Our initial journey was rounding the shallow water of Cape Parry and sail directly to Nome in Alaska. An unexpected encounter with a vicious growler changed our plans. Sailing in Arctic water, you adapt!
We had a great time in “Tuk” as locals name this place. At the public dock, welcomed by Henry, a sweet and nice man, we feel at home.
Henry wants to share with us a fascinating story. Pingo? Inuit’s life? Henry , living here, is familiar with all of that. For now, my crew listen carefully to… THE STORY OF BRESKELL!
He knows everything about my yellow boat and her horse/dragoon bow. Social media I guess! I am very proud about this unexpected recognition by someone living in this faraway, awesome and unforgiving land. Take care Henry. And thanks again for your genuine interest in the “Breskell”s story. The public dock was also a gathering place for other land travelers. Henry’s beautiful white dog was surprised to meet Japanese tourists here!
We also… Now, look carefully into the background: a recreational vehicle . Since 2017, you can DRIVE to Tuktoyaktuk.
The only Canadian community facing the Arctic Ocean and connected to the rest of the country by road. Driving along the Dempster Highway is probably easier than sailing. No Pingo, no ice-floes, no storm. Muddy at time, but with some awesome arctic landscapes, it’s an adventure in itself. And today, the public dock at Tuck is also crowded.
Rarely seen in Tuktoyaktuk: three sailboats together! « Snow White », last on right, is competing with our friends from « Altego » to become the FIRST Czechoslovak sailboat to transit the North West Passage.
A rising sea level.
We took a simple walk around Tuk…
Ocean street names like around in Seattle or Los Angeles. Here, they signal more a threat for Tuck than a safe view on some nice beaches.
The Arctic sea level is going to rise between twenty and thirty inches (50/75cm) to 2100. Erosion was not new around Tuck. Its rapidity is, said Dustin Wallen, a scientist for Canada Natural resources. Quicker than everywhere else in Canada! No structural rocks there to hold on, just old soft deposits. Melting of ice and thawing permafrost combined with increasing sea levels and stronger storms generate a destructive recipe for this small community.(Center for Nordic study, Laval University.)
Not only the peninsula but also the island barrier protecting Tuktoyaktuk lost around 6/7 feet (2 meters) each year said scientist Dustin Whalen. Without this barrier already cut in half, the commercial harbor, an essential part of Tuck economy is threatened. Our “tourist” dock? Even full today with our three sailboats, it’s not much a heavyweight in the commercial equation of the village!
A well know fact: the warming of the Arctic.
In Tuktoyaktuk. Some houses are also on the verge of collapsing into the Ocean. I was unable to confirm the report published “down south” that the school, community center, fire department and R.C.M.P were already relocated. What I know for sure: no skyscraper for the near future in Tuck! 70% of Arctic infrastructures, like this fine radio station are at risk with the quick melting of permafrost in the next 30 years.
Still, Inuit worry more about wildlife and fish migrations than about permafrost melting.
Whales, seals, arctic chars or caribous, all belong to their regular diet. Predicting their migratory patterns become harder and harder with the climate changes.
With the increase sea level, the Arctic is condemned to warm TWO or THREE times quicker than the rest of our planet. And that, whatever reduction of greenhouse gas is done elsewhere. Sad! Are those beautiful late bloomers and “imported flowers” in Tuk going to replace soon the gorgeous but short-lived Arctic native plants?
Another surgical intervention on “Breskell”
In Tuk, “Breskell” was again on the surgical table. After our unexpected encounter with a stealth growler, we spent less than one hour for our “ war surgery” in the middle of Arctic waters. A simple plaster of plywood with lot of caulking. The stitching partially failed before Tuktoyaktuk. Not enough time for the caulking to cure and too many wave’s poundings. And ugly scar you said?
Have you ever try an emergency surgery on the open sea on your sailboat? Generally, you just call Boat US. Not in the Arctic. So today, I trade my sailing skills for my tools, some epoxy, and a piece of plywood to install a counter-plate inside the boat. Then, I dive again in the front locker and start to work.
The repair goes pretty well. The solitary growler broke only one “rib” of the boat and chewed a good chunk of my boat skin.
