Cambridge Bay to The Arctic Circle

Motoring into Cambridge Bay seemed further than it actually was. Anchoring off the settlement in time for dinner and a glass of wine to celebrate arrival, everyone on board was looking forward to a static rest for the night.
Fully rested the next day we launched into our chores of getting fuel and topping up on fresh produce, stores were holding out well with two extra people on board, but there’s nothing like fresh fruit and vegetables all for a price though.
Cambridge Bay is the largest settlement on the North West Passage, generally better supplied than most, but, our main requirement was refuelling with diesel fuel for our engine, although some pretty aggressive winds do occur, to make the required progress in the short summer season a lot of motoring is done. There was no diesel in Cambridge hadn’t been since May. The manager of the fuel depot came down to the quayside for a discussion about ‘alternatives’.
First was that we could wait ‘about’ 12 days for the tanker to arrive, that did not seem a good option as we were already running late on average dates of previous passages and would severely risk an over winter, not a good option.
Secondly he could sell us downgraded avgas, which he said locals run trucks on and the power station uses it in diesel engines, we were rightly apprehensive and broadened the discussion into its lubricity and burn temperature, he assured us that its explosiveness was fine but the lub issue could be improved by adding two stroke oil.
Then we met Roger on “Philos” who was going east and who we had first met in Patagonia 8 years before, he said he had used the avgas mix several times previously and his engine had no ill effects. So decision made, amid quips that nothing goes to windward like a 747 and that we should hence go closer to the wind and possibly faster, we ordered 750 litres.
Apart from the inevitable multiple offers of Inuit carving for sale, the day in Cambridge was uneventful. Our friends on the yacht Novara were busy repairing their steering, so we invited them over for evening meal and a couple of glasses of red to help it down, an enjoyable evening.
Next morning the forecast was for NW 20 knots which sounded great as, if we kept up to the north side of Dease Strait our course would be about 245 which should let us get down to the Richardson Islands 140 miles away.
The first 12 hours went well but gradually the wind backed to be right on our nose and got up to 30 knots, anchorages are few and far between and known used ones even further. A study of the charts brought up Byron Bay, also mentioned with not much enthusiasm in the Admiralty pilot, a shallow bay with a large river entering on one side allegedly giving a 3 knot current around the bay, this we thought would be an early season occurrence when the melt water was running, so we back tracked 17 miles to it to wait some 30hrs for more favourable winds.
Early up on the second morning we got our weather grib files over the HF radio, which were encouraging, light northerlies developing to 25 knots later and holding for about 18 hours before returning to the W – NW. In all long enough for us to get to and past the Richardson’s Islands and possibly even to Lady Franklin Point. We soon picked up the northerly which soon had us bounding along at 7 – 8 knots with no fetch, we passed Edinburgh Island the most westerly of the Richardson’s Islands with its impressive basalt columns which cover most of the island. Slowly over the next 45 miles the wind backed again to the west and another anchorage was needed. We anchored near to one of the many Dew station sites that are scattered across the Arctic. The next 180 miles were in a north westerly direction, up past Camping Island and into Dolphin and Union Strait, with the daily run of NW winds and a foul current this was not going to be fun!
We set off from Lady Franklin in calm conditions soon to meet 2.5 knots of foul tide and a rising NW wind, this had to be done, grit your teeth and get on with it.
By now Novara had caught us up, they decided to shelter behind Camping Island and wait, we kept going for another 16 miles to Chantry Island and we also took shelter, on the way one of the main sheet boom fittings burst out. This was replaced with polyester tape.
Next morning winds had eased and let us motor sail for 24 hours to Cape Parry and into the Gulf of Amundsen.
Thankfully very favourable easterlies up to 30 knots were forecast for the next 4 days which would carry us the 550 miles from Cape Bathurst to Point Barrow.
The ice front to the north of us was still 40 miles away towards Banks Island in the Bathurst area, 70 miles off Demarcation Point, the American/Canadian border, and 60 miles off Point Barrow, a long way out compared with some years when it is necessary to follow the coast inside the 20 metre contour.
As we still had nearly 1400 miles to go to Nome the first place to refuel and de-louse we decided to side track into Tuktoyatuk to top up fuel and veg.
We turned around in less than 3 hours at Tuk and all agreed it was long enough. The easterlies were slow in starting and we were well out of the shallow waters that extend 50 miles from Tuk, before they built up to 30 – 35 knots and fast downwind sailing was enjoyed under headsail only, the wind continued to build and for about a 8 hour period it frequently exceeded 40 knots to drop down to 25 – 30 as we were rounding Point Barrow on the 15th Sept.
Turning south and west at Point Barrow is to say goodbye to ice, after it being a major influence on our decisions and progress over the previous two months it was a comfortable feeling knowing that only the normal parameters of sailing would now apply, good management of the weather windows in the Chukchi and Bering Seas, through the Aleutians and in the Pacific along the south Alaskan coast to our winter stop over, all still ahead of us.
From Point Barrow to Nome is 550 miles, with very limited opportunity of places to shelter if it turns nasty, we were lucky with only northerlies forecast and the first two days requiring engine. The northerly wind kicked in on day three slowly at first but gradually built up to 25 + knots and the miles slid by. Sea temperature was now constantly positive and climbed from 2 deg to nearly 9 deg in three days.
Day by day the volume of commercial shipping increased, mainly tugs and barges which serve the shallow delta communities along the west and north Alaskan coast. Russia is in sight to starboard and occasionally Alaska to port.
Ten mins ago we crossed the Arctic Circle, North West Passage complete, everybody very happy G & T to celebrate, steak tonight!! Nome next stop and real celebrations.

