Fury and the Rock

Port Leopold. A few bergy bits growled disinterestedly against the hull overnight. Six hours of deep sleep and then Les rousted his crew for a conference. Given the sustained northwesterlies and a forecast calling for more, Les believed the already weakening pack south of our location would open a lane along eastern Regent all the way to Bellot. We should take advantage of this opportunity for immediate southing.

We departed after a quick breakfast and made a clean run the first 90 miles, during which time we encountered no ice in our path, though the pack was visible well to the east. We also had as much as a two knot current in our favor along eastern western Regent, allowing us to slow the engine, save fuel, but still make a handy 7 knots.

Well within Creswell Bay, and during my watch with Ali, we came abruptly upon 7/10ths ice, which we worked for several hours south and west with no success. From the spreaders and in the coming day I could see leads in the tight pack, but the leads did not connect up. Each entry we made was a dead end within a few moves, and after a number of attempts, we were forced to concede. “The Northwest Passage is like a chess game,” said Les stoically, “in which the opponent can invent queens at will.” This failure affected all of us. Each knew our remaining fuel wouldn’t allow for more than one other unsuccessful foray.

Coming southerlies required that we find appropriate protection, but without backtracking all the way to Batty Bay (fuel waste), a challenge along the coast of Somerset Island where for miles straight, high cliffs crumble directly into the sea. At Fury Beach, we noticed a small spit extending out from the miles of wall on the north side of Fury Stream. And at its most outer point, the spit was piled with beached pack ice. Considering this to be our best bet, we anchored at 10pm on Aug 23 and immediately put two lines ashore, pulling Arctic Tern well in as the wind turned to the south.

A quite supper and a subdued celebration of Ali’s birthday, her second consecutive in Regent. I suggested this was likely an historic Arctic first, but the thought failed to strike any cheer into the proceedings. Les set anchor watches (a few growlers were roaming about), took the first and the rest of us hit the sack.

Two hours later we woke with a bang. The tide had turned in an instant and with it the current. Suddenly Arctic Tern was beset by a fast-moving ice sheet that had, the moment before, been making slowly away from the boat. Unluckily, this sheet, the size of a basketball court, was far larger than its cousins.

Now Arctic Tern was on the move with no question of protest. We quickly abandoned the two shore lines, spinning them off their reels to the bitter end. Then we raced to raise the main anchor. Too late. The ice sheet had hooked it well underwater and was dragging the bow down. We were forced to pay out more chain. The chain in the windless screamed-we hardened up and then the anchor was plucked clean from the bottom as Arctic Tern ran in the clutch of the flow, first narrowly missing the ice pile-up at the end of our spit and then narrowly escaping a push onto the beach.

All of us had ice poles pushing at whatever piece was closest. In fact, the large ice sheet was a collection of lightly fractured ice blocks, some of which could be slowly moved away, some not. Slow work. Half an hour later we were a mile down the coast, but had escaped the flow unharmed. We returned to the anchorage, which remained without current the rest of the night.

Next day I went ashore to search out fresh water for our tanks. On entering Fury Stream (mostly tidal and thus brackish near the beach), I noticed a white boulder atop the nearest sunny hill, a rock larger and rounder than one nearby that Ali had mistakenly called a polar bear the previous day. Far inside Fury Stream, I beached the dinghy, hiked up a jagged canyon another 100 yards and took 60 liters of pure snow melt from a small falls. In a low area of mud, fox and muskox tracks and even the large paw of a polar bear.

When exiting the stream, happy with my take, I happened to look to the hill where I found my white boulder had awakened, was standing on all fours and intently examining, with sparkling black eyes, a vista that included me. In all these weeks of exploration, we had seen nothing wilder than an Arctic Hare, and so I had been comfortable leaving on my own and without the riffle. After a long look the polar bear wandered slowly off.

The rest of the day was spent in taking water from the stream, but as a shore party whose compliment included one person on watch with the riffle.

Fury Beach had provided its protection, so after supper and a hopeful ice chart we departed again for Bellot. This time we skirted much of the tongue of pack that extended into Creswell Bay, and came to anchor opposite Fort Ross at noon on August 25th.

Leave a Reply