Our quest west: to “Graham harbor” (12)

A last look to the guardian of Tay Bay, and we start again our quest to the West.   A good new: the weather man predicts wind today. Even better, this time he is right!

Our quest west.

Three or four miles away from the bay, a light wind fills up “Breskell” s sails. 

A last look to the guardian of Tay Bay…

The wind-vane soon takes charge.   We, happy sailors, just enjoy the ride. We are crossing Lancaster Sound toward Devon Island. Where to stop?  We will decide when getting closer. There are several inlets to choose from with two of them looking attractives:  Stratton inlet or Graham harbor.  For you, mainland sailors, harbor here means a name scratched on a map. A kind of political promises. It’s up to you to believe it or not.  For the fun, try to figure out where Graham Harbor is located on your Google map. Good luck!

Navigating Lancaster Sound.

Crossing Lancaster Sound.

Midway to the entrance, we cross our first serious ice’s jam. The seaway looks closed. For safety reason, we start the engine motor-sailing with the gib only.  A push on a switch and the genoa rolls in or out.  So easy with my new electric motor.  Thanks again Jerry in faraway Newfoundland !

Once inside the ice field , it looks safe with an ice cover of no more than 3/10.   Pretty easy.  We slalom slowly between the growlers,  reset the gib, stop the engine and silently slide in. 

Entering Lancaster Sound.  Eternity moments.

Magic “moments of eternity” unknown to urban dwellers and to most southern sailors.  We sail peacefully in the heart of the ice-field, pushed by a following wind and protected by the same forces that, before or later, can crush us to death!  Happy to be so perfectly alive, we enjoy every second of it. That’s the magic of Arctic sailing.

The magic of Arctic sailing in the ice field.

Done now with this pack of ice and back to normal sailing. An hour later, another jam materializes.  We don’t even bother to motor in.  We carefully sail in and out without problem. Another one later?  Same scenario. Same feeling of enjoyment and exhilaration slaloming expertly around the floating cubes.  The mouth of my horse- dragoon exhales some light scraping noises mixed with the gurgling of the hull. 

Our camp one shelter:  Graham Harbor.

Our shelter today?  We opt for “Graham harbor”. Closing in, a boat appears at anchor inside. We plan to join her.  Big surprise. Ice forbids the entrance.  Too much of it and too thick to push “Breskell” in.

Hailing “Altego”, the only boat inside “Graham Harbor.”

We hail the boat on the VHF hoping for an English or French answer.

« What about the entrance …? »

The reply comes in English tainted with a very thick accent from Eastern Europe:

“Check it on the west side ”

We investigate this option.  Still, no way in.

Entrance of Graham Harbor. Full of ice!

With agree to anchor outside and wait for the tide.  With the ebb, with the water getting out, we may have a chance.  Two hours later, a big chunk of ice drifts toward us. We need to move out of its way and to move out quickly . This ice was also jamming the pass. It opens now and cautiously we enter “Graham Harbor”.

“Altego”, a sailboat is already there. Another team preparing for the “climbing” of the North West Passage.  Her crew stands on the beach.  They take pictures of our yellow galloping horse/dragoon moving slowly in.  A promising anchor spot lays close to  “Altego” . Anchor well settled into the bottom, things in order, we assemble our two parts dinghy. Launching the tender, we drop the Yamaha outboard in and pay a visit to our new friends. George and André welcome us. Kindly, they offer coffee or drinks before introducing the whole crew. An impressive one. George and Petra have two kids. Every other members of this large team are friends:  six adults and two kids. After sharing our common goals, trading some sea stories and spending a great time together, we return to “Breskell”. Naturally, my damn kicker refuses to start on our way back.  Back onboard, everyone follows her or his own interest. I work for some time on the Yamaha.

Working on my kicker… with Altego in the background.

  It was a long day. Soon, We are all in bed…

A good blow and a lot of dragging.

We wake up next morning to a tricky situation . The anchor chain of « Altego » is locked in the ice, and we were both drifting. Via VHF, I ask if they need help. We concluded that some more room to take care of our respective business was our only priority.

Now, the wind is blowing a good 30 to 35 knots with higher katabatic gusts.  No anchor hold on a rocky bottom with this wind … Remember our “Dundas harbor” dramatic exit last year?  Same situation this year with an added restriction: escape is today impossible. The entrance is plugged. We are both trapped inside a rat’s hole.  A pretty common situation in the Arctic with the erratic ice movements. We anchor again to access our options. Half and hour later, same scenario. We drag again. And we anchor once more. This time, we investigate another strategy. We motor, further and deeper, into the harbor behind  a point where two icebergs are grounded.  A great shelter but we need a serious watch keeping. One of us stays on deck at all time.

« Altego » finally gets its chain ice-free and anchors again. The wind is getting stronger, katabatic gusts reach easily forty five knots now. No rest.  As expected, the anchor drags again !  And the fight resumes.

” Quick Eric, let’s bring back the anchor,  we are dragging ” I yell. Our windlass runs fine. It works slowly under the increased tension but powerfully brings back all the chain on board. Finally, our anchor is up.  « Altego » fights the same adversary.  Dragging anchor in the powerful gust, anchoring again and again, trying to find the best shelter from the wind, the best protection from the ice with the best holding ground.

We anchor finally around the same spot.