Arctic Bay and Onwards

While we were in Arctic Bay other yachts visited, Jimmy Cornell’s Aventura, UK, Suilven UK, Cathryn UK, Revenge USA and Gjoa Canadian, previously known as Taonui, and owned by Tony Gooch a Lewisporte visitor who some of you know well, all with similar needs to our own, fuel. In total there were at this stage 10 yachts all with aims of doing the North West Passage east to west.
After what from a distance had been a promising start to the thaw Prince Regent and Peel remained firmly closed with very slow day to day improvement. Patience would be needed. While in Arctic Bay, Gjoa was complaining of only being able to do 3 knots which they said was due to prop problem. Not one to be phased by such a minor thing in the Arctic we suggested they careen the boat on the beach and investigate. They were happy for us to do this but were rather apprehensive!! As the tide receded the problem became obvious inch by inch, they had bought the boat in Lymington, UK and then sat in the Medina River, Cowes for the winter before leaving for Greenland without scrubbing the bottom. We lent them some tools and they got on with it, next day the other side. Perfect conditions permitted a sail off the beach and sea trial 6 knots, no bother.
With the opening of Peel looking very unlikely all sights were set on Regent, some boats started to feel they were running out of time to get right through and start turning back.
We left Arctic bay on the 17th Aug with plans to enter a lead down the east side of Prince Regent and take an anchorage about half way down and hope for things to improve. As we came into Lancaster Sound we received a message from Cornells’ Aventura from the mate who told us Jimmy was turning back and asked if we had room for two people, himself and his partner. After consideration we said “we did” but this meant going to Graham harbour on the north side of Lancaster Sound to pick them up. Which would put strain on our fuel reserves. Nick and Nikki joined us in Graham Hrb. Meanwhile a large area of ice had moved down Lancaster blocking our way to east Regent so we moved 40 miles along to Rigby Inlet.
On the 20th we left Rigby seeing that Port Leopold on the top west corner of Regent was open, we still had to get round/ through ice in Lancaster Sound ice obstructing our way meant we were hard on the icy cold wind with snow flurries and finally we retreated to Graham harbour with snow falling steadily. We anchored there for the night, next morning a good layer of snow was everywhere. Wind direction had now shifted and lightened and we again set off for Port Leopold more straight forward this time and we arrived there on the morning of the 22nd. The Bay had a lot of ice in it but a NW wind had started to blow which we knew would clear it out and if we got in deep enough we would be ok.
Later that day the bay was clear of ice, and we knew that ice was now down to 3/10ths so we should be able to push through down the west side of Regent, the continuing NW wind should assist us in keeping the ice off the coast. All went well for the first 75 miles down to the start of Cresswell Bay, an open crossing of 60 miles to Depot Bay and Fort Ross. 15 miles out into the Bay we were met with ice of 5-7/10ths not good news for us, after 3 hours of poking about trying to find a lead through to the SW shore we got within 4 miles of it and had to turn back, solid ice some 6 ft thick. We retreated 35 miles to Fury beach, an historic sight, here we refilled with water, encountered our first polar bear, non threatening.,and waited for wind to shift the ice. Fortune was with us and a SE wind which enabled us to get round the perimeter of Cresswell Bay to Fort Ross and Depot Bay. Already anchored there was the UK yacht Navara who we have buddied up with for this part of the trip as their comms have failed, computers, how did Amundsen manage!! 5 hours after anchoring we got a knock on the hull, looking out we saw we were rapidly getting locked in with ice flows which had travelled up from Peel Sound on the flood in Bellot and a wind change to the south was driving them in. Immediate up anchor and move to another bay 5 miles away. This move was rewarded by a close quarters sighting of 6 polar bears, some on ice flows and some on land. We anchored in Levesque Harbour, only to have a wind shift and a repeat performance 4 hours later. Back to Fort Ross.
The next problem was twofold, some would say more, the Bellot Strait is 22 miles long flows with the tides twice a day and has currents of up to 7-8 knots, also the lower part of Peel Sound which is at the west end of it was on our arrival at Fort Ross blocked with 9/10th ice, more patience needed.
Also anchored at Fort Ross was the tug and barge Tandberg Polar, on their way to Cambridge Bay to raise the historic boat Maud. Next day Gjoa turned up. That evening the Tandberg invited us all onto the tug for an Arctic stew, very tasty seal cooked to a Norwegian recipe. Meanwhile a fresh NW wind had set in, which was good news for us as it should shift the ice off of the east side of Peel and Larsen and make it possible to work our way down the coast towards Gjoa Haven where there had been open water for some weeks, urging us on was the knowledge that Cambridge, Bathurst and the Alaska coast were all clear, also ice was 90 miles off Barrow, all so different to last year. We took a walk down the side of the Bellot and up onto a hill to view ice conditions in the Bellot Strait, There were still several chokes but it was not impenetrable, we hoped. We sat down and calculated the tides so that we would be able to retreat on the next flood if we found things too blocked.
6am local on the 29th Aug we weighed anchor and followed by Navara, who with their 60ft vessel and 135 hp soon overtook us also Gjoa decided to follow, we entered the Bellot soon to be on one of natures conveyor belts at nearly 11 knots over the ground dodging flows and keeping our head pointing the right way. We been through many straits around the world in the last 50 years but this is in a class of its own. As we neared the bottom end the current eased to two knots and we met the retired pilot boat Mango coming west, a friendly conversation with the French people on board told us the main exit was solid with ice but the north side was negotiable, Firm decisions were needed quickly and we turned into the current dodging big flows that were coming towards us we moved over to the north side and entered flows moving both north and south with the aid of our ice poles we eased Arctic Terns stem into one lead at a time until we finally saw a more open lead which called for full power and out leaving the small island to port. Our excitement and adrenalin moments had not noticed a much bigger drama unfolding behind us. Gjoa had failed to take the north side as Navara and us, and they got carried into the middle of the 9/10ths with more flows arriving behind them, and they were pushed up onto one. Their situation was further compounded by the arrival of a polar bear.
Coming down the Strait behind our convoy was the Akademik Vavilof, a Russian ice strengthened cruise ship, conversations soon started between Gjoa and AV, their first officer asked them to spell their name, he then quipped ‘I hope you do not have to overwinter’. AV said they would try to break into the ice and see what they could do, conversations also went on between them and a Canadian Coast guard vessel who they thought would have to deal with the situation. Meanwhile the bear came closer, Gjoa was asked if they had a firearm, “no”, normally standard in this area. They had bear bangers. Superb seamanship from AV put their vessel close enough to throw a line to attached to Gjoa. They were dragged into the water AV had made clear, their long keel and aluminum construction helped them survive, no place for a Cat A Benetau here. We are still to catch up with them as to whether they sustained any damage.
As Gjoa was being looked after by AV and higher authorities we did not hang around but carried on towards the Tasmania Islands on the west coast of Boothia Peninsular. A narrow lead down Larsen and into the James Ross Strait at times took us within 400 yards of the shore, in this poorly charted area a venture not to be taken lightly. James Ross Strait was kind to us with only occasional flows and a current of 2 knots hurrying us on our way. Sea water temperature rising to 4 degrees a huge increase from the minus one we had in Fort Ross. We arrived at Gjoa with clear midnight skies, stars, satellites and Aurora Borealis. A superb anchorage, despite our being pressed for time we spent 24 hours there, talking to the inhabitants and even getting some much needed laundry done at a RCMP officers house, they insisted! (Thanks Aaron and Jonathon)
Early next morning the 1st Sept we left Gjoa towards the infamous Simpson Strait, as we left Gjoa Haven the yacht Gjoa arrived, we tried to make contact with them but did not manage to get a reply. The Simpson Strait passed without incident with no fog or ice and an almost neutral current. Much more harrowing was the Storis Passage which is the most poorly charted area of the whole NWP. Dogding between shallows shown on the chart frequently in depths of less than 10 metres, the 70 miles to Amundsen Island was tiring, at one point we had only 1.7 mts under the keel, phew!!
A huge reef at the bottom of Amundsen’s Island is marked by a powerful Racon which assisted greatly in the middle of the night, the luxury of 24 daylight has now passed. Today is now the 2nd Sept, in 10 – 12 hrs we should arrive in Cambridge Bay on Victoria Island, a 30hr stop is planned and then the push is on to pass Point Barrow before the winter ice joins the coast of Alaska. The optimum date to arrive there is 10th Sept, with 1250 miles to Barrow that will not be attained together with the gradual increase of aggressive weather. Meanwhile we push on.

