It’s Impossible Not to Count


Nikki’s mileage tracking board–hands off!

Sept 15

Wind: NE 10-15
Sea: 1 meter
Sky: occluded, high ceiling, light rain occasional
Temp: Air, 5C; Sea, 2.7 to 4.5 to 7.5C as we head south
Bar: 1001 – 998

Approaching Point Hope, the most northerly position achieved by Captain Cook.

Distances Remaining
190 miles to the Arctic Circle
280 miles to the Diomedes Islands
350 miles to Nome

“We’ve got to be nearly somewhere now.” Nick Carter (Arctic Tern crewmember)

No days pass more slowly than the last few days of a long voyage. At some unremarkable point, the journey transitions from one whose end is distant, indeterminate and not worth considering to one that is quite possibly imminent without being tomorrow. Gone is the joy of living life on passage; gone is the dream of making the attempt; gone is the thrill of the fight. In one’s mind, the deed has been done, and there is nothing left but to wait on the conveyance to make its station.

Patience, the most requisite of sailing skills, evaporates. A week ago Nikki began tracking distances (to Barrow, the Diomedes, the circle, Nome) on a white board in the main cabin. Initially we took little interest; the numbers were four digits, the math impossible. But our eagerness has increased as we approach. Now we are upset if Nikki hasn’t refreshed her data before breakfast, and once while she slept off watch (such laziness!), I took the liberty of amending the distances myself, only to be chided later for calculations that were incorrect; my numbers were too big.

Several times each watch one pair of us unfurls the Yankee to catch some of this zephyrous northeasterly. Finding the sail fills, we reduce throttle. Our speed decreases. Someone aboard, most usually the skipper, barks discontentedly at our slowness. Consequently, the sail is furled and the engine re-revved. Slowness is not an option.

We can plan our arrival to the hour. According to the chart plotter that hour will be 2 days and 3 hours or 2 days and 11 hours in the future, depending on what side of a wave Arctic Tern is surfing. Over dinner (tonight Ali made Chicken Curry, a crew favorite) we discuss what we will do in port. The contenders are showers, laundry, drinks, *not* in that order, and we know the name and location of each establishment required to fill these needs. Even so, each evening someone reads aloud from the Alaska travel book. We want to see Nome’s nameplate, a gold pan the size of a billboard; we wonder if the streets are paved; what do the 3,000 residents do; are they more like Canadians or more like Texans?

Jokes that we’ve told uncountable times and which ceased to be funny before the first ice encounter are funny again. Banal conversation, unbearable 300 miles back, is now interesting. After a morning of talking, I become aware that I am describing in detail the constituents, pattern and color of the ancient stucco that covers my house in California, and my audience is listening; they are asking questions ? about stucco!

We smile inexplicably. We hum. We tidy our personal belongings or spend a little more time cleaning the galley, the cabin sole. Nick allows himself an extra cigarette every 15 miles now that rationing has been cancelled. Only one of us, it should be noted, has been required to do some preliminary laundry *before* being allowed to represent Arctic Tern ashore. He has been given soap and a bucket and asked to wash those pants that have been his second skin since Graham Harbor.

The American Flag is raised at the starboard spreader. A cruising guide to the Aleutians is dug from a deep locker. Someone starts a shopping list.

And now each of us thinks of our journey’s next leg. Les and Ali are corresponding with towns in Southeast Alaska where Arctic Tern could over-winter; Nick and Nikki consider flights to tropical destinations, and I contemplate where to make the jump for home, wife and family.

But for the time being each wave produces another, and the gray, horizonless drizzle and low gray birdless sea promise what they’ve always promised, miles and more miles.

One Comment on “It’s Impossible Not to Count

  1. You all are a crazy and inspiring bunch. We are with you each wave & bit of drizzle you encounter. Keep on using the chalk board loads of hugs love and imagined frothy beers and freshly laundered clothes Maryxxxxx

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