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July 23, 2019

Day 250

Noon Position: 64 10N  51 44W (Nuuk, final approach)

Course(t)/Speed(kts): N 6

Wind(t/tws): N 15

Sea(t/ft): —

Sky/10ths Cover: CLEAR!

Bar(mb): 1012, steady

On-deck Temp(f):–

Cabin Temp(f): —

Water Temp(f): —

Relative Humidity(%): —

Magnetic Variation: —

Sail: Motoring

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 101

Miles since departure: 32,845

Leg Newfoundland to Nuuk

Day: 7

Miles: 1026

My timing wasn’t perfect.

By 11pm, we were just a few miles off shore, and while there was light enough to see, and would be the night through, the fog continued thick. My intended route into Nuuk, the Narssaq Lob, had two passes that appeared tight. I was tired. At ten miles out, I switched off the engine and hit the bunk. Mo drifted in undifferentiated gray.

By 3:45am, we were underway again. Flat calm. Motoring. Heavy fog.

At 7am, land ho. The sentinel of this entrance, Saattut Island, came briefly into view to port–a black smudge on a gray background. Then a wave of fog, and it was gone.

The next five hours saw similar momentary sightings of land; islands and rocks, all barren and ice-scared and only briefly in view.

At sea, I make log entries every two hours. On this leg, each entry under the category “Sky” has had the notation “Fog” or “Overcast with Fog.” And it wasn’t until we were an hour from port that the ceiling lifted.

Then it was as though we had been transported from a northern place to the true and mythic North.

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July 21, 2019

Day 249

Noon Position: 63 43N  53 18W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NE 6

Wind(t/tws): S 2-3

Sea(t/ft): Various to 1

Sky/10ths Cover: Fog all around but clear here with sun

Bar(mb): 1013+, rising

On-deck Temp(f): 73

Cabin Temp(f): 66

Water Temp(f): 46

Relative Humidity(%): 49

Magnetic Variation: -25./7

Sail: Motoring

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 147

Miles since departure: 32,744

Leg Newfoundland to Nuuk

Day: 6

Miles: 925

Briefly today the sun came out and warmed my back as I stood in the cockpit admiring my domain, which was otherwise gray and flat as a pancake. Fulmars bombed around the boat in threes and fives; occasionally a skua passed by at mast top; once we cut through a school of dolphins spread out over a quarter mile. Otherwise it’s been nothing but slate gray sky and a gray mirror for water.

At noon I pointed Mo NE toward Nuuk. We’ve climbed as much as we need and can ride the coming northerly in toward the coast on a close reach, should it develop. Our goal is the Narssaq Lob or the southern pass E of Saatut Island. At current speeds we should arrive at the opening just before midnight, and though we now have light all night, I’ll likely heave to a ways offshore and nap until morning. The distance from Saatut to Nuuk is 30 miles. All thing being equal, we should arrive before noon.

Bob Shepton notes in his book, ADDICTED TO ADVENTURE, a dity that came to mind while readying his yacht, DODO’S DELIGHT, for another northern summer.

It goes like this…

“Sailing in Greenland

Without an engine

Is not nice

Because of ice.”

I would add only … “and no wind.”

Mo has been chugging along under engine for the last 30 hours, and though it’s a dull enterprise compared to sailing, it is also a good test, as between here and Nome, Alaska, the likelihood of sailing much is low.

In the Arctic, the waymaking requirements for a yacht are simple, “Plan to motor all the time,” says Andrew Wilkes in his Sailing Directions for small boats, ARCTIC AND NORTHERN WATERS. And later, “One should aim to carry enough fuel to reach the fuel stop after next and then refuel at the next one if possible.”

I’ve done Mo’s fuel math a number of times, but yesterday I organized the statistics around those two principles to see how she stacked up.

Mo carries 200 gallons of fuel in two large tanks either side of the engine and another 50 gallons in the ten Jerry cans I have aboard. At a modest cruising rate of 2400 rpms, she burns .8 gallons of fuel per hour and can make 5.5 to 6 knots in neutral conditions. Building a buffer into the calculation and witholding some fuel for the heater gives Mo a nominal range of over 1,400 miles between complete fuel resupplies. That’s some range for a 45 foot sailboat.

For distances between ports, I’ve used the most likely stops on the most likely route. This route starts in Lancaster Sound, proceeds through Prince Regent Inlet, through Bellot Strait, around the backside of King William Island, then through Queen Maud, Dolphin and Union, Amundsen, out over Cape Bathurst and on to Alaska. This is the longest of the possible routes and the one utilized by Roald Amundsen in 1903 during his “first transit of the Northwest Passage by water.” (Wilkes).

To be fair, there are other places along the route to put in for fuel, but they are either out of the way (e.g. Resolute) or present exposed anchorages and difficult landings, especially for a singlehander (e.g. Pond Inlet and Point Barrow).

I’ve tried to capture the unknowable, the actual distance we will travel between ports due to ice, weather, and the like, with the Extra Distance Factor (EDF), pegged here at 20%, a guess.

The result, tallied in the sheet below, suggests that with some luck and intelligent pilotage, Mo should be in good shape on the fuel front. Possible exceptions in the “Every Other Port” summary include the first leg form Upernavik, Greenland to Gjoa Haven (1,068 miles), and the last, Cambridge Bay to Nome (2,070 miles), which is a non-starter. For that leap, either a stop in Tuk or Point Barrow is a must, with Tuk being much preferred. And hopefully by then we can get some sailing in.

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July 20, 2019

Day 248

Noon Position: 60 20N  52 03W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NxW 6+

Wind(t/tws): SE <4

Sea(t/ft): Various to 3

Sky/10ths Cover: Overcast 10 (no fog!)

Bar(mb): 1012+, steady

On-deck Temp(f): 59 (46 at 6am)

Cabin Temp(f): 64 (heater on)

Water Temp(f): 44

Relative Humidity(%): 57

Magnetic Variation: -23.8

Sail: Motoring with double reefed main.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 141

Miles since departure: 32,597

Leg Newfoundland to Nuuk

Day: 5

Miles: 778

Our sweet wind finally departed this life mid morning. It had held on bravely overnight, if with signs of weakness, but by the second cup of coffee, Mo was cycling between two and four knots.

By the time I started the engine, the water was glassy. Our wind had died.

The sea has been glassy all day.

I’ve changed course and am heading NNW whereas Nuuk is due N. This is because what wind there is along the coast is from the N and will be building to a fresh blast over the next couple days. Out here we should remain in the high’s calm area where we can motor easily. When we’ve achieved about 63N, I’ll tack into Nuuk, taking the breeze close reaching on port.

Today I got out Mo’s immersion suits for inspection and to practice putting them on (again). Yes, by accident, Mo sports two suits for a single sailor. One she had when I bought her and one I brought aboard when I took possession in Homer, Alaska, having missed the first in inventory.

An immersion suit is high latitude emergency kit. It is intended to be worn in the water if one has to abandon ship, and its purpose is to keep you floating and warm long enough to survive until rescue arrives.

My immersion suit (red), known colloquially as a Gumby suit, for reasons that should be clear from the photo, is Alaskan standard issue. It’s a required item for each crew member on all commercial fishing boats in that state. It’s made of thick neoprene (wet-suit material) with hood, mits and booties (cut big enough that one could keep his shoes on) all attached. It’s awkward as hell to don and wear, and about the only thing one could do after getting into the suit is throw himself overboard.

The suit already in Mo’s inventory (yellow), is standard Canadian issue. It is a required item on commercial craft up here, and though its purpose is generally the same, it employs a different strategy.

The suit is made of a heavily waterproofed, one-piece shell and a removable floatation/insulation lining. The attached booties are actually boots with tred, and they are meant for sock-covered feet only. The arms are open at the wrist and here there are wide, very tight fitting neoprene gaskets to keep the water out. Neoprene mitts there are, but they are tucked into the sleeves as a do-it-later item. (They are attached to the garment by a wide strip of shell so they can’t go missing.)  Though it’s a one-size-for-all suit, it fits amazingly well and allows a person to move around easily.

