August 15, 2019
Days at Sea: 261
Days Since Departure: 319
Noon Position: 74 27N 85 02W
Course(t)/Speed(kts): W 6.5
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…