Afloat in Lewisporte

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Outside Lewisporte three weeks ago!

We are back in the water, after a harsh Newfoundland winter, the company of Lewisporte Yacht Club as always is congenial and helpful.

After a frantic week of provisioning we will be ready to leave at daybreak on Thursday 3rd July.  The first three days will be tense with a high number of icebergs and brash passing down the coast, growlers will be our biggest enemy, necessitating hoving too or very low speed during the hours of darkness which thankfully is less than five here and will rapidly decrease as we go north.

Next stop Nuuk, Greenland. Will post more when we have internet, positions updated daily.

North West Passage

Objects
Transit the North West Passage in one season, without icebreaker help
To meet the people of the North
Share the adventure and the challenge of living together on a yacht

Our crew arrived in Upernavik in thick fog, the Dash 8 circling the runway many times before the pilot said this was their last chance before they turn around……they made it! Rick (72) Retired Vet, Peter (32) Chartered Surveyor, Simon (40) Heating engineer, and Gregory (41) Project Manager, arrived all geared up ready to go. After the boat introduction and settling in we had our first of many meals together, spirits were high and ready for the challenge. We stayed in Upernavik that night, giving the crew a chance to explore Upernavik Island!
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The following morning after purchasing fresh bread and Danish pastries from the local bakery we left to go south only 20 miles to a quite anchorage to prepare for the trip this involved man over board drills, hoving to and the usual safety briefs and boat evolutions required to run the boat. We then practised safe anchor techniques, finally launching the dinghy and kayaks to go ashore to an old Inuit summer camp with remains of turf houses clearly evident, after investigation and a short walk we all practised loading, unloading and firing the rifle we had on aboard for wildlife protection. This was when the crews competitive element was unleashed with target practise!
Gun Safety
Returning to Arctic Tern to prepare the evening meal, Greg and Simon went exploring in the kayaks passing fairly close to a large iceberg which then decided to roll moments after they passed it by. An action packed first day, Rolling Icebergs, old Inuit village, perfect sailing conditions for the boat introduction, with The fantastic back drop of Greenland, seals, a Fin Whale, and an abundance of sea birds.
The following day we moved further north, passing Red wall and the Impossible wall vertical climbing faces that had only been climbed in recent years, moving on into the Upernavik ice fjord we practised poling off pieces of ice, manouvering in between towering icebergs and general staring in awe at these magnificent pieces of nature that are constantly moving and changing as we look. Many photographs were taken of ice by all but never really capturing the atmosphere and incredible power and sense of nature felt by all aboard.
IMG_5300After receiving ice information from Ali’s Father a task he did every day for the duration of the trip (we thank him for this) along with text information from Gemma, Peter’s girlfriend also gratefully received, we continued up the Greenland coast as Pond Inlet has still not cleared of ice, Friends of ours on the other Arctic Tern (A Canadian sail boat) were still anchored on the outside of Baffin Island waiting to enter Pond Inlet, the clearing of which turned out to be a dramatic event for them. We anchored for the night in Kaulshavn a small Greenlandic settlement. Some of the crew tried fishing but they only caught the dreaded spiky scorpion fish.

Scopion fish Departing the next day to cross Baffin Bay started with the motor, but we soon had a reefed main and poled out Yankee and were cruising along nicely. Into a watch system for the next couple of days, with some exhilarating high wind high sailing and the odd iceberg to contend with. Landfall of Bylot Island and Baffin Island was a sight to behold, with snow-capped icecaps and glaciers running down into the sea.

