August 29th at 6:30 am, At 66 degree 33 minutes 46.9 seconds North we are just on the Arctic circle . The temperature is slowly getting warmer.
Even if for a sailboater the exact position of this circle is not a major concern…
During this last day of August we have a nice strong wind with Breskell averaging 8 to 9 knots and a pretty comfortable sail. We get an email from “Jooley” today. 150 miles ahead of us, they aim for St Pierre and Miquelon, two tiny French islands south of Newfoundland. As they plan to top in St. John, we have a chance to meet them again.
September 1, an almost windless morning gives us a chance to recharge our batteries pretty depleted by now. We motor all day with a light following wind. Definitely warmer outside with a good 44 F (7 Celsius ) and a water temperature around 40 F (3 to 4 Celsius) . Almost perfect Caribbean weather for an Arctic sailor!
Just a wool hat and no more of our winter clothes when we climb on deck. Another significant change: some very dark nights again. As we may meet some icebergs, or worst some harder to detect growlers, we need to keep a close watch on our radar screen. My two surgical patches on Breskell’s bow witness of these unexpected rendez-vous .
Major incident on Breskell today. During the watch, one of us furled out the gib. Sadly, he forgets to turn off the safety switch. Watching during the evening a spectacular ” Aurora Borealis” shadowed from time to time by clouds, Eric, sitting against the bulkhead, activates unexpectedly the switch commanding the furler . The gib rolls in. It gets stucked down with the sheet really super tight around the winch. Just before returning to my bunk and with Eric ready for his night-watch, we decide to give Breskell some more speed. Easy. With the simple push on a switch, unfurl some jib. Unknown to my Brittany ancestors, that is the modern sailor’s easy way to play with the sails without climbing on deck. No response this time. The activation toggle works no more. A quick survey around and I realize that it’s even worse. The furling motor and not the switch is involved. As we were peacefully enjoying together the spectacular northern lights display, the frozen toggle had shorted and burned the electrical motor. Maybe not so bad if it’s just an electrical short.
Next morning, we open the roller housing. A disaster! The motor was not simply burned. The strain on its bearings had been so powerful that the back side of the motor was broken in several parts. We cannot believe our eyes. No way to repair these damages.
We will have to find a new motor if Breskell wants to use an electric furling roller again. I am very upset, and more against myself than my crew. I should have double checked even behind my reliable team and acted like in solo sailing. Offshore, no complacency is permitted at any time to a responsible captain! Double check every move, mine or others. Except with a new motor, I do not know how to fix that problem. This part was coming from a salvaged “Amel” boat. A legendary French sailboat company dedicated to the exclusive upscale fraternity of “Amel users”. This select aristocratic sailing club frowns on us, plebeian home boat builders or worse about any other of the “Beneteau plastic tribes”. With boats, it’s like with all other social games. Status means more than function. A Mercedes driver is happy to pay thousands more dollars, just for this one star brand stuck on the front hood of his car, even if an Honda or a Ford is as reliable and much cheaper than the German import. I don’t expect any compassion from the original builder. With the help of friends, I hope to find later a working alternative to my “Amel”.. For now, no more fingertip furling for the front sail until the end of this cruise. We will try to use it by hand, a dangerous alternative especially with the frequent gales in this area. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!
This morning, getting closer to the Newfoundland shores, we meet some growlers. The forecast for tonight predicts strong winds. I plan to slow down Breskell, remembering my last meeting with these treacherous slabs floating just above the arctic sea surface. My two bow patches show to everyone the price paid to survive the fight. Before the expected night blow, we are in “pétole” with the wind veering slowly south. Right on the nose again. A rough time in store!
September the 4th …
Another storm, stronger than expected. So what? A tough ride against heavy seas and huge swells marching in order from the south. We go through safely. My surgical intervention on Breskell proved again to be successful and my stitches watertight. We get lot of rain and some fog to test it. Finally, this afternoon we send again the main with 3 reefs and a baby gib in front. Far away, a huge oil tanker appears on the horizon following a container carrier we encountered two hours earlier. I go down to check my charts. No surprises. We sail at the latitude of the “Belle Isle” strait. The big ships navigate the direct road to and from the St Lawrence seaway and the Great Lakes toward Europe.