Both suits have heavy neoprene hoods and manually inflatable floatation and both have a heavy waterproof zip up the front.

What I find interesting about the Canadian immersion suit is that it’s meant to be worn while active. Imagine trying to deploy a liferaft from inside a Gumby suit. Imagine you’re in the raft and trying to open the dramamine bottle (your first job once in the raft is to take sea sickness pills). The former would be difficult; the latter would require getting an arm out of the Gumby suit. All this would be relatively easy if one was wearing the Canadian suit.

Which is to say that the suits make different assumptions about the abandon ship event. The Gumby suit assumes there is no raft or that abandoning ship needs to happen fast, so fast you don’t even have time to take off your shoes.

The Canadian suit assumes that dire circumstances have come on more slowly; one has time to don the suit and get to muster stations, to have a sugary snack and then help with raft launch procedures. In fact, because one could work in the suit, it might well have been put on before all hell broke loose.

It could be argued that, by definition, an immersion suit is only meant to be worn if going directly from vessel to water, but a life raft up here will be a very wet, very cold place in which to survive, and immersion suit-type protection will be wanted if one is to avoid exposure.

My sense is that the Gumby suit would be warmer than the Canadian suit. The neoprene is quite thick and the only opening is around one’s tightly sealed head and neck. But once inside, one would be helpless, unable to do anything to advance his survival except breath and pray.

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July 19, 2019

Day 247

Noon Position: 58 00N  51 41W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NxW 7

Wind(t/tws): E 12 – 15

Sea(t/ft): SE 3

Sky/10ths Cover: Overcast/10

Bar(mb): 1009+, rising

On-deck Temp(f): 56

Cabin Temp(f): 55

Water Temp(f): 43

Relative Humidity(%): 63

Magnetic Variation: -22.6

Sail: Working jib and main, close reaching on starboard

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 165

Miles since departure: 32,456

Leg Newfoundland to Nuuk

Day: 4

Miles: 637

Miles to Nuuk: 365

The day has been kind. Though not a soul would call this trade wind sailing, the fog has lifted such that one’s gaze must travel an expanse of water before reaching a horizon. What relief. Granted, both water and sky continue in their admiration of the color gray, but at least there is now something to look at.

And the wind, though forward of the beam, is of a velocity Mo can use for speed while maintaining comfort for her crew.

Sadly, the forecast calls for this blessed wind to peter out by tomorrow, to go calm and then northerly. But we’ve had a good run of miles and so can’t complain.

Randall: Monte, my friend, so good to see you in action. Welcome back!

Monte took the helm when we switched off the engine a few days ago, his first extended watch since his unfortunate argument with the drogue just south of Halifax.

Monte: Going forward, Senior, I am to wish that you pronounce my name as MonTAY.

Monte extends the final syllable to rhyme with “hay.”

Randall: Um, OK. But why this sudden concern with your name?

Monte: As I understand it, Senior, we are soon to enter, as you have said, uncharted territory. As such, you will no doubt become the discoverer of many new places, and it will thus be your right, not to mention you sacred duty, to name these places … after your particular friends. In all modesty, Senior, I am anticipating a number of geographical locations will be designated in my honor, for which I thank you in advance, and, well, consider the sound of it.

Randall: The sound of what?

Monte: Monte Bay, for example. It is not good. It is what you call a race track where the dogs run and you bet on the winner. Monte Bay, it is the mall where loud children do their Christmas shopping. But, BUT… Bahia MonTAY; Senior, that has a certain gravidness, do you not think?

Randall: I believe you mean “gravitas.”

Monte: Punta MonTAY. Islote MonTAY. Yes, these are very satisfying. If you should choose to use them, of course. I am only suggesting. To help in my small way.

Randall: Unfortunately, my friend, we will not be the first men to see the north. I believe the English got there first by dint of the names that were left behind.

Monte: Well, let us keep a sharp lookout. It could be we will find something as yet undiscovered.

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July 18, 2019

Day 246

Noon Position: 55 16N 51 05W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): N 7 – 8

Wind(t/tws): SE 25

Sea(t/ft): SE 7

Sky/10ths Cover: Fog, varies from 100ft viz to 1 mile.

Bar(mb): 1002, falling slowly

On-deck Temp(f): 55 (51 at 6am)

Cabin Temp(f): 61

Water Temp(f): 46

Relative Humidity(%): 63

Magnetic Variation: -20.6

Sail: Working jib, three reefs, main two reefs, broad reach on starboard

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 162

Miles since departure: 32,219

Leg Newfoundland to Nuuk

Day: 3

Miles: 472

Fast all night with wind deep on the quarter and the jib poled out to starboard; it carried one reef, as did the main. By morning wind veered slightly eastward and hardened into the high twenties without ever hitting thirty. I moved the jib to leeward, put three rolls into it and another reef in the main. And on that configuration, we’ve churned right along all day.

First came fog, then fog with rain, now fog with wind, but ever since losing sight of Newfoundland, fog has surrounded us. Three days; 472 miles, and always fog.

Fog with wind and the boat approaching hull speed is unnerving. This afternoon I was reading from the Canadian Arctic Sailing Directions general introduction, a book in which words like  “danger,” “caution,” “hazard,” seem to be featured in every paragraph.

I was paying particular attention to the section on ice collision dangers when the radar alarm sounded. The targets were dead ahead and less than a quarter mile distant, but stare as I might, I couldn’t see them. The fog had dropped so fully that I couldn’t discern where it ended and the water began.

Most likely they were breakers, I say; the sea is, after all, starting to stand up. The targets repeated, but only twice. I waited. Nothing.

According to the forecasts, the sea should be clear here. Several alarms later and nothing sighted, I bumped up the gain on the radar. Now no more alarms, but what am I missing?

Lacking experience, much is taken on faith. That the forecasts are right. That the radar will still find dangers, even with the gain up. “Trust your gear,” the mountain climber would say.

At 6pm, we cross over the 56N line. Now we are further north than Cape Horn took us south.

On we climb.

Half way to Nuuk.

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July 17, 2019

Day 245

Noon Position: 52 36N  51 36W

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

Wind(t/tws): SE 10

Sea(t/ft): Various to 2

Sky/10ths Cover: Fog/10. Visibility 300 feet.

Bar(mb): 1013, steady

On-deck Temp(f): 69 (49 at 6am)

Cabin Temp(f): 63

Water Temp(f): 45

Relative Humidity(%): 55

Magnetic Variation: -19.6

Sail: Motoring. Working jib and main at full.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 129

Miles since departure: 32,129

Leg Newfoundland to Nuuk

Day: 2

Miles: 310

Fog sometimes clears to a mile, but usually it stays low and heavy, a few boat lengths to a few hundred feet being typical.

For the first hours of this, I stand watch almost constantly, and, having discovered the blank screen of a fog horizon, the mind has a field day. I can just make out great spires of ice emerging from the haze to starboard. When these don’t pan out, the mind invents tabular bergs the size of Manhattan lurking barely beyond the pale. Can I see or do I intuit the massive cliffs; the top flat as a runway?

Later I sit my watch out. Then I cook dinner, have a beer. The sky that had all the color of a florescent bulb fades to black. Now I’m relying entirely on radar. I check it often; but at each check, it sees nothing of interest. And at each check I become a little more comfortable. We’re flying on instruments tonight. By morning I’m not watching at all.

The wind dies at midnight. I flick on the engine and have been motoring ever since. As I type, the wind is back to 12 knots on the quarter. Engine off. We’re catching the tail of a low that should last a day. Then more motoring. My bet is it will be like this until we re-enter the Pacific some 7,000 miles further on.

