“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.
Cutting my “summer wood”, I will try hard not to forget that. Compared from the warm trade winds of the Caribbean , I know it could be freezing up there and without much drift-woods on the beach for my stove.
We purchase one cubic meter ( 1/4 cord) to keep “Breskell” warm and cozy.
To store it efficiently, why not cut logs the right size? With modern tools, it’s so easy.
From “Breskell”s deck,
I watch also closely my good friends in icy clothes. Once in a while, they drift silently close by the boatyard. They also study“Breskell” carefully in return, ready to take a bite later.
It’s the end of June. Not on a cruise-ship tight schedule, I plan to be in August around Arctic Bay, a thousand of miles north. And then, at the first opportunity, it’s a go for our own “Himalaya” summit. Preparations are going well thanks to a lot of friendly peoples around. A hundred of small details to take care of, my compass protection for example. I thought, for many years, that this stainless piece was useless until we broke it.
Last year, retuning south, we suffered also a solid “knock-down” around the Arctic circle during an unexpected gale. Every single drawer poured its content on the floor. A big mess. This year, the old locks will be securely closed by a special wooden cleat. I home-made them during rainy and windy days. And windy, sometime it was. Working once quietly inside, I heard a strange grinding noise coming from the deck. I jumped out to notice one half of my two parts dinghy flying over and disappearing overboard. It landed just a few feet away from my car. Now, when you have my face and my noteworthy English accent, try to explain to some rental company that your car hits, roof first, half a dinghy!
Stepping up the mast
A more serious challenge was the positioning of my crow’s nest up along the mast. On the first spreader, too low, it will interfere with the head-sail. We chose the front of the mast, right above the second spreader.
Great visibility, no interference with sailing, still not your place of choice if you suffer from vertigo or sail with a big running sea.
Middle of the week and almost the middle of July. Important day. From France, Michael joins our boat. A good new. Even better, he brings “Breskell” an essential part of the rigging: my forward stay ready to install. What happens if custom refuses to let him in the country with this odd piece of luggage? Is an unusual long and strange wire an unmanageable security problem for Canada? Prohibit this wire at the port of entrance and our journey is over. I have no other alternative for stepping up my mast. I went to the airport ahead of time and waited with some trepidation. From Halifax, one plane was marked on time before been delayed for half and hour a few minutes later. A second plane was simply cancelled. I linger in the crowd hoping for the best. I forgot to ask the flight number. Then a big guy emerges from the arrival area smiling: Michael. Yes, he went through custom without problem and even better, he went through with the cable. He hugs me. “So please to be here Olivier”. I just exhale deeply and smile. Much more than pleased, I am exhilarated. Thanks to Michael, our journey will start soon and will start on time. Stepping up the mast with our rebuilt electric furling system was routine for Steve, the yard manager and his son Corey. And never forget a coin under the mast for good luck.
An unexpected problem appears today: survival suits. It’s a good precautionary measure to have on board a dedicated survival suit for each crew member. If you go overboard, an absolute interdiction on “Breskell”, you are dead. Your suit delays your death by a few minutes. In daylight, it’s sometimes enough to save you. During the night, survival suits just add a few hours to your agony. We bought them from a company named “Spartan”. Two won’t fit. Greg, a local friend we met some weeks ago, found another one for us and helped Leila locate a smaller one. This delay gives us one more day to sort things out.
Another fascinating discovery about cruising so far north is not only the natural wonders of the place but the meeting of some special character getting along quietly with a life of biblical dimension. Last year, before returning south in front of an ice-jammed North West Passage, some friendly sailors were wondering about what this “crazy french” with his “hardened yellow boat” was plotting ? Nothing unusual in fact. I was just returning up north for a while to enjoy again the fantastic Arctic landscapes before sailing quietly south. I appreciated the ride and planned simply for a little more of it. Now, look at this guy seated near Eric. His name is Rendall Reeves.
If you believe going home by the North West Passage is a challenging journey, then think twice about it. If your life is dull and uneventful, then buy a sailboat and plan a trip like Rendall. In a single year, he is going around Antarctica then through the North West Passage in a perfectly symbolic figure eight… Man, that’s crazy by any worldwide sailing standard! Good luck to you Rendall and be careful up there. My journey finally is nothing more than a leisure sail. A family Sunday trip returning home with my yellow baby.
First days at sea.
“D” Day, this Wednesday on July the 17th. Departure is scheduled for 10:00 am. We are ready.
