Pinned Down at Bernard Harbor

August 30, 2019

Wind: WNW20+
Sky: Low and squally with some pea-sized hail
6am Temperatures–
On Deck: 37
Cabin: 43 (before I fired up the heater)
Water: 40 (this is up from 33 degrees in Dolphin and Union)

The title of today’s report was going to be, “Images of a DEW Line Station,” but all day it has been blowing a three-quarter gale from the NW. Ragged cloud, rain and hail. Mo is pulling at her leash like a dog that’s not been walked in a week, and I don’t dare leave for the required hike inland to the abandoned site.

DEW Line, short for Distant Early Warning Line, refers to a collection of high-powered radar towers that are strung across Arctic Canada and Alaska like a pearl necklace. Built in the 1950s at the beginning of the Cold War, their purpose was to detect a Russian aerial attack hours before it could arrive and allow time for US and Canadian-based forces to get airborne and/or launch a counter-attack.

Why here? Because a great circle (i.e. shortest) route between Russia and the US passes over the North Pole. 

The stations were designed to detect incoming bombers, not missiles, and so in the 1980s, many sites were upgraded with more powerful technology and renamed the North Warning System (NWA). Those stations no longer needed were abandoned. 

Bernard Harbor was abandoned.

The strangeness of seeing these stations here cannot be overstated. Hour after hour of travel, there is only water and a land as flat and barren as the day it was called up from the deep. Then, in the distance, a tower with a white dome at its apex. In this place still “without form and void,” one is reminded of the conflicts of the modern world.

I could see this station when approaching the harbor but cannot from the anchorage. That said, the beach tells the tale. Here are stacked scads of rusted out fuel drums, and above them on the bluff are what appear to be two large fuel storage tanks. 

Neither Fredoya, a yacht that arrived yesterday, nor Mo have moved. Moreover, a modern luxury ketch pulled in this afternoon to escape the strong winds outside and around the point. 

And this evening I got word from Victor that all this north wind has driven the high Arctic ice pack down and over the Baillie Islands some 300 miles to the NW. This is a known pinch point on the Northwest Passage route, now covered in 5 – 6/10ths ice. 

We are so close to the finish line, yet we are still so very far away. Even with 35,000 of the 40,000 miles under the keel, the list of potential voyage-stopping events is long. How easily that thin line connecting here and the Golden Gate Bridge could be broken.

It feels binary. Mo and I will remain far from the goal until we are finished. There is no near.

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