At 10am we hit a log. I heard a soft thump at the bow and then saw a golden and much rounded piece of timber a foot in diameter and five feet long trail in Mo’s wake. What will ice sound like, I wonder.

Birds in number today. Suddenly the Northern Fulmar and Shearwater in gangs around the boat. This lasts two hours and then they are gone.

310 miles down. Nuuk is still 670 miles further on.

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July 16, 2019

Day 244

Noon Position: 50 28N 52 06W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NNE 5

Wind(t/tws): ExN 9

Sea(t/ft): NE 3

Sky/10ths Cover: High fog, low fog, drizzle, rain/10

Bar(mb): 1011, steady

On-deck Temp(f): 54

Cabin Temp(f): 59

Water Temp(f): 45

Relative Humidity(%): 62

Magnetic Variation: -18.7

Sail: Working jib and main, full, close hauled

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 157

Miles since departure: 32,000

Leg Newfoundland to Nuuk

Days: 2

Miles: 181

Average Miles per Day: 152

Gray on gray. The fog came in hard at the Baccalieu Tickle yesterday. Within the hour it was raining. Since then it’s been variations on same with a kind of wet chill that is reminiscent of the Southern Ocean.

When I woke, the on deck thermometer read 50 degrees; water temperature, 47. The first layer of thin thermals went on after coffee, the thin layer because, well, this is just the beginning.

We make good time on a wind that swings between SE and E. Most of the night the breeze was dead abeam at between 15 and 20 knots, and Mo frothed along in celebration of a clean bottom and achieving the freedom of the open ocean once again.

My strategy is to keep a bit of east in our northing so as to edge around the outside of the iceberg belt. This may be overdoing it, as the forecast calls for one to two bergs per square degree in areas I’m trying to avoid. Imagine driving upon an open plane and being worried about colliding with a house that is somewhere within 2,000 square miles of you.* Still, easting is easy, so we’ll do it.

I’m fretting about this leg and want to push through as quickly as we can. Weather between Newfoundland and Nuuk is dynamic, with lows continually spinning down off the east coast of Canada. Once at the latitude of Nuuk, we begin to ease into a vast polar high pressure system. Winds will likely drop right off. But the chances of getting whacked before we get there are good.

Note some changes to the statistics. I’ve added an on-deck thermometer, and I’m starting to track magnetic variation, which may give interesting readings as we approach the northern magnetic pole.

*60 degrees of latitude = 60 nautical miles; 60 degrees of longitude at 50N = 39 nautical miles. 60 x 39 = 2,340 square miles in a square degree at 50N. Lots of space for one berg, but I’ve heard they’re mean when injured and hard to outrun.

Correction, July 22: The above should have used “minutes” for “degrees,” but would have been more clearly stated as restated here:

“A degree of latitude = 60 nautical miles; a degree of longitude at 50N = 39 nautical miles.” The calculation still stands and is a staggering number of miles in a degree of lat/long. 

A goof. Not trying to re-size the cosmos. Thanks for catching the mistake, Sid.

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July 15, 2019

Day 243

Noon Position: 47 54N 52 51W (approaching the Baccalieu Tickle)

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

Wind(t/tws): WxS 6

Sea(t/ft): NNE 3 and various

Sky/10ths Cover: High fog then low fog/10

Bar(mb): 1013, rising slowly

Cabin Temp(f): 66

Water Temp(f): 60

Relative Humidity(%): 60

Sail: #2 and main, full; motor sailing until 1400; then sailing.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 7:30am departure to noon = 24nm

Miles since departure:  31,843

Leg Newfoundland to Nuuk

Days: 0

Miles: 24

Mo and I departed the Long Pond breakwater at 0730 under power and on a flat calm. Out in the bay, we swung by a grassy point to the NE where new friends Greg and Rick were waving. They were also set to launch a drone that would catch the brave explorer raising sails and pointing his vessel north towards unknown adventure.

As is usual on such occasions, I made a fiddle of it. The main halyard came off the coil knotted and then it wrapped my left boot. This problem solved, I gave the halyard a manly heave only to have the jiffy reef snagged a lower baton.

The drone came in for a close up. I could here Greg’s voice through the speaker, “Need some help there buddy?”

I finally got the sail flying, but it still had a reef tucked in from the ride north. Now it was the reef line’s turn to exit the bag in a knot. That cleaned up, I then tripped over a line on the way back to the cockpit and fell hard on the deck.

The drone approached again. “Let us know when you’ve worked out the kinks and we’ll start rolling film.”

Finally Mo was set. I turned to wave goodbye, goodbye to friends, goodbye to Newfoundland.

But not all of them. In the offing was another friend, Alasdair Black on blue-hulled Serenite, who was headed to an anchorage around from the Baccalieu Tickle, and since that was on my way, I decided to follow.

I’ve learned a few new words since arrival. “Yaffle” is one (rhymes with raffle). Jerry, the Marine Insultant from last week, explained this as “an old fisherman’s term referring to the number of cod a man could carry on one arm.” It has since been generalized to mean “a bunch.” “Hand me a yaffle of paper towels,” said Jerry, sneezing. It has been generalized further to become a filler word. “Oh, shut your yaffle!” said Jerry to his good friend Bill when Bill tried to explain that the glasses Jerry asked to be brought from the truck were actually perched atop his head.

“Tickle” is another. It’s defined by locals (and no one else) as a narrow water passage between two pieces of land, as in the tight squeeze between Baccalieu Island and the point of the long promontory dividing Conception and Trinity Bays.

The sun we had gave way to high fog and then low fog with drizzle. A cold wind came up out of the east.

At the tickle, shearwaters, puffins, murres, petrels, and gannets; minke and humpback whales, and one Canadian coastguard vessel, The Earl Gray.

Here Alasdair and I parted. He steered Serenite for her anchorage and I pointed Mo out to sea.

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Yesterday, north wind with rain. Then north wind with fog. Then just north wind. As our goal is north, Mo and I sat out the day here at the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club twiddling our thumbs. Mo is ready, dressed for departure, impatient, as am I.

Today, a clear sky at dawn, directly overhead at least. I switch on the engine after this post. We’ll be underway before the seagulls finish breakfast.

Nuuk is a thousand miles poleward and across Davis Strait. Figure ten days. We’re behind schedule now and will look to make quick work of the Greenland coast.

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One last repost as Mo and I ready to depart Newfoundland tomorrow, this a summary of the clothing strategy I employed for the Arctic in 2014.

Having completed that passage and a few other cold ones besides, I’d say that the clothing inventory was suitable for the environment of interest, with some amplifications.

  1. Layers, yes. Often I wore two or three base layers and two vests below, then fleece and then down, all below foulies. One is not moving much, so retaining the heat of a body at rest is one’s primary focus.
  2. Insulated boots are warmer with fewer sock layers. There is so little blood circulating in feet that any pressure from socks (or boots that are even marginally too small) will reduce the flow to a trickle. I found in the (admittedly warmer) southern ocean that one medium sock layer inside the size 12 (I typically wear size 10) Extra Tuffs pictured below was the warmest solution when on deck. When in the cabin, bare feet into Uggs was the way to go. The same principle applies to hands in gloves.
  3. Down, yes. Much of the Arctic is a desert climate where down suffers little from damp. Down is a great comfort due to its being much warmer for the same weight than fleece.
  4. Zippers are my downfall. Most of the clothing pictured in this article is still on the boat. Those items that have been retired have all been jackets (down and fleece) whose metal zipper has corroded after months at sea. This problem could have been avoided by occasional lubrication (e.g. with silicon spray) to the zipper mechanism. Expensive lesson learned.

Northwest Passage Gear

Posted on July 15, 2014 by Randall

There are many reasons to take a practice run at the Arctic before attempting it solo. First, there’s the difficulty of pilotage. Much of the passage is shallow and/or poorly charted. Because the magnetic field trajectory becomes vertical as it approaches the poles, magnetic compasses are sluggish and inaccurate in the far north. And, as if the first two weren’t enough, the presence of ice, ranging in size from shoe boxes to container ships, adds floating rocks to the problem.