The entire crew went to the Royal Yacht Club to say “Au revoir”. Soon, everyone here steps on the dock. I start my old faithful engine. Each new journey begins with a last farewell. Always an emotional moment, we wave at each other. “Au revoir Judy”, “au revoir “Kathy and Steve” and everyone else. Many thanks to all of you my friends.
I turn my yellow baby around and gone we are, waving again at each other for a long time. We will probably never meet again. How wonderful it was to share together precious memories around boat stories, friendships, nice meals
and hard works.
And to have this ultimate little talk before leaving for the Arctic.
Soon, we are alone in the bay with a light south wind. We set up all sails. Rick’s drone flies over us. “Breskell” needs to look good with all her clothes on. Rick plans to meet us later in Alaska with this movie. All we have to do finally is to cross over. Our first step is done today. If the northern gods open for us the gates of the North West Passage, many others will follow. What a fantastic journey! Such a gorgeous day also for leaving Newfoundland:
sunny with a gentle south wind; it’s like sailing in the Caribbean.
With one local specificity: two or three humpback whales jumped out of the water on the far side of “Breskell”. A beautiful show and a nice welcome for my guests. Darkness fills in slowly.
We set up the watch hours. We have to take our sea duties seriously now. Our icy friends prowl around. Like the big white sharks, they are beautiful from far away. Close by, their kisses are deadly. A good look-out is needed to avoid unfriendly sharp teeth.
With the night, sea sickness also creeps in. For now, I assure the watches with Eric. Not much wind for our first night outside. All sails out and no more than 5 knots. A smooth departure, it feels like sailing in the windward islands. We even end-up starting the engine to keep going. This allows me to check the repair done by my friend Jerry. Not a single drop of oil in the bilge after hours of motoring. For an old Perkins, it’s a remarkable achievement; they leak even when new, but are the most reliable of the engine. I surprise myself yelling to the ocean a thunderous “thank-you Jerry »; so loud in fact that I am pretty sure he heard me.
Time now to confess a stupid mistake. I needed to install the paddle of my Aries, a wind-vane which takes care of the piloting in rough conditions without using any electricity.
It would have been so easy at the marina: a few minutes of an effortless job, dry and safe on the back scoop. I forgot it. Now with Eric, we spend together about a quarter of an hour on the transom, fighting like crazy with this paddle and splashed up to the belly in cold water. More thanks to Patagonia for their all weather clothesline: At the end of this ordeal, we were not frozen to death.
Starts now the routine of long sea passages. If some of my crew enjoy the ride on deck,
others appreciate returning quickly to their bunk after throwing away their breakfast overboard. I don’t worry, they would get their sea legs later.
Gales, quiet winds and gales again. When sailing the Arctic, it’s all expected. Some days, with a full jib out, a nice and comfortable ride on the back of an ambling horse.
During other stretches , we ride a bucking dragoon without almost any sails on.
When the sailing was getting rough, “On the deck again” would sing Willy Nelson, our popular country singer, to call all hands on duty.
During the night, some sleep, others watch. During the day, some watch, others sleep. Even if I sleep only on one eye and on one ear, I enjoy it very much.
I feel truly alive and comfortable in this changing and moving aquatic world.
Storm again today during my watch with Leila. “Breskell” sails like a submarine with huge waves breaking over her dodger. For a Frenchwoman from Paris a different experience than her daily subway ride.
Five or six hours of this music before a change in tonality: no more wind, no more stranger and powerful noises. Needed but not appreciated, another kind of harmony starts with the engine.
Later, with the return of the wind, appeared some fishing boats. Less dangerous than icebergs, we still keep an eye on their erratic movements. They work, we need to remember that and give them priority and ample room. I use a powerful light to illuminate my sails and signal our presence. I try to rise them on the VHF. They were busy with their professional tasks. No one shows any interest.
A swim in the middle of the Labrador Sea.
During the following afternoon, the sun came out again. Are we aiming for some Caribbean island?
The weather is unbelievably warm. A huge difference from 2017. At that time, we mostly encountered North winds and cold conditions. On deck, my wood pile stays almost untouched. And the next day was even better… (or worse if you worry about climate changes.)
Sunny and warm with a sea like a calm lake. Bare legged, Eric enjoys the sun.
Now, my restless crew wants to swim. Some of them at least. The same Michael who was ready to die of seasickness a few days ago is eager to dive today in the middle of the Labrador Sea. Not many peoples are given this opportunity. I just request a safety line tied to the boat. Unpredictable currents swirl around. Down to the rear transom and Michael jumps in the water. Two or three strokes, several deep breaths, and he is back on board. In our warm clothes, we immortalize this moment.
