Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cambridge Bay

Fiona arrived in Cambridge Bay in fine "shirtsleeve" weather Tuesday evening, just in time for Happy Hour. Sprague Theobald and Chauncey Tanton from the M/V Bagan boarded for drinks and interviews with Fiona's crew. Sprague, an Emmy award winning filmmaker, is producing what he hopes will be a multi-part TV series on the Northwest Passage and the 2009 season in particular.

Bagan and Fiona are two of the ten vessels attempting the Northwest Passage in 2009.

Fiona is watering and fueling.  She will depart on Thursday. Russ, meanwhile, has reached the end of his Fiona saga. He needed to complete his trip before the 7th of September. The earliest Fiona could reach Nome will be September 9th or 10th, too late for Russ to meet his schedule. So, he flew out of Cambridge Bay (using the gravel runway) Wednesday afternoon on a Canadian North 737.

Dease Straits, right off Cambridge Bay, is where Roald Amundsen, coming from the east, first saw the whale ship Charles Hanson, Capt. James McKenna, coming from the west - from the Pacific - back in 1906. "'Vessel in sight, sir!'  With that meeting I knew I had done it.  The Northwest Passage was complete," wrote Amundsen.  The meeting of vessels proved the passage was possible. In Russ' case, he met his first eastbound vessel, Ocean Watch, Capt. Mark Shrader, in Gjoa Haven four days ago.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sailing West

Saturday Fiona anchored in McClintock Bay and waited for the wind to moderate before pushing west early Sunday.

Russ reported via SSB datalink on Monday: "Overnite McClintock Bay Sunday. Want good daylight for passage south of Royal Geographical Society Islands today. Reefs, etc. ETA Cambridge Bay Tuesday evening." By clicking on and enlarging the photo at left one see's why Fiona's crew did not want to navigate the straits at night.

He reported seeing Hapag-Lloyd Lines' cruise liner "Hanseatic making her passage west to east yesterday in Simpson Straits. Passed within 100 yds. Spoke to them [on VHF Channel 16]. Tooted salutes at each other."

The east to west cruise liner, Bremen, has already safely made the passage from Resolute to south of Gjoa Haven and may pass Fiona before Cambridge Bay.

Entry from Russ Roberts' journal 8/21/09:

The Zen of Fiona:  "The 10,000 boats that are not named Fiona are not Fiona."  For some reason this thought arises from Eric's comment about Ocean Watch having kayaks and a swim platform.  Eric prides himself on having a functional vessel, without the slightest hint of "party boat" about it.

This morning breakfast at the Gjoa Haven hotel; eggs, over medium, link sausage, pancakes, toast, OJ and apple juice.  Shared breakfast with crew of Ocean Watch.  I am delighted to see them.  Although she does have a "razzle dazzle" type of paint job, I admire [Capt. Mark] Schrader's boat.  She looks stout and seaworthy.  A 65 foot Bruce Roberts design crafted in steel.

We started for Cambridge Bay at 1215 in the teeth of the wind.  Sailed for about 10 minutes.  Then turned NW into high wind & chop.  Headed to a bay on SW of Koka Lake for the night - it might be 2 nights - until the wind subsides.  Doesn't seem like a lot of progress today.  "I could have eaten dinner at the friggin' hotel, g******it," said David, a man not normally given to profanity.

The three other guys went to shore in the hard dingy.  I stayed aboard to take pictures of it, riding low, making for shore under the power of an ancient Seagull outboard ... and pictures of David at the oars, rowing back, after the Seagull decided to not start.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Fiona Underway to Cambridge Bay

Email from Russ Thursday August 20 after arriving in Gjoa Haven:

"We arrived in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut this morning around 10AM. Rainy and foggy but otherwise good to be here. This is where Roald Amundsen wintered with the Gjoa before proceeding west to complete his passage. At the end of his second winter in Gjoa Haven he encountered San Francisco whale ships in Deale Sound near present day Cambridge Bay, thus being the first to link both sides of the Northwest Passage.

"I'm leaving the trip in Cambridge Bay. There's no ice from here to Alaska so the [major] ice challenge of the trip is virtually over. Also, I've completed my own linkage of the Passage, having passed vessels bound from the Pacific. So I can leave with a sense of satisfaction."

On Friday August 21 he wrote: "Aground again [for the second time this trip] yesterday due to winds that piped up at the fueling 'dock' (really just a metal bulkhead set against the shore). Plans for dinner ashore and a long time in the rack, boat talk for 'bed,' something the crew has craved for days, are dashed. We are up with the tide at 11PM to maneuver away to deeper water. Our plan works well (although our execution is rather slap-stick); two anchors and the dingy as tug boat on the bow allow us to kedge, pulling against the wind to point the boat so we can make headway with ship's diesel.

Ocean Watch (one of the vessels making the passage from west to east) pulls in just as we are setting our anchor. I make a casual 'Ocean Watch, welcome to Gjoa Haven' call to them on VHF Channel 16 belying that only minutes before we are all 'thumbs, elbows and left legs' getting situated. Joe Waits says, "China called. They want their fire drill back." I am glad to be at anchor, rather than still performing in the 'midnight circus' getting off the 'dock' (with a bag over my head to hide embarrassment), before Ocean Watch gets in.

"Quite a feeling to meet the eastbounder and know the trip is all but complete. Amundsen must have felt similar though greater seeing the whaler in Dease, 'Vessel in sight!' Will leave noon tomorrow hopefully after brunch with with Capt. Mark Schrader and Ocean Watch crew ashore.

"P.S. No ice AT ALL sighted south of Matty Island. Amazing. No ice AT ALL sighted in my drink for a month. Tragic."

