17 September 2017
All of our boat projects are completed and we're waiting for the next weather window to leave Nome and head to Kodiak, which looks like Thursday 9/21.
We've posted some pictures in the NW Passage photo album. Internet is VERY slow here and it's taken over a week to get these uploaded!
All is well on Alkahest.
North West Passage Completed
12 September 2017 | Nome, Alaska
Where to start? Internet & cell phone coverage has been non-existent and so much has been experienced since the last blog. I'll try to keep to the highlights and will fill in any details over a bottle of wine when we see each of you again. Which by the way, sounds absolutely fabulous right now as Nunavut (Canada's newest territory) and the Northwest Territory are dry territories where NO alcoholic beverages are available.
Thank you Dana for posting our daily position and short updates!
We left Greenland and headed to Arctic Bay, Nunavut. Our crossing of the Baffin Sea from Greenland to the north tip of Baffin Island was incredibly smooth with no major weather conditions.
We had some icebergs, bergie bits and growlers (basically small, medium and large icebergs) throughout out travels but we were feeling more and more comfortable with them as they became a part of our everyday travels. We were also given a quick lesson on how to maneuver through ice when we were leaving Greenland. We were traveling through an ice fjord and came upon a section with very heavy ice forcing us to zig zag around trying to find an opening. With Michael on the boom (for a better view), Jay driving and the rest of us fending off ice with our ice poles, we found ourselves surrounded with ice and at one point ran aground. Please remember, that these locations are not charted like the more popular travel spots and therefore we were often 'feeling' our way through.
We were excited to arrive in Arctic Bay as it was another milestone in our travels, but as we entered the Bay our excitement was soon deflated. Our plans for a nice, calm, and uneventful anchorage was soon shattered as the bay was filled with various sizes of bergs. We circled several times to try to find a place that was somewhat ice free but also had an acceptable depth for us to anchor. We have 300+ feet of 5/16th" anchor chain and in order to maintain a 5:1 ratio we need to anchor in 60 feet or less. In Arctic Bay you practically have to anchor next to the shore for that depth. As well, we were all anxious to have cell coverage, internet, a shower and get our laundry done - but the little town we approached didn't show signs that these items would be available.
As Arctic Bay doesn't have any customs or immigration, we checked in with the R.C.M.P. and were able to get our passports stamped. Although small, the town did offer most everything we wanted (except for cell and reliable internet) - but man is it expensive!! Just to give you an idea, one can of Canada Dry Ginger ale is $6.00. But if you buy a case of 12, you get it for a bargain of $59.99. A small and basic room at the only hotel was $350/night but you had to purchase your meals separately ($40 per person for breakfast, $65 for lunch and $85 for dinner), and a package of cigarettes was $24.00! Fortunately none of us smoke and the hotel manager allowed us to take showers for $10 each, do our laundry for $15 a load and allow us to try to connect to the internet for $5. However, with all of that said, the people of Arctic Bay were incredibly friendly, curious about us and willing to help in any way.
We were waiting in the Arctic Bay area for a new transmission to arrive (that in itself is a long story) as we were worried that the new transmission we installed before leaving on this trip was going to fail and we tried to have another one shipped to Arctic Bay. I say 'tried' because that transmission has gone from Seattle to Ottawa (from where it was supposed to be shipped to Arctic Bay but never was), back to Seattle and now on its way to Alaska. It has more stamps on its 'passport' than most people! So while waiting for the transmission and the ice to break up to allow us to proceed we decided to go on a narwhal and polar bear safari. We found a couple of beautiful anchorages which were calm and somewhat ice-free (and by now our tolerance for ice is pretty high, so 'ice-free' is a relative term)! We were able to get off the boat and go for hikes (yes, we had our shotgun with us at all times) and although we did see polar bear prints, we thankfully didn't come face to face with one.
In the wee hours of the morning we were awaken by a loud crunch, which we all jumped up to address as we assumed it was an iceberg hitting the boat (not the first time). Greg was out the hatch first and as we were all getting dressed, the boat was being turned and heeled over as if we were in a serious whirlpool. By the time we were on deck everything was calm and not a ripple in the water, and no iceberg near the boat. What the heck happened?? As we were checking the boat for damage, Jay saw that our snubber (a support line for our anchor chain) was off the chain and when he went to adjust it he couldn't get the snubber line off of the cleats because it had been pulled so tight. The 1/2" thick stainless steel hook, with 2,200 lbs of working strength was twisted and bent. Again, what the heck happened?? Was it a polar bear trying to get on the boat? Was it a whale that hit the boat? The mystery was somewhat solved when we pulled the anchor up to find whale skin tightly embedded in the anchor chain links. The locals tell us it was probably a Bowhead whale and we're assuming it swam by and either got tangled between the boat and anchor chain or the Mom was protecting its baby from us. We won't ever know, but we do know it was a whale. It's amazing that the cleats weren't torn out of the bow of the boat and the bow pulpit along with them. When we think of what could have happened, we're very grateful for a bent hook and some whale skin!
Ice reports were starting to look favorable, so we left Arctic Bay without the new transmission (thanks Del for picking it up on Ottawa and redirecting it) and headed to Fort Ross where we would wait for ice and conditions to allow us to transit Bellot Strait. On our way we saw our first walrus, a Mom feeding her baby on floating ice, along with many, many seals. The only thing at Fort Ross is 2 old Hudson Bay Company buildings which were eventually used by the R.C.M.P. as a wilderness outpost. Although not actively used, the one cabin is available for use and mainly visited by sailors traveling the North West Passage or those on wilderness treks. The cabin is outfitted with 6 bunks, a kitchenette and a diesel heater. Log books are available to sign as well as markers to sign the wood around the bunks.