« Altego » comes in the vicinity. On an anchor chain stretched like a rod, both boats twist and rock together on the sound of an aerial music.  They swing also crazily with the powerful gusts rushing down the hill.

“Breskell” is the first to drag again… « Altego » follows shortly after!  I decide to return to our previous location.  May be, this time, my anchor will hold better.   In dancing like in dragging, you need perseverance.  « Altego » moors again on the same exact spot. Things, quiet down. Our anchor holds. We relaxe but keep a mandatory watch on deck.

An alternative anchoring solution.

Soon, « Altego », pretty far  from us moves again. Forty five minutes later “alert” again on “Breskell”.  Every body on deck now!  The boat pulls the anchor out of the rocky bottom before hooking again for ten more minutes.  And we drag again.  We start all over again our anchoring ballet. We need another spot elsewhere.  Further, up in the harbor, « Altego » found a new place.  She seems to hold on finally.   We check it out.   No room for two of us. Too close to shore and too risky.

No holding ground. And odd decision: motoring up and down  the bay. Watch us below figuring an alternative solution …

I make an odd decision: motoring up and down the bay at a safe distance from shore looking along for a suitable spot. No luck in this search. We end up motoring, waiting for the wind to calm down.  It could be a long day!  Then an idea emerge in my nautical brain . Why not set a « Caribbean anchorage »?  We drop the anchor far away from shore from the stern and safely tied the boat on land with a bow line. Excellent idea. Except that pulling the dinghy back and forth behind us,  had filled it up with water.  Inside our gas tank was sloshing around. Water and gas don’t work well mixed together. Still motoring up and down the bay,  we bring both the motor and the gas tank on deck.  On the run, I take care of the engine, open it, remove and clean the carburetor.  Autonomy is a key word in the Arctic. Joshua removes the gas from the tank, pours it into a bucket, lets it stands for an hour and a half.  As expected, the water separate from the gas. All we need is to return the fuel back to the tank.  We can now proceed with my initial idea.

Figuring out an alternative anchoring solution…

With the Yamaha running again, it’s time now to try my “Caribbean mooring”.  After bailing the dinghy, both tank and engine are back in.  The captain now at the wheel, Eric in the dinghy and Joshua from the bow, we all coordinate an impromptu “Caribbean” ballet.

Eric sets up a line going around  a huge rock on land.  This boulder  holds “Breskell”  tight. Joshua pulls the line on board carefully.The line on land set up from the bow avoids anymore dragging.  The anchor out keep the boat away from shore.

When this entire operation is over, we have been motoring up and down the bay for almost three hours!

Our hope: a quiet night with plenty of dreams.  Ahead tomorrow, a long journey awaits us to our next camp.  Still, we all have a nagging thought.  What about our rat’s hole closing again?  Like a good storm traps a mountaineer against a mountain slope,  the ice can lock us in “Graham” for days on,.  As soon as the entrance opens, we need to get out.

Getting out of the rat’s hole NOW!

Just half and hour later “Altego” calls on VHF.

Apparently, they have the same entrapment feeling.

“Olivier, your dinghy is already in the water. Would you check the entrance for us? You know, I have the feeling that the quicker we leave this anchorage, the better.  The weather man predicts north wind tomorrow.  We might be trap in here for a long time”.

I don’t let him repeat this advice twice. I jump in the dinghy to take a look. Surprise ! A tiny channel across the entrance is wide enough to let us escape.

Back to the boat.  I know we have to leave NOW. Too bad for our wonderful Caribbean mooring or our peaceful night sleep. I tell Eric, Joshua and Leila to get ready.

« NOW ? »

« Yes now.  The entrance is barely open. We better slip out of this hole if we don’t want to get stock here for ever.”

A quick dinghy ride to consult with George on « Altego » and back on shore to remove the bow line we settled not long ago. We have all winter time to catch on sleep. I board “Breskell” and we pull up the dinghy. «Altego » is already on his way out.

We retrieve our anchor and follow soon.  A strong wind pushes us across an even larger pass. We return to the freedom of an open passage.  Well, at least to a seaway not packed tight with ice. For now.  Which surprises this wonderful and frightful Arctic keeps for us ?  We don’t know except that we will have to adapt. For now, let’s enjoy the ride through Peel sound to our camp two. Maybe we can stop there and rest for a well-deserved quiet night.  We need to stay focused.  Remember last year? Growlers and icebergs patrol the area. In exactly the same circumstances, “Breskell” got seriously bitten by an aggressive chunk of ice. Even under the protection of my horse/dragoon, I don’t intend to repeat the same mistake.  

The future looks good for Breskell.  A little bit more to the West, glaciers in Alaska are melting above and below the water level at an alarming rate.  The Arctic is melting fast!  After three years, 2019 is our opportunity. Yeah.

Oh.. I am so sorry for you :  HUMANITY.

A sad story for …all of us finally!

“Breskell” selection for an adventure festival…

I will be there to great you from November 11 to November 17 2019.   We can talk about this beautiful movie done by Dominic Joyce and about my  North West Passage this year.

Je serais sur place pour vous accueillir du 11 au 17 Novembre 2019.  Nous pourrons discuter de ce très beau film de Dominic Joyce et de mon Passage du Nord Ouest cette année.

See you there. Au plaisir de vous rencontrer. Hasta luego.