Fiona did leave Gjoa Haven Friday afternoon heading west for Cambridge Bay. Early this morning gale warnings were posted for the area they were traversing and the SPOT locator has shown they are not moving and apparently have taken safe refuge until the winds become more favorable. ~DH~

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fiona Arrives Gjoa Haven

Entry from Russ Roberts journal on 8/20/09:

46 miles to Gjoa Haven at 0815.  It will feel good to get there.

Rae Strait is bumpy this AM after overnight winds which have swells unsettled.  It's raining and damp.
Last Message received from Russ on Wednesday night: "Quiet night tied to floe. Underway 6AM. Motoring well. 130nm (nautical miles) to Gjoa. Biggest story on this trip is how little story there is. Glassy water. Visibility great today. Egg salad sands for lunch. Advise all well!"

The SPOT tracker sent coordinates at 1:04 PM this afternoon locating Fiona in Gjoa Haven. Congratulations to Fiona and crew on a safe passage through icy Peel Sound, Franklin Strait and Larsen Sound. Hopefully hot showers for all! ~DH~

A moment to reflect upon the ice. When one embarks upon the Northwest Passage, even in years of minimum ice coverage, one has to expect to "get up close and personal" with big hunks and sheets of frozen water. One must accept the possibility that any vessel other than an ice breaker or ice hardened ship could be lost due to damage by ice. Vessel loss or damage must be placed into the "acceptable risk" equation.

My personal emotions on this trip are fueled by the fact that I do not own the vessel I sail upon. I can only feel vicariously what Eric of Fiona, Sprague of Bagan, Jovar of Perithia and the other boat owners are experiencing as the reality of the Northwest Passage begins scraping, gnawing and shrieking against their beloved hulls. Polar ice creates noises only Steven King or Bram Stoker could describe in words! Not knowing what damage may be accruing below the waterline is a mystery I'm sure none of them enjoy.

My primary concern, that feeling I am closest to as a non-owner crewmember, is personal safety for life and limb and the safety of those with me. At no point in the Peel Sound or Franklin Strait, at the points of maximum ice concentration, did I ever fear. The imminent danger of a swim in the Mustang suit due to hull rupture never came close. In the event that our situation had deteriorated and the sad eventuality of sinking did occur, the land was always close. The radios, Epirb and SPOT beacons always functioned and stood by in case they needed to be employed to send a "Mayday." The options for safety aboard and ashore and help if needed always remained open and available. We never exhausted our plans for a safe outcome.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

NIce Day

Entry from Russ Roberts' journal:

Nice day - like a Caribbean cruise.

Waiting Game

The winds have shifted from the south to the north slowly pushing the ice in a more southwesterly direction and hopefully opening a passage with low enough ice concentration to make it possible for Fiona, Perithia, and Bagan to arrive in Gjoa Haven soon.

12:03PM Email from Russ: "All well & happy. Waiting game. Fog. Wind shifting. 'Breaker Laurier ETA late tonight. Rec'd e-mail from Sprague on Bagan; all well, they are tied to floe and drifting 57 miles south of us. We drifted 12nm north last 18hrs [always staying about a mile offshore]."

11:32PM Email from Russ: "Got clear of ice and underway this PM. Made 15 miles. Now tiny anchor sitting on another floe to hold while getting more clear sea room ahead. 'Breaker' Laurier decided to hang out in Ross. We didn't need them for anything. If nothing else, it would have been nice party..."

Note added by RR on 8/29/09:

Fiona had called Coast Guard Station Iqualuit to give them a 'head's up,' a sort of 'float plan,' on where we were and what was happening; that she was surrounded by ice, making no progress and awaiting a change in the ice drift. They indicated Laurier was headed in Fiona's direction, we postulated perhaps in anticipation of the Hapag Lloyd expedition cruise ship Bremen steaming in from Greenland, and would check in with us upon arriving in the area. Iqualuit Coast Guard recommended that we review our abandon ship drill and make sure a "go bag" was packed and at the ready.  This seemed wise since ice can change rapidly and there was always a chance of our vessel being crushed.  They requested that Fiona check in every six hours via the Iridium phone with a position and status report until she was once again underway in clear water.

After two days and a half days of drifting with the ice, and a night about eight miles offshore maneuvering to find an open passage, Fiona started back in toward the forecasted open lead along the coast.  It was a magical journey through an 'ice bayou' ... lots of twisting and turning in channels that continued to open, open, always open ahead of the boat. Rather than being 'tortuous,' as others have reported, I found the trip in toward the open lead to require little effort . However time consuming it might have been, there was a wonderful 'meditative' quality about it.

Photo is Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker, Sir Wilfrid Laurier. ~DH~

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Morning Watch

From Russ Roberts' journal entry:

0400:  On watch.  Quiet.  Occasional whale songs.  In the last hour we've started a drift to the southwest.  A change from the last 24 hours.  Wind seems to be starting to move.  It's forecast to be from the north.  This could give problems.  Better to have easterlies.  But then, we were supposed to have favorable southeasterlies and wound up here, stuck.

There!  Just now!  Another whale whistle!  Almost low enough to miss, the sound rises from the depths.

1000:   Same as before.  Thick fog last 18 hrs.

Even though the wind has shifted to the north at 10kts this AM we've yet to begin a real drift south.  Maybe when we do we can drift into Rae Strait!  After all, yesterday we "made good" 15 miles, in the wrong direction.   Fiona? She should be called Headwind!  A more pragmatic name.  You'd think an engineer like Eric would have thought that way.

It's cold and wet this morning; 32F, drizzle and fog.  We've been here too long; we're gettting lots of tea stains on the chart; better to move on so that we can space them out.