Then there’s the weather. On any normal summer day temperatures may range from 40 degrees Fahrenheit to 10 degrees below freezing. The ambient temperature of sea water in this region at this time of year is from 17 to 20 degrees, which means an unheated sail boat’s cabin (fuel heaters often do not function if a boat is at heel) can be chilly at best. Thus for comfort, not to mention safety, appropriate clothing is required.

I was already on passage when the invitation to join Arctic Tern came in. Thus I had just under a week to research and acquire my gear. I’m thankful for the timely advice of several experienced arctic sailors, including David Thoreson, Mike Johnson, and Eric Forsythe. Additionally Kelton Rhoads, an ultralight backpacking enthusiast, offered much useful information regarding the quality and warmth of several synthetic materials and some of the new downs on the market.

The basic strategy is simple—

1. Plan on layering.

2. Take at least two of everything.

3. Use mostly synthetics.

Because the temperature can vary so widely, it is important to be able to quickly add on layers if the temperature drops or peel them off if it rises. Sailing a boat requires mostly hanging on with short, intense bursts to reef sail and the like; so, keeping core body temperature up is the big challenge, with overheating precautions coming in a distant, though noteworthy, second.

Additionally, I have brought at least two of every layer, the exception being the extremities (hands, feet, head), which have warranted a third or fourth. The reasons for this may be obvious: 1) if the first set gets wet I always have another; 2) if the going gets really bad, I have lots of reserve warmth.

Most of my layers are synthetics, a mix of heavy, Grunden fleeces, the type found at commercial fishermen’s stores, and both heavy Polartec and lighter-weight fleeces and base layers from outdoor stores like The North Face and REI. Also included in this mix are two vests, one of Thermoball and the other of Primaloft fill.

It is a nautical truism that down has no place on a boat, this due to its tendency to absorb and hold onto moisture. That said, I used a down sleeping bag on my boat, Murre, throughout  her 2010 – 2012 Pacific run with satisfaction. So, some of my middle layering is down, and I have brought two, North Face down bags for this passage, one rated to 15 degrees, the other to 25 (both older).

Additionally, I’ve brought a GoLite 850 Downtek jacket with hood, whose down is treated with a water resistant coating. I have used this jacket in wet weather on a couple occasions now. Once, while sailing off Vancouver Island, I wore the jacket for several hours in light rain; then I put on a foul weather jacket over the top and wore it for several more hours, during which it seemed to me to retain the vast majority of its loft.

Finally, my outer-body layer is the Gill OS1 foul weather jacket and bib.

I’ve brought numerous hats, but am relying primarily on two fleece balaclavas, both by Seirus. One is tight-fitting and has “windblock”; the other is loose-fitting, thicker and has an adjustable mouth/chin strap. They can be worn together if need be.

My hand protection regime includes a set of NRS Titanium neoprene gloves for “fine” deck work, extra-large fisherman’s rubber gloves with three sets of doubled inserts for standard deckwork, and heavily-lined Goretex mittens by Outdoor Research for when it’s very cold and I’m just standing around.

As to boots, I have three pair: Insulated Extratuffs for deck work whose size is large enough for felt inserts and doubled-up, thick socks. For inside the cabin, I have a set of high-sided Uggs, and for off the boat, insulated Omni Heat hiking boots by Columbia.


The full list looks like this:

Base Layer, Top: short sleeve shirt, synthetic, 3

Base Layer, Top: long sleeve shirt, Smartwool, 3

Mid Layer, Top: pull over, 100 weight fleece, 2

Mid Layer, Top: Polartec jacket, 300 weight, 2

Mid Layer, Top: Vest, Primaloft/Thermoball, 2

Mid Layer, Top: GoLite Downtek jacket with hood, 1

Outer Layer, Top: Gill OS1 Foul Weather Jacket, 1 (plus one light waterproof jacket as backup)

Base Layer, Bottom: thin skins long john, tight-fitting, synthetic, 2

Base Layer, Bottom: light weight long john, medium tight fit, Smartwool, 2

Mid Layer, Bottom: 200 weight long john, loose, synthetic, 2

Mid Layer, Bottom: 300+ weight long john, loose, synthetic, 2

Outer Layer, Bottom: Gill OS1 Foul Weather Bib (plus one light waterproof pant as backup)

Head Protection, one each: wool sock cap; tight-fitting fleece cap; “windblock” fleece cap with ear flaps; tight-fitting fleece balaclava with “windblock”; loose-fitting fleece balaclava.

Hand Protection

NRS Titanium neoprene gloves, 1

Extra Large Fishermen’s gloves, 1

Inserts for Fishermen’s gloves, 6 (3 doubled sets)

Heavy Gortex mittens with heavy inserts by Outdoor Research, 1 (wanted extra inserts, but not available)

Foot Protection

Insulated Xtratuffs with three sets of flannel sole inserts

Uggs sheep-skin insulated boots

Columbia insulated, cold-weather hiking boots.

Smartwool Hiking sock, 3

Smartwool Mountaineering sock (fit higher up the calf), 2

Liner Sock, 3

I’m making this a matter of record now so we can come back to this later and judge the success of both strategy and items.

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Halifax was unable to solve all my problems. I found there neither a spare alternator nor a spare starter motor, and the engine fuel line hose I wanted could not be got locally nor, in a timely manner, from the manufacturer.

The first two issues have since been sorted, but what to do about Mo’s old, rubber fuel lines and their specialty fittings plagued me until yesterday, when I met Jerry.

At the time I was canvassing the yard for a local shop that could fill my order. Jerry was my third interviewee. He stood by the travel lift as a boat made its way into the water.

“What kind of engine have we?” he asked. Jerry wore a tweed flat cap. His accent was Irish.

“A Bukh,” I said. “Made in Denmark.”

“Ah, yes,” he said, knowingly. “Good little engine. Designed for lifeboats. Runs under all conditions, even inverted.”

“That, at least, I’ve not tried.”

“Nor recommended,” said Jerry. “But she’ll do it.”

Having found a knowledgeable source, I pressed on to my desire for new fuel lines and the issue of how to replicate the custom crimped ends on the engine’s difficult-to-jury-rig banjo fittings.

“Not hard at all,” said Jerry, “You just cut the f—kers off. Do it all the time. I presume you have a hack saw aboard that fine yacht of yours.”

I nodded.

Good.” he said. “I’ll be to your boat tomorrow at nine. I’ve got the hose. We’ll be done by noon.”

Close-up of Mo’s 1989 Bukh DV48 RME. Note the curved, cloth-covered fuel return lines. The vulnerability presented by these lines was not just that they were old, worn, and weeping; I had no spare hose of this size nor a strategy for attaching it.

At the appointed hour Jerry arrived. He handed me a business card, which I examined while he donned orange coveralls. His title, “Marine Insultant,” he explained as “awarded by a long line of satisfied customers.”

And then we dived right in.

Jerry sawing the crimped end from the fuel line’s banjo fitting. Care was needed to keep from cutting into the soft brass under the crimp.

I explained that I like to do my own work, but Jerry would have none of it. For one thing, I was too slow. “And you hold the hacksaw like a girl,” said Jerry.

The banjo fitting revealed. Finding the long, barbed tube below the crimped end was a relief as it provided lots of grab for the new hose.

Mo’s engine access is quite good, but that doesn’t mean everything is easily got at, and Jerry spent the better part of two hours achieving yoga poses difficult even for the limberest of Newfoundlanders.

Jerry attaching a hose to the injection pump.
New hoses in place. Not just the return lines, but the main leads too.

Jerry had another job calling him, so he wrapped up Mo’ project quickly. But when we stuck our heads out the companionway hatch, we found a cold rain had set in; so, we retired to the club for a quick lunch and hot coffee.

