Aug 28, 2019
Dolphin and Union Strait
Total Miles: 34,658
Days at Sea: 272
Days since Departure: 333
We depart in the early morning from Disappointment Harbor for … for where? I’m not sure.
I want to stage for a leap into Dolphin and Union Strait in the forecasted lighter winds of the next day, but where to wait in the interim is unclear. Fifty-four miles from Disappointment, I choose a divot in the headland behind Lady Franklin Point. Nothing fancy; just a place to hide for a few hours.
Winds on final approach are 25 on the nose. Anchor down in 12 feet–snugged up against the shore as close as possible. But the anchor won’t grab. All rocks and boulders, which I can see clearly under the keel. No place else to go, so make this work. Let out chain, let out chain. At 120 feet of rode, the anchor catches on something and the boat spins to.
Wind blasts all night, but the bluff bears the brunt of it.
August 29, 2019
“No plan withstands contact with the enemy.” –Moltke
Plan A: 3am. Depart to the NW on a lull I’ve seen in the forecast. But in the forecast I pull at 3am, the lull is gone. The rigging whines. Go back to bed.
Plan B: 8am. Get off lousy anchorage and try for Bernard Harbor 45 miles up into Dolphin and Union Strait. Weather squally with hail and then with snow. Five degrees above freezing on deck. Wind NW20. Will stick my head out past Lady Franklin Point. If no go, return to an anchorage inside Oterkvik Point, where Pablo on Mandragore holed up last night. Pablo reports good holding off a creek, 15 feet, mud.
Plan C: 10am. The main channel off Lady Franklin Point is a mess of opposing currents and a hard NW wind. Now Cape Krusenstern cove is as close as Oterkvik Point. It is probably safer. I’ll head that way.
Plan D: Noon. Actually, wind is more W than NW. As Mo gets over toward the Dolphin and Union W shore, swell is knocked down. Squalls are less intense. Wind is WNW10 – 15. Bernard Harbor is now only 25 miles NW. Change course for Bernard.
At a good anchorage, it is tempting to wait a day or two. Let the weather get better. But instead we are playing the scratch-and-claw game. I don’t trust that the weather *will* get better. I assume it won’t. Need to make at least a few miles. You can’t wait around in the Arctic.
Am I making the right decision? “Arctic travel requires great patience and great determination.” But which and when and in what measure?
To Bernard Harbor
All weather contrary now. Has been so for days. Am always pounding into headwinds and seas. Scratch and claw for miles. Tough on Big Red, the engine.* She struggles, and I have refused to ask too much…until today.
As we climb toward Bernard, the weather continues to intensify. Squall after squall with hail. The wind burns my ears, turns my hands rosy.
When we enter the Lambert Channel, it’s 25 on the nose. The shallow bottom and adverse current here kick up a five foot sea into which Mo dives. And stops dead, nearly. At engine rpms of 2400, we average two knots. Big Red grinds down. The autopilot has trouble steering for lack of water over the rudder.
I up the rpms to 2800. That might not seem much to you, but it’s the highest I’ve run the engine continuously. It feels like a big risk. To push Big Red to failure here would be the end.
Now we average three knots. With so little speed through the water, the drag on the propellor and the load on the engine are intense. I measure temperatures at the thrust bearing and gear box. After an hour they are dangerously too hot, but I can’t back down or we’ll never get there. I remove the floorboards over the engine and open the companionway hatch. The heat of a furnace rushes out as the Arctic rushes in. In half an hour temperatures are back down to just acceptably hot. I put in ear plugs and dress warmly.
In this way we climb for four more hours. Then we enter Bernard Harbor from the S. Wind is still high but the islands have knocked the sea flat. Seals, ducks, geese on the water. But the land is remorselessly barren. A DEW station sticks above the far hills as if to announce a colony on Mars.
Anchor down at 7:30pm just S of North Star Point.
*Big Red is a Bukh, 3-cylinder, turbocharged 48HP diesel engine, built in Denmark in 1988. Big Red is small and built for high revs. The manual states that for continuous operations, rpms can be 2400 to 3100. But to my ear, 3100 sounds like a tenor singing an aria from an electric chair. Thus, I stay clear of the upper limits. This is Big Red’s third time through the Northwest Passage.