Laurier not coming.  Iqualuit CG advised they have change of plan.

Going a little crazy sitting, unmoving in this ice.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ice Everywhere!

[Joe Waits photo]

Sunday August 16, email from Russ:

"FREEZING, sleet, wind, ice everywhere, like world's biggest game of Dodg'em. I wear the Mustang suit and Grundens foulies [foul weather clothing] to stay safe and warm. Through Shortland Channel in Tasmania Islands. Hand steered all the way in ice and fog. Making for Matty Island."

At the time Russ wrote that, the Fiona was in 1/10 ice concentrated water along the east side of Franklin Strait and Larsen Sound.

At times, though, due to local winds and geographic constraints, the ice concentration reached 5/10's.  The winds continued to blow from the south during the day moving the more concentrated ice north into the narrowing sound. As a result the route south of Fiona's route is now impassable in most parts with 7/10 and 9/10 concentrations of ice.

Russ wrote this morning, "We are in a big open pool (30 to 50 meters in diameter) of water approximately 1 mile offshore. Ice all around. Last night after maneuvering for hours trying to find a lead, Joe was able to 'lasso' a hunk of ice that had somehow become stuck on top of a flat pack ice floe. That is where we rested last night. We moved off when another floe moved underneath and bumped the keel this morning.

"Dense fog overnight lifted this morning. Visibility unlimited. E-mail from Sprague on Bagan. He's stuck in 9/10 ice 1 mile offshore in Kent Bay about 60 miles south of us. He is not amused by ice chart.

"I sent SPOT position report this AM. We're okay. Just waiting."

According to the SPOT coordinates Fiona has moved a little farther north today, because a 7/10 ice concentrated floe moved east and north into their location. The winds are forecast to be Southeast today and North overnight through Wednesday. Hopefully that will help move the ice off of the eastern shoreline.

Email from Russ at 4:54PM: "I think 'being stuck' is normal for this route. It's the Northwest Passage! They don't capitalize it for nothing! But ... even a complete loss of the vessel here [due to ice damage today] wouldn't be very dramatic; paddle to shore - get picked up. [Of course, then a new problem may develop. We might have to fend off Herr Eisbar (polar bear). But we have a plan. The three junior crewmembers, plan to shoot the senior member of the crew (let's see, checking the roster that would be Eric) in the leg with Fiona's antique single-shot shotgun, using him for bait while the rest of us run like hell!]

Today we are stuck in polar ice. But I remember nothing is constant but change and tomorrow is another day. Visibility unlimited. All fog gone. Beautiful day. Warm. In the silence one can hear whale calls. They sound like "singing in the wires." Eric spoke to the Coast Guard via the Iridium phone. They said the icebreaker Sir Wilfred Laurier is coming this way tomorrow from Cambridge Bay. Party time!

Today we're 'anchored' to a floe. Enjoying a quiet day."

Russ Roberts August 17th journal entry:

0400:  I've been on board a month.  I arrived on July 17th in Nuuk.

This morning we are tied up to an ice "hunk" on an ice floe about two miles off the Boothia Penisula, about 100 miles from Gjoa Haven.  It appears from a quick look outside that we may be beset.

Everyone is sleeping now after a tough day in fog yesterday.  We groped around with the 20 year old radar from 1400 to 2300 yesterday trying to find a way around the ice.  We ended the day with Joey lassoing the eight feet high pinnacle of ice.

We spent the night on one hour anchor watches.  Since tying up I've had four hours of rest.  When Eric is called in an hour I don't know whether we will stay or head out.  A climb to the spreaders may be in order to see if we are, indeed, beset in ice.  If so we might as well get some more sleep.  If not beset it might be a good idea to motor out.  The wind is forecast to change to the southwest later today which would bring more ice in toward shore; a less than desirable thing for us.

0920:  Joe and I both climbed to the spreaders and did not see any opening in the ice.  So, we will drift in this big pool of clear water and wait for change.  We got e-mails from Deb and Bagan; both reporting deteriorating ice conditions.  We are expecting a wind shift a wind shift in the next day or so.  In this dynamic, fluid situation things will change.  I'm not sure how they will change, but there will be change ...

1020:  After being bumped by an incoming floe that heeled us a bit, we motored off and are now conviently tied to the dingy anchor which lies in a blue pool of melt water in another ice "hump."  This arrangement creates a superb sea anchor!  Before, without the dingy anchor secure to the ice, we drifted at 2.5 kts and were always bumping into ice floes.  Now, we should be okay for hours.  Drifting along as if we, too, were an ice floe, moving north (015 degrees true north) at 1 knot.

1500:  I've noticed that when people make plans for contingencies that those contingencies rarely occur.  It's when contingencies aren't considered that things go to hell; engines catch fire, boats sink, airplanes crash ... that kind of thing.  We have considered our "worst case scenario" here aboard Fiona and have collected our vital things in personal "go bags."  We've already put a lot of the boat stuff in a sack, just in case the ice get excited and wants to have Fiona for dinner.

Eric called the Coast Guard and told them about us earlier.  They've got names, navigation position and a synopsis of what's going on.  So, if the worst comes, all we have to do is "Mayday."  Eric said they're already sending the ice breaker Sir Alfred Lauier this way.  She's currently in Cambridge Bay , 200 miles away.  She'll be abeam Fiona tomorrow.  If we are crushed and sink (one of the contingencies considered above) they said they'd send a helicopter.  The land, only 1/2 mile east, is gravel, and although a bit steep, does, I think, provide a number of runways for an airplane like a Twin Otter.  This looks like great "rescue" terrain!

So, we're covered.  Aside from wanting the trip to be over, I am relaxed and enjoying the silent beauty.  This afternoon the light for photos is splendid.