The water pump? In case of excessive post-operative bleeding later! Non essential outside “esthetic” surgery and “Breskell” facial reconstruction will wait… With the plywood outside, I reinforce my inside hull with a mix of epoxy and saw dust. A broken part of the hull is also used as an inside cast. Six bolts secure tightly the final repair. “Breskell” stays this time at least 4 hours in surgery. Now, I am pretty confident that my new patch will be waterproof. I was wrong! But that’s another story…
My patched boat.
Around Tuktuyatuk dock or on social media, some artists comment harshly my surgery.
Ugly patchwork! My beloved “Breskell” a patch-boat! Damn artists… And jealous at that. These fellows travel on dreams locked INSIDE their head. We, sailors, ride OUTSIDE with our dreams. We climb on Nature’s back to rub shoulders with giants: gales, rogue waves, Pingo, icebergs. Our critics mostly produce their work smoking pipes in comfortable chair or enjoying their fireplace drinking coffee in the comfort of their home.
Still a long way home.
Eric and Joshua organize the diesel and the water fill up. Not too friendly at first, it’s lunchtime at Tuk, the “diesel guy” quickly calms down and delivers its fuel. We take advantage of this unexpected “pit stop” for an oil change. It was one hundred and nine hours of engine time from Cambridge bay. We definitively motor a lot inside the North West Passage. No choice, either you motor or you stay inside the Passage for ever. Breskell already spent three years in this awesome country. We need to return home now. We have been sailing and motoring from Newfoundland during three thousand three hundred fifty-six miles! And, if we feel like we have been sailing forever, in fact, we are barely half-way from home! Can you believe that we have another thirty-five hundred nautical miles to go to Port Townsend. And to reach Nome? Around a thousand miles. Sailing the Arctic is not your classical Sunday ride. It’s serious sailing. Exhilarating sailing. A fantastic and challenging journey!
Another fantastic journey: the sailing blog of Robin and Amanda.
And speaking of fantastic journey? We met Amanda and Robin a few times during our sailing journey north.
Amanda and Robin are both from Switzerland. A young couple, they are on their way for a trip around the world. They leave tomorrow for Alaska and beyond… Their smaller boat “Morgane”, ( 34 feet, 10,25 m), doesn’t enjoy the sailing conditions that make our 50 feet (15.24 m) “Breskell” happy. Young and full of energy, they planned a five years trip. A sailor dream in action. Visit their beautiful blog ( in French).
« Morgane » is ready to leave now.
Never to be met again. Out into their “Big Blue”, I close my eyes and repeat legendary names: North West Passage, Bering strait, Aleutian Islands, South Pacific seas, Cape Horn, Drake Passage, Antarctica.
Sailors mythical destinations. They are all included in the dream of Robin and Amanda.
Keep it alive friends. After a successful North West Passage, the only sailing limits are the one you set up in your mind. Enjoy your extraordinary life, be careful. It was a privilege to meet you and a living example for those who find the life dull and without interest. Buy you a sailboat! Better even: build you one and sail away…
The next blow.
« Snow White » is leaving also. Dark clouds to the west. Another depression. One every 30 hours in autumn around here. Luckily, not all of them with storm winds now. The more we wait, the more frequent and intense they became. Time to go also for “Breskell”. It’s the 29 of August. The weather man and Victor, our Arctic shepherd, they all confirm: in a couple of days we should get a serious blow with forty to forty-five knots of easterlies. I want to take advantage of this low to make good progresses to Nome. Downwind, Breskell can handle a lot of wind and sea. And wind is the fuel of choice for my sailboat. It’s also good for the planet and good for my crew.
“Morgane” with a similar decision know that they will have to stop and take shelter during this storm.
Morgane is too small a boat to run comfortably in such a wind and they are only the two of them to manage their boat. They are careful sailors.
Leaving Tuk now, we reflect about a strange European custom. They impose exotic imported names to “discoveries” made 200 years ago. For thousands of years, Inuit were kayaking happily around the same capes, across the same passages or to the same islands! And they had, for them, wonderful names like… Tuktoyaktuk.
They cannot believe that funny southern « explorers” even honored complete failure of leadership and judgement like the « Franklin disaster » with landmarks recognition and territories dedication. Europeans even sowed king’s names allowing them to grow all over their territory. In the exact same spots, Inuit quietly enjoyed their daily life, worshiped their awesome land and prospered happily. And again, they used exquisite names like Umingmaktok, Ikaluktutiak, Ulukhaktok! Names with more local significance than some foreign identification with faraway royal crowned heads.