in 8m of water, and a second, on chain and rope at an angle of 40 degrees off. Peter & Pelle (wouldn't that make a great Eurovision band name?) came over to invite us to dinner. Pelle resembles the quite, hardened, chiselled Frenchman in the film Ronin. They stayed for coffee - we cracked out the finest real stuff (as accidentally once mixed with instant in the galley daily use jar so it has that "real feel" with instant making!).
Early in the evening, after an attempt to cook in the refuge hut ashore (cooker wouldn't light) we reconvened on board the delightful 'Anna'. Pelle and his brother built her in the early 1980's having bought the bare hull. Welded in steel, her plates are cut long and thin so she resembled a clinker built boat. Ketch rigged, with a raised bulwark she is a very pretty adaptation of the famous Colin Archer Norwegian designs. As a slight deviation, my father in the early 1950's sailed a Colin Archer yacht, the Marken with two others from the UK, via the Panama Canal to Vancouver, Canada - quite a pioneering voyage in those days with no mod-cons. Anyway, "Anne" is simple but rugged, her cabin lined with Ash panels and some of the woodwork is painted - very Scandinavian, and appealing. She has a fabulous stainless steel heater with chimney that not only is a focal point but belches out copious quantities of that rare commodity up here… heat!
We enjoyed a wonderful meal, prepared by Peter of fresh salmon. He and Pelle have been setting a small drift net from the beach, held with rocks that then spans a distance of about 15 m. In this they are catching 10lb salmon. On one occasion a few days later they were still setting the net when we saw movement in the water, and Pelle hoisted out of the water a good size specimen. As a result our staple meat for the entire visit to Fort Ross has been local fresh fish. It is tremendously 'meaty' and being unformed is quite different to what we are now all so used to. I am not a big salmon fan but have been converted when it comes to fresh, free, Arctic Char and it's close relations.
Tuesday 03 September
As time progresses on this adventure (we are now into our sixth week since departure from Nome), crew dynamics continue to evolve. In no way do I want to make comments that my crew mates would at a future date deem libellous or inaccurate. In the main we manage to walk (sail?) the fine line between all being best of friends one moment, to near mutiny the next. The people aspect was always part of the attraction of this trip, with this crew for me. I first met Bob the skipper only a few months ago and the crew only really when we met up in Nome so always knew things would get interesting at times. I have on more than one occasion mentioned to the others a remark I am making in my journal or blog in order to ensure they know that I am not just writing about the landmark we are passing or the particular stretch of water we are in.
We heard via e mail that one of the teams (Belgian) heading west have run into difficulty off Barrow where they have had to abandon their boat and were lifted off by helicopter. They are safe and are now awaiting a tug from Prudhoe Bay to try and re-float her off the beach or nearby shallows. When we contemplated stopping at Barrow we decided the adjacent shoreline, despite there being a landing point, was too exposed and unprotected.
The constant concern for the past few days (and as you will see for the days to come0 has been the weather and ice reports. At present a band of ice runs from the tip of Somerset Island to the north (at Barrow Strait / Lancaster Sound), some 160 nm away, south towards us (we are at the bottom or south of Somerset Island). This pack ice is 8/10th's or worse. At the same time the reviling winds are N or NW, pushing the ice down on us. Whilst there are channels running to both the East and West of it these could close at any stage. We have contemplated running south and turning around the leading edge before heading north, however there are few bolt holes to run to along the Brodeur Peninsula and the prevailing winds would be on the nose, and forecasts vary but include regular mention of F8 (40 kts). The advice and instinct is to wait.
After a five day marinade, the final meat from the Musk Ox, gratefully received in Cambridge Bay was cooked for dinner by Karen. Having made the first disastrous attempt to cook it where I whole heartedly messed it up and turned once good meat into an inedible form on the day of departure from Cam Bay Karen did the late Musk Ox proud and produced a wonderful braised version for dinner. Karen is openly dyslexic and having close friends and family who are hampered with dyslexia she is a good role model, not afraid to ask for assistance as she writes her own blog. It is also a credit to her as a retired senior nurse and TA Colonel that she managed it through her career so well. After dinner Steph, ever the one to want to play games (she has made her own set of 'Articulate' whilst on board) managed to coerce us all into a humorous and laughter filled game of "Run, Chip, Queen", utilising the Penne Pasta as gambling chips.
