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Aug 16th
4:30am
Underway from Graham Harbor

All day the sea birds are flying the other way. They are headed out of the ice maze, out into Lancaster, back into Baffin and south. Winter migration has begun. All the while, Mo pushes further into the heart of it.

Last evening’s ice charts show improved conditions. Above Bellot, the ice is about 3/10ths for long stretches, but below there’s still a tongue of 7/10ths above Tasmania Islands.

And then there’s the difference between the report and actual. Alioth is a day ahead of Mo by now, and Vincent reports, “We just spent 12 hours finding our way through at times very dense ice (probably 5/10ths) from Hummock Point to Hurditch Peninsula.” I measure it off: 12 hours to go 40 miles.

“You must consider to sleep in 20-minute shifts for every four hours of steering,” wrote Vincent. “Keep moving. The sun also shines below Bellot Strait.”

At midnight that shining sun is still above the horizon, but I am pooped. We’ve been underway from Graham for 20 hours, and there is always a white chunk or two on the horizon; now an hour in the bunk is too long. Given the difficulties of the next 150 miles, I decide to take one last, long sleep.

Off Cape Swansea at the top of Peel Sound, I heave to and shut down the engine. Mo drifts slowly N. I crawl into the sleeping bag. But it is no good. I am up every hour. At 4am, I rise. By 5am we are underway for our engagement with the ice.

Aug 17th
Underway from Cape Swansea

Clear and calm. As we motor hour after hour, each notation in the wind column of the log reads simply, zero. The sun is bright and warm. In the cockpit, temperatures are in the 50s. After breakfast, I set about chores. The fuel tanks are topped off from jerry cans, and at the transom, both the hydrogenerator and Monte’s water paddle are removed. Either could be damaged easily if we are nipped by ice.

By 11am we are across Aston Bay and it has been open water. In any case, I don’t expect ice here. 

Noon, still open water.

Half an hour later, we are moving through 2/10ths ice off of McClure Bay. I start hand steering. It is easy going. Though beautiful, the ice is rotten, the pieces are small and much eaten away. I weave Mo at full speed as I keep an eye forward for more.

Only once do I screw up. I aim to pass between two small floes but fail to see the diagnostic light green between them. They are one floe connected by an underwater bridge. But it is too late. There is a clinking sound much like the jostling of ice cubes in a glass. Mo thunks. And the floes drift apart.

Off Hummock point, ice thins out but two hours later I begin to see solid white on the horizon. The day’s mirage picks up this image and makes it look like a tidal wave of white rolling towards us. Now we are in it, solid 5/10ths ice. Still, with care and concentration I am always able to find a lane just when it is needed. We weave back and forth; I am pulling on the tiller as though it were the handle of an oar. It is exhilarating. And still we are at full speed. 

Ice goes thin then thick then thin again. Hours pass and I am still working the tiller. 

What has been heavy going begins to thin at 11pm. The water is clear enough that my course changes are mere nudges of the tiller. I play the dangerous game: how little can you change course; how close to the ice can you get? Only sometimes do I miss, proof being the thud on the hull and a smudge of black on the ice. 

Midnight. The sun is down. The aspect is of late evening. It is a struggle to see. Luckily now the floe is but odds and ends. I have been hand steering for nearly twelve hours and can feel the fatigue in my leaden eyes. My thighs feel shaky. 

In the dusk ahead I see a long, dark opening. There is white further on but it must be a whole ten minutes distant. I flip on the autopilot, drop below, and set the alarm for a five minute nap. I collapse against a bulkhead; am immediately asleep. 

On the fourth minute there is a heavy crashing sound. Mo shudders as if hitting a wall. She stops dead. The engine grids right down. I leap for the throttle and back her off and then look forward. There Mo and ice the size of a car are drifting as if dazed. But the ice block has been split in two. 

At 2am we are below the ice. Yes, there’s a bit here and there, but we’ve got past our first big plug. A sense of satisfaction. New territory, and we have managed. Maybe we can do this after all.

On we sail south. On and on. Finally there is that cut into the land, False Strait. I ease Mo in and drop anchor at 6am. We’ve come 150 miles in 23 hours and passed our first of three ice gates. Bellot Strait is but one mile S. Below it begins Franklin Strait. Above is Peel. We are through Peel. 

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August 19, 2019
1845 local
70 32S  97 27W
Larsen Sound
The Arctic

Just a quick note to report that Mo is through the ice and sailing fast on a N wind for Cambridge Bay, 235 miles SW. 

I have been pushing to get to Alioth’s position for two days. She has a busted gear box and can’t make more than three knots under power. She has been hove to at the head of our last major ice plug waiting for an escort as she’d have to sail through, a tricky business. 

We’ve all been sweating bullets over this last 30 miles of ice, and for four days I’ve been underway and hand steering for 18 to 20 hours a day through 3 – 5/10ths ice to get here. Only a few hours sleep a night this last week.

As it turns out, today was a piece of cake. We saw huge ice floes the size of city blocks but with wide lanes in between. Alioth and another boat, Mandregore, sailed downwind without trouble with Mo bringing up the rear under power just in case. 

We got underway at 2pm and by 6:30pm we were in open water. 

One big chapter in the Figure 8 is closed. One long chapter, the 4,000 mile slog home, remains. 

Huge thanks to Victor Wejer, our ice guide, for his help and tough-love encouragement these last days. Victor was awake and communicating at all hours of the day–weather in the morning, ice charts in the afternoon and pep talks at 3am. It was a great pleasure to have Victor at my back!

The story will out and so will lots of photos but not today. Today, a beer and some sleep while Mo flies S toward Clarence Islands and around the last ice tongue; then we gybe SW for Cambridge Bay and onward toward home!

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Hello fabulous followers of the Figure 8 Voyage.

If you’ve been following the voyage you’ll know that Mo and Randall are currently navigating a pretty tricky portion of the North West Passage. Like you, we’re all holding our breath here a little. Randall won’t be posting today as we want him watching for bergs and navigating so you’re going to hear from us.

Couple of quick updates:

VIDEO INTERVIEW WITH RANDALL

If you’d like to watch an interview Randall made with another adventurer Greg Horner. Taken while Randall was up in St. John’s Newfoundland take a look below.

THE RETURN UNDER GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE

Also, we’re trying not to be too premature but we’re starting to get organized for Mo and Randall’s sail under the Golden Gate Bridge.

As we have over 2,000 daily readers from around the globe (thank you!) on the website, Facebook, Twitter and Sailfeed, just to name a few. We thought some of you might want to join us in welcoming Moli and Randall as they come under the bridge. To keep communications simple we’re asking you to tell us if you’d like to be on the communication list. To do this we have some questions and want you to register here. Please do not comment on the blog, social posts etc as we will not be capturing names from here. We will post information but if you want to get invited to stuff we need to know who you are. We’re a tiny and scrappy team behind the scenes at the Figure 8 Voyage help us, help you.

We’ll be sharing this again when we have more information but the sooner you register the better. We have no logistics yet other than to share that at some point Jo will be standing waving madly at a tiny boat coming in from the sea.

Here’s the link again: https://theamplifylab.typeform.com/to/McVcwc

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August 16, 2019

Days at Sea: 262
Days Since Departure: 320

Noon Position: 74 20N  90 54W 
Course(t)/Speed(kts): WxS 6.5
Wind(t/tws): –
Sea(t/ft): –
Sky/10ths Cover: Clear 0 
Bar(mb): 1015, steady
On-deck Temp(f): 57
Cabin Temp(f): 68
Water Temp(f): 35 (note water temp is steadily dropping.)
Relative Humidity(%): 36
Magnetic Variation: -25./3

Sail: Under power with double reefed main as steadying sail 

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 45 from Graham
Miles since departure: 33,948

Miles to Gjoa Haven: 590

In bed by 11pm. Alarm set for 4am. Awake by 3am, wide-eyed. Underway for Peel Sound.