Several times today I heard a wiry "oo-eee" noise.  I thought is came from the rigging.  Eric says it's whale song.  That makes perfect sense but I never imagined I'd hear them without a hydrophone and headset.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Busy Day

Entry from Russ Roberts' journal:

Due to lousy weather and increasing concentration of ice Eric called the Coast Guard to give them our position.

After pancakes for breakfast we are checking and filling the Go Bag.  This is a partial list of some stuff we need to put in it in case we need to abandon ship(discuss more with others):

SPOT locator beacon
Iridium phone
Shotgun & shells
Paper (most interesting when the story survives the characters!)
Batteries for all

Talking with the others the contents of the Go Bag, we talk about the shotgun.  "Do we need more shells?"  asked Eric.  There were four in the plastic Ziploc sitting next to our Go Bag.

"I want all of them that are on the boat!" I said.  There is no desire to execute a successful abandon ship exercise, make it through ice and fog to shore ... only then to be eaten by a polar bear!  We dug around for the whole box of shells and put it in the bag.

At 2200 Joe and I began watch.  After leaving the Bellot area we began what we're calling the "ice watches;" two of us are paired up to stand "watch and watch," each pair taking a four hour turn (normally on Fiona each man stands a two hour watch alone).  With two on watch all the time there is one to steer and one to "con" the boat.  Joe and I have a good system.  He stands forward when needed and directs with hand signals.  I include him in my "scan" at the helm and am able to respond immediately.  We've not brushed any ice in some very close quarters with this system.  This has to be the world's biggest game of Dodg-Em.

Going through the ice last night (this morning) at 0200 was the toughest.  The quality of light was such that one could not really tell where there was clear water and where there was ice.  We took our best shot.  It seemed to work.  Funny, because it might not have worked.  Looking toward the 2AM "setting sun" would show a path perfectly clear of ice.  But that was a sucker's bet.  If we turned that way we would find ourselves right up on big floes.

We just continued turning and jinking and managed to stay clear by inches.

1330:  Eric and David on are watch.  In the last few minutes the boat has tagged several floes as it motors into cul-de-sacs in thickening fog.  They've had to put it into reverse and back up just now.  The sea, meanwhile, is glass smooth due to the calm winds that contribute to the fog.

2330:  Dog tired.  Nine hours at the helm today.  The four of us spent all afternoon and evening on deck wrestling ice.  Radar useless.  Attenuates and gives the impression of leads where there are none.  Fog continues.  Unable to make forward progress and the route behind is closed with ice.  We give up and tie to an eight foot high bit of ice that sticks to a floe.  We are off Andressean Head.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Farewell Resolute

Fiona left Resolute Friday morning, 14 August, sailing south down Peel Sound. Progress Saturday was made more difficult with south winds and at 6:30 pm Russ reported that they had finally sailed far enough south to have "ice in sight". The next couple of days will no doubt be the most intense for the crew of the Fiona as Franklin Strait and Larsen Sound are still strewn with ice. The ice is melting rapidly on the east side and one vessel has with some difficulty made the journey through Peel Sound to Goja Haven. Vessels from the west are gathering at Cambridge Bay and it appears at this time that all vessels involved will have a trip through the Northwest Passage this season.

While waiting in Resolute Bay the Fiona kept company with two vessels, the French Fleur Australe and the German Perithia. (Picture above: Fleur, Perithia, Fiona in Resolute Bay) The Fleur Australe left Resolute 7 days before Fiona and has reached Gjoa Haven. The Perithia is estimated about 6 hours behind the Fiona in Peel Sound.

The Fleur is a 65 foot aluminum ketch with a retractable keel. That keel made it possible for Fleur to escape Resolute Bay the morning the ice pack trapped Fiona and Perithia by allowing it to go into shallow water around the pack. This vessel is home to a French family of 6, two adults and four children ranging in age from 1 to 12 years. Russ wrote about Phillipe, captain and father of the children, after a morning near shore for fuel, "Being close to shore, when the tide went out Fleur rested on the bottom allowing Philippe to scrub the bottom, at least some of it. He claims he’s “losing a knot” because of the growth on the hull. A man who single-handed races boats around the world (winning two O-Star races) he is hardy. In a wetsuit, in the Arctic, in the water cleaning his boat. Not me." You can read the journal of the Fleur Australe's voyage through the passage on their blog: You will need web translator as it is written in French.

The Perithia is a fiberglass hull Bavaria 44 and home to Jovar and Kathryn. Their blog is: Again, the translator--it is in German.

A fourth vessel, Bagan, a Nordhavn 57 motor vessel has wonderful pictures and video on their blog: Because of the ice pack in Resolute, Bagan bypassed it and spent their time touring various bays and inlets. They are presently about a day ahead of the Fiona.

There are four vessels making the trip from west to east and two cruise liners that are planning to pass each other somewhere in the passage.


Russ Roberts' August 15th journal entry:

We spent all night tacking across Peel Sound.  The wind was out of the south, the chop was building and we had slowed to 2.5kts across the ground.  By tacking our average miles made good was down to two nautical miles every hour.  But we were sailing and not burning diesel fuel!  Eric weighed the option of pulling into a bay to wait out a wind shift.  I am for continuing to make whatever progress is possible, to be in whatever advantageous position might develop.  I do not want to miss a window of opportunity with the ice.

Bagan e-mailed via single side band Sailmail that he is underway havng left Pattinson Harbor in Young's Bay.  He saw a lead opening up on the ice chart.  That is why I was anxious to be down there.