Wednesday 04 September
What a surreal awakening. I stepped on deck to see 'Anna' and 'Polar Bound' anchored in their usual spots to the north, and on turning round was slightly caught off guard to see a gin palace anchored to the entrance of Depot Bay. This motor yacht was actually quite elegant, white, with two decks and about 150' (actually later confirmed as 163'). We coerced Bob to call them up on the VHF and thereafter the days events unfolded.
The 'Michaela Rose', registered in Southampton UK had steamed from the Pacific with her crew of 12 under the watchful eye of her captain; Dutchman Tom. They had stopped at Cambridge Bay to collect their guests; the owner and his friends (12 in total) and were heading for Resolute where they would fly home and the boat would head to Halifax and then New York. We 'invited' ourselves over (under the auspices of wanting to see their ice chart). The captain was a little hesitant, but eventually agreed that once the guests had lunched and were on their way ashore to sample the limited delights of Fort Ross we could go over. Clearly Captain Tom didn't want the riffraff on the sail boat getting too close to the guests! On arrival we (Bob, Steph and myself) passed the dingy painter to one of the deck crew, ascended the ships boarding steps, went up a second flight of steps to the luxurious, mahogany panelled bridge. There Tom, and the Ice Pilot, discussed the weather and ice situation.
On completion of the technicalities we thanked them for their hospitality and clearly, as the guests were about to return, it was time for us to leave. As we descended the steps between decks I saw our 10' Avon dingy, on its yacht sized painter which was tied almost vertically by the crew was lifting out of the water and the outboard was getting a thorough dunking in the sea. No pulling of the start cord would get the little, soggy outboard into life. Gradually the situation dawned on Captain Tom and we requested a tow ashore or back to Dod's Delight by one of his two Zodiac's with serious horsepower. This was agreed, however the crew had already started to ferry the guests back on board and the crew were getting their own quick taste of dry land.
Whilst waiting on the main deck various guests would appear for a chat, genuinely interested in our trip and gradually with each returning Zodiac the beach was emptying of guests and crew. The penultimate Zodiac pulled alongside and a man portly, white haired, middle aged man, wearing a trilby (yes for real!) disembarked. A few minutes later he joined Bob and Steph at the top of the boarding ladder whilst he smoked a cigarette. And so it transpired that this gentleman was the Owner. Mr Hansard? Crowe. He said to Bob that he was on his way to the saloon and that we were welcome to join him and his guests. With little delay or second thoughts the three of us followed (swiftly incase Captain Tom had other ideas!).
Most Yachties (and I include myself in this) have a slight dislike of gin palaces, whether a 50' gas guzzling Sunseeker or a 200' Super-yacht. There is a certain vulgarity to them, often adorned with tasteless interior decor and too much bling. The Michaela Rose was clearly a break from that mould. Her clean traditional lines, simple but seamanlike fittings and clear teak decks were simply stunning. We walked aft along the deck to the main aft deck. Simple teak furniture was in place but no other trappings of distaste. The saloon opened off the aft deck. Light mahogany panelling, tastefully upholstered sofas, practical two tone carpets and a large globe to one corner. A dining table and chairs at the far end. On the walls (these can't be called bulkheads!) small detailed oil paintings hung. Talk about going from the sublime to the ridiculous!
For the next fifteen minutes we were offered whisky and coffee (in that order), both declined as we were all in shock, and met Hansard's(?) friends. They were all American's, and what a bunch of Americans to meet in one room. The retired Admiral (Sandy Page?), formerly Captain of the USS Enterprise (the first Nuclear powered Aircraft carrier), Dick Bass(?), the man who built the ski resort; Snowbird in Utah and climbed the world's highest seven peaks… and so it went on. A significant group of Americans. We understand that hansard(?) Crowe is one of the largest real estate or property owners in the US. As our tow arrived, we bade our farewell, and as a parting gift the owner and his pals passed six bottles of fine wine. So we departed and headed back to the 33' of cold and damp which is our home.