Over the last few days, charts have shown a significant reduction in ice concentrations in Peel, but there is still ice, lots of ice. One hundred miles into the Sound from the N, there is a band of 4-6/10ths ice that is sixty-five miles long and covers both the eastern and western shores. Another one hundred miles below that is a large band of 1-3/10ths ice. Below that there is open water, but it is threatened by the heavy ice feeding in from M’Clintock Channel. 

Add to this an imminent change in the weather. Long range forecasts are calling for a switch from these long-running E winds to SW winds and then strong southerlies that could scramble the current ice configuration. 

Add to this a paucity of anchorages in Peel. Two of the best on the W coast are icebound. The next, False Strait, is just above Bellot Strait and 165 miles from the opening.

In the evening I reach out to the ice guide, Victor Wejer, for a consult on anchorages. Mo needs a place to hide if things go badly. I show him the areas I’ve chosen.

“This is a subject I would like to avoid,” he replies. “It is not written in stone that you must take the entirety of Peel in one go, but it is the usual way. Read the Canadian Sailing Directions. The height of Somerset Island does weird things to the wind; it can go from calm to gale in an instant. Most of what look like anchorages on the chart are just not safe.”

“As to ice,” he continues, “this is also difficult. Peel is narrow and fed from M’Clintock. Most sailboat crews fight tooth and ice pole to get through. Consider that Matt Rutherford chose Prince Regent. But for you there may not be an option. Regent will not be clear for a long time; maybe not at all this year.”

By now four boats are through Peel, below Bellot Strait and on their way to Gjoa Haven. Yellow-hulled Breskell is one of them, but it has taken her four days to transit 200 miles, and I can tell from the way Olivier writes his encouraging emails that he has his doubts about doing it solo. 

“Not many have singlehanded the Northwest Passage,” closes Victor, “Take your difficult bite; be brave, and exercise your anchor alarm if you do stop.”

Tillman talks about the salubrious affects of fear, but like many tonics, it tastes bad going down. In the South we were following the wind, at least. Here, even at the height of things, Mo was in her groove, and if a particular low was hell on wheels, I just had to keep my bird floating and hang on. Eventually an Ushuaia or a Hobart would hove into view.  

Here we are decidedly pushing against the flow, a flow with hard, pointy teeth that has not met its match in boats this small. It may or may not spit us out the other side. 

I recall Willie DeRoos’s remarks when his Williwaw became trapped in Arctic ice. DeRoos was the first to transit the Northwest Passage in a yacht, this back in 1975. As the ice slowly came down on Williwaw and surrounded her, DeRoos’s crewman, standing lookout at the bow, turned to search aft for an escape route. Willie roared from the cockpit, “there is no going back, there is only forward.”

As I type, we are 30 miles from the entrance. Currently I plan to keep going until late, to grab as many miles as I can today and then heave to for a few hours when the sun sets (it does set now). I’d like to be at the ice edge by tomorrow afternoon. 

In the morning, we meet our first pack ice of this transit off Maxwell Bay, a ribbon of rotting ice left over from a losing battle with the warmth of Lancaster Sound.

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August 15, 2019

Days at Sea: 261
Days Since Departure: 319

Noon Position: 74 27N  85 02W
Course(t)/Speed(kts): W 6.5
Wind(t/tws): 0
Sea(t/ft): 0
Sky/10ths Cover: Clear/0 
Bar(mb): 1014, steady
On-deck Temp(f): 60
Cabin Temp(f): 63
Water Temp(f): 38
Relative Humidity(%): 43
Magnetic Variation: -34.4

Sail: Motoring under double reefed main

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 42 since departing Dundas
Miles since departure: 33,850

Anchor down Dundas Harbor by 9:30pm after a brisk, glorious beam reach across Lancaster. What joy, to sail! Mo makes a frothy eight knots while passing alabaster mountains, great bergs pushing their way up the sound. When the wind eases, I raise more sail and the boat makes a frothy seven knots. Her movement is sure and purposeful. Magically now she is a flying horse instead of a plodding motorhome, and it is as though I am experiencing this thrill for the first time. 

The only hiccup is the chart plotter’s loss of compass heading mid channel. Compass heading, not course over the ground, is what gives the autopilot its sense of direction and is a thing the system must have to operate. On Mo, this information is gathered from a GPS compass mounted on the radar arch. When heading fails, alarms sound, the autopilot shuts down, and Mo goes wildly off course. 

In a flash, Monte takes over pilotage, and I spend the remainder of the passage sorting things out. 

For a time in the Southern Ocean, heading loss was sporadic, and I then (inconclusively) linked the issue to use of the radar. But both radar and, now, autopilot have been in constant employ since Halifax without a hitch. A panic begins to uncoil in my gut. No heading sense, no autopilot; immediately I’m down to hand steering when under engine power. This sail across Lancaster under the deft hand of Monte is a fluke–up here it’s all engine.

I run some tests, reboot everything, do the unplug-replug dance. Problem repeats. 

After a time, I realize that if I turn the radar off, heading comes right back, but how can that be? The electronics gear has been too reliable for too long for this to be gear failure. This has to be connection, charge related…and suddenly it clicks. The problem only happens when the engine is off (i.e. not charging) and when electronics load on the batteries has been high for a period of time; thus, something in the heading sense system is susceptible to low voltage. (Note: two days later and we’ve motored 20 hours. Heading loss occurrences: zero).

Alioth, who departed Tay half an hour after Mo, arrives Dundas half an hour before. Much of the crossing she was well in view, a beautiful, fast ship. Her crew are already hiking to the abandoned RCMP shack by the time I am secured and the stove lit. I make a quick dinner and am asleep before 11pm. 

Alarm set for 6am. Awake at 4am and too nervous to continue sleeping. Underway by 5am for Graham Harbor, 95 miles down Devon Island. 

Save for Mo, Dundas is empty when I take my bearings. Alioth has departed at some unknown hour. A slight feeling of emptiness. Isolation. Cruising in company is fun. But the fact is that each boat up here is alone, must make its own way, make its own decisions, solve its own problems. Alioth’s unannounced departure is like an admission of truth. A surprise break up everyone saw coming. 

The leg to Graham is, again, uneventful. All motoring on a glassy sea. By 8pm, Mo is anchor down in 50 feet on a rock, mud and kelp bottom. The cliffs are high and close-in and have reversed the light easterly outside to a sharp SW wind inside. The bay is small, the bottom steep and holding unsure. Here and there a derelict bergy bit roams the place looking for trouble. I am at Graham for a quick sleep, and it is hard won. Pack ice is close now, a mere 200 miles E and S in Peel Sound. I can feel its churn and grind. Things are coming to a head. This next week will tell…

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Aug 14, 2014
Tay Bay

“Travel in the Arctic takes great patience and great determination,” said Tony Gooch in a recent note. Presuming those two qualities are applied at different moments of a journey, then it’s patience I need now. I itch to be moving. There are still so many miles. 

But Lancaster Sound blows a gale today. So, at calm and quiet Tay we stay. 

