This is day four in Arctic Bay, the fourth day of a stay we thought, upon arrival, might extend to two. We hurried our fueling (the right choice as that day was bright and clear) and we hurried our internetting (also correct as that day was asoak with slushy rain).
But we are still here.
Behind us in Lancaster Sound is clear water. Forward of our next logical stops, Cambridge Bay (or Gjoa), is clear water, but ice continues to thoroughly block a 600 mile stretch in between.
Our route through this area can follow one of two courses:
Of the above two routes, the latter is preferred because it bypasses Bellot, a narrow squeeze with strong currents and rocks, not to mention that the strait is usually ice-impacted. Most reports I’ve encountered of yachts making a Bellot crossing have involved the escort of an ice breaker, assistance we are keen to avoid due to the yacht damage that such follow can involve. (Why? Note this video showing a very tough yacht, Fine Tolerance, being towed out of a dangerous ice situation by an ice breaker.)
Our problem of the moment is that neither of these two routes is open. Depending on the wind, the thick ice in Regent has presented several opportunities over the last week. After a recent strong westerly, there was a long tongue of clear water from the opening and along the western shore all the way to Bellot. Since that opportunity, ice has moved across the top of Regent and has also re-impacted much of the western shore.
This was NOT an opportunity lost, however, because beyond achieving the eastern entrance to Bellot Strait, there has been nowhere else to go. On the ice charts (more below) Bellot, Peel, and Franklin have been consistently painted red (full of compact ice) since the first Canadian Ice Service report of that area came out about a week ago.
The Canadian Ice Service produces a once-daily, graphical summary of ice concentrations, thickness, and stage of development for the whole of the Canadian Arctic. On these charts, concentration (what we are primarily concerned with) is represented in 10ths of completeness of coverage, 10/10ths being compact ice with no leads and 1/10th being open water with the occasional ice cube. On the chart these ranges are represented by colors, thusly:
<1/10th, open water, light blue
1-3/10ths, very open drift ice, green
4-6/10ths, open drift ice, yellow
7-8/10ths, close pack ice, orange
9-10/10ths, very close pack ice, red
This is how it all adds up on a chart:
By way of illustrating how unpredictable these situations are, see below charts which show the same area as above for mid August of 2013, 2012, and 2011. The difference is vast.
Remembering Les Lesson #11, “Don’t hope to push a small yacht through ice concentrations above 1-3/10ths” (colors blue and green) and you can quickly see why we’re not advancing. Not even an ice breaker has approached Bellot so far this year.
Of course, this does not keep us from planning. Moltke may have said that “no plan can withstand contact with the enemy,” but he would never have gone to the field without one. Each day the ice moves, and the situation changes. Last week we laid a course over the Brodeur Peninsula to Port Leopold on Somerset, but overnight the forecast called for a shift of wind that could fill the port with ice moving north out of Prince Regent. We then decided to remain here as a slow breakup continued in Peel, but now a tongue of ice extends across Regent and could, with the coming westerly, fold over Admiralty, so now we consider a move back to south Devon Island tomorrow…depending on tomorrow’s forecast. Our plan must follow the ice’s lead.
Our biggest challenge is that of timing. There are two gates that must be passed before we are “free” to proceed south. One is Cape Bathurst, an infamous ice “choke point” in an east to west transit, currently open for some time now. The other is Point Barrow in Alaska. Both Bathurst and Barrow are impacted by the Beaufort Sea ice pack, which can ride predominantly northerly winds back toward the coast later in the year. Encroachment of ice from the north and increasingly stormy fall weather mean the Admiralty Pilot advises shipping to be past Barrow by September 1st, the 10th at the latest.
It is roughly 2200 miles from our currently location to Barrow, meaning that if we departed today, we would need to average roughly 80 miles per day to achieve Barrow by the theoretical September 10th cut off. This is well within reach. Still, we would like to advance upon our goal soon.