Albert Harbour

The first night was spent in Albert Harbour, named as a harbour, but not a harbour most people would think of, it’s a sheltered place to anchor, more suited to larger vessels as the bay is quite deep. We all enjoyed a hearty breakfast to celebrate the crossing of Baffin Bay. Moving up to the hamlet of Pond Inlet the next day was completed by Simon and Greg in kayaks, while Arctic Tern continued ahead to check into Canada officially. This was a friendly process taking a couple of hours, followed by some exploring and meeting the locals. Pond Inlet is really a very large inlet 12 miles across and the town is a frontier town which is iced in for most of the year.

Anchored off Pond Inlet

The anchorage in front of the hamlet has a steady 1 -2 knots current to the east, turning the area in front of the town into iceberg alley, someone always had to remain on board ready to move at any time. Watching the locals catch Arctic Char from the shore spurred our attempts at fishing again but still no success, Rick who doesn’t eat fish is now confidently saying he would try arctic char if we catch some, knowing it’s a safe bet, still scorpion fish are the main catch! We heard from the Canadian Arctic Tern that while they were waiting for Pond Inlet to clear they were anchored outside near Baffin Bay, when the ice cleared it did so in one mass and stranded them in one huge ice floe, they had to abandon their main anchor, chain and go with the floe! A Canadian icebreaker was in the area and stood by them until they could retrieve they anchor some hours later. It’s a brave move to jettison your anchor not knowing if you could retrieve it later. Whilst in Pond the cruise ship National Geographic Explorer was in town! A definite sign for us to leave and head west. The day was a really clear hot sunny day with impressive vistas all around, the ice had cleared enough to continue up Navy Board Inlet and towards Lancaster Sound. This is about a 125nm trip the distances here from place to place show how vast an area this is to explore in such a short season. Back into a watch system ‘turn watch’, ‘bear watch’ and ‘father and son watch’. It was Peter on Turn watch who spotted our first Polar bear swimming across Navy board inlet from Baffin Island to Bylot Island, not too bothered by our Orange sailing boat he continued to swim to his destination as we stopped and watched in amazement how gracefully he slipped through the water making only the smallest ripple, breathing hard occasionally with the effort.

Polar Bear swimming

Fantastic, no one minds being woken to see such a sight. We only spent a short time with him as to not disturb his 5nm crossing.

Continuing up in to Lancaster it turned particularly cold and donning of the extra clothing was required as watches took turns to sail in the foggy, damp and cold conditions. The ice reports showed ice on the south side of Lancaster Sound and with Beachy Island and Resolute still iced in with 9 tenths ice. We crossed Lancaster to the nearest fjord on the south side of Devon Island – Cummings Inlet. We arrived as the fog lifted entering the inlet we were treated to a fine sight of a glacier coming down to the sea on our left and a super waterfall on our right. We headed up the inlet towards what looked like a suitable place to anchor.

Walrus

Rounding the small point we came across a huge Walrus colony, some basking on the rocks others playfully swimming a short distance from Arctic Tern, what a sight, about fifty of these huge powerful beasts.

We anchored in a beautiful bay with a small grassy plateau

Cummings Inlet

With a trip ashore to stretch our legs and looking for other signs of life, tracks, footprints of muskox and a pair of reindeer antlers and various other bones, but no sign of Polar bear movements (we still took turns as gun carrier/keeping a bear watch). On the grassy plateau we later sighted Muskox grazing there in the early hours of the following morning. The ice charts still showed Resolute inaccessible, but we still wanted to move on and make progress. Sailing west we came across a huge ice floe with leads that ended, back tracking wasn’t so easy as ice is always on the move and the route we entered in almost certainly wasn’t there when we turned back. Greg took up position on the cross trees directing us to safe water, till we were out of the floes.

ice floes

We didn’t get far until we meet another large ice floe ice to the horizon was all we could see so we called it a day and turn back for Stratton inlet still on Devon island, again looking for a suitable place to drop the pick we disturbed a Polar bear skulking on the beach by a group of eider ducks, not sure who was more surprised him or us, he took off at a great rate, pictures of him looking back at us show just a white spec in the distance. The following day after studying ice information we continued west, wanting to visit Beachy Island, the historic site of the Franklin crew graves and memorials to them and the rescue attempts. Our decision was to and get to Resolute primarily to re fuel as we passed Beachy island we looked into Terror and Erebus bay it was full of ice, anchoring here wasn’t an option. Sailing on into Wellington channel between Devon and Cornwallis Island the ice floes got bigger to the point we were surrounded, no leads in the direction we wanted to go and our entrance closing behind us, the forecast was for good weather and visibility but some wind from the west, bringing the ice towards us, but perhaps clearing it for us. We turned back looking for a suitable place to hold up while the wind passed. Every anchorage we passed was choked with ice until we back tracked 35nm we managed to get into Rigby Bay. The following day a wet and windy trip ashore to the top of the barren hills we could see across Lancaster Sound with ice right across the entrance of Rigby. Our exit blocked and the wind still blowing.

Rigby Bay

In contrast to Cumming this area of Devon was devoid of wildlife it seemed sterile and completely barren. Our fishing attempts here, did not even catch a Scorpion fish! As soon as the wind had dropped we weighed anchor and headed towards Resolute. This time the entrance to Erebus and Terror Bay had less ice and we could sneak around the ice into the anchorage just by the site of Northumberland house, in sight of the Franklin over-wintering camp of 1845-46.

Terror and Erebus Bay

As we approached the ice edge we could see a female polar bear and two cubs, unfortunately the wind was blowing from our direction and they were aware of us before we even spotted them, they retreated quickly. We anchored and went ashore to visit the memorials, A barren and lonely place, fortunately we had bright clear skies and 24hr daylight. Rick had an ambition to swim in the Arctic as he had already swam in the Antarctic, of course we could not let him do it by himself, team spirit prevailed, Les volunteered to be photographer and bear watch/guard and all went swimming in the icy cold water, the breath taking experience was agony but exhilarating madness.