Jerry in his tweed cap with Alister, another club member. “In all the years I’ve known Jerry, I’ve never found a mechanical issue that stumped him,” says Alister.

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Things continue busy for Mo and Randall at the Royal Cruising Club of Newfoundland near St. John’s, and the only way to keep up is to hand you, dear reader, another repost. This one, also from the 2014 Northwest Passage attempt, chronicles my first days in hard-won Nuuk, Greenland.

Nuuk is Mo’s target once we’ve departed St. John’s, and so this article may be an interesting prelude to our arrival in one of the most photogenic places I’ve ever visited. Also, it illustrates nicely that Mo is not the only vessel for whom voyage preparations are never quite complete.

(The diligent may note that a gray-hulled, flushed-decked sloop is pictured among the other vessels along Nuuk’s main wharf. Yes, this is where I met Mo, then known as Gjoa.)

Posted by Randall, July 17, 2014

The Cruising Life

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July 15 – 17, Nuuk

Les, Ali and I met for coffee at the Seaman’s Mission early on a foggy morning.  Then we hauled my 45 pounds of equipment, almost all clothing, down to the wharf where Arctic Tern lay, and I was given a quick tour (here’s how to make coffee; here’s how to operate the head) and shown my quarters.

She is a big boat, Arctic Tern, steel, nearly 45 feet overall, and orange of hull. She has an upper cabin, “the sunroom,” surrounded by large windows in which are a long settee, also orange, and a navigation station; just below this is the galley and dining area, which can easily seat six near the warmth of a diesel heater.


All the way aft is the master stateroom and all the way forward, the V-berth. The V-berth is two bunks, one on the inside of either bow, and a head, both separated from the rest of the boat by a watertight steel door. I have the starboard-side berth and my companion, a swollen net of onions, apples, and lemons, swings heavily to port. Otherwise, the cabin is mine. Those who have spent time on boats will know that privacy like this is an unusual luxury.

Our first happy task was to have coffee with our nearest neighbors on Young Larry, whom I was pleased to meet. Young Larry’s owners, Andrew Wilkes and wife, Marie, made an early (2010) transit of the Northwest Passage followed by a long, descriptive article, published by the Royal Cruising Club’s Pilotage Foundation. This was one of the first, detailed accounts I discovered while doing Northwest Passage research. Les and Ali have also spent many years in Arctic waters, and the conversation between these four easily followed through to the end of the cake and second pot of coffee.


In the afternoon we walked our passports to the police station looking to get stamped out of the country for a planned departure next evening. Ten minutes later, and after much rummaging, we were told by the officer on duty that the stamp could not be found. There was only one; likely it was at the airport. The officer would send someone to retrieve it and meet us at the boat (note: two days later no officer has come calling—an indication of the importance of procedure in Greenland.)


There is a common joke among sailors born from common experience; that being, the cruising life provides one with the privilege of working on his boat in exotic places. True to form our departure prep began early the next morning. I busied myself capping the Dorade vents on Arctic Tern’s lower decks against the mighty seas we are sure to face west of Alaska, while Ali zipped Les to the top of the mast to renew the VHF antenna and wiring. All went well until, during his descent, Les found that the starboard-side diagonal shroud had a cracked wire just below the fitting.

We chewed the problem over lunch-time sandwiches of peanut butter, yellow cheese and Branston Pickle. It was agreed that one of the problems with stainless wire is that routine checks, as are performed on Arctic Tern, don’t guarantee against nasty surprises. We also agreed how fortunate it was to find the problem here. Les reasoned that though we had spare wire aboard, using it now would mean not having an emergency replacement further on. Nuuk is the last outpost where ordering from Europe is “easy.” So, after coffee Les made his way to the boat center, and now a double-long stand of 10mil wire should be delivered from Denmark by late Friday.

Jimmy Cornell and a crew of eight, including guests and a reporter, we are told, departed aboard his Aventura in the early morning. Catryn, a fiberglass, pilothouse sloop, arrived from the UK in the afternoon, as did an aluminum cutter named Gjoa and another glass boat, the Lillian B. of Maine. Dockage in Nuuk is all rafting and we took lines from Lillian B. as she and four crew pulled in along Arctic Tern.

After dinner, Lillian B. invited us aboard for whiskies to celebrate the completion of their first leg, and during which their younger member peppered Les and Ali with questions of the passage further on. During this exchange they made one of those quintessential remote-travel discoveries: their propane tanks, which needed filling, had none of the right fittings for Greenland gas.

Next morning while I renewed the running backs, Ali replaced sheet blocks and Les ascended the mast again to remove the offending stay, this while the crew of Lillian B. disgorged their empty propane tanks from their lockers and tore the boat up looking for spares with which to jury rig new fittings.

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We had mid-morning coffee in the cockpit. Brilliant sun, windless. Short sleeves shirts and bare feet. Next hour a light breeze from the north, and though the brilliant sun remained, we quickly moved for our boots and sweaters.

In the afternoon I was given a few hours shore leave to explore the town. From the café in which I write, I can see Young Larry departing under sail up Nuuk’s main fjord, this as an iceberg makes its way to the sea.

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As Mo and I make our slow approach to the Arctic, I am reminded of my first experience of the Northwest Passage. This was in the summer of 2014, and even then planning for the Figure 8 Voyage was well underway.

Though such an endeavor as the Figure 8 presented difficulties at every turn, the Northwest Passage was, for me, beyond my ability to imagine. Bluewater passages I could grok, but shallow, labyrinthian channels clogged with ice–for these, I had no context.

So, I arranged to join a boat in Nuuk, Greenland that was making an east to west attempt. The problem was getting there on time.

The below article describes an unintended layover in the town of Iqaluit, the capital of the Canadian Arctic territory of Nunavut.

It’s a Long Time to Stay in Iqaluit

Posted on July 13, 2014 by Randall


“Cancelled?” I ask, as if hearing the word for the first time.

The plane came down hard on the tarmac in Iqaluit, bouncing once. From the window I had seen ice in the bay and ice in flat, white chunks beached at the high tide line like driftwood. But when the doors open, the day comes in warm with a rush. I walk comfortably to the yellow igloo, the Iqaluit terminal, without a jacket.

“Cancelled.” she says flatly.

Inside, the terminal is abuzz. White workmen in bibs and hard hats talking on cell phones. Inuit mothers pushing strollers with other children in tow. Inuit men along the wall, silent, waiting. Queues of tourists in fancy boots.

She stands in front of the ticket counter as if guarding it. “Mechanical issues. Next plane Monday.” (It’s Friday.) “Were you making a connection in Nuuk?”

This baffles me, the idea of flying from tiny Iqaluit to tiny Nuuk in order to connect by plane to somewhere else.

“No,” I say. Then, “Yes. A boat. I’m catching a boat in Nuuk. I’m sailing to Nome. Is there another way?”

Now she is confused. Her eyes turn for the first time, searching out the help of a colleague.

“Another way across the ocean?” she says as if thinking to herself. “No. There is still only one plane. It’s in Nuuk. We’re putting people up at the Frobisher Inn. We pay for everything except alcohol. It’s a long time to stay in Iqaluit, I know. Come back Monday.”


My plane had departed Ottawa at 9AM, shooting straight north. All the way to the horizon, a lush forest unevenly perforated with flashes of silver, a fortune of water caught in bog, had slowly given way to scrabbled hills of rock still white at the shoulders but otherwise bare. Lakes, reduced in number, were frozen at their centers, serpentine in color, and rimmed with ice. The aspect was that of a high mountain desert.


“How many people live here?” I ask the taxi driver.

“Seven thousand,” he says. “And it’s the same winter too. Good work here. When it’s sixty below zero, nobody wants to walk. They call the taxis. I make plenty money. I make good cash in taxi; I work in bar for cash. I have good house for free. It’s all cash work—so much money here. I call my brother. He lives in the South.”

