Emergency repair at sea.
Whatever the weather, your comfort, your fatigue or your personal timetable, keep a sharp look out at all time. A magnificent nature rules here and doesn’t tolerate any human weakness.
“No ice where you are sailing” they told us… After playing for so long cat and mouse with the ice, as captain, my mistake was to take for granted this free advice.
For one, nobody knows exactly our location. For two, if I listen to all advices, in the end, I always follow stubbornly my own feeling.
Except this time. And today, I pay the price. Our journey is not finished.
Until passing Bering Strait, we are not even entitled to the “North West Passage-Maker” label. On “Breskell”, we are never again going to ease up our vigilance.
Arctic doesn’t allow any floppy sailing. It’s why we love it generally and hate it today!
Would we launch the dinghy and work from there? Stanchions and life-lines stand on our way. Last year, during our more dramatic encounter with a growler, the double impact was low and close to the waterline. More alarming, but we could reach the tear through the anchor locker. Today the punch, close to the throat of my beloved dragoon, is located in one soft spot, just behind my beautiful shield! We decide to remove the life-line and work from there. In the wooden boxes shipped to Newfoundland, I added some marine plywood for this kind of emergency. A cheapest alternative than, previously, the teak floor of my cabin! I packed exactly six pieces of different sizes. One of my pre-cut patches fits exactly the rip. Drifting peacefully on a quiet Arctic Ocean, we pulled out all our tools and started to work in the middle of this amazing landscape almost like in a comfortable marina. Caulking, “Makita” drill and a stock of bolts and nuts were on hand. And yes, Joshua did a great job in Newfoundland. He had carefully categorized all this emergency hardware: each parts in its proper and well identified zipper bags, each bag carefully organized and ready for use. Great seamanship shows in small details.
This emergency repair is done with surgical precision in a spectacular surrounding. I drill first the four needed holes into the pre-cut plywood. We apply the patch in place. With this proper template, it is just the matter of drilling the first hole through the hull, pushing the bolt in and tighten the nut… then the second, third and fourth hole. “Breskell” doesn’t even complain! Resilient little soldier. When done and with everything fitted and snugly, we remove the drilled patch and apply the caulking to suture the wound. My only interrogation: is there enough time for the caulking to cure before submitting the plaster to the water pressure as we resume normal cruising speed?
Except for applying two thick rows of caulking and setting carefully the patch, we don’t have other alternatives. In less than one hour, we close the wound. My crew knows that I am upset. They respect my mood. During the repair process, they don’t take one single picture of their captain. What about a good “Instagram story” asked my land-base team? We missed this one, I agree. Nonetheless, I thank my crew for their tact and discernment. They understood my temporary sad feeling in hurting again my boat. Without complaints, they all supported me. The North West Passage is an epic odyssey about ice, wind and sea. Behind Nature own challenges, it’s also a great human adventure. For this “mighty task”, as Joshua once wrote beautifully, I recognize again that I have all the best possible partners.
A wall of ice emerges in the night.
The repair done, we resume our journey. With an itinerary change. We need to stop in Tuktoyaktuk
Running slowly at first, my emergency surgery hold. I recognize also that as soon as the wind will increase, so increase the probability of the wound opening. Without wind, we run slowly at 4 knots. That gives time for the caulking to start its long curing process. Soon, the wind picks up. We need more engine RPM to keep going and “Breskell” starts pounding through the waves. I went to the bow to check down the sail locker. No water seeping inside. I am happy. Life looks good again and our emergency surgery works. We are still free of ice. In fact, there were only one growler out there. And we got it… No, he got us! Dusk deepens into a moonless night. Now, it’s time to resume a sharp look-out. Boys and girl, no more mistakes. The unexpected punch was enough to keep all of us again fully alert. The new chart shows ice in our area. Nothing appears, leaving doubts about this chart accuracy. It’s 2 AM. At sea, a well staffed boat is never left alone. On deck for my midnight watch, a weird sensation emerges.
Far away, I “feel” ice in front of “Breskell”. It’s still far away from my bow and on the port side. Just a weak signal.
This strange luminescence may be? Some light reflecting from the sky… Strange, I have also this glow on my starboard side. It takes me a while to realize this reflection is different. On my starboard side, the starlight is clear, far away and comes from the heavens. On my port side, it’s more like a glimmer of some sort. And slowly unravels just in front of Breskell this huge line of ice. From port to starboard, a wall of ice closes our track. Joshua joins me on deck. I wake up Eric. Together, we quietly evaluate our situation: impressive, awesome and breathtaking moment. I stop the boat. Imagine a dark night, a total silence interrupted occasionally by water flapping against this barrier. We get close, very close. No way to find a path through this ice-field in a pitch-black night. Ice coverage appears to be more than 3 or 4/10 . What about an U-turn to investigate the opposite side? Three miles away, another embankment. Trapped between two packs of ice, we quietly park the boat in the middle. A new sailing experience: a well protected anchorage in a moving bay! I turn off the engine and we drift peacefully waiting daylight. We go to bed, simply leaving one look-out different for one hour shift; the same protocol we follow when sailing in hazardous conditions. At 5:25 AM, I climb on deck to join Josh. After evaluating the situation, I propose a closer look. I crank the motor with Josh on bow’s watch. We slowly approach the wall. I stop the boat to assess again the state and density of ice. “We can cross it”. It’s not as dense as it appeared last night. Josh, you guide me around…”
“Go right , go left, right again” requests Josh…. We know well the partition. I started learning this music three years ago. To my surprise and amazement, this field is no more than half a mile across. Soon, we are back motoring at an easy cruising speed of 1700 RPM. Our goal: Tuktoyaktuk. This could have been also our last ice encounter!
We run all day without problem in very shallow waters averaging no more than 20 feets. My hope? Not meeting “keel first” any other “Pingo”. In such shallow waters, we will not have much chances and we could get again in big troubles quickly.
“Olivier get up, we have water”…
Night again. It’s the 27 of August and we should reach Tuktoyaktuk soon. I dream peacefully in my cozy bunk. In the middle of the night Eric wakes me:”
“Olivier get up, we have water”…
I wake up not grasping immediately what’s going on.
“What do you mean we have water?”
Eric wades in water higher than the floor of the master cabin with his boots on. I understand quickly. Eric quietly adds that the water come from the bulkhead and that’s there is a lot of it. This sophisticated computer engineer contradicts every traditional sayings about his profession. In stressful conditions, they are supposed, like ducks in a pond, to be quiet just on the surface but to paddle furiously below the water line. Eric stays always cool and smiling in all circumstances. Above the water in my mast during a storm, below the water disentangling my propeller, against the water overboard in nailing part of my cabin floor or in the water wading today inside “Breskell”. A real US navy seal, amazing guy!
I jump into the sail locker. My emergency surgery doesn’t work anymore. The caulking needed more curing time. It’s breaking away. Each time “Breskell” slides down a wave, water pours inside the locker. Not much we can do for now. I return inside and help pumping with Eric. A simple and obvious solution: rig a pump in the bow. It’s simply the matter of running it for a few minutes every hour or so until the front locker is completely dry. Nice and easy.
It’s midday when we take our final alignment to Tuktoyaktuk.
“ Sorry folks, a private yacht cannot stays here “.
He offers the attractive alternative of the public dock. It’s closer to town and much more convenient for fueling or shopping. Just enough time to thank him and we are underway. At the city dock, Henry and his beautiful white dog welcomes us.