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Returning to Arctic Tern for dinner we then upped anchor to explore the Bay further, with two crew in kayaks we spotted another mother polar bear and cub in the distance this time crossing the ice in front of us, they too soon got our scent and were off, turning occasionally to check our whereabouts. We reloaded the kayaks on board and set off again for Resolute, the Wellington channel still choked with ice floes but navigable with a lookout on the cross trees, seals were basking on the ice floes but not really bothered about us, a superb evening sail with the midnight sun just kissing the horizon, time is passing by, 24hr daylight will soon be gone and then progress is slowed down by darkness with ice around.

Look out

We were the second boat to visit Resolute that year, a yacht that left the same day we arrived had been trapped in by the ice during the last blow fortunately it was a centreboard boat with a shallow draft that could get close into the shore as Resolute is not the best anchorage and it’s easy to get trapped in. With this in mind, it was to be a quick visit re-fuel, see the sites, try and get internet access to better assess the ice situation, will Peel open or is Prince Regent the way to go? The airport weather station was very obliging letting us look at satellite images confirming that Prince Regent was the better bet this year as it had started to clear at the bottom, Peel Sound still had a long way to go. We reassembled on Arctic Tern with the news and decided it best to leave Resolute as soon as possible as it was soon likely to be closed by ice, so we headed back to Devon Island staying on the north side of Lancaster Sound as there was still 6/10ths ice blocking the entrance to Prince Regent Sound. Crossing Wellington Channel saw a rapid wind increase making us reef right down to just a small piece of headsail and run across the channel avoiding the ice which as the sea became choppy was harder to see. Slowing right down and passing a few huge floes whos mass calmed the sea on the leeward side, making progress much safer. CCGS Henry Larsen was just outside Gascoyne Bay, we entered hoping to find a safe anchorage but it was still full of ice. We asked them if they knew if Scallon Cove was ice free and anchorage inside Radstock Bay, from today’s satellite images they said it was and they also told us the weather was changing in the next couple of days the beautiful clear sunny days would be replaced by snowy, foggy cold days. reflectionsWe thanked them for the information and moved on towards Scallon Cove, little did we know we would spend the next five days there waiting out the weather and the ice…. On the second day we woke to find the yacht Traversay III (Can) anchored a short distance from us. We were called over for coffee, cake and sing along accompanied by Mary Anne on their built in piano. The following day a Swiss Catamaran Libellue anchored in the bay, it was becoming a popular anchorage, then in the distance a large motor cruiser we had previously seen in Greenland, M/V Lady M anchored over the other side of the fjord five miles away. All here with the same objective to get through the Northwest Passage, all with the same conclusion the Prince Regent sound look like the passage to take. Days passed Libellue went to Resolute and back Traversay III went to Beachy and back we all waited….. News on the ice, Libellue had full internet access and downloaded full daily ice charts, we would call over or talk on the VHF on the possibilities, we by now after spending five days on board a couple of those unable to get off the boat as it was blowing a gale and snowing heavily, Scallonwe were itching to go this is a time pressured trip we haven’t even scratched the surface of the mileage we need to cover and the deadlines we had set at the Alaskan end of the passage was drawing close fast. News from cruisers coming the other way wasn’t much better they had been late leaving Nome and held up by ice at Bathurst. News today we must leave Scallon Cove as the ice is breaking up from the west and heading this way, looking like it will block the entrance to Radstock Bay trapping us in. We soon are ready for sea, dinghy on board, anchor up and sailing out into Lancaster Sound. It was a fairly clear but grey day the outline of Leopold island could just be seen 60nm away and as it is 300m high. Sailing in convoy the Catamaran Libellue soon left us behind. We met 2-3 tenths ice floes on the south side of Lancaster and sailing by the incredible cliffs of Prince Leopold Island home to thick- billed murres, black guillemots, northern fulmars and blacklegged kittiwakes, weaving our way through, leads ending and looking back and finding the way out was blocked too, waiting and hoping it would open again, poling ice away, riding up a large piece a little too fast for sure has dented the hull under the water, the incredible sounds of the ice against the hull, all part of Arctic sailing and transiting the North west passage. We made good progress down Prince Regent Inlet arriving in Fort Ross at the eastern end of the Bellot strait just as darkness was upon us, Libellue had stopped earlier but Traversay III were right behind us. Depot Bay was full of ice and the Bellot strait was spitting huge pieces of ice out at us and the current that runs through the strait is 7-8 knots. Traversay III was called on the VHF by a yacht La Bells Epoque, they had previously met they were anchored further south, Traversay III joined them in their anchorage. We headed further south looking for a more sheltered spot not just from wind but the ice too. Levesque harbour We headed for Levesque harbour a small bay a little further south. Here we found our friend Eef on her yacht Tooluka. By the time we anchored it was still really early we had a good cooked breakfast then went to bed for a couple of hours, before reuniting with Eef (last seen in Upernavik)and her crew. It wasn’t long until later that day Libellue turned up and also anchored in the same bay. The landscape was much softer here, this is the most northern peninsula of the Canada mainland, ashore there was evidence of muskox and a variety of small alpine type plants in the tundra far less barren and much more inviting, but still no fish! A day went by still the Bellot strait was choked with ice and