Finally in the evening, we return to pleasant sailing conditions: one more reef out on the main and more of the gib in front. Previously, in the brisk wind, my Aries wind-wane was steering perfectly . Now, with the wind dying slowly, we switch to our electronic pilot. Remember the trouble it had previously to keep a bearing when we sailed closer to the magnetic interferences of the North Pole? Now, it works better than expected, keeping Breskell on a steady track. I do not regret my purchase and have a thankful thought for Beth, our West Marine manager in Port Townsend. She sold me a good autopilot at a great discount price.
Today, September the 5th , should be our last day at sea and the conclusion of a wonderful summer adventure. We were ousted without ceremony out the North West Passage by natural forces that no one managed to tame this year. Even huge luxurious cruise-ship like the “ Ponant” had to cancel their cruise in 2018 in that area. Don’t let the foolish “climato skeptics” brawl about the return of the ice in the Arctic. Arctic is thawing. And thawing quickly you moron! The North West ice-lock of this year results from a jam with too much of the ice-field melting at the same time and choking “my passage”. Not because of an ice resurgence.
We should reach the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club tomorrow around noon. And guess what? Just a few hours before an expected new storm during the very same day! Today, as a last gift of Dame Nature for us, worthy northern visitors, we enjoy a perfect weather: beam reach with 20 knots wind. Returning home, Breskell flies on the water at 7 .5 to 9.5 knots. A well deserved final dream sail.
As a cherry on this cake, a huge whale comes to visit and to play with Breskell. This gorgeous creature, as long as my boat, was swimming at no more than 15 to 30 feet of the hull. Riding along Breskell in the long residual swell of the North Atlantic, she waltzes in harmony with my boat. A priceless entertainment. The magic and the joy of being at sea, gliding silently on the waves escorted by these peaceful giants. Successful politicians, rich businessmen, keep your motorcade and your parade. I remain with my personal escort provided freely by nature for offshore sailors ready to share with her these “instants of eternity”.
A grandiose and well deserved final whale farewell to the Arctic.
This cruise is coming to an end . Reality catches up again with us. My whale leaves, the wind dies and we turn on the engine. With another storm brewing on our heels, we don’t want to lose time. Why not avoid another pasting at sea and stay with the wonderful memories of this perfect day. We are 99.9 miles away from a safe shelter. Let’s-go! It will be over soon. 6:00 am. I take my watch after a last real good night sleep at sea. Climbing on deck, I can see land. We motor parallel to it along the Newfoundland coast. Our last leg will be over at the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club in St John around noon. This smells the end of my long journey : two years in the Arctic without reaching my “Himalayan “ goal : crossing the famed North West Passage. “Madame Nature” decided something else for me. I tried my best out of all my sailor’s tricks to prevail, even some totally unusual one like making my wooden boat learns to climb on the ice field! A decorated soldier after some legendary battle, Breskell returns home showing proudly her bow wounds and her two well stitched patches. Some well-earned medals on the ice battlefield. “Mother Nature” prevails. I agree. I surrender. I stay humble. And I thank her for a fair challenge, for displaying all her beautiful treasures and for this sense of awe that I tried to share with my followers. It was not easy, fun or nice every day. But it has been a wonderful, a gorgeous and mind-blowing odyssey. Facing many challenges, an outstanding journey of many trials on this beautiful planet.
This journey doesn’t make me rich or famous. I don’t care. One thing is sure: the seasoned Arctic sailor returning from so far north is not the novice ice mariner going up two years ago.
My two last wishes?
The first is for the Arctic sailor on his “ hardened, patched and stitched ” wooden boat. Wish me good luck and watch me… I don’t plan to give up after this temporary set back. I deserve a second chance!
The second belong to the Arctic. A red flag is rising there from the climate change. A huge red flag.
Let’s try hard to delay the meltdown of this spectacular ice-field. Please help keep this fascinating Arctic territory great again on the very top of our superb planet. It is one of our precious gift to our next generations.
Hauling out my yellow boat in the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club…
I meet journalists.
They are asking many questions about my journey, my crew..
and about those two strange patches on each side of Breskell’s bow?
Nothing new for you!
For now a temporary farewell to the Arctic with my initial message to all of you , nature lovers, and from my appreciated sponsor PATAGONIA
See you later…