In the afternoon, after the departure of the 'Michaela Rose' we went ashore with Peter and Pelle from 'Anna'. We had a small snowball fight (instigated by the energetic Steph), took some photos, raised the "Ellen Macarthur Cancer Trust" flag, applied Sat Phone sponsor, Datasharp IC stickers in the refuge hut and laid 'Anna's' drift net from the beach.
Thursday 05 September
The Swedes in Anna departed early, making a risky attempt to head north along the Somerset Island shore. They passed over yet more Salmon to us after a successful catch during the night.
Fort Ross is one of the favourite locations for stops on the NW Passage. However over the past few years there has been an increased volume of specialist, expedition tourism. Using specialised high latitude ships, people who can pay the money and can enjoy the experience whilst still getting a bath before bed and a sofa to relax on between excursions ashore. Having said that, the NW Passage and the Arctic is still a quiet, desolate environment, and a sighting of another craft is both exciting and unusual. Across the c.3000 miles we all know who is here, and doing what, and where.
This year, we know of 6 or 7 yachts making the East to West trip. One that has done the second half of the same trip, having done the first half in 2012. In regards to West to East transits this year, there is one boat doing half (Empiricus is stopping in Cambridge Bay for the winter) and the remaining three are Polar Bound, Anna and ourselves. Aside these there is the cruise ship, the Michaela Rose and probably one or two others, plus the Canadian icebreakers. But that still only means less than 15 vessels doing the whole passage in 2013. In 2012 the total I believe was about 12. So the numbers are still just below 200 successful completions since the first in 1906.
In addition there are the "mad" Irish rowers, the "mad" Aussie sailor/rowers, and a couple of soloists doing elements of the passage. The jet-skiers are also attempting the whole passage, but we heard today they had run into difficult near the Tasmania Islands and the Canadian Coastguard were lifting them out (consensus out here is that they are PR driven)… I withhold my opinion as I don't know much about their adventure).
My Thursday was consumed by the challenge of taking one damp, water logged, salty and generally unhappy Suzuki 2 hp outboard and persuading it to run. Suffice to say, that after stripping the carburettor down three times, removing the starter, changing the oil, cleaning the spark plug twice and then replacing it, drying off the distributor cap (closed unit), the HT lead and every other component and just before I was about to tackle taking the head off it started. I ran it for 45 minutes and its now one happy outboard again.
Once again we dined out. This time David and Jane aboard Polar Bound invited us across. We had a lovely dinner, starting with mulled wine for the crew and nibbles of popcorn! After a soup we enjoyed a risotto adeptly cooked by Jane, with of course the local delicacy: Arctic Char as main ingredient - also kindly donated by Pelle & Peter. One amusing feature of Polar Bound is the plant that Jane has been growing. I am not sure there are many places at 70 degrees north that grow tomatoes, but close to the exhaust and heater outputs on board Polar Bound, Jane has found a well lit location and her plant has to date provided a small number of "Arctic Tomato's".
Friday 06 September
I full dripless night… yes the drips dripped, but cocooned in my sleeping bag they were just soaked up. The benefit of a good quality synthetic sleeping bag here is that they stay warm whilst the often superior goose down sleeping bags do not hold their thermal qualities. Amongst the five of us on board I am the only one with a synthetic sleeping bag - and also the only one, when conditions allow, to sleep in my underwear due to the body heat build up. The synthetic material also dries much quicker than down.
Morale took a new low today, ice and weather reports imply we have longer to wait. Bob questioned how much provisions we have, sparking the debate that we could be here for many days. It was good that we quickly turned this negative into jovial remarks aug who would be eaten first, what we would do for 10 months and so on. The north / south band of ice in Prince Regent Inlet has not split, and in the past 24 hours has broadened in the north to a point where it has closed in to the coast to both the east and west.
As dusk fell once more the wind rose. At this time of year, this far north, apparently as each day progresses, daylight is reduced by twenty minutes. It certainly seems accurate! As we were repairing for dinner I looked out of the hatch and once again quickly decided we were dragging our anchors. Karen was adamant that I was wrong. Without wanting to create hostility, I pointed out that last night it took us 5 minutes to get to Polar Bound, with the outboard, and that now I could throw a golf ball at her… point made. So far on this trip we have dragged anchor three or four times. On all occasions I have spotted this change in situation. Interesting observation - thats all I can say.
