An Ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, wrote a long time ago: “they are three kinds of men: the dead, the living and those at sea.” In Brittany, we have a modern way of saying this old quote:
“Bonne Vierge Marie, priez pour les marins qui sont à terre et que ceux qui sont en mer se demerdent”. And that means? “Good Virgin Mary, pray for our mariners onshore… and let the ones at sea take care of themselves”.
For now, we are not dead, just at sea at around 71 29 37 N and 70 00 08 W. We are happy about that, and we take care of ourselves. A lone iceberg crosses our road. The last one? The nursery is located farther north. Icebergs are few and far between, good news for people “on watch”.
Another good news : our small “Simrad” autopilot works like a charm. It is not loosing “its North” any more. I am relieved. I know that this small electric pilot can steer Breskell in moderate weather. In the high latitudes, its electronic compass was often all mixed up by the close signal radiating from the magnetic pole . I guess the manufacturer didn’t expect many Innu customers! With the help of its little mechanical arm and of its well calibrated electronic brain, we avoid the slavery of long and monotonous period at the wheel when the winds are light or variable.
In deteriorating conditions, my old faithful wind-vane Aries takes over the piloting in these ice-free waters . As always when at sea, I am at peace and exhilarated. We have a lot of water around, no more numerous and dangerous growlers to watch for and the darkness of the night to meditate peacefully under the stars. Hard to imagine for sailors from more moderate latitudes, but we spent almost three months without any obscurity.
Since Pond Inlet, our “iron sail” works day and night. Associated with an extended high pressure system over the area, this constant “petole” is expected to prevail for the next couple of days. After our long stay in front of the closed-door of our anticipated North West Passage, we have learned to be patient, very patient.
The next day, a small resurgence of some Est wind around the evening hours brings hope in my hardcore sailor heart. Not for long. Only two hours of peaceful sailing before switching back to our trustful Perkins.
During the 28 th, we alternate motoring and sailing with the help of our electric jib furling system. We pull in or out this huge frontal sail in a matter of seconds. Matching the wind, this system allows us to set always the right amount of sails. We meet another iceberg today and still avoid growlers from time to time. This afternoon , some whales surface and breathe far away . Dom launches his drone to record them on film. An unsuccessful mission, even if returning his bird straight to our moving deck is always an amazing performance for the crew.
We pass our next way point, 6708,51 N and 6059,82 W, in the dark of the night. Even if we still navigate north of the polar circle, this darkness is a welcome new reality for us, sailors of the midnight sun . The wind finally starts around 1:00 am the 29 th. I climb on deck to greet it. With Eric and Dom, we set up all sails.
Breskell starts jumping smoothly from waves to waves. Alive again and running like an invigorated sea-horse, she murmurs in my ears :
“let’s go now and have some fun riding south on the back of this friendly following NW wind”. In the afternoon, the wind gets stronger. Time to take a reef on the main and roll part of the gib. Later, the ride gets rougher and it’s becoming uncomfortable inside. With the night closing in, I rather slow down the impetus of my horse. Easily done: just reduce the amount of sails out. During the night, the wind increases. We reef again, rolling completely the big gib and taking out the baby gib. From now on, we sail on heavy seas shaking seriously, from time to time, our floating home.
It happens during Joes’ watch. Mother Nature throws a good and unexpected punch as a reminder of who is in charge in the high latitudes. A rogue wave hits hard the hull. This unexpected “knock down” sends Breskell in the ropes. For a few seconds, my good old boat looses her balance. Groggy, she sheares to starboard and dips her side far down in the water. The fabric of her side deck protection is ripped away by the water rushing in during the plunge . They are ripped again by the water racing out from the deck when Breskell, recovering from the whack, finally shakes off the seawater covering the boat.
Inside, the awakening is brutal. We are not ready for a serious “knock down”. This emergency braking, associated with a sudden rollover on one side sends every non secured objects somersaulting in every directions. That means everything loose inside the boat, a huge mess! Books intermingle with plates, clothes mixed up with food, coffee cups blended with spilled sugar and rolling water bottles. My fault. We had so much “petole”, so much light wind the days before, that I overlook the fact that we are still sailing in the high latitudes above the Arctic circle. Anything can happen here anytime. Confronting the sea is always a challenging and sometimes a dangerous proposition this far north . By this unexpected jab, Nature with its sea trained accomplices the waves, remembers us that it’s not time to drop the guard. Puzzled, we look at each other before finally taking action.
We secure everything, clean the clutter around and return the boat back on track.
With a renowned impetus and a steady boat, we fly again reaching a good eleven knots. Impressive, specially when running at full speed into the darkness. An exciting change after all these hours devoted motoring in the “pétole”… That’s what sailing is all about! And my bruised boat enjoys the ride. With her huge starboard side wound, her port-side patch and some deep scratches along the hull, a few lacerated side protections, she is still bucking the sea like a young animal running loose into an open field.
On top of that, in this windy conditions, my Aries wind-vane works like a charm.
Except for the vigil outside, on sharp look out, we all gather around the wood stove, staying warm while the boat flies into the night… A sailor’s dream.