Three other boats were waiting at Fort Ross and a couple of those (whom we had met previously in our travels) had more sophisticated communication systems than we had and they readily shared their ice reports with us on a daily basis. The weather and ice conditions change DAILY and on our 3rd day of waiting, 3 of the 4 boats decided conditions were good enough to go. The 2 other boats that left with us, Morning Haze and Nauta D, are larger and faster but the advantage of that is they would be ahead and provide us with weather and ice reports based on real time. While transiting Bellot Strait we saw our first polar bear!! A mom and cub on a large piece of ice hunting a seal. The poor seal was between us and the bears, but made the right choice to stick by Alkahest! The bears were approximately 300 feet away from us and mom was watching us closely as we eagerly took pictures, leaving Jay to maneuver through the ice and currents.
Bellot Strait is only 18 miles long and we made it through without incident. Now, onto Cambridge Bay (still in Nunavut) which would allow us to be ice-free. There was no lack of ice and at times when we were looking ahead with the binoculars it looked like a wall of solid ice that we wouldn't be able to penetrate. But from all of our experience (yes, we feel like we can now challenge Nanook of the North) we learned that it can 'appear' to be a solid wall of ice, but as you approach - and at times you have to be very near - you will find an opening and lead to work your way through. However, at other times it truly was a solid wall and we would have to travel along for several miles until we could find an opening.
Jay and I were on watch one morning and it was one of those foggy/hazy mornings where visibility wasn't great. As we looked ahead we thought the weather was clearing only to find a 30 foot high, 1,000 foot wide and miles long wall of ice immediately appear out of the fog! It was just amazing and because the only incident was a minor inconvenience of not being able to move forward, we were truly in awe of this spectacle.
The next major hurdle, and the one that really made us feel like we WERE transiting the North West Passage was at Tasmania Islands where the ice was so thick we didn't know if we could get through or would have to turn around in defeat. Again Michael was positioned on the boom for a higher, better view, Jay was driving and Greg, Ray and Danica were ready with ice poles. At times the water was so thick with ice, that it was like breaking through a big slushy machine at your local 7/11 and when we had to turn around to try to find another lead we could follow our trail where the ice was broken. An incredible experience that left us feeling successful, jubilant and damned pleased with ourselves once we made it through.
As we continued south the ice became less and less of an issue although at times it was like playing a video game where we were 'slaloming' around icebergs and at times even sailing around them. My oh my how our tolerance and acceptance level had changed since we saw our first iceberg and bergie bits while traveling from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland!
As of August 17th we were ice free!
We spent 3 days in Cambridge Bay, one of the nicest towns in the arctic. We wished we had more time there but time is now of the essence as we have a couple of big hurdles still ahead of us (the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska).
On our way to Tuktoyaktuk (Northwest Territories) we had a bad vibration when running the engine and our initial thought was the prop or strut were damaged by ice. As a result, we couldn't run the engine in gear but were still able to run in neutral to heat the cabin and charge the batteries.
When we arrived in Tuktoyaktuk we immediately put the GoPro camera in the water to try to determine what our issue was but the most amazing thing that happened was a research vessel (named WHY) arrived in Tuktoyaktuk minutes after we did with a group of folks who were diving under the north pole! They willingly donned their gear and dove on the boat and confirmed what the GoPro showed us … the prop and strut were fine but the cutlass bearing had slid in the strut. Sylvan worked for approximately an hour and had the cutlass bearing temporarily fixed until we could get to Nome and haul out to replace it. We had 1,050 miles to go and had to try to minimize using the engine in gear. Fortunately, we had good wind (and at times too much wind) and successfully arrived in Nome, Alaska early in the morning of Sat 9/9th.
We've left the land of 24 hours of daylight and have had to start to get used to night time again but we were blessed to have a full moon and to enjoy the dancing northern lights!
We were all thrilled to arrive in Nome as it was a huge milestone for us and officially closed out our journey across the North West Passage. And since we haven't seen a restaurant since Greenland, Danica (who did the majority of the cooking) was VERY eager to find a restaurant (and a drink)!
With Michael having left us in Cambridge Bay and Ray and Greg in Nome, Jay and I find ourselves alone on the boat after 3+ months of sharing our home. Not only was it a small environment to have 4-5 people onboard at all times, but our varied personalities and needs added to the 'adventure'. Amazingly we all left with our friendships intact and we can't thank them enough for their contribution to our dream and the incredible memories that we made together!
We are attempting to haul the boat out tonight (9/12th) at high tide to replace the cutlass bearing and based on weather forecasts right now we won't be leaving Nome before Sunday.
Pictures will be added to the gallery as soon as a better internet connection is found!
Excited to be in Alaska …
Danica & Jay
Our Location and Comments
09 September 2017
The eagle has landed! We're in Nome – and yes, we've already found the bar and have reunited with fellow sailors met in the arctic and Greenland. Xoxo
To see our location just click on Map and use your mouse wheel to zoom in or out.
08 September 2017
Just crossed the Arctic Circle officially completing the NW Passage! Yahoo! Wind down to mid 20's and seas 5-8' allowing for a small celebration! Xo
07 September 2017
30+ knots behind us and crazy seas but all is well. Should be in Nome in approx 30 hours xoxo
06 September 2017
Clear night, glassy seas,full moon, stars and northern lights! You know we'll pay for it but enjoying it while we can! Xoxo