As another anchor dragging story will be repetitive, suffice to say, as we dragged we caught the seabed and were held. Abeam of Polar Bound and 1/10th of a mile from our original position. Karen and Steph had started to let out more chain on the primary anchor, but experience tells me that whilst I know the chain's end is secured to the boat, it is done "in a fashion" with a light piece of line, a small pad eye to an anchor locker bulkhead and that is all. I asked the girls to check how much we had left on board. On inspection the perceived availability of 20m of chain was in fact only a couple of metres (so much for 80m of chain, closer to 60m in total). I marked it "to know" for next time. Lucky that we hadn't allowed it to run further and disappear under load into the 18 metres of cold Arctic water. Bob was happy, the kedge (second) anchor was holding. He announced anchor watches and was the first to start. We finished dinner.
Fortunately Bob soon realised that sitting in a F7 on a kedge, with the primary anchor's holding unknown, and the sea state 700 metres off shore being worse than it would be 2 or 300 metres off just as darkness set in he decided to up anchors and re-lay inshore. Which we did.
The next time both anchors are on deck I will switch the kedge CQR onto the main chain and take the Delta off and make it the kedge… for two reasons: 1/. The CQR is consistently the better holder 2/. The Delta has a bent plough, apparently it has been for a while.
©. Richard Nicolson 2013
Saturday 01 September
We departed the beautiful bay we anchored at for the night in the Tasmania Islands before dawn, at 0400 hrs. Much of the region is named by the early explorers and they generally focused on the major landmarks and significant sea areas. As a result, there remains a huge amount of unnamed, and in many cases still uncharted areas. I have always intended to claim a few of these places for myself (not literally!), therefore the nights anchorage at 71° 14.9' N 096° 32.3' W is now named: "Sophie Louise Bay", Tasmania Islands (named 1st September 2013 by Richard Nicolson).
The first person to successfully transverse the North West Passage was Roald Admundsen, the Norwegian explorer between 1903 & 1906. By coincidence, he was in exactly this area on 31/8/1903, one hundred and ten years ago and made the following observation: "The area to the south of the Tasmania Islands changes from high, rocky hills and cliffs with luxuriant vegetation to stern and bare land". He of course was heading west, we are heading east so we have done the 'stern and bare land" and I am now looking forward to the "luxuriant vegetation"!
During the morning we passed "Cape Sir F Nicholson"… once again a wonderful name, but no relation to me (spelling inaccuracy!).
The Bellot Strait is about 16 miles long and runs East - West. At the west end is Franklin Strait (with Peel Sound to the North), At the east end is Prince Regent Inlet. The strait itself dissects Somerset Island and the Boothia Peninsula to the south.
We were up against a theoretical time race to hit the Bellot Strait at the right time of slack water. This is the time that is is recommended to pass through the strait, though in reality so much is determined by wind conditions, ice conditions and sea state that it is fairly arbitrary and there is no clearly definitive right time. The major navigable danger is at the east end where a rock lies in varying states, depending on the tidal water level, from being fully submerged to clearly visible. Magpie Rock was clearly concerning Bob. He pored over his notebook with pilotage book in one hand, making the relevant time allowances (UTC to local) to calculate when would be the best time to arrive at the Bellot Straits. This he backed up with Karen and myself, before we all would recalculate to check, and again come up with an new "best time to arrive" calculation. The tides, like the magnetic variations, in this part of the world are often confusing.
We approached Bellot Strait at lunchtime on Sunday 1st September. In an odd way it marked a significant step in our adventures, in addition to the change of landscape; it closes us in on Greenland and the Eastern end of the NW Passage. The coastline depicted a patchwork quilt of brown rock, moss green tundra and icing sugar snow. Shore ice clung to the bays, nooks and crannies of the coastline. As we motored down the middle of the strait, which is between 1/2 and 1 mile wide, the tide was clearly assisting us as we were moving at times in excess of 9 kts, though at the east end the tidal influence was significantly more (up to 5 kts) and we throttled back the engine to slow, but maintained enough to hold steerage.
The crew were all on deck, and I felt as it was a significant milestone in then passage, I would get the "Ellen Macarthur Cancer Trust" flag out. With a backdrop of the strait I got a number of shots for posterity. The south side of the strait has a long, level promontory and as you come to the end, the geology colours become a vibrant mix of reds and browns. The cliffs drop into sited channels and valleys, some with glacial valleys, others more pronounced by water erosion.