There is no word yet from Perithia.  I have been calling at least twice a day on VHF.  Safety in numbers, or at least "comfort in numbers," seems like a reliable old saw on most any occasion.  And this is the Northwest Passage!  I still do not understand the skipper's thinking on this matter.

Today it has been one month since I saw a tree.  Tonight we are back to motoring into the teeth of the wind, making 2 and 1/2 knots.  We're kicking up a lot of water and occasionally taking a wave over the bow.  Not a fun watch.  Earlier today I was in great mood; delighted to be underway and heading in the right direction.

1740:  Serious ice in sight at 72 14N.  This is probably the ice that Deb reported yesterday.  Given the south winds overnight it is reasonable that it is now north of the position of her report.

1820:  Fiona just deviated around small ice floes that required David to hand steer for twenty minutes.  No problem.  This ice is associated with a larger patch reported around Bellot Straits.

The next 120 miles will tell the tale; this is the major challenge we anticipated on the trip.  Of course, unanticpated challenges may arise at any time.  And the thought occurs that some challenges may be of a nature that the same situation does not even register with another person.  These would be individual, personal, challenges.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Big Ice Floes in Resolute Bay

Fiona's Resolute departure was set for noon today.  At 0530 Eric woke us up, concerned about several big ice floes surrounding us (again).  He decided we would leave right away.  He did tell Uwe on Perithia that we were shoving off, but I feel bad Eric did not wait for him.

David stood his first two hour watch at 1400.  Visibility down to less than 1,000 feet in fog with the sun right on the bow, the worse kind of setup.  Passing Aston Bay he was in quite heavy ice floes and had to hand steer.  For him this is a "baptism of fire."  After this never mind that he broke Fiona's captain's treasured teapot just after lunch.  Being a handy sort, his stock was already back on the rise when he braised the pot and screwed the handle back on.  Now it's stronger than ever.

We have seen a lot of seals today.  A couple of them were doing sea otter imitaions; lying on their back.  I thought at first they might be Harp Seals, also known as "Greenland Seals," but read that this variety does not populate Peel Sound.  So, maybe they are Ringed Seals.  We see more fulmars and one long-tailed skua today.

It is good to finally be away from Resolute.  The people are friendly, helpful and interesting to watch but the place is hard and gray.  Plus, staying there does not get me one mile closer to the goal of this trip; transiting the Northwest Passage.  I have had enough fun.  Joe says that we are playing pin ball with the ice ... and we are the ball1  Maybe pieces of the game should not expect a lot of fun.

We are sitting here on the boat waiting for dinner (the captain does all the cooking aboard ... thank goodness I'm not asked to prepare any "burnt offereings" on this trip!).  We are having spaghetti topped with Hunt's sauce and a can of corned beef thrown in.  Joe is reading Mark Twain's Roughing It.  It is 36 degrees (F) outside (water temperature is 41F).  We have the hatch open to ease access to the cockpit.  In addition to being cold, we are dirty; last shower three days ago.  Is this a crazy way to live?

2345:  The patches of snow and shade of rock on shore are such that one can imagine villages and even towns in site.  While there may be a few people between Resolute and Gjoa Haven scattered about, there are no towns or villages along our route.  It is another kind of mirage, like the ice floes and islands inverted by refraction which make them look twice as big.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

From the journal

Eric wanted to leave Saturday.  I had recommended leaving today, Thursday the 13th, in order to get down close to the ice.  That way we would be set to make a run when the wind opens up a lead to Gjoa Haven (or better yet northwest of the island direct to Cambridge Bay ... a wild dream indeed!).  In the end he weighed all the options and decided noon, Friday is the time to leave.  Perithia concurs and will sail with us.

-from Russ Roberts' journal

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ice Melt on Par With 2007

Here's the August 4th article from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. It shows the ice melting at a record pace. But, for Fiona's trip this is a two-edged sword. The warm weather is dislodging old ice that normally survives year to year. This ice starts to migrate and can clog up passages that are normally open. 

Arctic sea ice extent for the month of July was the third lowest for that month in the satellite record, after 2007 and 2006. The average rate of melt in July 2009 was nearly identical to that of July 2007. A strong high-pressure system, similar to the atmospheric pattern that dominated the summer of 2007, brought warm winds and clear skies to the western Arctic, promoting ice melt.
map from space showing sea ice extent, continentsFigure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for July 2009 was 8.81 million square kilometers (3.40 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1979 to 2000 median extent for that month. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole. Sea Ice Index data. About the data.
—Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

High-resolution image

Overview of conditions
Sea ice extent averaged over the month of July 2009 was 8.81 million square kilometers (3.40 million square miles). This was 680,000 square kilometers (263,000 square miles) above the record low that occurred in July 2007, 250,000 square kilometers (97,000 square miles) below July 2008, and 1.29 million square kilometers (498,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average. Sea ice extent is unusually low in the Kara Sea, Baffin Bay, and along the Russian coast. The only area with significant above-average ice extent is southern Hudson Bay.
graph with months on x axis and extent on y axis Figure 2. The graph above shows daily sea ice extent as of August 2, 2009. The solid blue line indicates 2009; the dashed green line shows 2007; and the solid gray line indicates average extent from 1979 to 2000. The gray area around the average line shows the two standard deviation range of the data. Sea Ice Index data.
—Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

High-resolution image

Conditions in context
The average pace of ice loss during July 2009 was nearly identical to that of July 2007. Ice loss sped up during the third week of July, and slowed again during the last few days of the month.
Averaged for the month, July 2009 saw a decline rate in ice extent of 106,000 square kilometers (41,000 square miles) per day. For comparison, the rate of decline for July 2007 was 107,000 square kilometers (41,000 square miles) per day and the July 2008 rate of decline was 94,000 square kilometers (36,000 square miles) per day. The Arctic Ocean lost a total of 3.19 million square kilometers (1.23 million square miles) of ice during July 2009, and dropped below ice extent at this time in 2008.

