August 16, 2019
Days at Sea: 262
Days Since Departure: 320
Noon Position: 74 20N 90 54W
Course(t)/Speed(kts): WxS 6.5
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.