Fixing the gaff and a final surprise at the end of the day
07 September 2010 | Herschel Island
Liz for Dermot
Early this morning the weather was pretty unpleasant. Cold, windy and very, very foggy. We couldn't see the shore and didn't know if perhaps Ariel IV might have slipped into the harbour unseen during the night. We had received an email from them saying that they were heading here from Snowgoose Passage.
They hadn't actually anchored in the night, but did arrive just as the fog was partially lifting. In the end it cleared to another beautiful but chilly blue sky day. There has been a really quite strong force 6 easterly wind blowing all day. It is in the right direction. Manageable but probably best to be in harbour. In the distance on the mainland were some impressive mountains that we had not even glimpsed yesterday. Certainly we could not have picked a better spot to make a new gaff.
We are anchored in Pauline Cove on Herschel Island. Our old friend Franklin was the first European to come here on one of his overland expeditions. It then became a major whaling centre. Whalers would winter here coming from Alaska to get a head stsrt in the brief season. At its peak 500 men would spend the winter here. There are a large number of buildings her and it is now a Yukon Territory Park. Very well maintained and possibly one of the highlights of our trip.
The first job was to chisel out the old one from its throat fitting, without breaking the metalwork. No mean job but a bit of brute force and ignorance did the trick. One can definitely say that the original one was put together soundly. All this was done ashore which made it far easier. There was a brazier with copious drift word to light a roaring fire.
We also decided to save on gas and have a BBQ on the beach! Grilled chicken and roast spuds. Unfortunately we left the potatoes in too long and they became a bit brick like. All delicious though. Speaking of gas there were loads of huge cylinders connected to some of the buildings but nothing we could use. There is a very well equipped refuge house that even had a loaf of fresh bread in it!
After that we needed to remove all the other fittings from broken gaff and disassemble the spare jib pole. Then we needed to shape the various end to fit which involved lots of planing and sanding. The current state of play is that it all fitted together. All the exposed areas have been epoxied and varnished as necessary. Only a pair of brass rubbing strips need to be attached and then we can start fitting it back to the mast and attach the sails. Been hard work but very satisfying to have effectively made a brand new spar. Shows the advantage of working with wood.
The aim now is to leave tomorrow and head west. We are only 40 miles from the USA-Canada border, called Demarcation Point. There is a bay there we can stop in if necessary.
After that it is 350+ miles to Barrow where I am planning to fly home. There are several possible impediments to this plan. Firstly there is the phenomenon of ice that we have rather got out of the habit of worrying about. There is a band of 7/10ths of ice extending about 60 miles offshore, that hasn't changed for a while now. There is a narrow passage inside it but it depends how narrow and we will have to make a decision as to whether to try going inside or the long way round the outside.
Secondly there is the wind. Slightly oddly, we have strong easterly winds here, as correctly forecast by the Canadians. Yet the Americans are forecasting quite strong westerly winds (not what we want!) only 40miles from here. These would both be most unpleasant and slow our progress. My mum can go back to checking ice and weather forecast.
Finally there is the issue of actually getting off the boat in Barrow. There is absolutely no shelter there. It is just an open roadstead- ie a straight beach. If the winds are strong then it might not be possible to put me, and all my stuff, into a small boat to get onto dry land. Only time will tell
And the final surprise was the sauna ashore here. Thanks to the Swedish experts of Ariel IV and especially Niklas who went to great effort to get it all set up and running and find fresh water. Sibeal started the trend with Niklas and Lotte. Maire went on her own, whilst Andrew and I finished off the repairs to gaff and came back extolling its virtues and said that we must try it. Thanks to her exhortations, Andrew and I set off ashore, as Ariel IV set off towards Demarcation Bay. The Herschel Island sauna truly is a bizarre wonder of the Arctic. Fully kited out with pine benches and the most enormous wood burning stove and plenty of huge pieces of beautifully seasoned firewood. Suffice to say, Andrew and I had the most wonderful sauna that culminated in us skinny dipping at 10pm in the waters of Pauline Cove with a beautiful sunset and our faithful companion Jupiter rising in the East. We were accompanied to hoots on the ship's horn from Maire and Sibeal. I don't know if Sibeal took any photos but even with the longest telephoto lens, there'd have been nothing to see! We celebrated our achievement with a well-deserved Guinness.
It was a most wonderful and surreal experience and I would put a sauna on Herschel Island as one of the 101 things one must do before one dies (assuming the shock of actually doing so doesn't kill you. I am really grateful that Maire pushed us into taking the sauna and that the Scandinavians showed us the way.