We are at the back of the pack now. One boat, Inook, is already S of Bellot Strait; my friends on yellow-hulled Breskell are in Peel Sound with Altego and Morgane and maybe others. Alioth is in Tay with us. Only two boats I know of have yet to enter the Arctic: Sedna, a father/daughter team who are attempting to sail this entire route without engine power and Mirabelle, last seen in Sisimiut with engine problems. 

What are the chances a departure today would encounter anything but a few icebergs in a crossing to Devon? Small. But in such a wind, pack ice would be a lee shore. Why risk it when that risk is not absolutely necessary? This is not a race. Mo and I have come too far to play silly buggers with ice if we don’t have to. 

And we don’t. We aren’t late.

Compare Les and Ali Parson’s Arctic Tern, the vessel on which I crewed the NWP in 2014. It was a difficult ice year, and we didn’t depart Arctic Bay, just west of Tay Bay, until the 16th of August. On the 21st, we finally weighed anchor from Devon Island’s Graham Harbor and began heading S. We didn’t make Fort Ross until a week later, August 26. We exited Bellot on the W side on August 29. 

Granted, that was pushing it, and the earlier I can arrive in The Bering and Alaska’s powerful gulf the better, but there is time.

And yet I itch to go. 

“Prince Regent is closed,” wrote the ice guide, Victor Wejer, yesterday, “absolutely no chance it will open. Go direct Peel. Ice in Franklin and Larsen are dramatically improved.” 

But I worry it could turn. A west wind could block further progress. What if the gate closes and I didn’t get through.

And yet…  But wait…

On and on and on like this…

So in the afternoon I go for a hike to expend some energy. And that night, I am invited to dine with Vincent, Olivier and John aboard Alioth. Lasagne (imagine a baked lasagne!), red wine and stories flying. I get lathered up and am recalled to my duty only when I note all other plates but mine are empty, their owners quietly waiting a much desired pause before going in for seconds. 

Aug 14, 2019

Underway from Tay at 10am to some place on Devon. Brisk wind in the channel. Mo makes 8 knots without trying as soon as I remember how to raise sail. Big, beautiful bergs. No pack ice. I think I’ll head to Dundas Harbor for tonight and be underway tl the west bright and early tomorrow.

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Yes -it’s the same one. But this time with photos.

Aug 11, 2019
From Tay Bay
Bylot Island
73 29 6N  80 45 5W

Departed Hatt Trick Harbor at 9am after a few more surveys of depths in the arms. I wanted to explore the mountains, the back country, to sit on the bluff and watch the snowy peaks on Bylot change colors as the sun circled. But that’s for another adventure. 

Next stop, Tay Bay, sixty miles up Navy Board Inlet.

For a time we sailed on E winds. And then we motor-sailed on W winds. But mostly Mo bashed into headwinds that increased and then were joined by fog. The last ten miles took three hours as I tacked up the channel under power. A few bergs. No pack ice. But I thought I could sense ice in Lancaster as the day darkened and went cold.  

Anchor down in Tay behind the W bluff an hour before midnight. From a fuel perspective, it was an expensive sixty miles of hard driving. 

Aug 12, 2019
From Tay Bay

The fine, long days have monkeyed with my sleep schedule as much as the travel. Back at Hatt Trick Harbor, my evening hike lasted until 1am, when the sun at last dipped behind the ranges to the N. At Tay, dinner was served at midnight, and I relaxed in the cockpit until the chill and the fog had crawled into bones. Now I never rise before eight o’clock. 

The forecast calls for a gale in Lancaster today and tonight. Mo has seen plenty of gales and fears them not, but her skipper is wary. We would encounter nearly no pack ice (emphasis, nearly) as eastern Lancaster has been clear for some time. But searching for the rare bit of ice in eight foot seas hour after hour is all well and good when there is no choice, but today there is a choice. So here we have remained.

These are the decisions one frets over. To go or to stay. To risk a bashing in Lancaster or being one day too late at Point Barrow. All afternoon I’ve done chores and said I’ll depart next hour, after the next forecast, or the next. Only at 5pm, and after a note from Victor Wejer suggesting there was no profit in an advance now, have I put my foot down: the anchor shall remain dug in. 

Having done that, I sat back to take the measure of this place. 

The water here is the color of clay. When the fog obscured the mountains, this color was a mystery. But now we can see the mountains to the S; they are old, eroded giants, and they are fawn gray. Sharp, rust red peaks jut up from the water to the N, and at the head of the bay sits an inactive glacier. 

Noticeably different is the wildlife. In Hatt Trick Harbor, there was none save two harassing gulls and one passerine I couldn’t identify. Here a gaggle of snow geese on the beach ran away in a panic as Mo’s chain rattled down. I’ve seen ducks and grebes in the air, a colony of glaucous gulls on the far bluff, and two seals patrolling the murky waters.

I have yet to see Alvah Simon’s raven, however. Simon (and, for a time, his wife) overwintered just yards from where Mo swings gently, a saga he chronicled in the thrilling book, NORTH TO THE NIGHT. One of his companions was a kitten named Halifax; the other was a raven that remained in the bay through the dark months, no doubt hoping Simon would err fatally and become carrion, which is to say, dinner.

It is difficult to imagine the change that will be required for this placid scene to become a blizzard-wracked deep freeze or how it would look in perpetual night. Only if I err myself will I find that out this year. Better get back to chores…

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August 10, 2019

Yes -it’s the same one. But this time with photos.

Soon after departing Pond Inlet, Alioth and Mo become separated. Alioth is a sleek vessel with a lifting keel and a waterline length greater than Mo’s overall, which is to say she’s a knot faster without trying. And too, our agendas differ. Vincent wishes to sight the Narwals said to frequent the opening of Milne Inlet, and so for the night targets a cove on the back side of Ragged Island. I am more attracted to a little-explored bay just S and E of Cape Hatt. 

Wind remains light from the E, and the 35 mile passage is uneventful, save for a heavier than expected chop at the head of the inlet that sets Mo to rolling like she was at sea again. Books, dishes, even a fuel can go flying. I’ve gotten too used to a level playing field in the miles and miles of calm since St John’s.

On my chart, the bay is nameless and without soundings, but the Pilots are cautiously optimistic. “…said to be a snug harbour,” reports the Canadian Sailing Directions. “…is navigable for small vessels. Depths vary throughout…caution should be exercised,” says Wilkes in ARCTIC AND NORTHERN WATERS.

What attracts me most is its shape. The N-facing entrance is long, narrow, and overlaps the bay entirely; the interior appears to have three arms, each with the possibility of being landlocked. As described before, a landlocked bay is often sheltered from all weathers. Here, once secured, a vessel can be safe always, a sailor can drop his guard.

I go dead slow down the fairway, favoring the E shore, where a chartlet provided by Vincent suggests is better water. Luckily we are at the bottom of the low. Least depths are 20 feet here and 50 feet middle bay. I gently explore each arm and find that the bottom rises slowly and evenly. There are no surprises. Finally, I ease Mo behind the N headland and anchor in 25 feet. The hook bites without a grumble.

With the engine off, I can admire my find in silence. All around, the landform–the eroded remains of high ranges to the N and S–slopes gently down to the beach. And all is indeed landlocked, profoundly landlocked. Here we feel not the tiniest hint of the rolling chop and crashing breakers outside. And from where Mo sits on the hook, I can’t see the entrance or even where one might be. It is as if we had been transported in an instant to a high desert lake. 

Mo is motionless; the water is glass. The hills sit quietly by. Nothing moves, not a bird, not a bear.

An Inuit camp in the SE arm and an empty fuel barrel on a near beach suggest we are not the first humans to discover this gem. But as neither the charts nor the Pilots give this spot a name, I do: Hatt Trick Harbor, a nod to the northern Cape and the fact that this is really thee excellent anchorages in one. 

