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Dermot's NW Passage voyage on board Young Larry
Andrew Wilkes
17/09/10, 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!

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Ashore in Barrow- farewell and bon voyage to Young Larry
Dermot O'Riordan
12/09/10, Barrow

Ashore in Barrow- farewell and bon voyage to Young Larry

A lot has happened and happened fast. This will be a brief post as I have no charger for my laptop and the battery will probably die soon.

Yesterday we had a team pow-wow on some of our options. The two main issues were dropping me off somewhere safely and then how to deal with the customs.

With regard to the first issue, it was at the time reasonably light winds and we were about 6 hours from Barrow. Really we couldn't make any decision until we go there and assessed the situation. There were some fall-back options (for both me and the onward passage of Young Larry) though none of them were attractive. We could have tried contacting someone ashore to try and pick meup if the weather was too bad for a rubber dinghy for example. There were also other potential drop off points 12and 50 miles away though it wasn't certain how I might get from these to Barrow!

With regard to the customs we decided to be honest. We all have American visas because you can't use the Visa Waiver scheme unless you arrive on a scheduled plane. Andrew made a succession of expensive satellite calls to immigration in Anchorage then Nome, then Anchorage, the Nome and finally Fairbanks. Eventually he found an officer there who understood the situation. We have agreed that it is OK for me to present myself to immigration in Anchorage when I get there.

Before arriving at Barrow, you are asked to check in the locals to make sure that you don't interfere with their subsistence whaling. We could hear a lot of chatter from them on the VHF radio. We did this, and at the same time happened to see two bow-head whales- their prey. I fully support the rights of indigenous arctic peoples to catch limited quantities of whales. None us however wanted to participate and say "over heeerre" and actually contribute to the whales' demise!

The last miles to Barrow took ages and we didn't get there until 1am. It was calm and although it was dark it was safe to land now, but might not remain that way. We could feel the wind starting to stir. We made a decision to land me and all my bags. We had a tiny tot each of the remaining drops or whisky. We said our sad goodbyes and Andrew dropped me on the beach and disappeared back on board.

They are going to continue west. There is a bolt hole bout 50 miles away they can sit things out if necessary.

Meanwhile I amazingly managed to find me a taxi to take me to the "Top of the World Hotel". It was raining and I was in my wellies and yellow/blue survival/flotation suit, checking in at 2am another first that I have experienced on this trip.

Battery almost dead so I must go. There is so much I want to say when i have a chance to collect my thoughts.

Most of all I must thank Andrew, Maire, Sibeal and Young Larry for the most amazing adventure and journey. It has been a privilege.

I am keen to get home but also feel bad leaving them with still a long way to go at the end of the season. All the very best.

PS They may post some updates here but for the next 600 miles they are in a satellite and internet black hole.

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12/09/10 | Dick & Cathy Couture
Hi Dermot, many thanks for the blog. It was great fun being armchair sailors! We wish Andrew, Maire and Sibeal a safe journey - don't worry, we're sure Young Larry will look after them. Have a good trip back.
13/09/10 | Bob Kerry
Well done Dermot and best of luck to all with the onward passage.
13/09/10 | julie keane
Feeling sad to think that your journey has ended so can't imagine how you are feeling. Have really enjoyed following your adventures. Safe journey home. Julie x
16/09/10 | Christopher Singer
Greetings from Larry - the 103 year old original! Bit late to be in touch but have only recently returned to London having left Larry in the Norwegian Arctic for the winter. Fascinating reading particularly having been in Labrador and Paamuit Greenland in 2003. Not nearly as wild as your passage but we can easily relate - and had ben tempted.
So near. And yet so far?
Dermot O'Riordan
11/09/10, 25 miles east of Point Barrow

We are making very good progress. Motoring-sailing, with a light SE wind from behind us to push us along to Barrow at a respectable 6 knots. At the current rate of progress we should get there about midnight or soon after.