“The South?” I ask.

“Yes. In Seattle. He cries to me. HE CRIES. He cannot find work. You have no jobs in America. I say, come north. But he will not.”

“Where are you from?” I ask. The man is African.

“Calgary,” he says. “You are visiting?” I explain my situation. “Oh, that is a long time to stay in Iqaluit.”


Iqaluit comes out of the hillside as if it were a village on Mars. Narrow paved roads are blown over with sand and lined with modular public buildings that look orbit-worthy. Homes, also modular, are raised off the ground and brightly painted; they have tin roofs, small windows.  A large diesel tank decorates every front yard. There are no garages, no lawns, no fences. I am walking. Dogs bark as I pass. Each is tied to a stake near its own house of crudely cut plywood. Snowmobiles are scattered about, left where they sat when the snow melted.

Trash gathers in the corners of the land and in the streams that run through town. Cigarette butts, soda cans, candy wrappers, a plastic water gun, an old shirt. A broken bicycle clogs the conduit beneath a dirt bridge.

Cars and trucks and taxis (one in three vehicles is a taxi) and ATVs fill the streets with dust. There’s the noise of traffic. Frequently the roar of a jet from the airstrip just below.  A helicopter lifts off with a large satchel hung low and flies north. Everywhere the sense of bustle overmatches the size of this place.

At the beach, ice blocks, askew at the tide line, drip frantically in the heat of the day. A man and woman are laying out a gill net at low water. “Arctic char,” he says when I inquire of their catch. “Pretty much all we have up here besides cod.”

The woman asks where I’m headed. “Not here?” I ask. “Not likely,” she says. I explain my situation. “Oh, that’s a long time to stay in Iqaluit.”

Above the beach, sand and rock give way to tundra and a riot of wildflowers only a few inches high. I am stooping to inspect a carpet of purple when a voice asks, “Do you know what those are?” Across the stream, a young woman holds an armful of flowers. “That is Purple Saxifrage, but we call it Fireweed. You can eat it.” She stoops, picks a flower and eats. So do I. She explains the Yellow Arctic Poppy, the Arctic Cotton; that the bunches in her arms are Labrador Tea. The wind dies. We are mobbed by mosquitos as large as houseflies, and I move on.

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Iqaluit began as Frobisher Bay, named for the European, Sir Martin Frobisher, who first explored this region in the late 1500s while searching for the Northwest Passage. He discovered gold here, which turned out to be pyrite, and what he thought to be his “strait to Asia” turned out to be but a moderately deep bay. There were whaling operations here until the 1900s and a US Airforce base in the 1940s. Iqaluit’s current claim to fame is as the capital city of the newly independent Nunavut Territory, which separated from Canada’s larger Northwest Territories in 1999.

If it is not clear how a town of 7,000 residents could be called a city, note this from the hotel’s pamphlet:

“Iqaluit is the largest city in the territory of Nunavut, whose total population is 31,000. Our largest neighboring city is the capital of Greenland, Nuuk (population 15,000).”


The bar attached to the hotel is a local’s hangout. It is Friday night. At 9PM the sun rides well above the horizon and traffic at the bar is light. I order a beer in a can because the bar’s entire selection is cans with the most expensive being $9 and the least, $7. The bartenders are two white males; the bouncers, of which there are several already, are African. Between the bar’s two entrance doors is a coat check, manned by my taxi driver from earlier in the day.

By 10PM the bar is beginning to fill; now there is music, the crack of billiards on the mezzanine. My taxi driver busily takes coats from the flood of young Inuits, mostly women, who make up the majority of new-comers.

“Plenty money, these Inuits,” he says to me privately. “Many they get $28,000. Spend it quick. In three years I go back to Calgary and buy a house.”

The bar stools fill with white men just off work. A neat line, again mostly Inuits, forms to one side of the bar and orders are placed one-by-one. The standard order is two cans of beer. The standard Inuit is short, head and neck barely breaching countertop. They take their beer politely and with smiles, as if receiving a gift. The few whites in the mix order shots, served in plastic medicine cups. Twenty-dollar bills burst from the till.

An hour later the music is louder still; dancing begins. Two older Inuits are drunk. The old woman has snuck into line and has a beer in both hands before being spied by the bouncers. Two of them escort her, weaving, to a table where she is allowed to enjoy her prize. The old man is not so lucky. A bouncer stands between him and his goal. The old man raises a hand in objection, leans way forward as if battling a stiff wind. The bouncer does not move; does not speak. The old man is gently handed his coat and he departs.

Now the two white bartenders are joined by a third. The new bartender is a young Inuit woman, though paler than most. She is six feet tall and has a bust the size of Texas. Talking at the bar quiets as the men concentrate on their beers.

I choose this moment to order the Muskox Burger, the length of day here having fooled me into forgetting my dinner.

“It’s made of Bison, you know.” says the woman.

“Why would be called Muskox, then?” I ask.

“It’s a new menu,” she says. “Not from here are you?” I explain. “Oh, that’s a long time to be in Iqaluit.”

Outside the sun has finally dropped below the horizon, and the night appears to be early evening. The clouds above Iqaluit are lit crimson from below, and they stay crimson until dawn.

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The anchor comes up clean at 6am and we are on the move again. In the bay, wind has gone into the southwest overnight. It has warmed and become fragrant with the exhalations of evergreens. Terns are already on the wing in search of breakfast, but above them, the village surrounding Admiral’s Cove remains quietly asleep. It is Sunday, after all.

Cape Broyle Harbor is clear, but in the offing, fog covers the sea surface in farm-sized patches and only lifts for good around mid-morning. Now on the horizon, I can see the Canadian Icebreaker, Louis S. St-Laurent, returning slowly to her home port, St. John’s.

Equally distant, but in the opposite direction, the radar picks up another target distinct from the shoreline.

As we approach, the target becomes our first ice sighting at three miles to the west.

The berg and the icebreaker are disjuncts against the day, which is as balmy as the coast of Vancouver Island in July.

Off St. John’s, the wind intensifies. From five miles offshore, the coastal vista is oddly reminiscent of home; the red cliffs sloping down to the sea, the single opening in the line of hills, the city reclining in white over the rim of bay. Missing only is that span of bridge called the Golden Gate.

The summery feeling continues as we round Cape St. Francis and begin to head southwest towards the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club in Conception Bay.

Here, villages line the lower coast, neat and tidy and always with a church to mark the town center.

Now the wind dies. The water of Conception Bay is like a lake surrounded by hills as rugged and severe as those of the Sierra Mountains.

In the afternoon, Mo and I enter the Long Pond channel…

And are warped to the pier before sundown. Fourteen hours to come seventy-five miles.

This is our last stop before entry into the north. Here we complete final preparations and await the delivery of some spares for the engine.

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July 6, 2019

Day 241 

Noon Position: 46 39N 53 01W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NE 6

Wind(t/tws): E 4

Sea(t/ft): —

Sky/10ths Cover: Fog/10 (viz = 200ft)

Bar(mb): 1013+, falling

Cabin Temp(f): 68 (engine heater on)

Water Temp(f): 46

Relative Humidity(%): 52

Magnetic Variation: -17.6

Sail: Motoring 

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 112

Miles since departure: 31,717

Leg to St. John’s

Days: 4

Miles: 465

As we closed Cape Race, a heavy fog came down that ate up the wind. I reeled in a drippy spinnaker and started the engine at 0430. Already daylight was coming on. Over coffee, I set myself for a long shift in the pilot house.

We were entering an area where icebergs could be found. And though the latest ice report was a far cry from the one we saw before our Halifax arrival–now there were fewer bergs per square degree than fingers on one hand–I still wanted to be cautious. 

Compare this chart to the one posted on June 1, 2019.

By full light, visibility was below 200 feet, and it stayed that way all day.