Monte (MonTAY) is disgusted and refuses to speak to me the rest of the day.

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Aug 11, 2019
From Tay Bay
Bylot Island
73 29 6N  80 45 5W

Departed Hatt Trick Harbor at 9am after a few more surveys of depths in the arms. I wanted to explore the mountains, the back country, to sit on the bluff and watch the snowy peaks on Bylot change colors as the sun circled. But that’s for another adventure. 

Next stop, Tay Bay, sixty miles up Navy Board Inlet.

For a time we sailed on E winds. And then we motor-sailed on W winds. But mostly Mo bashed into headwinds that increased and then were joined by fog. The last ten miles took three hours as I tacked up the channel under power. A few bergs. No pack ice. But I thought I could sense ice in Lancaster as the day darkened and went cold.  

Anchor down in Tay behind the W bluff an hour before midnight. From a fuel perspective, it was an expensive sixty miles of hard driving. 

__

Aug 12, 2019
From Tay Bay

The fine, long days have monkeyed with my sleep schedule as much as the travel. Back at Hatt Trick Harbor, my evening hike lasted until 1am, when the sun at last dipped behind the ranges to the N. At Tay, dinner was served at midnight, and I relaxed in the cockpit until the chill and the fog had crawled into bones. Now I never rise before eight o’clock. 

The forecast calls for a gale in Lancaster today and tonight. Mo has seen plenty of gales and fears them not, but her skipper is wary. We would encounter nearly no pack ice (emphasis, nearly) as eastern Lancaster has been clear for some time. But searching for the rare bit of ice in eight foot seas hour after hour is all well and good when there is no choice, but today there is a choice. So here we have remained.

These are the decisions one frets over. To go or to stay. To risk a bashing in Lancaster or being one day too late at Point Barrow. All afternoon I’ve done chores and said I’ll depart next hour, after the next forecast, or the next. Only at 5pm, and after a note from Victor Wejer suggesting there was no profit in an advance now, have I put my foot down: the anchor shall remain dug in. 

Having done that, I sat back to take the measure of this place. 

The water here is the color of clay. When the fog obscured the mountains, this color was a mystery. But now we can see the mountains to the S; they are old, eroded giants, and they are fawn gray. Sharp, rust red peaks jut up from the water to the N, and at the head of the bay sits an inactive glacier. 

Noticeably different is the wildlife. In Hatt Trick Harbor, there was none save two harassing gulls and one passerine I couldn’t identify. Here a gaggle of snow geese on the beach ran away in a panic as Mo’s chain rattled down. I’ve seen ducks and grebes in the air, a colony of glaucous gulls on the far bluff, and two seals patrolling the murky waters.

I have yet to see Alvah Simon’s raven, however. Simon (and, for a time, his wife) overwintered just yards from where Mo swings gently, a saga he chronicled in the thrilling book, NORTH TO THE NIGHT. One of his companions was a kitten named Halifax; the other was a raven that remained in the bay through the dark months, no doubt hoping Simon would err fatally and become carrion, which is to say, dinner.

It is difficult to imagine the change that will be required for this placid scene to become a blizzard-wracked deep freeze or how it would look in perpetual night. Only if I err myself will I find that out this year. Better get back to chores…


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August 10, 2019

Soon after departing Pond Inlet, Alioth and Mo become separated. Alioth is a sleek vessel with a lifting keel and a waterline length greater than Mo’s overall, which is to say she’s a knot faster without trying. And too, our agendas differ. Vincent wishes to sight the Narwals said to frequent the opening of Milne Inlet, and so for the night targets a cove on the back side of Ragged Island. I am more attracted to a little-explored bay just S and E of Cape Hatt. 

Wind remains light from the E, and the 35 mile passage is uneventful, save for a heavier than expected chop at the head of the inlet that sets Mo to rolling like she was at sea again. Books, dishes, even a fuel can go flying. I’ve gotten too used to a level playing field in the miles and miles of calm since St John’s.

On my chart, the bay is nameless and without soundings, but the Pilots are cautiously optimistic. “…said to be a snug harbour,” reports the Canadian Sailing Directions. “…is navigable for small vessels. Depths vary throughout…caution should be exercised,” says Wilkes in ARCTIC AND NORTHERN WATERS.

What attracts me most is its shape. The N-facing entrance is long, narrow, and overlaps the bay entirely; the interior appears to have three arms, each with the possibility of being landlocked. As described before, a landlocked bay is often sheltered from all weathers. Here, once secured, a vessel can be safe always, a sailor can drop his guard.

I go dead slow down the fairway, favoring the E shore, where a chartlet provided by Vincent suggests is better water. Luckily we are at the bottom of the low. Least depths are 20 feet here and 50 feet middle bay. I gently explore each arm and find that the bottom rises slowly and evenly. There are no surprises. Finally, I ease Mo behind the N headland and anchor in 25 feet. The hook bites without a grumble.

With the engine off, I can admire my find in silence. All around, the landform–the eroded remains of high ranges to the N and S–slopes gently down to the beach. And all is indeed landlocked, profoundly landlocked. Here we feel not the tiniest hint of the rolling chop and crashing breakers outside. And from where Mo sits on the hook, I can’t see the entrance or even where one might be. It is as if we had been transported in an instant to a high desert lake. 

Mo is motionless; the water is glass. The hills sit quietly by. Nothing moves, not a bird, not a bear.

An Inuit camp in the SE arm and an empty fuel barrel on a near beach suggest we are not the first humans to discover this gem. But as neither the charts nor the Pilots give this spot a name, I do: Hatt Trick Harbor, a nod to the northern Cape and the fact that this is really thee excellent anchorages in one. 

Monte (MonTAY) is disgusted and refuses to speak to me the rest of the day.

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August 9, 2019

Days at Sea: 257
Days Since Departure: 313

Noon Position: 72 46N  77 26W
Course(t)/Speed(kts): W 6.6
Wind(t/tws): S 7
Sea(t/ft): —
Sky/10ths Cover: Fog and clear sky 4 
Bar(mb): 1022
On-deck Temp(f): 58
Cabin Temp(f): 64
Water Temp(f): 45
Relative Humidity(%): 53
Magnetic Variation: -35.1

Sail: Under power.  

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 155
Miles since departure: 33,633

Miles to Pond Inlet: 10

Near midnight the fog dropped its guard, allowing a view of the ranges of Baffin and Bylot Islands on a distant, sun-drenched horizon. Soon we were on the verge of sailing into the clear ourselves when the wind came up lightly from the S and brought that infernal gray blanket with it. This covered us completely and until the customary hour off shore.

Then the mountains came out for real and for good. 

Bylot Island, snow capped and ribboned with glaciers, was the focus of H. W. Tillman’s summer adventure of 1963. It was chosen due to its being “difficult to reach, little known, uninhabited and mountainous,” favorite traits it appears to have retained. His trek across Bylot from N to S–now referred to as the Tillman Traverse–has, to my knowledge, only been repeated once and that by Bob Shepton. 

Though separated by water from Baffin, Bylot is “a geological extension” of its southern neighbor and is a sight to behold–icy peaks right out of the sea on all sides. To the south and across Pond Inlet is a small settlement by the same name, and off its open roadstead is where Mo dropped anchor at 1400 hours on Aug 9th. The 409 mile crossing from Sondre Upernavik took just under three days.

