I write a lot about sleep. In arctic sailing, sleep is a precious commodity, appreciated when you can get a good one, undisturbed and in a protected anchorage.
A good night sleep like this one. This morning is particularly peaceful without any wind or ripples. The legendary quietness before the big storm? The weather report is not encouraging for this evening and tonight. Another sleepless night? For now, let’s enjoy the present moment .
On board, some play with their computer, others do errands, rest or read.
In the afternoon, the wind peaks up and slowly starts building. Our anchorage is well protected but I have a nasty feeling. The wind, rushing down the mountain slopes, pushes the boat toward the rocks and not, as expected, toward the bay opening. Open water is not a sailor enemy, lands and rocks are. I decide to move to a safer place to prevail over the coming williwaws . The wind blows really hard now with some gusts streaking the water with white foam. I guess these between 30 to 40 knots. We move to a more sheltered place with a good holding ground. What still bother me are those powerful blasts coming down the mountains.
I decide to spend a few hours in the cockpit on anchor watch . Nothing unusual. If you want peaceful and undisturbed sleep, just stay at home. For now, the violent squalls make Breskell hauling the anchor chain as rigid as a steel bar. She swings widely from side to side. We clearly navigate now at anchor. Then, some raging gusts make the boat heal more than 30 degrees. Swinging, pulling, healing on an anchor recently set and now we start dragging. My gut feelings were nasty, but they were right!
“Eric, I yelled , let’s go NOW we are dragging!”
The scenario in this case is well scripted. First start the engine, then activate the windlass, pull quickly the anchor without forgetting the little buoy marking our dropping point and get the hell out of there.
That’s for the theory. In practice, sometime, nothing works like planned. Old Perkins was as faithful as ever and starts right away.
Our windlass is working abnormally slow. That gives all the time needed for Dom to bring back our little buoy. A mistake there, a buoy line in our propeller with this wind , and it’s the end of Breskell. As simple as that.
I try to ease the work of the windlass by aligning the bow with the wind. No way. The wheel completely to starboard, the motor full ahead and even so, Breskell doesn’t answer to my command. A rare occurrence. Those who have been there before say that boating is 90 percent outright enjoyment and 10 percent absolute terror. That instant belongs to this 10 percent.
And now we are drifting toward the rocks.
To avoid that, I go to reverse and get the boat farther from the shore but in an awkward position. This situation last forever. I don’t understand why the damned windlass is pulling so slowly now. When anchoring before, it worked just fine and powerfully . At last, our anchor is on board. Turning on to the wind? No way and without enough speed to operate. I know what to do. No more terror, time to act. I help Breskell gets speed by jibbing around and going with the wind, not against it . Soon, I am in command of a living boat. The options? With some drafts around 60 knots going down the mountains, not much I can do close to shore. Anchoring is possible with a windlass in good working order. I don’t understand what has suddenly happened with mine, except that using it is a risky business. A boat dragging with no way to bring back the anchor is not a good situation. My only chance to save the day is to run out to sea where there are waves, noises, winds and wild motions but no rocks… Another opportunity consists of going back and forth in the bay until this storm is over.
Then an unexpected difficulty arises. With the storm, the moving ice has just quickly sealed off our exit. Now, no way to escape. Like a mouse in a trap .
Turning around and around inside the small bay with ice coming in or finding a channel out to the open water?
Eric climbs up the mast with our two-way radio and I stand at the wheel with the receiver. For over an hour, we try to find a narrow lane of free water in the ice. Imagine yourself up a mast, with a radio in one hand, holding the spar with the other. In a sunny sky with a calm wind, it’s not for everyone.
Visualize that in freezing weather and raging winds. In fact, what you don’t know is that I secretly train Eric for joining our special forces in the navy seals. First, by diving down under the boat in frigid arctic water playing in darkness with lines dangling around a propeller. Now, in a storm, by climbing up a swinging mast and finding his way alone in a maze of moving ice.
I even try to convince him to climb bare handed, fully clothed but with only his socks on. No shoes. I have done that often in front of a lot of eyewitnesses. He declines my proposition. This young generation is far too delicate…
And now he starts singing the same old melody again and again: go right , go left , go right , straight ahead. Eric finally detects a narrow passage free of ice and judges that we can securely wedge Breskell in. Anyways, I have to get out of this trap closing quickly. Let’s take a chance.
Up in the mast, Eric directs me through a small channel in the narrow lane of free water, hemmed in, on both sides, by thick ice set forth by the raging wind. Ice to the right, ice to the left and again and again. For how long? About fifteen to twenty never-ending minutes before exiting this labyrinth . Finally, out of the ice, we enjoy again the safety of the open waters.
With this storm, we get also a strong running sea and some powerful waves.
Remember: if you want a peaceful night, just stay at home..
Exit from Dundas harbor to Arctic Bay