Magpie Rock appeared to the south of the strait exit (on the starboard side)… clearly visible and amplified with a stranded growler sitting atop! Once past we motored the final few miles to Fort Ross and its adjacent "Depot Bay". As we turned to Port into the bay we were greeted by the sight of "Polar Bound" and "Anna" anchored off.
Forecasts indicated a short stay at Fort Ross… oh how wrong things can be and how quickly the weather and ice conditions change in this remote corner of the world.
Soon after anchoring in Depot Bay we went ashore. The landscape is rocky, with areas of tundra and very light vegetation, and areas of muddy clay where small streams run to the shore. Fort Ross has two "huts" on the foreshore. One was the home to the Hudson Bay Company staff based here. Once a home, now in an abandoned state, the windows broken, the interior a mix of peeling wall paper, the skeletons of two armchairs, a rusting cast iron cooker range. The second hut, known as the refuge (sign on the door "Key under stone at NE corner of hut") has been well maintained. With storm proof shutters, built in bunk beds, a cooker and stove it is a meeting point of vessels passing these shores. The pine lined walls are littered with the graffiti of past crews and their vessels. These same crews leave books and stores for others to swap with (I have my eyes on the Heinz Baked Beans!). The two buildings are linked by a path, that was cleared from the ground with the available rocks creating a kerb. A desolate flag pole stands proud, its wooden hulk showing claw marks of passing Polar Bears.
We met up with David Scott Cowper and his crew, Jane from Polar Bound and Peter & Pelle, the Swedes from the Colin Archer inspired steel ketch "Anna" whilst ashore. After saying our 'hello's' the Dodo's Delight crew headed back to the boat… only for Karen to realise she had mislaid one of her cameras, which despite a thorough retracing of footsteps couldn't be found.
As the night drew in the wind increased. The mast and rigging crying out and the sea state becoming quite steep. Just as we were turning in for the night I went o deck to check our anchor and realised we once again had closed the shore. Furthermore, by this time the wind had swung to the south - the only unprotected see of the bay. The situation wasn't urgent, and as it was now snowing, and the wind-chill was creating some seriously low temperaturescold, I suggested that everyone got properly clothed whilst I started the engine. There was a little 'crew' discontentment as those on the bow were focused on retrieving the anchor, chain and anchor chum (in our case a second 20 kg anchor run down the chain on a rope to reduce the chain angle to allow a better bite into the seabed), whilst the helmsman and one other crew member were more focused on things going on in the cockpit, thereby making the foredeck crews job of recovery harder as steerage and boat speed were not being focused on. Eventually all the ground tackle was recovered and we motored out of Depot Bay into a short, sharp head sea and bitterly cold wind, leaving the Swede's engaged in the same activity but deciding to re-anchor in the same vicinity.
We moved round to the east of Somerset island to an uncharted inlet where, after numerous attempts to find holding re-achored, eventually getting back to our bunks and warmth. Throughout this episode, David laid blissfully asleep, though we did find later that Steph has said he hadn't been needed! We went to sleep as the wind abated. The one thing about the Arctic is the speed and intensity by which the weather can change.
©. Richard Nicolson 2013
Thursday 29 August
With a positive forecast (both wind and ice) we made the early decision to depart just over 24 hours after arriving in Cambridge Bay so had lots to do. Aside fuel and propane which we had got immediately on arrival the previous day we had water and fresh food on our list; plus showers and wifi if possible. On Wednesday evening we had investigated the layout of the town. With fairly considerable government investment the public buildings were new, the homes well laid out and well kept and a general air of financial stability is sensed in Cambridge Bay. Clearly Canada views it as a strategic Arctic foothold. However, a young population, with children fairly rebellious, noisy and inquisitive brings its own issues. No one is keen to leave their boats here as anything that isn't secured down will walk. Don't get me wrong, this is not an inner city ghetto, much of it is cultural and relates to ensuring everything is put to good use!
One of the first persons I met when ashore on Thursday morning was the very affable David Scott-Cowper. I had read his book prior to leaving the UK, he was the first person to single handedly transverse the North West Passage in a converted lifeboat, taking three years to succeed. He now is on his 5th passage, highly experienced in these waters and now has 'Polar Bound', a purpose built motor yacht.
