Beautiful Bering strait! Today, we reach some kind of sailing “high”. Addicts or alcoholics get those with drugs or booze, others with smoke, meditations or prayers. Sailors, after reaching far away destinations through stormy seas, experience the same exhilarating state.
Up to Bering Strait.
On Bering Strait, we feel like the first explorers painfully discovering a new sailing road to India.
In our case, the mythical North West Passage! In front of “Breskell”, shrouded in fog on our starboard side, appear both Diomede Islands. The “Big Diomede” belongs to Russia. The smallest one, “Little Diomede”, is part of the US. Locals said that, on some infrequent clear days, you could see Russia from the Alaskan coast. Today, it’s not the case: we barely distinguish those islands.
September 5, 2019.
5 September, 2019, 1:17 PM. A very significative moment for “Breskell”.
Today, the Bering Strait is behind. Our 2019 North West Passage is officially completed. “Breskell” will be part of the legend of this mythical sailing road.
We enter the official book of records in company of other legendary sailors starting with Inuit and followed by Amundsen and some others. Not so many. Years of dreams, emotions and hard work. Three summers of outstanding meetings, fabulous landscapes, hair-raising escapes from the ice and quiet midnight sun at anchor. Sailors cherished memories for more than a lifetime. An extraordinary human adventure as well.
Yesterday, young and restless, I made myself a promise. If one day, I succeed through the famed North West Passage, I will climb to the top of my mast with, in hand, the flag of my very first and faithful sponsors: JACQUES AND MARIE-PAULE FETIS.
Today, my back forbids this climbing. Let me simply rise the flag of my Perkins sponsors and thanks again these two friends of more than 30 years.
I forget for a moment my excruciating back pain. To celebrate, I improvise with Leila, the first “Bering Strait Belly Dancing Show” ever performed so far north. Spectacular and graceful…
An exhibition fully appreciated by our enlightened audience and some mesmerized local walrus. We all pose for “Breskell” official summit” picture. Olivier, Leila, Joshua and Eric. Seriousness and formal dressing is mandatory…
No more patches on trousers or elsewhere! I should have closely inspected Eric’s shoes hidden behind my back😱? Non stop pictures for the next half-hour. A very emotional moment for all of us.
Time for Breskell ” to go HOME “.
Time for Breskell ” to go HOME “. We will have to sail more than 2000 nautical miles to reach port (3,218 km). Half an Atlantic crossing! Who cares. We have successfully climbed the sailor “Everest”. Much harder than the mythical Cape Horn or any of the other dangerous southern capes. We have accomplished that on a boat drawn by my father, proudly built with my own hands and sailed happily by four adventurous sailors. In the small world of offshore skippers and boat builders, I think we deserve the respect due to a job well executed. If we are not unique, we are few!
Farewell to the Arctic.
It’s with humility and respect that we traveled through the Arctic. During three unforgettable summers, we had the privilege to share this amazing land with the ones who know it the best and love it the most.
Joseph, Gerda, Henry and so many others. How skillful and knowledgeable they had to be. They not only survive but thrive in their spectacular country. I even discovered the blog of one famous Arctic Captain’s great great grand daughter.
On her Instagram, you can quietly enjoy another Arctic adventure, sharing the daily life of peoples living there.
Still, please don’t forget. Inuit are « ice people ». Today, their ice is slowly melting away. Every scientist shows satellite imageries to illustrate a 40 % decrease in 27 years, ratcheting up the temperature of the entire Arctic. So, Olivier, you grumpy old sailor, give us another bad new for 2020!
Sorry followers. This year, I am happy to report that ice coverage in the Arctic Ocean is currently the highest it has been since 2010 (with the support from the strongest polar vortex on record).
This coverage is still below the long-term climate average, but at least a temporary stall in a steady sea ice decline. A momentary good new for my friends up north; no so good for those attempting the North West Passage in 2020!
Gold mining around Nome.
To Nome now.
About one sailing day away. I need to redo some stitching again. The damn scar bleeds too much and needs regular pumping. We docked along “Altego” and “Inook”, two of our previous partners up north. It’s a big party tonight with real French Champagne, not any Californian ersatz!
Everyone meets on Breskell. We enjoy another evening together. Guess our discussion topic? The North West Passage of course. Tomorrow will be another day to another mythical wonders: the Aleutian Islands.
And this is a small world. Can you believe that, in the middle of a jungle of weird boats, we docked just in front of a strange pontoon belonging to some “Breskell” friends!
This flotilla looks like camping boats ready for some summer party. And they all possess some special equipment on board. They all seem to use big water pumps to keep their boats dry.
Weird. We meet some of those special characters.
They are summer Bering miners working the offshore sea floor for gold.
After diving into the icy water with giant cleaners in hand, they pump the sand onboard.
Then, they separate there the dust gold from the waste.
In the early day, it was a free for all business. Some deaths and occasional fights convinced the US Coast Guard to start regulating this seasonal trade in 2018. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just the new obligation to embark on board, before venturing offshore, the minimum in safety equipment required on any cruising boat.
The sea outside Nome needs to be taken seriously. It’s not a carefree camping ground for Sunday picnics on undersized pontoons. Look at the size of the anchor on this one. Bigger than the hook of my 50 feet “Breskell”.
Some more patching on poor “Breskell”.
During our 36 hours stay, I worked again to patch my first badly leaking surgery.
The aesthetic reviews from the artistic community were not all enthusiastics. Forget the critics for now and wait for the real sea test later sailing into some heavy weather. After less than two days in Nome, September the 8th, we learn that a strong storm is expected in the next 30 hours. Nothing unusual in the Bering area. Remember the local data: one serious low each 36 hours…
Nome dockage is too crowded for us. Nunivak island offers an alternative: more space and good protection from the dominant winds. A two days ride from our present location but we need to leave soon to reach this anchorage before the blow.
It’s 9.00pm and dark already. We need water and to fill up our diesel tank and our six supplementary fuel bladders. We must change dock. A tricky maneuver without any room and a fuel dock at an 90 degrees from “Breskell”. With barely a boat’s length to spare, we take advantage of the wind. We simply let “Breskell” drift to the water/fuel dock holding simply her bow with a hand line without disturbing any of those weird pontoons around us.
Getting a thousand liters of water takes time and adds one ton to “Breskell”!
11:00 PM. We are done with water and fuel and leave the town with two new crew members. They flew to join us in Nome, an Alaskan city with a particularity: no access by road. It’s planes or boats only. Bob and Damien are both friends and will provide a great help for the final leg of our trip. We are pretty tired. They will relieve us more often making our watches outside shorter. Adding some more quality sleep will be greatly appreciated by all.
By the time we get the boat ready and everything is tight on deck, it’s already midnight.
Nunivak island to ride the storm at anchor.
We left Nome’s wharf and aim south-southwest to Nunivak Island. Two days of pretty rough sailing to this island. Again, have you ever been in a washing machine? No. Try sailing the Bering sea. Sorry, there is only one cycle: cold water. But it goes with a pretty good rinse.
Our new crew members did well. No more than one or two throw-up overboard and our greenhorns are soon back in business. Real sailors recuperating quickly their sea legs!
In Nunivak, “Inook” is already anchored. Not far behind “Breskell”, “Altego” follows. The big bay, in the north of the island, is well protected from the predicted south-southwest wind. No more than two hours after we dropped anchor, the wind increases. Slowly first, then to twenty to twenty five knots.
Before dark, it’s already blowing thirty plus. Our three boats swings and dances around their anchor. The party is lively. All night, a strong gale blows around our anchorage with gusts around fifty five knots. Under a trusted watchman, we feel safe with our good holding and all this sea room around.