and if it did clear Franklin on the other end was still 6-7/10ths ice we were going nowhere. Another day passed enjoying the company of the other sail boats. Discussing the passage and the problems ahead. When setting off on an Arctic adventure such as this it’s good to have a solid plan with target dates and destinations, especially with such a short season, But it’s important for that plan also be flexible, it will almost never go to plan but it’s good to start out with a good one. We had a couple of deadline dates to headlands and places which had been concluded by previous traverses, we had no intention of overwintering in the Arctic. In our plan we were at least 500nm in miles behind and at least week in time, cutting our contingency time to the bare minimum. The reports of the coast of Alaska were not encouraging. Cruisers travelling west to east still hadn’t made it to Cambridge Bay yet. Ali - Fort Ross (26)The following day we decided to move to Fort Ross and Depot Bay, the southern tip of Somerset Island. Fort Ross is a former Hudson’s Bay Company fur trading outpost. One, to visit the outpost and two, climb a hill next to the Bellot Strait to get a look at what is going on, Tooluka and Libellue joined us. Two other yachts tried to pass through Bellot strait but had to turn back. Making the total boat count seven in the area all waiting, this included the 50 metre motor yacht Lady MII. Last winter was a cold one and this summer just by our observations from last year and this year in Greenland the snow was a lot lower, also this summer has shown more North and West winds than the Easteries that help to clear this side of the passage.Fort Ross Hudson Then there is a clear difference in water temperatures in the last years, at that moment the temperature of around zero c, whereas yachts previously have talked of +2 to 3. This means the melt is slower and it will freeze sooner once the onset of winter starts, shortening the season we have here. Whilst ashore a Canadian ice service airplane flew over reporting on Channel 16 on the VHF the ice conditions in the strait and beyond. Nothing like live reporting on the conditions, the report wasn’t good news with both Bellot and Franklin Strait still blocked. A 100m cruise ship arrived later the “Sea Adventurer” a ship with many years of experience in the North West Passage. They too wanted to transit the strait, but they had to turn around because of 9/10ths ice. They anchored just outside Depot Bay preparing to ferry passengers ashore, an expedition leader had been sent by his captain to talk to us about conditions they found and weather pending. In short in their experience this years’ ice was a bad year, Peel not opening and Franklin/Bellot were still blocked, also heavy westerly winds were forecast in the next couple of days possible compounding the problem driving ice out of the McClintock channel into Franklin strait building the ice up outside the west end of Bellot strait. “Sea Adventure’s” plan was to turn around head back towards Greenland. One other consideration was the lack of secure anchorages at the western end of Bellot Strait, we had already experienced arriving at bays we hoped to anchor in, to find it ice filled and impenetrable. The possibility of getting through today was out, even if we did get through where would we wait out the westerly? Should we wait for the westerly to pass and the strait to open, more precious time lost, would the moving ice completely block the short cut through Larsen sound and Victoria Strait to Cambridge bay for us? also at the west end of the North West Passage, Point Barrow one of our deadline locations and a bottle neck was still 1700 miles away then another 600 miles to Nome, there is still a lot of ice at the western end, added to that the longer nights which give less travelling time, A decision had to be made, do we wait a couple of days for the bad weather to pass and hope conditions improve? Looking at the ice charts for the top of Prince Regent Inlet which we had come down, showed a wide yellow band meaning 4/6ths ice, closing our escape route, forecast easterly winds for that area would hopefully clear it enough to pass. With Tooluka we decided there were too many things against us to proceed with any level of safety, being rescued or assisted by ice breakers were not an option we favoured so we decided to retreat and leave it for another year, not an easy decision. We got busy preparing the yacht for a lively sail across Prince Regent Inlet, back on a watch routine morale was low and the disappointment were evident, a dream broken and a sense of loss. For Les the uncertainty of what are we going to do now for the winter and next year? We hoped to be in Alaska for the winter and to continue sailing on the west coast. The next day was my birthday! Hoping to be in Cambridge Bay but instead retreating. This morning we heard that “Libellue”, “Acalephe” and “Traversay III” managed, with the help of the Canadian Coast Guard Icebreaker ”Henry Larsen”, to get through the Bellot strait. The ice breaker had been ordered by the cruise ship “Akademik Loffe”, and motor yacht “Lady M II” also gratefully used their service. It wasn’t an easy trip and from the next message we received their troubles had not ended. More ice blocked their way but the ice breaker had a commitment to the cruise ship leaving them behind, they had to look for a safe spot to wait out the coming strong westeries. We too had to stop, on the East side of Prince Regent hiding from a strong north easterly, snow and rain were our weather, our crossing was mainly sailing and only small ice underway. Time to relax, talk, contemplate and enjoy birthday Flap Jack thanks Greg. The following mornings forecast was for the wind to die down, for now we are just enjoying the warmth inside as the wind blows hard and snow is settling on the land and on deck. Carrying on up the inlet back towards Lancaster Sound a vicious north easterly has done its job breaking the ice allowing us to pass. We decided to visit Arctic Bay the closest Inuit settlement, our North West Passage dream was over but we were still on an Arctic Adventure. Continuing to sail it turned so cold the wind generator and wind instrument stopped turning and had icicles on them, ice formed on the rigging and thin layer on the sails releasing as the sail emptied on the roll,