On the first of August, 2014, Les and Ali Parson’s Arctic Tern, aboard which I crewed, had been refused Pond Inlet. It was still iced in. A week and five years later, there was but one berg visible from the town and the temperature was a sweltering 75 degrees. To all appearances, we had been transported to a fishing village on the Sea of Cortez rather than the high north. 

Ahead of Mo by half a day was Vincent of Belgian yacht Alioth, both of whom I met in Halifax. Alioth is a 55 foot aluminum expedition sloop that carries two crew besides Vincent, his brother Olivier and a friend, John. My timing was perfect. They had been ashore and arranged for the fuel truck but hadn’t the requisite number of Jerry cans. Mo had the cans, but I had to clear customs before arranging for fuel. So we swapped–they used my cans to fill Alioth while I entertained the RCMPs with the tales of the Figure 8 Voyage.

Convenient as it was, this arrangement did not keep beach fueling from being a dirty and wet exercise. The most careful sailor will bring loads of sand and pebbles back to the boat, and the best of dinghies will fill with water if the surf’s up. But by late afternoon both Alioth and Mo had been topped off.

Too tired to cook, I asked Vincent if he knew of a restaurant in town, to which he laughed and said, “Right over there,” pointing to Alioth. “The dining room opens and 8pm and you won’t want to be late.”

I was not. Baked chicken in broth, roasted cauliflower, rice with carrots and scallions and entertaining conversations in English, some French and a smattering of Flemish. 

Next day Mo and Alioth weighed anchor at noon for a cove near Cape Hatt, some 40 miles to the east.

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August 8, 2019

Days at Sea: 256
Days Since Departure: 312

Noon Position: 72 38N  68 48W 
Course(t)/Speed(kts): W 6
Wind(t/tws): SW 3
Sea(t/ft): –
Sky/10ths Cover: Overcast/10. Fog to <1/2 mile viz all afternoon 
Bar(mb): 1024, steady
On-deck Temp(f): 53
Cabin Temp(f): 68
Water Temp(f): 45
Relative Humidity(%): 41
Magnetic Variation: -37.6

Sail: Under power. 

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 141
Miles since departure: 33,478

Miles to Pond Inlet: 151

Second full day of our crossing to Pond Inlet, and we proceed steadily, if without much excitement, westward. 

Of Davis Strait, H. W. Tillman says “light airs and fogs are a little too prevalent,” and much the same can be said of its northern neighbor, Baffin Bay. “The calms oblige one to motor more than one likes,” he continues, “since the only pleasure to be had from running an engine in a small boat is the exquisite relief when it stops.”

Much as I agree in principle, that Mo’s little red engine has failed to stop, in fact, hasn’t even hiccuped once on these leaps N from St. John’s is a relief. The weather patterns of calm and fog are not confined to Greenland waters and will likely be our lot until we turn S into the Bering Sea.

The only break in the monotony of engine noise and flat, infernal gray are the passing families of bergs. Most bergs are social animals, I have discovered. Especially after departing the Greenland coast, they tend to be seen in groupings that can be quite large with hours of open water in between. 

For example, Mo had passed no bergs since noon yesterday when, at 5am, the radar alarm sounded me quickly awake and on deck. Ahead was a mass of some twenty icebergs, all tabular in shape and spread over a surprisingly minimal area of about three square miles. The previous day, the grouping had included five bergs, most of which were alpine-like with Seussian spires and equally tightly packed. Late this afternoon, another grouping of seven bergs. 

It’s tempting to think these berg families began their drift as much vaster, solitary bergs that have broken-up over time. This may be the case, but in my two visits to the Vaigat, I’ve never seen a single berg that could create half as many when fragmented. 

Two hints at a possible source, one a theory from the science of ocean drift, which states that two pieces of current-borne debris (say, a plastic egg crate that floats mostly just below the surface and is thus not much influenced by surface wind) that enter the water at the same time and place can stay in each others company for month and years. It is a truism of bergs that most of their mass is underwater, and thus their drift would be mainly driven by current. 

The other comes from the Arctic Pilot’s description of calving bergs from the Jakobshavns Isfjord inside Disko Bay. “Many of [the new bergs] ground on a bank off the entrance to the fjord and hold back others; as they melt and float clear, a mass of icebergs is periodically released into the bight, the largest numbers usually in May and June.”

Could these berg families we are seeing be the result of such pulses at the source glacier from months ago?

A few shots from yesterday’s bergs. One provided shelter for both Northern Fulmars and a handful of seals.

And a few shots of the tabular giants from earlier today. 

In the afternoon, we approached the first commercial vessel larger than a fishing boat we’ve seen in weeks. Mysteriously, the 740 foot bulk carrier, Golden Brillian (MMSI 477250100), was headed due E and toward tiny Upernavik, whereas its AIS destination was the cryptic DE HAM. My guess is his hold is full of iron ore from the large Milne mine below Bylot Island and that his easterly course is for safety–out and around the pack ice that can be here even if it isn’t. 

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August 7, 2019

Days at Sea: 255
Days Since Departure: 311

Noon Position: 72 18N  61 03W
Course(t)/Speed(kts): W 6
Wind(t/tws): NW 5
Sea(t/ft): NW 1
Sky/10ths Cover: Fog, viz 3m. Last 12 hours: Fog, viz 200ft 
Bar(mb): 1021, steady
On-deck Temp(f): 55
Cabin Temp(f): 68
Water Temp(f): 46
Relative Humidity(%): 45
Magnetic Variation: -31.6

Sail: Under Power. Main one reef.  

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 103 since departing Sondre Upernavik
Miles since departure: 33,337

Miles to Pond Inlet: 390

In the day, I completed a full oil and filter change on Mo with the intention of relaxing in the evening and departing in the morning after a long sleep. 

But I am feeling the press of time. 

Each mile of northing brings us closer to the sun. Since we crossed the equator back in April, days have gotten longer and longer such that now the light of noon and midnight look remarkably similar. However, this sense of a lengthening day is artificial. We are well past the summer solstice. Days are in fact contracting. The season is getting on. 

So, at 7pm, I weighed anchor and stood Mo out to sea, her heading, Pond Inlet on Bylot Island some 390 to the west.

At last we make westing. For the first time since departing San Francisco, we are well and truly headed home. It’s too early to fantasize about sailing under the Golden Gate, about sitting with Jo beneath our Japanese Maple on a warm autumn evening–there is too much water yet between us. But Mo is finally headed in the right direction.

Given that we are so far beyond the height of summer, is it too late to make a Northwest Passage? 

In a word, no.

Ice reflects the sun’s rays whereas land and ocean absorb them. Add to that the difficulty of flushing ice from the narrow and winding passages of the middle Canadian Arctic, and what you get is a late-to-develop northern summer. 

Baffin Bay, the body of water we are crossing as I type, is usually passable in July (if one hugs the Greenland coast and crosses in the north), as is Lancaster Sound, the entrance to the eastern Northwest Passage. But the central regions of the Canadian Arctic–Peele Sound, Prince Regent Inlet, Bellot Strait, Franklin Strait, Larsen Sound, and Victoria Strait–are unlikely to be clear before mid August, if they clear at all. 

And that is the case this year. Icebergs we are seeing in Baffin, but not pack ice, which has been absent this last month, and Lancaster Sound is nearly as clear. But while the central regions are showing signs of promise, neither Peele Sound nor Prince Regent Inlet (one of which is required) are open, and central Prince Regent is still so frozen that Environment Canada has yet to produce ice charts for that area.

That said, the periphery is open. Lancaster in the east and in the west Queen Maud and Coronation Gulf, Dolphin and Union Strait, and Amundsen Gulf all the way to Point Barrow are passable and nearly if not totally ice free (source: Victor Wejer).