Our Arctic swimmer is clearly happy, indubitably red, definitely cold and runs decidedly for a hot shower.
Not the Kiki Caron voluptuous swim around the icebergs of a few years ago but not too bad either. I offer again this unique opportunity: no other candidate. Not even Eric our experimented “navy seal”. This guy dives only on a call for duty: overboard to hammer patches during storms or under “Breskell” to untangle lines around the propeller.
We return to our regular life, alternating sailing and motoring periods.
On the Greenland side, we saw our first iceberg at 61 degree 32 North. A beautiful one and subject of many pictures.
We now feel seriously about being in the real North. Not the temperature, it’s not freezing , but because of the color of the night. Not really dark anymore. It’s pastel dark with different shades.
The Nordic light is hard to describe but it’s easy to feel. We had reached a different world. The magnificent world of the midnight sun.
We saw our second iceberg the next day when sailing happily under full sails.
This one looks even bigger. Dancing over the water, it shines with its full range of colors ranging from blue to white. Michael, resting on his bunk, had missed the first one. This one could be his last chance.
We get closer. A gentle south wind, around 10 to 15 knots, pushes “Breskell” further north. Why not set-up the spinnaker? A delicate operation. This huge sail is impressive and always beautiful. The classic and inviting illustration of a sailboat cruising the South seas.
Eric sends the drone and returns with beautiful pictures. From the deck, I try my best. Too huge the sail, too close by: a mixed result! With a small wind shift, a new set of sails had to be used. Almost as good, we cruise now “wing on wing”. A wonderful arrangement with one sail en each side of the boat. The steering is more delicate but the pleasure even better. No noise, just the light gurgling of the water on “Breskell” hull and the peaceful movement of an ambling horse. Eternity instants for any hardcore sailor.
We let know via email to the Greenland authority (JRCC), that we are in their waters. We are aiming to Sisimiut, about 95 nautical miles ahead. We should be there tomorrow.
The “big boys club”.
Finally, with only a little blow with about 40 knots of wind, I would have characterized , years ago, our crossing to Greenland as “a fine lady cruise”. Time to concede that, with clergymen of major faiths, sailors belong to one of the most misogynist group on earth. An exclusive “big boys club”.
At sea or in conclave, no room for women, except for mopping the floor behind. On one side of the helm grumpy unshaven“machos”, on the other side of the tiller unctuous shaved “machos”. Women changed all that in a big way, in the sailing world at least.
At the wheel of changes, among many fine ladies, was a “petite” and fabulous English sailor-women named Ellen MacArthur. Knighted now, Dame Ellen piloted not a sailboat but a war machine. I would be unable to sail alone this boat in heavy weather and terrified to drive solo this racer around the world. Ellen and other sailor-women started beating squarely “the big boys” in their club and at their own games. Others women tried on the water others skills with their new gained confidence. In ancient times , rowing was a severe punishment for hardcore criminals in Roman’s galleys. Today, it’s still a challenging workout. Women undertook it with the same quiet determination than sailing. And row, they did it! Across the Atlantic first, across the Pacific later and even across Canada! For some, at an age when grumpy unshaven sailors, watching the sunset from their rocking chairs, were growing beer bellies and lung smoking problems.
So now, we, the hardened “big boys “ of the sailor’s club, we listen respectfully when women deliver, about fighting climate changes, their unexpected and challenging message.
Women gender and climate changes.
Their statement in not about our consensual wind turbines or our traditional solar panels but about delivering babies. In this field, the “big boys club” generally compensate their abyssal lack of expertise by a despotic attempt to control the process.
One billion people less by mid-century women said! And they inquire quietly: have you ever thought about the equivalent in solar panels or wind turbines that you, grumpy green sailors need to carbon compensate for that?
In exchange for?
Just equity. The same equity that their worldwide sailing achievements against the “big boys of the sailor’s club had granted them.
Oh! god…A billion fewer peoples by equity only!
That’s on par with a lot of solar panels or wind turbines. A real bargain for humanity in its global climate challenges. All that at a minimal cost. If the “big boys” demonstrate the same quiet determination showed by women sailing the high seas or rowing the world’s waters, we still have together a good chance to save this planet. Equity you said? It’s all yours. You just deserve it, sailor-women or just any other human being. Cut the lines tied by paternalist politicians, rise the rusty anchors dug by traditional religions and forget the lies told by some tweets clown.
Sail away from the conventional roads imposed by all the “big boys clubs” of this world.
We will join you to try to make this planet great again.