Northwest Passage Statistics, II

NWP Arctic Tern with dates

In a recent post (here) I sketched out 2014 Northwest Passage Stats and where I thought Arctic Tern fit in.

Here are a few more data points, this time focused on our particular experience. (What follows is from my log and is presented here for interest’s sake only.)

Mileages and Days

  • 4167: Miles Arctic Tern sailed between Nuuk, Greenland and Nome, Alaska.
  • 1866 / 2301: Miles from Nuuk to Bellot Strait (note side trips) / Miles from Bellot Strait to Nome.
  • 45 / 20: Days to make Bellot Strait from Nuuk / Days to make Nome from Bellot Strait.
  • 65: Days between Nuuk and Nome.

The course through the Northwest Passage is remarkably long, especially if one considers the miles to the Arctic Circle from home waters and the additional miles to “safe” water below it. Add another 2500 miles to Arctic Tern’s season from her start in Lewisport, Newfoundland to her projected winter quarters in SE Alaska, and you can see that in distance alone–not counting the difficulties of weather, pilotage, shortness of season–the passage requires a high degree of commitment.

Though Bellot is not the actual midpoint of the course, it acted, for us, as a threshold such that we tended to think of our passage as before Bellot and after Bellot. For example, almost all our ice encounters in 2014 were at and before Bellot, as was all the time we spent waiting for ice to clear.

Ice Pack near For Ross.

Ice Encounters

In hindsight the time we spent up close and personal with pack-ice seems quite small. According to my records we had 10 specific ice encounters, which I define here as contact with floe or floe whose proximity required evasive action. I have not tallied work with icebergs in Greenland as they could be approached more or less on our terms, and they were only of any density in Disko Bay and near Upernavik.

In order of appearance:

  • August 8: Arctic Tern works her way out of an ice plug covering the entrance to Cumming Inlet. Though the plug is not very wide, it is 7 /10ths on the western edge thinning to 3/10ths at the eastern edge. Given the heave of swell, it takes time to find a clean way out.
  • August 9: We pass through loose pack entering Admiralty Inlet.
  • August 17/18: We move through 1 – 3/10ths ice exiting Admiralty and working around Cape Crawford. Density requires numerous course adjustments but little reduction in speed. Water-top covered in nilas.
  • August 22: Loose pack must be avoided upon entering Port Leopold but requires only occasional poling. Light W wind clears the anchorage by morning.
  • August 23: While attempting a leap from Port Leopold to Fort Ross, Arctic Tern encounters the pack around Prince Regent Inlet’s Creswell Bay and is turned back. After several hours of working 1 – 3/10ths ice, we come upon a patch of what appears to be 7/10ths. From the spreaders we can see leads, but none are long and we are unable to connect more than one or two leads together before coming to a dead end. The ice is not moving, and we can expect little near-term change. Instead of wasting precious fuel and in order to manage a coming southerly, we back-track to Fury Beach and anchor behind a small spit on the north side of Fury Creek.
  • August 23/24: Overnight Arctic Tern is swept out of her Fury Beach anchorage when the current makes a sudden 180 degree shift in direction and accelerates. A larger piece of floe that has been slowly retreating is quickly upon us. All hands! The ice impacts our starboard bow and anchor chain. Shore lines are cut loose; anchor chain is paid out while two of us pole furiously to free the chain. Too much pressure. Bow is being dragged down. We are preparing to buoy the last of the chain when the anchor is plucked up. Arctic Tern is swept narrowly past the ice piled up on Fury Beach spit and then the shoal at the creek entrance. With sea room and a decelerating current, we are able to disengage from the ice.
  • August 26: Ice invades our Fort Ross anchorage just after breakfast of our first morning. We depart without issue, but Novara’s anchor is briefly impacted. Brands Island anchorage is full of ice. We move to Levesque.
  • August 26: By late evening, the ice pack is invading Levesque, so we again weigh anchor and move to escape. This time both Novara and Arctic Tern must push their way out, leaving a fair bit of bottom paint behind.
  • August 29: Arctic Tern attempts to pass Bellot Strait. Two ice plugs within the strait give us pause when viewed from a distance, one extending southward toward Zenith Point and another extending northward toward Halfway Island. Upon approach, both have near-shore gaps we pass through easily. A larger plug covers the entirety of the western entrance to the strait, but current action creates significant ice movement. Novara squeezes through the northern band, and with patience we are able to “wedge and pole” our way out.
  • August 30/31: From Franklin Strait’s Tasmania Islands to Cape Victoria, Arctic Tern hugs the coast closely and can usually see ice to starboard but must negotiate loose pack only twice.
  • Though pack ice is often “near” (as we pass Ice Breaker Channel, round Bathurst, round Barrow) we do not see it again the remainder of our passage.


Air Temperatures

  • 5C: Departing Nuuk
  • 3.5C: Lowest temperature while crossing Baffin Bay; wind from NW.
  • 0C: While maneuvering in ice upon departing Arctic Bay.
  • -1C: With snow and 30 knot winds in Lancaster between Rigby and Graham Harbors (with wind chill, -8C).
  • 8 – 10C: In Simpson Strait.
  • 0 – 3C: Cambridge Bay to Cape Bathurst and 2 – 6C: Bathurst to Barrow.
  • 7C: below Barrow.
  • 3C to 6C: Range of temperature on most days between Lancaster and Barrow.

Sea Temperatures

  • 7.78C: Day after departure from Nuuk.
  • -1.05C: Upon our encounter with the ice pack south of Creswell Bay and one of the coldest seas we recorded.
  • 8.18C: Temp at Cape Lisburne.
  • 10.21C: Temp just outside Nome.
  • 2.5C to 4.5C: Average range of sea temperatures between Lancaster and Point Barrow when not in the company of ice.


  • 1021mb: Highest reading.
  • 994mb: Lowest reading.
  • 1000mb – 1015mb: typical range.
  • 11: days with readings of 999mb or below.

Wind Force (wind blew from every conceivable direction except up; direction is not summarized here).

  • On 18 days we recorded winds of Force 0 – 1.
  • We had winds to Force 5 – 6 on 6 days.
  • Force 7 was recorded on 3 days.
  • Force 8 on one day (anchored in Cumming Inlet).
  • The rest of days were Force 2 – 4.

Fuel Stops

Given the generally light or contrary winds and the requirement to make miles when we could, we motor-sailed or motored 70+% of the time and replenished fuel supplies in:

  • Nuuk
  • Upernavik
  • Arctic Bay
  • Cambridge Bay
  • Tuk

The longest legs were Arctic Bay to Cambridge Bay (677 miles) and Tuk to Nome (1061 miles). We had our best winds between Tuk and Nome, motored the least during this leg, and arrived in Nome with much of our fuel aboard.

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