But things in the central areas appear to be moving fast. Long range forecasts call for these areas to be passable by August 15 – 21. 

So it’s time to get there and get staged.

By way of illustration, two ice charts from today showing the various bodies of water referenced above. These charts are produced by the Environment Canada Ice Service and, in this case, show ice concentration levels in tenths of ice cover. See the bottom of the chart for the legend. Also note, vessels like Mo are looking for blue and light green. Other colors present serious difficulties.

Before departure I visited Sondre Upernavik’s small grocery store. I’d planned badly, and my last evening in Greenland found me with a pocket full of Danish Kroners and no other place to spend them. 
In square feet, the store was smaller than the typical 7-Eleven, but its selection was far more wholesome, especially in its line of Danish foods.

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August 5, 2019
Anchored Sondre Upernavik
72 09N  55 31W

Past the Vaigat, the concentration of icebergs thinned. Most were hidden behind a merciless fog, but the radar warned of a steady five to ten within its range. What it could not see were the growlers that swung off from behind the larger bergs like comet tails. For these, I had to remain on watch.  

By 3AM, the predicted N wind began to fill over what had been a flat calm sea. We were due another 50 miles of climbing before reaching Upernavik, miles that would soon become a slog. So, I turned our head toward a nearer alternate, a village known as Sondre Upernavik, which stood up the hill from a hooking crescent of bay open only to the SE.

The anchor rattled down at 6AM, and I went right to my bunk, having been awake for nearly 30 hours. 

The sailing directions deal with Sondre Upernavik in three sentences:

“A small settlement with store. Diesel by hose on pontoon jetty (<1m depth at LW). A convenient place to refuel, if the jetty is available.” (Wilkes, ARCTIC and NORTHERN WATERS).

In this, what caught my eye was the fueling option, which was the only thing calling Mo north to the larger village, Upernavik.

I dinghied ashore in the late morning and found both the wharf and jetty packed with small fishing vessels. Squeezing in a heavy thing like Mo was out of the question, no matter the depth of water. 

By now wind was strongly N. We were stuck here for the day, so I decided to bunker by jerry can. In any case, this would be good practice, I reasoned, as fueling from the beach would be the norm once we crossed Baffin Bay and entered the Canadian Arctic.

Mo carries 14 five-gallon plastic jerry cans for a total haul of 87 gallons of fuel. The capacious inflatable can hold but ten of these in one go. Thus, two dinghy runs are required to get the full compliment of containers to or from shore. 

Once landed, I find the biggest obstacle is learning how to operate the modern fuel kiosk up the hill from the fuel hose on the jetty. The first villagers I button-hole speak only their language, not mine, but my third victim can answer the question. 

“You need to push the green button,” he says. 

Problem solved. Pump humming. I rush down to the hose and my collection of yellow cans, but the nozzle will produce no fuel. 

Back up to the kiosk. Fortunately, the same villager is passing by. “You need to place the handle,” he says, removing the fuel nozzle from a filling machine near the kiosk and putting it on the ground.  

Obvious to a baby! I run down to my jerries. Nothing.

Back up to the kiosk. Here I vainly search the instructions posted on the pump in both Danish and Greenlandic. This can’t be that hard!

After some time, the same local is passing by yet again. What luck! I wave him over. “You need to turn the blue lever,” he says, reaching for a ball valve just out of view.

Clear as day! I run down to my waiting jerries. Nothing. I shake the nozzle. Nothing.

Back up to the kiosk. This time my concierge awaits my return.

“The machine stopped. You are too slow. You must start again.”

Back at the boat, I find that my fuel siphoning tools are inadequate. I make a royal mess. But by evening Mo’s two 100-gallon tanks are full, and we have a spare 50-gallons in jerry cans tucked away.   

I sit down in the pilot house to celebrate my success with a beer and fall hard asleep for two hours. 

Oil and filter change tomorrow and then onward to the Northwest Passage.  

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August 4, 2019

Days at Sea Since Departure: 253

Days Since Departure: 308

Noon Position: 70 11N 55 19W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NNW 6.5

Wind(t/tws): 0/0

Sea(t/ft): 0

Sky/10ths Cover: Fog, Viz varies from two boat lengths to two miles

Bar(mb): 1023+

On-deck Temp(f): 52

Cabin Temp(f): 68

Water Temp(f): 44 (In the berg field described below, 41)

Relative Humidity(%): 42

Magnetic Variation: 32.6

Sail: Under power.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 65

Miles since departure: 33,116

Monte: I now know how felt your botanist, Sir Joseph Banks, when Cook refused his requests to stop and explore the land.

Randall: Oh? Do you not recall our recent visit to Fortune Bay, where we hiked the hills, smelled the flowers, and ate the berries?

Monte: Yes, yes, the berries were just fine, but two nights in one anchorage! Along this whole coast! It’s simply unsupportable that we have come all this way so as to do nothing but keep going. If this is what you call exploration, then I tell you that the complete works of Cervantes could be put onto the back of a post card with room enough left over for the collected sonnets of Sancho Panza and the philosophical musings of his donkey!

Randall: I didn’t think Sancho Panza wrote sonnets.

Monte: Exactly, EXACTLY! Senior!

He turns away, spitting angrily.

Randall: Now, Monte, remember that what we are exploring here is whether or not the Figure 8 is possible. Much as it may seem doubtful, other adventures will come, but later.

Our stay in Kuanit Bay barely got the anchor wet. We were, after all, only waiting for the N wind to ease. I made dinner, had a glass of wine, went to sleep. The alarm sounded at 0230 and we were soon underway on a calm sea.

A berg of extraordinary beauty had grounded near us in the night. I shot photos of it as we departed, and was struck again by how different a berg can look from different angles.

How do they do it–look so random and at the same time so designed? It is as if Gaudi tossed a handful of snowflakes into the air…

The Arctic Pilot has this to say about the Vaigat,    the strait that sits between the top of Disko Island and the mainland, which we passed by in the afternoon:

“In June, after the break up of ice in Torssukatak [a fjord to the east] thousands of icebergs, some between 200 and 300 feet high, are discharged from the fjord into the Vaigat. Under the influence of the current, principally, they drift N along he coast of the Nugssuaq peninsula to about 70N and then S along the coast of Disko Island, rendering navigation dangerous and safe anchorage almost impossible.”

At noon we passed above 70N and began to open the Vaigut, and I began counting bergs. At first I counted 20, widely separated all around and all, seemingly, on the horizon. Half an hour later, I could count forty. A ninety bergs, I stopped counting and began paying attention to pilotage.

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August 3, 2019

Departed Fortune Bay at 1200 today. Aiming for Upernavik. Heavy fog right down to the water. Wind N at 5 knots. Temperature 50 degrees. Bergs are visible at less than half a mile, and from what I can tell, they are the size of city blocks. We pass four or more an hour, but they are ghosts in the mist.

By 1800 fog has lifted, but we are pushing into a stiff NNW wind, and Mo is plunge diving. When our average speed falls to two knots, I turn to the E for an anchorage, Kuanit, just a divit in the land on the N side of the Disko Fjord but out of the wind. Here I’ll wait until after midnight, when wind is forecast to go calm.

We clock a bergy bit at 7 knots on the way in, a glancing blow to port that shoved the bow well to starboard. I just didn’t see the ice block coming; it was hidden behind the mast. Of course, I immediately thought Mo was down by the head and acting sluggish. But there’s no water in the boat, and after inspection at anchor, I don’t think there’s the slightest of scratches, much less a hole.

