A Short Stay at Bylot Island

July 30 – 31

Our crossing from Greenland ended as it began, with the thrumming of Arctic Tern’s big Ford diesel. Wind we encountered from almost every quarter in Baffin Bay, but its voice was soft and inconsistent, and its arguments failed to persuade us to raise more than a reefed main as steadying sail. We had places to be: reports for Pond Inlet had hinted that the grip of ice was loosening; we wanted to get there.

At departure from Upernavik, we passed through an archipelago of icebergs from the nearby glacier, but their numbers quickly thinned to none as we pushed west. Only after the halfway point did they again appear on the horizon as solitary, tabular giants. In deep fog, a particular feature of my watches (to the point that it’s become a standing joke), these bergs might first appear as bright spots on the radar. In clear weather, we could often anticipate the approach of a berg before it topped the horizon, this by the thin line of brash it left in its wake.

Les Lesson #7. Always pass an iceberg to windward. As large bergs melt they calve chunks of themselves into the sea. This line of brash falls quickly to leeward and can be a hazard. (Les and Ali have a tremendous amount of high latitude experience. Given this passage is training for the Figure 8 solo run, I have been carefully noting their teaching moments in my log as “Les Lessons,” some of which I’ll share here.)

On the morning of our fourth day at sea, Bylot emerged slowly from fog (on my watch!), and we anchored in a bay of no name on the southeast corner of the island. Here we found another Arctic Tern, a research boat out of Iqaluit known to Les and Ali, white hulled and rocking gently in the swell beneath guano covered cliffs. Its hatches were closed, its crew still asleep.

Once anchored, Ali immediately made a large breakfast of fried eggs, bacon and beans with lots of hot coffee by way of celebrating of our successful entry into the Canadian Arctic. Then we all retired to our berths for a long sleep.

In 1963, the explorer, H.W. Tilman, chose Bylot, a blocky island that fits like a puzzle piece into Baffin’s top right corner, for his summer adventure, a trek across its ice field. Bylot attracted him because it was “difficult to reach, little known, uninhabited, and mountainous” and because its maps were “pleasingly vague.” Given this bit of history, we were eager to explore for ourselves what we could, but this was not to be.

Three hours into our respite, the other Arctic Tern woke us with a tap on the hull and news in the form of updated ice charts and weather reports, neither of which were favorable. Pond Inlet, our nearest intended fuel stop, was still solidly iced in and a coming southeaster made our anchorage untenable. So, with disappointment we quickly departed Bylot and steamed north.

Midway across Lancaster Sound the southeaster came on with winds to 25 knots. Arctic Tern frothed along at 8.5 knots under reefed main and full-out Yankee. As we approached Dundas Harbor, a small bay on south Devon Island just inside the sound, a stronger wind brought rain and fog, making for a thrilling, if cold, dashing slalom through the bergs along the coast. We dropped anchor in Dundas Harbor in the early evening, had a hot dinner and again hit the sack.


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