A Tale of Headwinds

Sept 6-9

We had waited patiently in Byron Bay for better weather, and thinking headwinds had moderated, we put back into Dease Strait early on Sept 6.

Snow covered the low, bleak hills of south Victoria Island and no wildlife could be seen. Still no birds in and about the water, a condition that has persisted since entering St Roch Basin. The featureless topography, the lack of fauna, and temperatures hovering at zero have lent a sense of desolation to this part of our passage, a sense that was broken briefly at sunset when we passed Richardson and Edinburgh Islands. Here the land rose fortress-like out of the sea, high walls constructed of rust-brown hexagonal rock, solid in places, torn and ragged in others. We all piled on deck to see. But once through Edinburgh Channel, the low land returned.

Wind came up to 30 knots from the NNW overnight, so at 3AM we gave up and put into a bay of no name below Belcher Point at 68.27N and 113.09W, an inviting crescent on the chart which shallowed too quickly to enter. We anchored outside in 7 meters.

Next day rewarded us with a repeat performance. Headwinds had moderated overnight, but built strongly from the north once we made our turn into Dolphin and Union Strait, reaching between 30 and 35 knots by mid afternoon. Steep seas to three meters with little separation between laid wetly over Arctic Tern, and the bow flung around such that Nick, attempting a nap in the forward berth, went repeatedly airborne and complained of losing a tooth on one of his crash landings.

At 3PM and as we came abeam of Camping Island, a bigger wave and a loud bang. On deck we found that a shackle fastening one of the main sheet blocks to the boom had parted (we were running with reefed main at the time). We doused the sail and headed for the shelter of Bernard Harbor, anchoring at dusk directly under Chantry Island’s southern headland at 68.45N and 114.36W. When I came below, Ali had already poured five healthily portioned Gin and Tonics, which cheered the crew immeasurably.

Next morning, Les replaced the shackle with strapping in a jiffy and we were underway again, departing Bernard Harbor to the north. At 2PM and in a lumpy NW swell and 20 knot headwinds, Novara passed us. She had departed Cambridge Bay a full day after Arctic Tern, but is a longer and faster boat. We waved and exchanged radio greetings as this may be the last we see of her. She carries enough fuel to press on to Nome, whereas we are planning a quick stop in Tuk in a few days time.

Calm night; flat sea as we pressed on. A full moon to Arctic Tern’s port side and a red, streaky sky to starboard.

Next day we happily finished with Dolphin and Union Strait and entered Amundsen Gulf, and by way of celebration, the wind came on strongly from the NW, again on the nose, but skies were clear and the day warmed to 11C. Nick and I reefed sail yet again, but neither of us wore either foulies, gloves or hats, a first. Nothing to expect for long, however; the snowy mainland mountains were visible to port, and the ice pack is reported to be at 70.30N.

We round Cape Parry as I type. 215 miles to Tuk. The forecast calls for (a blessed) east wind, which is in fact northeast at 10 knots, but at least it’s not on the nose.

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