Anchor down, Kuanit at 1930, 35ft. Anchor bit right away.

We are 500 feet S of a rushing stream.

Postion: 69 34N 54 18W.  

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August 1, 2019

Fortune Bay, Disko Island

69 15N 53 45W

One cannot have too many books aboard. By way of a proof: this morning I would like to know why my anchorage on S Disko Island is named Fortune Bay. I can guess it is something to do with whaling, but not a single volume on the shelf answers the question, and the only hint comes from Andrew Wilkes in his sailing directions, ARCTIC AND NORTHERN WATERS:

“Fortune Bay is a ragged bight with many islands and rocks, lying 5 miles W of [the village of] Qeqertarsuaq. Many of the islets have sledge dogs stranded on them for the summer. Kangerluarssuk, the inlet at the E end of the bay, provides a landlocked anchorage.”

Mo lies in the Kangerluarssuk inlet, and it is indeed landlocked, a great comfort to the sailor.

Why is this so? An anchorage is considered landlocked when, from inside, you can see land in every direction; i.e. you cannot see the entrance or, more importantly, open water. Such harbors are rare and, if small enough, can be well protected from seas of any direction.

And so, maybe this is the source, the discoverer celebrating his good fortune in the naming of the place.

Yesterday’s explorations, both in the dinghy and on foot, found no stranded sledge dogs, but when the wind went S, a great fog rolled in, and then the entrance to the bay was beset by icebergs. With trepidation, I circumnavigated several in the inflatable, departing in a rush when one of them cracked with a sound like thunder.

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July 31, 2019

Departed Sisimiut at 1900 hours and motored due north overnight for Disko Bay. Another uneventful passage of 140 miles, remarkable only for utter calm and a sea so smooth that boat motion was imperceptible.

Disko Island came into view in the late afternoon of the next day, as did the progeny of the glaciers that surround it. One big berg at first and then a train of them, slowly making their way toward dissolution in the open sea.

Anchor down at the E end of Killiit (Fortune Bay), S Disko Island, at 2000 hours. 35 feet. Rocky, I think; the anchor grumbled for a time before holding fast.

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July 30, 2019

The leak came from between the engine and the transmission and was black as coal. At its height, there were but five seconds between drips of this indispensable fluid, and upon arrival in Sisimiut, I found that we’d drained ten percent of the engine’s lube oil into the bilge in twenty hours.

“That’s a lot,” said my friend Gerd from his office in Florida. “It sounds like a rear seal failure; shouldn’t be too bad a job. First you remove the universal joint so you can push the propeller shaft back; then the bell housing and gearbox have to come off. Yours is about the size of a tea pot, so that should be easy. You may need to pull the starter motor and the alternator so you can get the fly wheel off …”

My head was spinning, “Fly wheel! But the leak is on the back of the engine and the flywheel is on the front! Why do I have to remove the flywheel?”

“Yes, I had forgotten,” replied Gerd, “Your Bukh engine is a real antique. Since about WWII, manufacturers have been putting the flywheel on the back of the engine. It prettier that way. The job wouldn’t take a mechanic more than three hours. But you must get it fixed. If that seal fails catastrophically in the Arctic, you’re in real trouble. Too bad your friend Jerry, the ‘marine insultant’ from St John’s, isn’t around,” he concluded.

By now I was rafted next to yellow-hulled Breskell inside the Sisimiut harbor breakwater. Her owner, Olivier, had discovered a diesel leak on his Perkins engine during his most recent passage, and we commiserated over the irony of it all! In St John’s, Jerry had repaired a rear seal leak on Olivier’s engine and a diesel leak on mine. Now we had each other’s problems, but no Jerry. How many flights a day come up from Newfoundland, we wondered?

“The job it is not hard,” said Olivier of his own oil leak repair. “I would do it, but Jerry wouldn’t let me. He just push me out of the way. ‘Go back to your woodwork,’ he said, ‘I will fix your damned engine.'”

I wrote to Victor, lamenting how far behind my original schedule I had fallen and asked for an ice update.

“There is no need to rush, Randall,” he responded. “Environment Canada isn’t reporting on the central parts of the Arctic yet. Solid ice. You have at least ten days. You must fix the problem. Your Bukh’s thermodynamics do not represent any kind of breakthrough and from what I can tell, the gearbox is held in place by one bolt. It should not be a complicated job.”

As to finding the part, each of the above men swore that engines use a limited line of seal sizes; the part would likely be in stock, even in Greenland.

All this encouragement, I was sure, would jinx the project.

Gearbox removal was a step out of my comfort zone, but I’d had the drivetrain apart a few times, and by noon the next day, the seal was in hand.

But this revealed a new problem: the seal looked to be in perfect condition. Could the diagnosis be wrong? I searched all over the underside of the engine for an alternate source of escaping oil.

Nothing.

“Me too!” said Olivier, slapping me on the back so hard I spilled the coffee he’d poured for me.

“But Jerry, he said you cannot tell by looking if a seal is good. The rubber becomes brittle with age and the little retaining spring, it gets weak. These things you cannot see with two eyes.”

The only possible source of a new seal in Sisimiut was a shop on the edge of town that repaired outboards and snowmobiles, not marine diesels. Here I arrived in the early afternoon. Without a word, I drew the seal from my pocket and held it before the woman at the counter, and without a word she took it and disappeared up a flight of stairs. For far too long I could hear her rummaging through boxes. My heart sank.

When she reappeared, she carried a large box full of seals, and we rummaged together.

Five minutes later, I had a new seal of the correct size in hand. We found but one in the whole box. By noon the next day, the engine was back together and running, leak free, under load.

During the whole exercise, I encountered not one seized bolt.

Post Script: Finding a seal was critical, so before commencing the search, I had emailed Vincent on aluminum yacht, Alioth, asking if he would be available to source a seal in Nuuk before he departed north. Without replying, Vincent jumped in a cab and found a seal at about the same time that I did. When Alioth arrived in Sisimiut the next day, I was gifted with a spare rear seal, thanks to Vincent.

Write Comment (5 comments) July 30, 2019 It’s Mo’s third morning in Sisimiut, and I still haven’t made it much past the Seaman’s Home and the chandlery near the harbor. Luckily, Greenland is such a place that everywhere one turns is an exotic scene. Here are a few such to keep things going while I work to stop the engine’s oil leak…
Rafted five deep along the inner wall of Sisimiut Harbor. It’s nice to have the outer berth until it’s time to go into town. Crawling over so many boats to achieve the pier is quite a slog.
Awaiting the return.
View from the Seaman’s Home.
Five green boats.
Red barn and the harbor.
Old town, Sisimiut.
Blue house and stone wall.
Paddy Barry’s beautiful restoration, Ilen, taking water from the Royal Greenland wharf.
United States of Greenland.
Both Nuuk and Sisimiut seem to have grown up around the cemetery.
Cotton Grass.
Sisimiut is the first settlement along western Greenland where one will find sledge dogs, says Andrew Wilkes in Arctic and Northern Waters.
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July 27, 2019

Mo and I departed Nuuk in the late afternoon for the short climb to Sisimiut, Greenland’s second largest city, population 5,500.

The leg was uneventful, a mix of fast sailing and fast motoring on a fast north-setting current, except in two ways.

One, at 1800 hours on July 26, 2019, day 251 of the Figure 8 Voyage, Mo and Randall crossed 66 30N latitude and thusly sailed inside the Arctic Circle.