sun came out

Tooluka our Dutch friends had also decided to turn back, we past them just as the sun started to shine, boosting morale. Sailing through the night down towards Arctic bay the sun on the now snow covered mountains turned them in a beautiful pink landscape, very impressive. Arriving in Arctic Bay we were greeted by really friendly locals, we were told one their supply ships was due in, later that day it arrived. It was like Christmas, imagine waiting for that new cooker or washing machine that broke down last year!

Arctic BayBarges spent the next 24hrs ferrying back and forth to the shore with container after container, pallet after pallet, anything to everything from food to skidoos. The youngsters of the local population were employed to form lines to unload the containers, it wasn’t just work it was a social event, bring the community together having a great time. The price of cans of coke in the local store, dropped again the following morning, the selves weren’t empty just priced incredibly high as they had been brought in by plane! Our interaction with the locals was fantastic and we are really enjoyed Arctic Bay, speaking the same language certainly helps. We had to move on to Pond Inlet, Greg is leaving us from there, our rough formulated plan is head down the Baffin coast then crossing to Sismuit in Greenland and continue down the coast to Nuuk, Greenlands’ capital, then back across to Labrador and down to Newfoundland for the winter. Sailing out of Arctic Bay to Lancaster sound and into Navy Board Inlet not much wind to start with but it soon filled in, the journey was a mixture of motoring and sailing, just as we entered Eclipse sound Les spotted a polar bear on the shore we paused to watch and were treated to a total of eight polar bears roaming around this area we later discovered it was a hunters camp and old carcasses were the attraction on the beach. Polar Bears We e-mailed Tooluka who were half a day behind us to tell them of this sight, they had not seen a polar bear yet. We sailed between the islands at the bottom of Eclipse sound a haven and hunting ground for Narwhals, unfortunately this shy mammal eluded our visit. We anchored for the night with a plan to explore the local fjords tomorrow finishing at Pond Inlet towards the evening. We received an email from Tooluka they had anchored at the hunters’ camp and there was still the large male there, they stayed the whole night, this really topped off their trip with their first sighting of a polar bear. A season could be spent just sailing in these magnificent fjords with high inaccessible snow-capped mountains, their sheer rock faces a climbers delight and glaciers into the ocean, magnificent. Returning to Pond was with some sadness Greg was leaving, really marking the end of our NWP attempt. We enjoyed a good send-off party, dropping Greg off on the beach very early was emotional. We left Pond later that day, but only to Albert Habour to recover from the send-off!! Next morning continuing down Baffin Island this coast line is immense, Baffin Island is over 900 miles long and substantially wider than the UK, it’s an inaccessible wilderness with spectacular rarely climbed mountains and valleys asking to be explored.anchorage on baffin We were just scratching the surface of its beauty. We passed towering mountains with vertical faces that plunge into the ocean. We visited another Canadian Inuit community Qikiotarjuaq just north of the Auyuittuq National Park (Auyuittug an inuit word meaning “land that never melts”) It was certainly true, as we were sailing in this region we were coming across lots more icebergs and with nights getting longer every day, we decided to cross to Greenland with its warmer sea and less ice. Qikiotarjuaq was our last stop in the Canadian arctic again everyone we met couldn’t do enough for us. Just before we left a fisherman set off to his nets to get some fresh Arctic Char for us, he returned minutes later with a fine specimen. IMG_7287So would our method of catching arctic char count with Ricks conditions of eating?? That evening we all eat fresh Arctic Char it was delicious, so fresh, and it was big enough to freeze for another meal later, and yes Rick loved it. We left Baffin Island from near Cape Dyer and had a slow but windy crossing to Simimuit, just inside the Arctic Circle. A trip to the seaman’s mission for a long hot shower, to the local supermarket for Greenland’s fine Danish pastries and the purchase of alcohol (prohibited in Canadian Arctic) Call in to a local café for homemade rhubarb crumble and a Greenlandic beer. Life is good on our Arctic Adventure, even the sun was shining. Moving on the following day, sailing south crossing the Arctic Circle, West Greenlandmagnificient views of West Greenland mountainous coast line, and that night a brief flash of the Aurora. Some choppy and increasing head wind conditions made us turn into Mantisoq for shelter the following morning. Brief overnight stop to refuel, explore the town and wait for the wind to back before heading south the next morning it was a brisk 16hr sail saw us in to Nuuk that evening.Nuuk

Weather kept us in Nuuk for a couple of days but gave everyone time to relax and explore this surprisingly sophisticated capital and visit its famous mummies in the museum. Everyone found it easy to slip back into the city life, coffee shops, wifi, restaurants, pubs, traffic, buses, cell phone coverage…to name a few.
Leaving to cross to LabradorQuick lets escape again across the Davis Strait to the wilderness of Canadian Labrador, weather wasn’t on our side we ended up leaving twice and running for shelter a little further south in Faeringhaven, here it blew hard, we stayed until the direction was favourable.  When we did leave we sailed most of the way across with winds at times of 35-40 knots and seas of 6m plus. All on board were very pleased to motor sail towards the Labrador coast with a stunning sunrise to light up our landfall. Sun RiseAnchoring for a rest and to smell and see our first trees for a couple of months.
We punctuated our route south, mainly day sailing visiting small bays and deserted fishing villages with cracking little harbours that have just been left since the decline in the fishing industry and the cod moratorium, back on bear watch but for a different type of bear this time and a vegetarian!

Battle Harbour

A stop was made in Battle Harbour a Unesco heritage site, a restored fishing village, it was closed for the winter to tourists, but hardy Arctic adventurers were welcome to tie alongside and use the facilities.
From here in a weather break we set off direct for Lewisporte Newfoundland, our starting point back in June. This trip we nearly ticked all the boxes, thick fog which cleared into a beautiful clear starry moonlit night, icebergs, fishing boats, dolphins, then whales blowing in the distance as we sailed in to Notre Dame bay, calm seas very little wind and warm sunshine welcomed us. “Arctic Tern, Arctic Tern this is Kings kat Kings kat” a friend of ours calling on the VHF, they were out catching cod on the last day of the Newfoundland cod fishing season. “come and join us for lunch we have just caught some cod” we followed them into an idyllic anchorage and had a superb fish lunch which even Rick enjoyed, What a Newfoundland welcome.
Lewisporte

After lunch we headed for Lewisporte Yacht Club, arriving a couple of hours later we were given the berth we had left from and were welcomed by a shore party.
This marked the end of our Arctic Adventure the crew had been with us for 66 days. We thoroughly enjoyed their company and hope although disappointed with the outcome they had a great sailing trip with us.

 

This year had been a trying year for the north west passage at the time we arrived in Lewisporte of the ones we know of that attempted East to West, Libellue(Swiss), Acalephe(Can), Isatis(F), BelleEpoque(A) made it thorough to Nome, Perd pas le Nord(B) apparently ran aground on a sandbank off Barrow in a gale and had to be rescued by helicopter. Traversay III (CAN) had problems with their propeller shaft but they managed to continue after repairs. Dax(S) had engine problems in Pond Inlet. A couple of others reached Pond Inlet, heard it was a back ice year and turned around.

Apparently, this year it was equally difficult for boats coming in the other direction, getting passed Bathurst was a struggle, one gave up in Cambridge,others had a hard fight with dense ice in Prince Regent Sound, and some had to have Icebreaker assistance.
Will we return next year??…watch this space.

In Upernavik

Here we are anchored just around the corner from Upernavik, West Greenland. Our team are arriving soon, so we can try and transit the North West Passage.
Watch for our position reports as we won’t have much opportunity for internet access to update our pages.Anchored not far from the impossible wall!