While I would have liked more wind, this part of the run provided a good test of systems rarely used on the first 237 days of the Figure 8; namely, the engine and the radar. Coming in along the Newfoundland coast was all instruments.

Would we see our first ice today? Lack of visibility seemed to answer this in the negative. But would radar pick it up?

That answer appeared to come in the early afternoon by an unmoving target to the NW. First ice of the Figure 8 seen…if not by eye.
The only break in the monotony of gray–the flushing of Shearwaters that had taken to the water top for an afternoon nap.

Land Ho. First sighting of Newfoundland. Cape Broyle comes out of the fog.

Newfoundland. A curious name. Not New Holland or New France or Nova Scotia or even Nova Albion. Not any of the names that in their statement lay claim to this or that piece of the new world. Newfoundland, rather, seems uttered in shock (What, here?) and suggests that, on first blush, the discovery was not deemed worthy of addition to the empire.

If the above is the case, then the discoverers had lost their sense of beauty in the hard crossing from the old world.
I didn’t wish to press on in the dark; so, we anchored for a short night of sleep. Cape Broyle Harbor. Admiral’s Cove. 60 feet. Mud. July 6, 2019.
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July 5, 2019

Day 240

Noon Position: 45 57N 55 31W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): ENE 5.5

Wind(t/tws): NNW 7

Sea(t/ft): NW 2

Sky/10ths Covered: Clear/0

Bar(mb): 1017+, steady

Cabin Temp(f): 63

Water Temp(f): 47

Relative Humidity(%): 62

Sail: Big genoa and main on a port reach; back on spinnaker by afternoon .

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 133

Miles since departure: 31,605

Leg Halifax to St John’s

Days: 3

Miles: 353

Wind continues light, shifting from NNW to W and back again. As I type, we’re riding the spinnaker on a breeze of six knots just south of west. A beautiful sail, the spinnaker; it hangs in the air with the magic of a soap bubble; each moment one expects its delicate perfection to burst at the seams, and it does not.

Light wind, warm sun, a flat sea. It’s a pleasant and relaxing run north. Except for the mechanical issues…

Around midnight, the wind went so light I decided to motor for a few hours. As it does, the engine fired right up, but after the usual interval (about five seconds), the alternator failed to engage. Several starts later, the pattern continued.

I have slowly come to realize that on a boat that gets such hard usage as Mo, not to mention water everywhere, a check of electrical connections should come first.

The cables at the alternator were good and snug, as were the cables at the main engine switches, and all the fuses were intact. Sleepy and out of ideas, I let us motor toward St John’s without charge until morning.

By then I recalled to check the connections on the charge regulator, an external device mounted in the engine room, and its relay switch. Though well out of the bilge, their location puts them in harms way on a ship whose mast has been known to dip a wave. This is why I was careful to slather the connections with dielectric grease in Hobart after the big Indian Ocean knockdowns.

This care can only be chalked up to a failure of memory, for when I disconnected the relay, its pins appeared to have been bathed in salt water … and then ignored. I found no salve upon them whatever.

Luckily, and with the help of my friend Kelton, I’d arranged from mid Atlantic for a new relay and new regulator to be added to Joanna’s suitcase of Halifax spares. I spent the morning cutting wire, pressing on connectors and torching heat-shrink. Ditto the regulator.

As it does, the engine started right up. And after the usual interval (about five seconds), so did the alternator.

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July 4, 2019

Day 239

Noon Position: 45 18N 58 33W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): ENE 5.5

Wind(t/tws): WSW 11

Sea(t/ft): WSW 3

Sky: Clear

10ths Cloud Cover: 0

Bar(mb): 1014+, rising

Cabin Temp(f): 66

Water Temp(f): 49

Relative Humidity(%): 59

Sail: Twins poled out full, running

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 120

Miles since departure: 31,472

Leg To Saint John’s

Day 2

Miles 220

Wind is light and variable but is mostly aft, and we’ve been running with the twin headsails for the better part of a day. Not a fast passage, this leg to St John’s, but it’s pleasant sailing.

Except for certain, key equipment failures…

I’ve been wrestling with Mo’s AIS system*–an essential tool for the singlehander–which made every sign of packing it in once we were at sea. In harbor, it passed pre-departure checks by picking up targets aplenty, likely with the aid of the Halifax Coast Guard Radio network. But once we escaped that umbrella, things got strange.

First, my companion boat, Dutch, went off scope yesterday just as she turned for shore, a mere five miles to the northwest, and later a large racing sloop, Challenger, didn’t register until she was within a mile. Then a fishing boat went by with no target on the scope at all.

I tore into the VHF cabinet, checking connections, swapping antennas–to no avail. I called Challenger on VHF as we both ghosted along the coast. No answer.

Frustration. I need things that have functioned well for months to keep doing so. The work list is long enough already.

That night I ran with the radar as my primary watch stander.

On the next day, Mo and I began to pass through a loose fleet of fishing boats working the banks. Now I had a visual on four boats, though only one showed an AIS target. Again, I checked the system’s connections and then tested for signal strength and noise on the line. Nothing out of the ordinary.

As the closest fishing boat made for port, I called on the radio. No answer. Then I called Halifax Coast Guard radio. No answer. (We were 25 miles off shore, so my expectations were low.)

Then, “Moli this is Blaze of Glory.” Loud and clear.

“Blaze of Glory, Moli.”

“You wanted somethin?”

“Yes, I’ve been troubleshooting my AIS system. Do you see me on your scope?”


“Yep, there ya’re. A nice bingo. Four miles t’the east.”

“Odd,” I say, “cause I don’t see you.”


“Well, that could be cause I had the damned thing off.”

That night we again ran on radar. Fewer than half the fishing boats we passed threw a target, presumably so as to stay invisible to the competition.

Only today, at around noon, did I get confirmation that the AIS system aboard is working normally. We picked up our first ship of this passage on the scope, a strong target at 18 miles to the north.

So, why the mixed signals over the last two days?

For one thing, it’s clear that not everyone in the local fishing fleet cares to be seen. And for another, small vessels, like other sailboats, won’t have nearly the signal strength of a ship, making them harder for Mo to see.**

But it is a relief to tick this problem off the list.

*What is AIS? Short for Automatic Identification System, AIS transmits vessel type, position, speed, course, and other data over VHF radio frequencies, allowing any vessel with an AIS interface to see other vessels with AIS that are within his VHF range.

**Considering that the VHF signal is line-of-sight and projected in a direction (mostly) perpendicular to the antenna, a small vessel moving in a seaway and/or heeled to the wind and with an antenna mounted close to the water (as is Mo’s) will have a much shorter signal range than that of a ship, whose antenna installation is high and whose platform is steady.

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July , 2019

Day 238

Noon Position: 44 40N 61 15W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): ENE 3.5

Wind(t/tws): WNW 3-5

Sea(t/ft): 2, various

Sky: Altostratus shifting to clear

10ths Cloud Cover: 6

Bar(mb): 1010+ and rising

Cabin Temp(f): 63

Water Temp(f): 52

Relative Humidity(%): 69

Sail: Spinnaker and main on a port broad reach

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 100

Miles since departure: 31,352

Avg. Miles/Day: 132

Dutch, an aluminum expedition boat sailed by my friends Sebastiaan and Rhiannon, meets Mo at the breakwater, and together we turn towards the sea. Dutch and family are out for a few weeks of summer cruising. Like Mo, they are headed north.

The day is sunny. I am in shirtsleeves. The brisk wind off the land allows Mo six and seven knots. I commission the new Monte and shut down the autopilot. Suddenly Mo becomes a thing alive, a sweet sailing ship buoyed along by nothing but the elements.

The two boats charge off, and Mo holds her own against Dutch until the wind softens. Now Sebastiaan unfurls an indigo blue reacher of stupendous size and rare beauty. Rather belatedly, I launch Mo’s white asymmetrical spinnaker, but the moment is past and Dutch is far ahead.

