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.


  1. Can't wait to see pictures of all of this!!!

  2. Me too!!! And hear all the tales to go along with them!!!