Peel Sound, With Trepidation

August 16, 2019

Days at Sea: 262
Days Since Departure: 320

Noon Position: 74 20N  90 54W 
Course(t)/Speed(kts): WxS 6.5
Wind(t/tws): –
Sea(t/ft): –
Sky/10ths Cover: Clear 0 
Bar(mb): 1015, steady
On-deck Temp(f): 57
Cabin Temp(f): 68
Water Temp(f): 35 (note water temp is steadily dropping.)
Relative Humidity(%): 36
Magnetic Variation: -25./3

Sail: Under power with double reefed main as steadying sail 

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 45 from Graham
Miles since departure: 33,948

Miles to Gjoa Haven: 590

In bed by 11pm. Alarm set for 4am. Awake by 3am, wide-eyed. Underway for Peel Sound.

Over the last few days, charts have shown a significant reduction in ice concentrations in Peel, but there is still ice, lots of ice. One hundred miles into the Sound from the N, there is a band of 4-6/10ths ice that is sixty-five miles long and covers both the eastern and western shores. Another one hundred miles below that is a large band of 1-3/10ths ice. Below that there is open water, but it is threatened by the heavy ice feeding in from M’Clintock Channel. 

Add to this an imminent change in the weather. Long range forecasts are calling for a switch from these long-running E winds to SW winds and then strong southerlies that could scramble the current ice configuration. 

Add to this a paucity of anchorages in Peel. Two of the best on the W coast are icebound. The next, False Strait, is just above Bellot Strait and 165 miles from the opening.

In the evening I reach out to the ice guide, Victor Wejer, for a consult on anchorages. Mo needs a place to hide if things go badly. I show him the areas I’ve chosen.

“This is a subject I would like to avoid,” he replies. “It is not written in stone that you must take the entirety of Peel in one go, but it is the usual way. Read the Canadian Sailing Directions. The height of Somerset Island does weird things to the wind; it can go from calm to gale in an instant. Most of what look like anchorages on the chart are just not safe.”

“As to ice,” he continues, “this is also difficult. Peel is narrow and fed from M’Clintock. Most sailboat crews fight tooth and ice pole to get through. Consider that Matt Rutherford chose Prince Regent. But for you there may not be an option. Regent will not be clear for a long time; maybe not at all this year.”

By now four boats are through Peel, below Bellot Strait and on their way to Gjoa Haven. Yellow-hulled Breskell is one of them, but it has taken her four days to transit 200 miles, and I can tell from the way Olivier writes his encouraging emails that he has his doubts about doing it solo. 

“Not many have singlehanded the Northwest Passage,” closes Victor, “Take your difficult bite; be brave, and exercise your anchor alarm if you do stop.”

Tillman talks about the salubrious affects of fear, but like many tonics, it tastes bad going down. In the South we were following the wind, at least. Here, even at the height of things, Mo was in her groove, and if a particular low was hell on wheels, I just had to keep my bird floating and hang on. Eventually an Ushuaia or a Hobart would hove into view.  

Here we are decidedly pushing against the flow, a flow with hard, pointy teeth that has not met its match in boats this small. It may or may not spit us out the other side. 

I recall Willie DeRoos’s remarks when his Williwaw became trapped in Arctic ice. DeRoos was the first to transit the Northwest Passage in a yacht, this back in 1975. As the ice slowly came down on Williwaw and surrounded her, DeRoos’s crewman, standing lookout at the bow, turned to search aft for an escape route. Willie roared from the cockpit, “there is no going back, there is only forward.”

As I type, we are 30 miles from the entrance. Currently I plan to keep going until late, to grab as many miles as I can today and then heave to for a few hours when the sun sets (it does set now). I’d like to be at the ice edge by tomorrow afternoon. 

In the morning, we meet our first pack ice of this transit off Maxwell Bay, a ribbon of rotting ice left over from a losing battle with the warmth of Lancaster Sound.

7 Comments on “Peel Sound, With Trepidation

  1. Love the paragraph about the “salubrious affects of fear.” But now Denny Laine singing “Helen Wheels” in Mill Valley is now stuck in my head! The conversations with Mo are the foundation for a wonderful childrens’ book. Can’t wait until the next entry.

  2. Amazing journey! Reminds me of a season of ‘Dangerous Waters’ except the last few shows!

  3. Happy to see that you have one last difficult stretch to clear of the pack ice between Tasmania Islands and Leivan Bay. The question is with the top of of fuel in the Pond and a clear ice map to the Southwest, will you continue with the short route above King William Island straight to Cambridge Bay (approx 300nm) or feel more confident in the long term ice conditions to take some time to enjoy the scenery again and head to Gjoa instead.

  4. Congratulations. From the information I have from Windy and the Canadian Ice Charts as of 8/18/2019 2300Z, you are past the last of the major ice flows in Peel Sound. That is a major milestone! I know there are many challenges ahead, but you and Mo and Monte are up to the task. Thanks for letting us follow your amazing adventure.

    • Corrections-The actual date that Randal cleared the major ice flows in Peel Sound is 8/19/2019

  5. I feel like I’m watching 20,000 leagues with the wonder of a child again! I can feel your nervous exhilaration along with you. Oh but to be three in the flesh! An amazing journey and genius narrative.

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