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.