It all then becomes a matter of if I can get off safely. Obviously if it stays like this I could. This morning╒s forecast is pretty similar to last night╒s. 25-knot winds rather than 30-knots but still in an onshore direction. I suppose it all depends upon when the change happens.

All in all makes us all a little nervous. Me, because I have to get off. Also however, Andre, Maire and Sibeal will have to deal with whatever winds are sent their way. At the moment it is looking pretty unpleasant heading towards the Bering Strait with headwinds forecast. The trouble is that it is coming to the end of the season and there is a limit to how long a boat can hang around waiting for better winds. Not only that, but on this coast there aren╒t really any decent ports of refuge where one could wait, even if you chose to.

I do feel bad at having to leave them, but I have no choice. Losing a quarter of the crew strength will impose a bigger burden on those remaining.

We did come across a very short band of ice, exactly where he Canadians had forecast and Andrew had plotted on the chart. Nothing to trouble us though.

As well as the potential difficulties in getting me ashore, we also have to negotiate with the US Customs and Immigration people to allow me to enter the country. Barrow is not an official port of entry. We are thinking about how best to approach this issue. The original plan was for us all enter the country in Nome but I now have to leave the boat in Barrow. One apparently can pay for a customs person to make a special trip from Fairbanks but that seems a little excessive.

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So near. And yet so far?
Dermot O'Riordan
11/09/10, 25 miles east of Point Barrow

We are making very good progress. Motoring-sailing, with a light SE wind from behind us to push us along to Barrow at a respectable 6 knots. At the current rate of progress we should get there about midnight or soon after.

It all then becomes a matter of if I can get off safely. Obviously if it stays like this I could. This morning╒s forecast is pretty similar to last night╒s. 25-knot winds rather than 30-knots but still in an onshore direction. I suppose it all depends upon when the change happens.

All in all makes us all a little nervous. Me, because I have to get off. Also however, Andre, Maire and Sibeal will have to deal with whatever winds are sent their way. At the moment it is looking pretty unpleasant heading towards the Bering Strait with headwinds forecast. The trouble is that it is coming to the end of the season and there is a limit to how long a boat can hang around waiting for better winds. Not only that, but on this coast there aren╒t really any decent ports of refuge where one could wait, even if you chose to.

I do feel bad at having to leave them, but I have no choice. Losing a quarter of the crew strength will impose a bigger burden on those remaining.

We did come across a very short band of ice, exactly where he Canadians had forecast and Andrew had plotted on the chart. Nothing to trouble us though.

As well as the potential difficulties in getting me ashore, we also have to negotiate with the US Customs and Immigration people to allow me to enter the country. Barrow is not an official port of entry. We are thinking about how best to approach this issue. The original plan was for us all enter the country in Nome but I now have to leave the boat in Barrow. One apparently can pay for a customs person to make a special trip from Fairbanks but that seems a little excessive.

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Where's the ice? And stay away wind, please!
Liz for Dermot
10/09/10, Beaufort Sea

From this morning the wind, and then the seas died away and we have been mostly motoring. Allowed the water maker to fill the tanks and the engine running provides how water. This means showers are feasible without balancing on one leg. The simple things in life become much appreciated luxuries on a long passage like this. It also means that we can head and make progress in the right direction. Very good for morale.

The ice that we have gone north to avoid had not so far materialised. Indeed today's Canadian ice chart shows that the two tongues of ice that have been pretty static for some time and that were sticking out to the north from the band of ice close to the Alaskan shore have now disappeared. There might be a bit of 2/10ths ice to deal with just before Point Barrow but that should be fine. Other than that, the main polar ice cap has retreated miles away from the Alaskan shore. Sarah Palin might not think that global warming is an issue on her doorstep, but the last few years have been totally abnormal. Ordinarily there would still be a lot of old multi-year ice in this region, stretching continuously up to the polar pack ice.

