Saturday, August the 11th. Prince Regent Inlet is still under an important ice cover. No way to move in. Time to use my old surgical skills to patch Breskell wounds.
Two days ago, I was discussing in town with Mathew, an interesting guy and the chief of the wildlife department in Arctic bay. Suddenly, pointing to two gallons of West System epoxy in front of his desk, I asked:
- what are you doing with that?
Epoxy generates for the traditional boat builder what gold initiates for the Klondike miner: an overpowering fever. A cold molded boat like “Breskell” is built from drums of this miraculous resin. Epoxy is the building blood of an “hardened” boat. I used so much of it that I need now to manipulate epoxy with caution. I am almost allergic to it. In Arctic Bay, epoxy is even more valuable for boat builder than gold. You have doubts? Try to fix an important deck fitting with gold powder. Some tourist shops in Arctic bay keep gold, an interesting commodity for cruise ship customers. To this day, no cruise ship guests ever asked for epoxy in this remote locality .
To my enquiry, Mathew adds sadly “my epoxy is useless. I don’t have the right “ hardener” to catalyse and cure it.” Thinking immediately about my own wounded boat, I offered a deal :
- What about the right “hardener” in exchange for one gallon of your useless resin? Now, the chief of the wildlife department looks at me with widened eyes…
“You have hardener for my West System resin? No way to get that in Arctic bay. I need to wait for months. It’s a product with special delivery restrictions for one reason or another. Cannot get that by plane anyway. Deal. One gallon of my 105 West System against enough hardener for my other gallon of resin”.
One hand shake and I run back to Breskell to get the “hardener”. Mathew cannot believe his luck. It was a “win- win” deal for both of us: Mathew can work on his boat with his new mix of resin and “hardener“.
I will be able to patch adequately the two punches on Breskell hull.
The very serious blow on the starboard side needs some proper dressing and a serious surgical intervention.
A mix of reinforced metal, fiberglass, epoxy and wood in place of my emergency “bush surgery” with T-shirts and hastily applied sealant.
The injury on portside, is not as spectacular. But as you know, a wound not properly cleaned can quickly get infected. I plan also to attend carefully to this one. The North West Passage is still full of aggressive chunks of ice ready to contaminate the strength of my hull. The surgical procedures are clear. After my trip to the Arctic Bay shopping mall and now with my epoxy deal, I get the needed parts. As they say: “ just do it”. And do it now.
1.5 degree in the next decade said the scientists. And the Arctic is warming two or three times quicker than any others areas.
You want to make the planet great again? Learn to repair things and not throw them in the garbage bin!
Some of my followers think that this French-American, in his home-made “hardened wood boat” is finally crazy to venture in this mined ice field. I know perfectly the risks of this passage like everyone else here. This year, the only vessel sinking in these waters was an.. aluminum boat! Think about that. “Anahita” sank in Belot strait. The crew was lifted by a Canadian coast guard helicopter from the ice floe where the sailors escaped.
This afternoon, two other boats enter Arctic Bay, two huge boats: « Kamaxitha » a 55 meter sailboat (180 feet ) with a Super Mega Yacht following soon after. Like us, they are waiting for some clearing in the ice-pack. Big boats, small boats, in a hurry or with time on your hands, from Arctic bay going west, your own schedule becomes obsolete .
The crossing of the North West Passage is not any more in your hands. Coming to Arctic Bay, mariners are accustomed to take day-to-day decisions. Weather forecasts , sea conditions and protected anchorages are part of their daily prerogatives. Suddenly, the outcome depends entirely on the good will of a new actor: the ice. Only its green light authorizes the access to the other side of the Channel, the Arctic Ocean, the Bering strait, Alaska and beyond. No other option exists. Trespassing “on the red” means getting locked later in the ice and getting stuck in the middle of a big mess.
Waiting for the clearing signal stays as the only viable option. My main surgery keeps me busy. The normal day-to-day maintenance of a wooden sailboat rests on my crew.
August the 12.
In the morning, another boat enters the harbor. “Morgane”, a 34′ metal boat planning also a North West passage. Going in town, they stop to say hello.
As we are all very busy onboard today, and not wanting to bother us, they agree to meet us tomorrow. This evening, my sail has been patch-worked and I finish some overdue stitching surgery with my newly acquired epoxy. A productive workday.
Three days later: August 15th. Still no green light. Too much ice in the Passage. Even around it, the ice cover looks impressive. We receive an email from a friend sailor on “Balthazar”. For some times, they had watched the ice movements from very close. Discouraged , they think of giving up if an openning doesn’t materialize soon. I urge them to persevere. There is a saying in the Arctic sailors community. Before August 20, nothing moves in and around the Passage. The ice manages the opening in the Passage on its own unpublished and erratic schedule. The powerless sailor, whatever the thickness of his wallet or the length of his sailboat awaits patiently the signal. At the beginning of my journey, I was surprised by the quantity of ice floating around this year. I told you about that. The locals accredited this observation . Anyway , more ice, less floes, more icebergs, there is so much variations in any Arctic pattern that norms are almost impossible to set up. My personal conviction about arctic norms is that… there are none of them ! For example, if yesterday was foggy, cold and calm, today is very warm with a south wind around 20 to 25 knots. Not enough or too much.. . At least, this wind should help the ice movements. A green light for tomorrow? Sadly, nature dictates are indifferent to human prayers or sailors wishes.
To forget about tomorrow , we receive the crew from “Morgane” for diner.
Morgane is a 34 feet sloop with a modest draft done by a well-respected naval architect: Van de Stadt. It’s a strong metal boat ready for some serious meetings with floating obstacles of the ice category like growlers or of the steel origin like containers. As always, in these ephemeral but intense meetings, we spent a great time together. We recounted our sailing experiences, (Transat, Caribbean, Canada, Greenland ), shared our dreams and even speculated about crossing together. Robin and Amanda hope to cross soon. They are sailing around the world. If they cannot make it this year, they think about returning to Greenland to winter there.
We are ready, all of us. Still, the signal coming from the ice is still fogged . We reach a decision: one more week in Arctic Bay, then we move closer to the entrance . I cannot imagine being unable to cross to the other side. During some sleepless nights, I implore the ice god, I appeal to Mother Nature , I plead with the wind, I solicit the undercurrents, I petition the birds and sometime I am so disheartened that I even supplicate the walrus. I hope to be allowed in this holy channel soon . For now, no one is going through. Red is the steady color flashing at the entrance of the North West Passage.