This circle carries several definitions, “the line above which trees do not grow and the ground does not thaw” being less common than “the parallel of latitude north of the equator that marks the northernmost point at which the sun is visible on the northern winter solstice and the southernmost point at which the midnight sun can be seen on the northern summer solstice.”

Thus the phrase, “land of the midnight sun.

Sticklers in the audience will argue that owing to precession, this latter circle is a moving target who’s boundary is currently closer to 66 34N, but the line is often stated simply as “above north 66 and a half,” and in any case, we crossed both.

The Arctic Circle also serves as a start and, on the other side, a finish line for the Northwest Passage. Compare our highest latitude in the south, Cape Horn, at a very raw 56S; now we are ten degrees above that in north latitude with roughly ten more degrees to achieve before we can turn to the south and homeward.

And this tidbit by way of confirmation that we are entering a cold country: at 66 57N, “Sisimiut…is the first settlement on the west coast [of Greenland] where sledge dogs are kept.” (Andrew Wilkes, ARCTIC AND NORTHERN WATERS, Imray).

The second diversion on this uneventful passage was the discovery of an engine oil leak. I’ve been happy to exercise the motor so much on these hops up form St John’s because if a mechanical problem is to develop, I’d prefer it develop here rather than in the Canadian or Alaskan Arctic. Greenland’s “cities” may be small relative to what citizens of middle latitudes expect, but they are veritable metropolises when set beside what we will find further on.

The leak began ten hours into a twenty-hour motoring session, produces up to one drop of black oil every five seconds, and is coming from the aft of the engine. Further assessment awaits arrival in Sisimiut.

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Editorial note: Hi readers. Most of the time the team behind the scenes doesn’t comment on Randall’s posts. However, our home port (and Randall’s when he returns) is very close to Gilroy, California, where a tragic shooting at an annual festival occurred this last weekend. We knew this post was due to go live today, and after a long discussion, we decided it was best to move ahead with Randall’s story even though the timing was unfortunate.

For everyone involved in this project, gun ownership and safety are taken  very seriously. Our hearts go out to all those injured at the festival. If you’d like to support those impacted you can find how to donate here.

Thanks,

~Jo

July 26, 2019

For a cruiser, the question of firearms carry can be prickly. Laws differ country to country, and in some places the law and local reality are at odds. As the first, long loop of the Figure 8 could find me on many a foreign shore in an emergency, a shore whose rules I did not know, I had decided early on to push getting a gun until later.

Later was Greenland.

Why a gun at all in the Arctic? Protection. Polar Bears are the king beast of the North. They have no natural predator, and they find the summer hunting of seal increasingly difficult as the ice recedes. They are curious, fast and strong; hungry and unafraid. For defense, a large caliber, single-action hunting rifle or a shotgun with heavy “preditor” slugs are recommended.

Canada serves as a good example of the complexity attending the firearms issue. In lower Canada, purchase and possession require licensing, which requires one take and pass a gun safety course. However, upon arrival in the north, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will be more concerned that you *have* a gun than how you came to own it. At what latitude this change in policy occurs is uncertain. In both Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, I found, licensing laws were in full force.

Greenland, by comparison, is dead simple. Here a person, be he local or foreigner, can buy a gun wherever milk or cigarettes are sold.

Or could he?

While in St. John’s, the boat fitting out next to me at the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club, yellow-hulled Breskell, told a different tale. They had attempted to buy a rifle in Sisimiut the previous year, but the purchase was refused. The cashier said an official Greenland form was wanted, and Olivier, Breskell’s French skipper, did not have such a form.

“Yes, all the books they say in Greenland a gun you can buy it,” he reported, “but did they ever try it? We tried it and it was not good.” He waves his hand in disgust.

This threw a kink into my plans. By now it was too late to pursue Canadian licensing; Greenland was my only hope. So, I reached out to Victor Wejer, who has spent many years up here and volunteers his time routing would-be adventurers through the ice from his home-office in Mississauga (near Toronto).

“Gun acquisition in Greenland is not regulated,” he wrote. “The population is small, and it is a hunting culture. It is not uncommon to see a man at the grocery store shopping for tomatoes with a rifle slung over his shoulder.”

But to ease my concerns, Victor promised to introduce me to a Nuuk local named Jens. “He’s a Dane, has lived there for 30 years, and has just returned from a two-year circumnavigation. He is a boatbuilder, a hunter … and he’s the local magistrate. I think he can help.”

The day after my arrival, Jens came aboard. He was small, wiry, tough, and carried himself with the air of a man who’s used to calling the shots.

“Yes, my wife and I did just complete a circumnavigation,” he said, “but it was a two-year cruise only because in Mauritius I took a coconut to the head and was in hospital for five months. I was pulling the tree for one and two came down; the second I did not see. Did you know that more people die from a coconut to the head each year than die of drowning?”

I did not.

“But my wife is the real story.” he continued. “She is the first native Greenlander, male or female, to circumnavigate the globe. We were all over the local news when we sailed back into Nuuk. I’m glad that’s quieted down.”

“Oh nonsense,” he said an hour later when the conversation finally turned to guns, “They can be purchased without hassle. To us they are tools, as controversial as buying a crescent wrench.” And from Mo’s cockpit, Jens pointed to three buildings within view where a rifle could be acquired.

“But come,” he said, “let’s get this done.”

Jens’ stride was large and long, and I had to run to keep up. But two store visits later we had the kit in hand, a reasonably priced, pump-action, 12-gauge shotgun with slugs for ammunition.

Final Editorial Note: This is an adventure blog and not a platform for gun ownership discussion. We ask you to respect this.

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July 25, 2019

It feels like a place perched at the edge of the earth. Here snow-capped mountains rise right from the water’s edge and granitic rock lines the port. Small fishing boats come and go as long as there is light–and at this time of year, there is always light–while the load of ship-sized trawlers is craned into the humming fish plant. From Mo’s cockpit, I am overwhelmed by the smells of fish and of the tar used to keep the antique fleet afloat, all of which are suggestive to me of a frontier town.

Once beyond the harbor, however, Nuuk’s most striking feature is very urban, a struggle with rapid population growth.

In 2014, the year of my first visit, the walk into town passed by open land, flats of rock-strewn with wildflowers and a cemetery whose view was the mountains. Now the green grass and white crosses remain, but all else is covered in multi-story apartments.

“We have one crisis in Nuuk, and it’s a housing crisis,” says John, whose office is across from that of the harbormaster and who is always at his desk when the harbormaster is not. “We simply can’t build fast enough.”

At a stated population of 17,000, Nuuk is Greenland’s largest city by far. The “city” of Sisimiut, 225 miles north by water, is second in line at a mere 5,000, compared to which the remaining towns and hamlets contain but a handful of souls.

But to the casual observer, Nuuk appears on the verge of a wholesale doubling. Rows of concrete barracks in the lowlands are being augmented by modern apartment complexes overlooking old town and the bay. Often this new construction retains those grim architectural elements suggestive of public housing and contrasts sharply with the bright, clapboard buildings erected by the founders.

“Our rapid growth is mostly in the housing sector,” says John. Yes, there is more contracting work now; there will be more domestic services required, and Nuuk is the seat of government for Greenland, but there is no boom in fishing or mining, and tourism is hampered by a small airport and a pier not large enough for today’s super-cruise ships.

But even without jobs, the standard of living here is higher. “We have a shopping mall; a theater; two large grocery stores. We have a university,” John continues, “the younger generation comes here for an education and does not wish to return home. They all have cell phones. They grew up with the internet. They see how the rest of the world lives, and Nuuk is as close to the rest of the world as they can get.”