Today is September 10, and Pt Barrow is 600 miles west.
At 1PM local we rounded Cape Bathurst’s Baillie Island, a low dark line, and with it we have transitioned from a passage dominated by close sounds, inlets, and straits. We have exited Amundsen Gulf and are entering the vast and open Beaufort Sea.
Passing Bathurst in particular is a big step. Jutting north into the Beaufort, it can form an ice gate. In 2013, the pack failed to clear from Bathurst, delaying many boats, causing others, like Arctic Tern, to turn around. But this has not been our worry this year. Bathurst has been clear most of the season.
Our worry is time. Our delay back at the early parts of this passage means that we have entered the Beaufort late in the year. Of the several hurdles yet to overcome, one is Pt Barrow far to our west. Barrow is the turning point where the northeast coast of Alaska stops trending north and turns sharply south. Like Bathurst, it too is an ice gate.
Because the truth is that the Beaufort is vast but it is not open. It is mostly pack ice. Currently that ice is well back of the long and shallow Alaskan coast. Near us the pack is as high as 70.30N and it is currently north of Barrow by some 130 miles.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is it can’t stay that way forever. Some time in the fall, ice and the coast meet and are solidly joined all winter.
The Arctic Pilot says of Pt Barrow, “In autumn, the prevailing winds become NE and quickly bring the pack down to the shore E of the point. It is advisable to leave Point Barrow by 1st September and in any event not later than the 10th September.”
So we are late, and we have far to go.
Our companion yacht Novara is now well ahead of us. We lost radio contact last night. She has fuel enough to make Nome; we may not see her again. And our friends on Drina are a day behind; like us, they are headed for Tuk and fuel for the last leg.
Of the eleven yachts that began their east to west transit of the Northwest Passage earlier this year, we three boats are all that remain. We have done well. We are approaching our final hurdles. Weather is in our favor.
But will we get through before the ice returns?