In the afternoon, Sebastiaan eases shoreward for an anchorage, and Mo continues on towards her first night at sea in a month.

We run gently along in the dark on the spinnaker and main. The sea is flat; the wind, so light, I can barely feel it against my face. There is Jupiter still in Scorpio to the south and to the north, the Big Dipper.

Natural wonders to one side, the night is uneasy. We are closer to the coast than makes for good sleeping. Moreover, not all the fishing boats going about their business on a moonless sea are want to give their positions away. The AIS registers but half the boats for which I can see lights. I switch on the radar and am up every hour.

Rain in the morning. Water streams from the spinnaker. By afternoon, full sun. The wind dies. I start the engine.

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Eight months following wind and sea succeeded by one month tethered ashore. Neither seems real; in both cases, time has flown. This morning, Mo tugs gently at her anchor. She is happy enough here, as am I, but she knows we must move on. Much has been accomplished but not yet the goal. The whole of the north lies between us and a return.

As is the case wherever Mo touches, here we have been the recipients of much kindness. Tony and Connie, Wayne, Rob, Sebastiaan and Rhiannon, Ben, Rich, John, Sandy and Hagen are just a few of those who have helped to ready us for the next leg.

In fact, Mo was ready yesterday, but her skipper was not. He chose to dally, futzing with this and that bit of stowage, and in the evening and after the rain ended, taking one last, long stroll to see the town and her fireworks.

The dingy will come aboard after this note. And then we will be on our way to St John’s, on our way to the rest of the story…

Canada Day fireworks from a central Halifax neighborhood.
Quite a show and something one would never see in urban California.
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As I ready Mo for her jump from Halifax northwards, I am reminded of her first Northwest Passage attempt, summarized here by Clark Stede in a 1991 article in Yachting Monthly.

 Posted by The Figure 8 Voyage on January 17, 2017

ASMA in the ArcticAboard Moli is a small hardbound book titled Rund Amerika, the story of my boat’s initial adventures with then owners, Clark Stede and Michelle Poncini. It’s in German. I can admire the photos, like the one above, but I can’t read a word.

So, I was grateful to receive this week the below Yachting Monthly article from 1991 where Stede/Poncini, in translation, describe their Northwest Passage in Asma.

By way of reminder, Asma (then Taonui, Gjoa, and now Moli) was commissioned in 1989 from Dubbel and Jesse, a renowned German yard specializing in custom aluminum sailing yachts, for a specific adventure–to circumnavigate the American continents. At the time, the number of private expeditions to successfully transit the Northwest Passage could be counted on the fingers of one hand, and no one had attempted a complete loop of the land mass that included, at its southern extremity, Cape Horn.

There are many things to note in the article, the halting nature of progress in a world of floating rocks, the rapidly changing weather, the confined spaces with little room to hide, the cold…but what grabbed me was the advice of one Inuit, “Patience and energy–that’s the power that will bring you forward in the Arctic.”

Asma NWP-page-001

Asma NWP-page-002

Asma NWP-page-003

Asma NWP-page-004

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Having done with the greasier mechanical systems, I moved on to restoring Monte.

Soon after our Halifax arrival, I reattached the vane pendulum* and went for a test sail to see how the frame, bent upwards on starboard when wrapped by the drogue bridle in a gale, affected the vane’s functionality.

Could Monte sail Mo when so out of level? On test day, the winds were light, but the answer was that, yes, he could. (“Level” is a funny concept on a vessel that is moving in three dimensions within two mediums, water and air.) Ops were tricky, however. The paddle required finer adjustment and seemed to have less range.

This is the point of the story at which I get to mention (again!) what a spectacular human being is Mike Scheck, owner of Scanmar International, the maker of the Monitor Windvane. Monte could sail as is, if with a bit of a limp. Moreover, there was a chance that his frame could be straightened by a metal shop in Halifax–with care, given the bend in the tube included a fold. Even so, Mike offered to send a new frame along with Joanna’s carry-on luggage. The phrase, “in for a penny, in for a pound,” comes to mind.

Mike and Randall at the Scanmar Shop in San Leandro, California. The very cool world map behind us describes the circumnavigation of Scanmar International founder, Hans Bernwall. I’m guessing he used a Monitor.

Wanting easy access to Mo’s derrière, I moved us back to the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron for a few days and went stern into a slip. Sadly, this maneuver didn’t keep me from being all thumbs. Over the course of the long afternoon required to complete the exchange, and even with Monte hanging mostly over the dock, I was able to drop into the water: five pinion bearings, six stainless steel shims, a rubber mallet, a 1/2″ spanner, a 10mm Allen wrench not required for the job but just lying around, a #2 Phillips head screwdriver, and a wooden dowel. The last of these, at least, floated, but it immediately swole to an unusable dimension and a spare had to be fetched from the forepeak.

Removing the old frame.
New frame on. Transferring the hardware.
Cutting the new, lower leg down to size.
New Monte rigged, ready and all aquiver with anticiaption.
With daylight remaining, I took the opportunity to replace Wattsy’s very worn plastic parts.
Visitors. It goes without saying.
In this case, they were friends of the family, Fred, Emily, and John.

*I’d not done this directly after the blow because reassembling the pendulum and pinion gear in a seaway is a tricky business. When the gale knocked Monte for a loop, we were approaching Halifax, and I had the luxury of riding the autopilot all the way in.

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“Can you please write a blog post?” asked my wife.

“I’m busy,” I say.

“But it’s been four days with nothing from you. You’ve posted every day for almost a year. People expect an update.”

“After such a flood, I’d think those people would like a break.”

“Then stop thinking and write a post.”

Over the last week, Mo and I have been holed-up on Ben Garvey’s dock in Purcell’s Cove, which is well outside of town. This has two benefits. One, it makes me hard to find, and so the number of visitors has slowed to nearly zero. Two, the pleasures of Halifax proper are too far away to be conveniently reached by foot. These together have increased my focus, and now work progresses well.

This next leg of the Figure 8, probably a series of short hops, will rely on mechanical systems largely unused during the first, all-ocean passage: namely, the anchor windlass, the engine, the autopilot, and the dinghy outboard.

Servicing the anchor windlass…
Ug. The windlass lives in the dankest, darkest part of the boat interior and has been ignored for too long.
Cleaned and ready for oil.
Windlass back in place and with new power cables.
Next on the work list came the starter motor, which has been sticking of late. On one in three starts, the pinion engages without spinning the flywheel. Instead, it just whirs. I think the clutch is either worn or rusted.
Getting at the starter motor required removing the alternator, so I took the opportunity to give it a good cleaning.
Mo is amply supplied with spares. Here is a new starter motor, whose acquisition was as difficult as digging it out of the forepeak locker. The old is being serviced.
Getting everything apart took hours, but reassembly was smoother.
Fluids and filters changed. New belts. Cleaned alternator. New starter. Every nut and bolt and hose clamp checked. All that and the engine still runs.
Also in spares, an autopilot ram. It has received no exercise since 2016, so here it is unwrapped, cleaned, new fluid in, and bench tested.
The dinghy is powered by a simple Yamaha 2.5hp outboard that has sat patiently on the rail these last 30,000 miles. Oil change, new spark plug, clean fuel, and boom, it goes. Here is the little beast challenging a container ship to a drag race. Luckily, we were ignored.

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Note from Joanna:

Hey folks. We’ve got a fun giveaway for all of you. If you’ll remember, a dear friend and supporter of the Figure 8 Voyage asked if he could name his ink after Randall and his journey. You can read about this amazing ink and the story of why it inspired the name of Randall Blue here.

Here’s where things get fun!

If you’d like some Randall ink, Nick is giving away 4 bottles together with signed original artwork to 4 lucky winners. All you have to do to enter is like the Figure 8 Voyage Facebook page and leave the words ‘Good Luck Randall!’ in the comments section below. We will announce the winners here on Monday 15th July 2019.