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.