Still Cooling the Jets in Resolute

entry from Russ Roberts journal:

The Mounties, Carol and Ted, came down to the boat yesterday to tell us about the bear.  It had been in town the night before we saw it swimming in the bay and had chased a kid down the street, or so the story goes.

We may wait another day or two before leaving.  We have set the 16th as our "bingo day," the decision day on whether to get underway for Cambridge Bay or turn around again for Greenland.  This, of course, is based on ice information we currently have available.  We'll look at the ice charts again today.  We will gaze into them as if they are crystal balls or prophets ...

David Wilson joined the boat today.  He moved onboard where immediately put him in rotation for dish washing duty (which we take in turns).  

"Dave, you'll soon marvel at the chemistry experiment we're running in the dish towel," we tell him.  

He also noted the sponges.  "I have a new dish rag," he said.  He then said he would do the dishes all the time.  Hoorah!  He said, being the new guy and sailing rookie, that he should carry the load wherever he can.  I think he might just want to exercise a little quality control galley hygiene.

This afternoon, while I worked at Azzi's gathering ice information, the three other guys hiked out to the wreck of a RCAF Lancaster bomber which crashed in the nineteen fifties.  Wrecks in Resolute are stripped of what is useful and then left to two Cornwallis Island seasons; winter and "not quite as cold."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Pervasive Aroma

"Russ, Russ, hurry up on deck!  Look behind you!" Eric called from the dingy.  I turned to see a polar bear swimming into the bay. Eric had gone to shore to fetch David's gear but cut his errand a bit short.

The bear, meanwhile, swam to shore and headed to town.  A local resident, however, "buzzed" it with a four-wheeler (called a "quad" here) chasing the polar bear in a flurry of flying feet, legs and a cloud of moisture escaping from the animal's fur, back into the water.

Back in the bay, the bear tested the atmosphere with its nose, held high like a snorkel, deciding from the interesting aroma, I suppose, that Fiona held little appeal. I tend to agree with the bear. At this point in the journey the old 'gal is getting a little stale. I imagine the bear wondered whether he ought to come over and eat or bury the boat's contents.  Deciding to give the vessel a pass, perhaps not wanting to risk damage from any toxic fumes, it swam about 100 yards past both Fiona and the German Perithia (where Kathrin snapped many photos).  The bear pulled itself onto an ice floe and napped until noon.

This afternoon we hiked to the top of Signal Hill north of the village. Passing through town, I finally identified the pervasive aroma. It's the smell of a mouse dying under the house. The whole village smells this way. There are dead things everywhere. Yesterday, riding to the airport in the back of a pickup, I sat next to a polar bear skull in an advanced state of rot. Bits and pieces of animals are all over town; hanging up drying, piled around all the chained huskies, dropped at random in the roads ... it's different from the land of dirt. There no soil with its associated enzymes, 'critters and molds to hasten decomposition. Here, because there's no soil to grow anything, and no season to grow it if there were, it's an animal-only food chain. With meat the only produce, dead mouse is the aroma du'jour.

There is not a whole lot to look at in the Canadian high arctic.  But the trip is turning into something of an olfactory odyssey. 

Fiona may leave Resolute tommorow. The ice to the south is thinning, our time is getting short (I have to fly back to the states no later than the 1st week of September) and we want to be in position to sail the Peel Sound and Franklin Straits at the first safe opportunity.

My sister, Deb Harper, identified as "DH" here on the blog, will continue to post messages based upon our datalink radio contacts and information she gleans from other sources.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Ice Wrangling

entry from Russ Roberts journal:

Three times this morning we rousted out to reset the anchor.  The first time, at 0500, was when the anchor chain was found laying on top of an ice floe which lifted the anchor off the bottom.  The other two times was to get out of the way of incoming chunks of ice.  Other than that and a 25 knot wind, it is a quiet morning.

David came by to visit.  He slept on the idea of sailing with us and decided he would join us.  My sleep has been troubled the past few nights.  Tossing and turning, waiting for the next scrape of ice, I have not been able to get into a sleep cycle deep to dream.  That is too bad, because they were interesting, vivid and even exciting when I first got on the boat in Nuuk.  This is said to be quite normal.  The idea is one's dream life is enhanced by the unfamiliar rolling, pitching and noises when first getting to, or back to, sea.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Downside of Adventure ... A Week in Resolute

Resolute was established in 1947 as a weather station and military airfield. It is Canada's 2nd northernmost town with a population just over 200. An average yearly temperature of 2.5F degrees makes it one of the coldest inhabited places in the world. The area is experiencing 24 hours of daylight now until the middle of August when the days start to become shorter leading to the period of weeks of 24 hour sunless days. Today is 38F with drizzle.

Russ wrote on Thursday, "Right now our big thing is making plans on when to do the laundry. Not when to do the laundry, but making plans on deciding when to do the laundry. Plans for plans first, execution later. That way we extend the project. We may buy a six pack of Coke this afternoon. The downside of adventure; boredom." ~DH~

entry from Russ Roberts journal:

We unstuck Fiona from the mud and anchored in an ice free pool with fifteen feet of water.  A man called to us from shore.  "Are you looking for crew?"  

"Let's talk about it!"  We invited him to come by today for Happy Hour.

This morning we woke with big pieces of ice surrounding the boat on three sides.  During the day, the ice moved around with wind and tide, at times almost surrounding the vessel.  The wind is forecast to be from the east, so maybe the ice will move west which would give us a bit more room.  This afternoon the boat occasionally bumps a floe at leaset as high as the top of the cabin.  But there isn't anything we can do; we can't go anywhere.