Back in the Water

After a very busy few months especially since returning to Newfoundland, it is a joy to be back in the water.

Lewisporte Marina (1024x768)
Our time in Lewisporte has been one of the most enjoyable and memorable stops we have made in the world, it’s is to be recommended in every way as a place to prepare your boat for the north and get all the help you need from the many competent local people. This is not a Lauderdale or Annapolis this is a place where people are genuinely interested in boats and boating people. Arriving here with no future plans you may find that you could be here for some years enjoying what is a superb cruising ground with lots of friendly people who know how to have fun.
Provisioning is now complete apart from a few goodies and we hope to be leaving Lewisporte within the next two days, heading initially east for 200nm to get clear of the hundreds of icebergs on their journey south, and then north to Nuuk, which we hope we reach by the end of the month. A couple of days in Nuuk and some final provisioning before heading north passed Disko bay to Upernavik.

A Small Diversion!!

During the northern winter and our visit to the UK we have been asked by a friend to sail his boat from the Falkland Islands to the UK, so we will be away from Arctic Tern a little longer than anticipated.

Watch our progress on our location page. Starting 20th Feb Weather permitting!

More news as it happens 🙂

And to Lewisporte for the winter

Walking around Nain with the smell of pine trees was a pleasure; our visit to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to check in with customs, register a firearm and immigration was all done by faxes to Goose Bay and went without a hitch. Several locals came down to have a look at us and several happy hours were spent chatting. Clive, a local hospital engineer brought us a fine present of arctic char and some cod, which we enjoyed over the next week. The small harbour was excellent for the winds prevailing while we were there, a North Easter would be different but there are plenty of bays and superb anchorages easily picked out from the charts all the way down to Newfoundland.
We left Nain after six days of 35 – 40 knot winds, passing through narrow channels and dozens of islands, in contrast to the 1200 miles we had white charted in Greenland, we were impressed with the accuracy of charts, you are often in channels twenty miles or more from the ocean that give excellent sheltered water sailing, frequently accompanied by Minke whales and sightings of black bears on the foreshores. We had been warned not to approach them too close, after we had seen a large male, over 2 metres tall we were convinced it was good advice.
This coast was once home to one of the biggest fishing and whaling industries in the world, thousands of families from the south of England, Scotland and Ireland emigrated here in the 1700’s to catch cod which was so abundant, the whole family was engaged in the industry catching, filleting and salting the cod and packing it into barrels to be shipped all over the world, the industry was run by big merchants who prior to the truck acts rarely paid their employees with cash, just food, fishing gear and clothing. Our visit to Battle Harbour, which had been one of the very busy ports was a delight, with its restored buildings and exhibitions, it was officially closed when we got there as the staff were packing it up for the winter but kindly invited us to look around all the open buildings and wander around the island, a place no one should miss if cruising this coast.
We would like to have spent longer in this area but it was now mid September and the frequency of gales was increasing. We had some exhilarating sails on the open sea legs with offshore winds of 35 knots creaming along at 8 knots, stopping most nights in fine sheltered bays with good holding or settlements such as Cartwright, Hopedale or deserted villages like Henley. The cod industry is no more.
Our last stop in Labrador was Red Bay, once home of the Basque whalers, now of an interesting exhibition and museum with a replica section of the ships they arrived in, in the 1570’s. With luck soon to be a Unesco site
From Red Bay we crossed to Newfoundland to Cook’s Harbour on the 2nd October, another gale held us up. Due to our 20.5 metre airdraft we had to go north around Cape Onion instead of staying on the inside of the island to St Antony a busy fishing port catching and processing shrimp, which is now the main industry along these shores. The Grenfell hospital, set up for the welfare of fishermen has several monument’s and places of interest, an excellent walk up the hills behind, which ends up passing an abandoned American tracking station which has left its concrete scar on the landscape.
As Lewisporte was our intended destination to lift out and do essential repairs to the rudder, we decided we should do the 100 mile leg across to Twillingate as soon as weather permitted, we arrived there after 16 hours to spend the next week enjoying the area and sampling locally made wines, while gale after gale passed through. It was now only 35 miles to our destination , after a very lumpy passage around Crow Head we arrived in Lewisporte late on Sunday. As it is a sailing club marina set up 24hour radio response could not be expected so we found ourselves a berth. We had e.mailed them two days previously telling we would be arriving late Sunday and were pleasantly surprised to get a knock on the hull at 08.15 asking us if we were ready for lifting out, as previously arranged, by 10.30hrs we ashore on a concrete base and waiting for props to arrive.

Everything we have needed we have found, with an excellent marine store close by, that could teach some of the UK ones a thing or two when comes to stocking repair items, what they did not have could be obtained in a few days. Everybody has been very helpful and friendly. The facilities at the Yacht Club, available for a 55 dollar joining fee are second to none, without all the pretensions of proposers, seconds and waiting lists. Long may it last! Now we have purchased an old but roadworthy truck, we are well set up for our winter stay.
We decided to crack on with essential repairs so that after our brief trip home for Christmas we will be able to enjoy the winter and all the activities around such as cross country skiing, ice fishing, snow shoeing and snow mobileing, if we get snow, which by all reports is less likely nowadays, evidence of global warming is very real here, not just an article in a colour supplement.
More as it happens………………………………….

Heading South

Now was the time for us to start our journey south with a brief stop at Aasiaat and see our friend Jens who had just arrived on Sila.

Four days after leaving Aasiaat we were back in Nuuk and nocturnal darkness returned to our way of life, no more midnight suns until next year. We were now looking for a weather window to cross to Labrador.

The 570 miles to Nain Labrador took four days ten hours with much motoring and we arrived a few hours before the distant effects of hurricanes Leslie and Mike kept us stormbound in Nain for five days. After all the ice, barren rock and bareness of the landscape in Melville it was a great pleasure to be amongst grass and  trees again!