At midday, the West bound group of yachts departed together, leaving just Polar Bound, Empiracus (who planned to winter here) and ourselves, plus the group of Irish Rowers and Australian rower / sailors - both teams of which were finishing their trip here and busy arranging to get their assorted craft back home and find flights to normality.
As we set about sorting stores out, a young man called Corey said hello. He explained he was local, having moved here 15 years ago. It also turned out that he was one of the most generous and welcoming people we have met so far. Firstly he popped home and delivered a fresh joint of meat, some chocolate and salad dressing to us. Then opened his home to us to use the showers, access the internet, feed us with fresh coffee and food. He is married to a local inuit, who was away with four of the five children at her parents. Amongst his array of jobs (everyone holds down as many jobs as they need to survive), he is the local car / skidoo hire company, a local town taxi & the town planner. As a result he loaned a pick up truck to Karen to run the stores down to the boat from the adjacent "Northern Store" (supermarket). Corey, if you read this… all of us aboard Dodo's Delight send our best wishes and heartfelt thanks!
Being in such a small town, you are constantly stopped by people inquisitive as to what we are up to. Likewise the chat on the pier was full of banter between the various crews. Not quite the same as the dockside experience you would find in Cowes or the Hamble after a good spring series race; but the talk of grizzlies, polars, whales and ice kept us all amused as did the view that at least four of the assorted boats had an internet stalker!
The Irish rowers, on finding flights out on Friday kindly passed over a gift of a full hind leg from a Musk Ox which they in turn had been handed by a local who claimed to have too much of it following a successful hunting session. It looked like we were sorted in the red meat stakes. Then in addition; Paul, Dennis, Kevin & off loaded two bin-bags from their boat full of pasta, porridge, rice and toilet rolls and passed this across to us.
Meanwhile Bob had taken delivery of fresh water from the tanker, and had been charged Can$75 / gallon… a little steep he thought once he had sat down at the chart table to check his credit card statement… it should have been 75 / cents! It was quickly rectified.
As we were about to depart Cambridge Bay, both Polar Bound and Empiracus added more unwanted stores to those of the Irish so that Dodo'd Delight was awash with food. By 1740 hrs we had slipped our lines and were leaving the dock, with the intention of the next habited stop being in Greenland.
There was some crew tension as we departed, an indication of the departure time being brought forward an hour or so without any real communication, the skipper losing some personal kit (to be found some days later in his locker!) and the differing personalities; some excitable & talkative, others more reserved perhaps needing a little more time away from one another during the stopover. However, depute occasional tensions, very quickly such situations dissipate and laughter and ease settles in once more.
That evening I cooked some of the Musk Ox - it was tough - very tough, not my best culinary output. Prior to sunset, I checked the foredeck to find half the fuel canisters not lashed down on the starboard deck, the same side as the water filler, fortunately still seas meant nothing had gone over the side. For the first night of the trip we had a cloudless night. The moonlight was stunning with such clarity you felt you could touch it. It was easy to helm as the northern star was so bright and clear.
Friday 30 August
From Cambridge Bay we passed Victoria Island, Back Point, Anderson Bay, Enterprise Island and Macready Point. Throughout Friday the wind was very light, at times the sea mirror like but temperatures cold. Small ice crystals were visible on the sea surface. As we motored through the aptly named "Icebreaker Channel" we gradually turned more northerly. It is here that the British really have done themselves and the whole "Victorian Empire" thing proud… by naming some islands not after an heroic explorer, or a long lost cousin or even a mistress, but: "The Royal Geographic Islands". I guess this allows me to name some as I feel.
I found a book, otherwise unknown about, hiding behind some stores. On investigation it looked an interesting read (Linda Greenlaw's "The Hungry Sea"). Only problem was that most of the pages had been glued together with mastic at some stage in the past. With the bread knife in one hand, the book in the other, I separated the 180 odd pages in order to make a start on it.