The caller from shore arrived at five, right on time for a Fiona Cocktail.  His name is David Wilson.  From Fredericton, NB, he's a builder whose contract here has come to an end.  Rather than fly home he thinks it would be interesting to sail with us.  But he has no sailing experience.  Does not matter.  In an age old tradition we will take whatever help this landsman will bring to Fiona.  But think about it.  Getting your first taste of sailing on the Northwest Passage!

Friday, August 7, 2009

An Interesting Day In Resolute Bay

On Friday, August 7th, we awoke at 4:30 to someone "you-hooing" from shore. My first thought was, "Damn kids, don't they ever go to bed?" Then Joe rolled out, popped his head out the hatch and said, "Shit. Look at this." Resolute Bay was full of ice and it was moving our way.

Beyond the ice Fleur Australe, the French boat, was making its way out by way of the only lead along the shore (Fleur has a swing keel and draws, with keel up, two feet less water than Fiona). But the German Perithia and Fiona were trapped. I wonder why Fleur did not give a toot on the horn or a call on Channel 16 to let us know about the ice, but I can only surmise that the skipper, Phillippe, the winner of two single-handed O-Star races, had his hands full. Or maybe his competitive nature promotes a philosophy of everyone for himself.

I got Eric out of the rack and said, "We've about five minutes before a big hunk of ice touches the boat." On deck a minute later, we raised the anchor and for the next couple of hours maneuvered as we could. After awhile Perithia commanded the only deep water hole left in the small area of clear water. Fiona was just a few feet from shore when the keel gently touched the glacial mud and she stuck ... at high tide on a full moon. A couple of hours later the tide receded, we listed to our side and spent the morning onboard on an angle. Sleeping in the "V" made of bunk and locker is not so bad!

Hard aground.  A 35 degree list.  A day like this moves one to ask, Why am I doing this?  Why did I want to come here?  It's not a job.  There is no livelihood.  I have no mission.  Why make a choice to put oneself in harm's way with no tangible reward?

Does one need an excuse to do something like this?  I suspect, as I lay 'tween locker and bunk, that some people may need to "cook up an excuse" to come here; watching the environment or climate change, scientific research or maybe a good-will tour.  What if all those reasons are just excuses?  Perhaps some people need a disguise to mask their real desire - a desire that lies somewhere buried below articulation, buried somewhere in the "Why."

I suspect, as Gordon Lightfoot wrote, we can know the wherefore, the outward appearances, but may never know the why.

Good for us that the afternoon tide was just a couple of inches higher. With the help of both dingys from Perithia and Fiona we were able to push the bow to the south, unstick the keel and maneuver to water that had cleared of ice.

For the past two days we've been raising and lowering the anchor and moving the boat trying to stay clear of the ice floes. By now we've become a bit blase about it. So we touch one now and again ... it bumps, we bounce off and, if the worse happens and we get some damage, the hotel and airport is just a dingy ride away ...

The wind blew hard this morning from the east and the bay seems to be clearing a bit. Let's see what the next few days bring to us.

Today was supposed to be laundry day.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Days in Resolute

From Russ Roberts journal:

It is the 6th of August.  The days are ticking by.  I remember a couple of weeks ago, the whole boat not only damp but wet, the chop kicking us around, the boat heeled 20 to 25 degrees, the boat's head reeking, its saloon smelling like a locker room, me feeling a bit seasick [which undoubtedly exacerbated the entire experience] and thinking the trip would never end even as it had only started.  I was ready to get off Fiona the second day out.  Seasickness, even mild cases, will do that to a person.

This morning the German boat Fiona first saw in St. John's (and I first saw in Nuuk) is in the harbor with us in Resolute.  She is anchored in between Fleur Australe and us.  I wonder about their plans.  Same as us?

Last night we visited Fleur.  The visit was a little more comfortable than the first one in Upernavik; we are communicating a bit better (their English is not perfect and ours is "first week of high school" French).  I think, too, the atmosphere is better thanks to the showers we took.

Yesterday we fueled both Fiona and Fleur Australe.  By getting to within 100 feet of shore the hose from Azzi's truck was able to reach.  Since he was close to shore, Phillou elected to leave Fleur there on the ebbing tide so he could scrub on her bottom once she grounded.  A racer of fame, he claims he is "loosing a knot" because of growth on his eight month old hull.  A man who single handed race boats around the world, he is hardy.  In a wetsuit, in the Arctic, he stands in the water cleaning his boat.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Fiona Reaches Resolute

Fiona arrived in the small Inuit hamlet of Resolute the morning of Tuesday, 4 Aug. In an email from Russ this evening he writes, "We're stuck in Resolute for a while. Eric was kind of thinking about heading south to 'wait it out,' 'it' being the ice melt. Last night's talk with the Enviro Canada pilots and ice experts convinced him otherwise. They said the lower Peel/Franklin won't begin to be passable by regular vessels for 'two to three weeks.' They have been up here long enough to have a grasp on these things. Unless something interesting develops this may be our turning point. We may be heading back from here in a week or two. We'll see." ~DH~

From Russ Roberts journal entry of 8/5/09:

Holed up in Resolute, we wait.  The ice situation 100 miles south in the Peel Sound and beyond prevents passage.  The Transport Canada people who fly the DHC-7 (or Dash 7, the same "Transport 922" from the Beechey overflight) on patrol, told us last night that we could expect 2 to 3 weeks before the ice opens.  This would put Fiona in a position of not getting beyond Alaska before it freezes up.

