17 September 2010 | Approaching Nome
Young Larry Blog - a continuation of Dermot's account of Young Larry 's transit of the Northwest Passage. We hope to up-date the blog at least once a week.
Sadly, Dermot had to leave us and, as it was clearly going to take too long to sail to Nome, it was decided that he should fly home from Barrow; the USA's most northern point. Two things worried me about the entrance to Barrow: firstly it was not an official port of entry to the USA and we had to decide whether or not to "go by the book" which might mean a delay and possible expense if the US Customs decided that they needed to fly an official to Barrow. Alternatively, we could land Dermot as an illegal alien at the dead of night and hope that our crime went undetected. One of our pilot books warned that any transgression of the rules could result in the boat being confiscated and the crew paying heavy fines. I also had visions of spending a few months in an orange jump suit. Our second concern was that the weather forecasts were indicating winds of up to 30 kts and the "anchorage" at Barrow was nothing more than an exposed beach. Anchoring or launching a dinghy could be impossible - a bit like trying to land near Portland Bill in a near gale. A conference was held on board to discuss the various scenarios.
We decided to contact the US Customs who, once we had got hold of the right person, were very understanding and fair: Dermot had to register with the Customs on his way through Anchorage and, as far as I know, he isn't wearing an orange suit yet. The American weather was equally kind to us and we arrived off Barrow beach at 2 am in a calm before the storm.
Máire stood offshore in Young Larry whilst Dermot and I took the rubber dinghy ashore. Before leaving, Máire insisted on fortifying us with a wee dram and a special good-bye song she had composed to lament Dermot's departure from the world of Young Larry . The dinghy trip off a deserted beach at the dead of night felt exciting. Young Larry's old gaff rig was lit by her navigation lights and we had left the mainsail up. She looked like an old smuggling ship going about her business.
Very soon after arriving back on board and recovering the dinghy, the promised wind arrived and we decided to double reef the mainsail. A rig we kept for four days. We soon had strong southerly winds which enabled us to sail, close hauled for three days, three hundred miles along the coast to within 5 miles of the Russian border. Here we stopped. We were not sure how the Russians viewed foreign yachts sailing into their waters and, besides, we now wanted to sail south, dead to windward. Máire had a notion that the food in Russian jails was quite delicious; a theory based on three weeks she once spent on a Russian sail training ship. Sibéal and I weren't so sure and Sibéal had read some disturbing accounts of Siberian jails: it seems that some very influential people had stayed there in the past but it wasn't considered to be comfortable. We tacked back to the east and the land of the free: better the devil you know? The next day was pretty miserable, tacking between 169 degrees west and the west coast of Alaska. The contrary current is stronger nearer the American coast. We covered just 35 miles in 24 hours and I wondered what Sarah Palin would be making of us if she saw us through her kitchen window.
On the evening of 15th September, we were still hanging around the Russian border waiting for a promised southwesterly wind to arrive which would give a better slant sailing south to the Bering Straits. The southwesterly did not materialise but the southerly wind did moderate enough for us to sail directly into it with head sails furled at about 3 knots.
Every day I have been calculating the fuel we have on board and whether or not it will be enough to get us to Nome. The answer is that it depends on the wind and sea conditions. If things stay as they are, we will probably just make it. At the moment though, its too close to call to allow us to light the heating stove so its quite cold.
We miss Dermot but we are now established in our watch-keeping routine of three hours "on", six "off" which gives us plenty of sleeping time. The windward sailing has made the boat, and us, pretty damp. The fresh food we bought in Tuktoyatuk ran out some time ago and we're also being conservative with our cooking propane which is in limited supply. Nome with it's diesel, fresh food, propane, restaurants, bars and, not least, launderette facilities beckons but, in the meantime, we are quite happy with our life sailing on the edge of the western world!