It was warm during the day allowing me to dry out my sleeping bag, the constant fight of condensation always being on my mind when temperatures rise and give me the opportunity to dry things out. Whilst yup forward, I did a deck check and found the holding nut to the bolt on the mast step was missing and the bolt working its way out. I found a bolt in the hardware box and made it good. In heavy weather, with a pounding sea and no bolt at the mast heel the danger was the mast heel "slipping out" of the step… and consequentially some fairly fatal conclusions to the mast. At the same time tI found a shackle pin loose holding the reefing pennants, again this was made good.
We knew that as we closed in on Victoria Strait the ice may become a problem. By my 2200-2359 hr watch, whilst weather conditions were good, visibility was hampered with the moon rising dead ahead. Small growlers, with no light reflection were in out path, and at times you only had a 100m warning. By my close of watch the Bellot Strait lay 145 nm away and we were closing in on the Boothia Peninsula.
Saturday 31 August
I went on watch at 0600 hrs, to an increasing wind from the SSE. I unfurled the genoa, and gybed it allowing fairly fast downwind sailing, goosenecked (mainsail to port, genoa to starboard). With the help of Bob on deck we poled out the genoa and began a decent sail with boat speed in the region of 7 kts. We had made the decision to pass up a narrow channel between the Tasmania Islands to the west of the Boothia Peninsula. The Canadian charts continue to make interesting reference to the magnetic variation we should expect in this region. Being close to the magnetic north pole, the variation and fluctuation can be confusing and great. The charts simply make a statement in large, bold print: "MAGNETIC VARIATION USELESS". As a result there are often confusing debate between the helmsman (looking at the compass by the wheel) and the navigator (looking at one or all of the three GPS's at the chart table) as to which actual heading is required.
As we approached the Tasmania Islands the snow came down. The Shortland Channel entrance is visibly quite hard to spot, the approach gives the impression you are heading into a bay simply surrounded with hills. Using the GPS and radar we closed into the narrow channel that opens at the head of the bay and motored into a heard sea and oncoming ice. A favourable tide pushed us up the channel. The channel has a small group of inlets on the western side within the Tasmania Islands. It was here in 2012 that Dodo's Delight and another yacht, Northwind, sheltered from a gale, and where Northwind had subsequently lost her anchor and chain. Despite two days of trawling the sea bed, neither boat managed to find the lost anchor. As a result, we ensured our anchor had a tripping line attached to ensure an easy retrieval should ours become entangled with it. On approaching it I felt that the conditions were not good; too much depth, an onshore wind and the ever familiar small growlers and brash ice being brought in with it. To the northwest of this bay lay a second, surrounded by hills except to the direct west where the land sloped down to a valley. More sheltered and with improved depths we slowly motored in and dropped anchor.
The bay was ideal - with one exception - the small ice floes had a tendency to come into the bay on the tide; from the north they would then circle south, then west and then out again to the east. Initially catching us, our tripping line and being more of a hassle than threat. We have on board three long wooden poles with metal heads. These are called 'Tuk's' and are used to prod small ice away. We used these initially to help the blocks flow away in the tide. It gave me an opportunity to go for a quick 'ice walk'. We moved further into the head of the bay and this alleviated the problem.
The landscape has changed at long last. The coast rises to hills, with all types of rock formations: Steep cliffs, jagged spikes, rolling plateaus and tundra vegetation in light greens, deep browns and beiges. On climbing the mast, to the top, I took photos of our surroundings and was drawn ton the view to the west. Through the low valley I could spot the open sea to the the west across the island. That being the Franklin Strait. It was a good spot to take the obligatory crew photo. the contrasting colours, landscapes, ice and snow and the change from daylight, through dusk to night created this place as a truly beautiful anchorage. One that has made this entire trip worth it alone. It reminded me so much, not in any physical similarities, but to the comfort and security that it offered us. A very special place with no name other than the Tasmania islands to which it belonged….
©. Richard Nicolson 2013
Yesterday Dodo's Delight left Fort Ross, Nunavut in Canada heading east across Prince Regent Inlet to cross the ice at a break point then the plan is to head North to Lancaster Sound.
Overnight there was a text update from Richard to say that they have found the ice, sunny and calm conditions. The ice chart shows a small gap of 2/10 to both North and South. Richard went up the mast and think they have found it.
Next stop Greenland they hope!
Richard Nicolson - Sailing West to East across the North West Passage in aid of the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust.
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