That dims prospects.  If we are to return to Greenland I would rather leave the boat and fly out of here.  My desire does not include turning around, backtracking where I have already been.  But I told Eric I am around until the beginning of September, so I have time to stick around and see what happens.

Yesterday I e-mailed everyone from the South Camp Inn here in Resolute.  Azzi, a Pakistani from Tanzania, moved to Resolute thirty one years ago.  It is his home name.  He married an Inuit and has children.  He is something of a kingpin in town.  When you want something done like getting diesel fuel, accessing the Internet, arranging heavy construction or having a meal, you see Azzi.  This seems to prove that in the middle of what seems like nowhere, a person can carve out financial success.  Azzi is, I am almost certain, the only man on Cornwallis Island who drives a Mercedes.  Even though it is a sensible 4 wheel drive "go in the snow" machine, it is a 'Benz.  Everyone else here seems to like Chevys.

Today we will pull Fiona close to shore.  Azzi has a 100 feet long fuel hose.  Since there is twenty feet of water to within a few feet of the beach, we can get close and put the diesel into the tanks without having to shuttle the fuel out in jerry cans.  Before that, though, Eric wants to "sound" the area using the inflatable dingy.  It looks like something of a "make-work" project to me.  However, it is certainly not a wrong thing to do.  More information is better than not enough.  Eric, though, seems the kind of man who always wants to be doing something.  An engineer, I do not think he is rewarded by the contemplative life.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Fiona: Arriving Resolute

Entry from Russ Roberts' journal:

We approach Resolute through 4/10 coverage pack ice at 4AM.  There is some confusion where the actual village might lie.  We see Fleur Australe anchored near what looks like "the town."  But there is also a group of buildings near the jetties mentioned in the pilot book.  Eric says, "That one looks like a town" and we anchor near the jetties.  Tired, we just want to sleep and will sort out the identity question later.  Joe, before retiring, notices a lot of debris, metal mostly, in the water near a jetty.  "Well," he says, "I see a proactive recycling program here in Resolute!"

Later in the day we move the boat closer to Fleur and what turns out to be the "major center" of Resolute, on the northeast corner of the bay.  We dingy to shore and meet the Royal Canadian Mounted Police members, Carol and Ted.  They make calls to immigration in Ottawa and arrange to stamp our passports, this being our first official landing in Canada. 

Monday, August 3, 2009

Fiona Anchors at Beechey Island

On August 2, Russ, Eric, and Joey visited Beechey Island where Sir John Franklin's Expedition wintered over 1845-46. Armed with Fiona's shotgun as a precaution against aggressive polar bears, they visited grave sites of crew members who lost their lives there during Franklin's last Northwest Passage expedition. Position, 74 43N 9150W. Fiona planned to sail to Resolute today, 3 Aug. ~DH~

From Russ Roberts' journal:

We are in Erebus & Terror Bay.  Arrived at midnight.  The Russian Akademic Ioffee, anchored nearby, left shortly after our arrival.  Raised on Channel 16, he is on his way to Resolute and will be there at 7 A.M.

This morning awoke to find Fleur Australe anchored near the bay's mouth.  We are further east in fifty feet of water.  Later, we took the dingy to shore, paid respects to Franklin's dead and prepared our own contribution to the collection of correspondence compiled by passing vessels over the years.  They are all stored in pieces of metal pipe.

While napping this afternoon a trawler anchored nearby.  My bet it's Bagan.  Now there are three here in the bay.  We heard an overflying Dash 7, call sign "Transport 922," call on "16."  He was calling for Bagan but Fleur answered.  The airplane asked about points of departure and destination, advised on Canadian law regarding dumping trash or oil, bid the boat a good day and left.

By 8 P.M. we were underway for Resolute.  The estimated time underway is ten hours.  Passing the trawler Eric saw the name "Pitch Perfect" on the boat's side  He suspected that was the name of the boat.  I had not heard of a "Pitch Perfect" transitting the Northwest Passage this year.  However I gave him the benefit of the doubt that two Nordhavens may be making the run.  I was disappointed Eric did not call upon the vessel so we could say "hello" and solve the identity mystery on our way out of the bay.

Off watch tonight I dozed.  I seemed to remember the name of the trawler as "Silent Spring."  In my slumber I thought Rachel Carson's book title to be a good moniker for a NWP transiting vessel intent upon bringing attention to the environment.  Upon awakening I remember the name "Pitch Perfect."  It had nothing to do with Rachel Carson's book!  How did my sleep turn that into "Silent Spring?"  However, I do not think it's "Silent Spring" or "Pitch Perfect.  I think the boat is Bagan.

Clearing the headlands of Beechey Island we look back to see the sails of Fleur Australe.  Phillou, even in the light wind, has all canvass spread and looks to be taking a course closer to land, more direct toward Resolute.  Our course goes somewhat south to clear ice that shows on the forecast chart.
Links to Beechey Island and Franklin Expedition:

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Heading for Erebus and Terror

Fiona is bound for Erebus and Terror Bay.  We should arrive tonight.  We will visit the gravesite of Sir John Franklin's first sailors to die on his deadly mission.  We will stretch our legs (perhaps while running from a polar bear!).  Peel Sound is still closed by ice.  So there is no rush to make Resolute, refuel and make a hasty departure.  Thus it would be a shame to miss calling on Beechey Island.

It's been another easy day of motoring in splendid weather.  The one exception is that no wind means more fuel is burned.  This is not a good thing.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Fiona Enters Lancaster Sound

Fiona sailed from Baffin Bay into Lancaster Sound at 10:30 am 1 August. The water has been calm with enough wind to sail at 5 knots. ETA to Resolute is Monday 3 August. ~DH~