I thought we might be approaching some ice on m watch when we had banks of cold fog, a group of more than 20 seals (the most I have seen in one group) and funny white clouds. These turned into the second white rainbow that we have seen I don't know if this is described but it is a real phenomenon that seems to exist up here. It didn't photograph well, so I have added a nice picture of a double coloured rainbow that we saw two days ago.

The current weather and ice situations are both conducive to good progress. What is less good is the forecast wind.

You can get the forecasts at http://pafc.arh.noaa.gov/marfcst.php (though we use the simple text version at http://weather.noaa.gov/pub/data/raw/fz/fzak51.pafg.cwf.nsb.txt as it is smaller and cheaper to download). We are currently in area 240 between Cape Halkett and Flaxman Island. We will be moving into area 235 between Point Franklin (aren't we all a bit bored of this guy naming things after himself?!) and Cape Halkett. This is also the area in which Barrow is. Essentially Barrow is a long straight beach running SW to NE with absolutely no shelter.

They are predicting that a weather front and a low-pressure system will move into the area on Sunday. The bottom line is that for the Barrow area they are forecasting 30-knot SW winds and 9-foot seas!! Our current estimated time of arrival in Barrow is early Sunday morning. Only time will tell if I am able to get off then or not. If we can't we might have to spend a very uncomfortable time waiting for the winds to blow through. We shall see.

I have been asked about the progress of Mathieu Bonnier, the rower. He arrived the other day in Cambridge Bay. A few days earlier Tico, the dog, was picked up on another boat and taken ahead to Cambridge. I understand that Mathieu has had enough of rowing in the Arctic and won't return next year. In fact I think he and the dog may have already left and his boat will be shipped back to France. He has achieved an incredible feat, starting on the West coast of Greenland and crossing Baffin Bay and then rowing most of the NW Passage in a single season.

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Going west, slowly
Liz for Dermot
09/09/10, Beaufort Sea

We are plugging away to windward. The wind is coming from the west- ie exactly where we want to go. As a result progress is slow and we are heading well north of the ice. Sailing to windward is not Young Larry's favourite, nor that of its crew. The wind isn't that strong so we aren't really complaining. In fact we have been pretty lucky not to have had too many headwinds. Unlike the Finnish boat Sarema who had head winds nearly all the way going west to east. Now they are in Baffin Bay but yesterday we heard that although the wind is now behind them, it was 50 knots!! That is a heck of a lot of wind.

According to today's forecast via Peter Semotiuk we should have slightly more favourable winds from tomorrow night.

When you are sailing into the wind it isn't that comfortable down below, so I predict a shorter blog today.

We are unequivocally into USA waters and flying the Stars and Stripes courtesy flag, not that there is anyone near us to notice. The ships clock has remained on Yukon time mainly because it is easier and there would be something not quite right about watch changes on odd as opposed to even hours.

We got some additional news from Peter Semotiuk yesterday on ship groundings in the Arctic. I have previously mentioned the Clipper Adventurer. The crew of Ariel IV knew him well and I gather he was very experienced and highly regarded. According to the news reports however the shoal that they it was known about and had been issued in the "Notices to Mariners". These are produced weekly and are updates to charts, list of lighthouse etc. They are all pretty turgid stuff but carry vital information and a big ship will receive little sympathy if they haven't taken notice of them. When you buy a chart it is supposed to be updated according to all latest notices. After that it is up the ship's master to ensure subsequent corrections are incorporated in the chart. There is going to be some soul searching going on somewhere. Depends when they brought their charts and who from. Interestingly when we were talking to the Hanseatic's navigation officer about this. Whilst they are at sea it is his job to incorporate updates to charts of places they are visiting. Every year they send all their charts away to be corrected. Navigation students often do this as a way of topping up their income. Also was nice to learn that all German ships use British Admiralty charts.

We also learnt that the Clipper Adventurer cruise chip is not the only one to have gone aground this season. A fuel barge is also stuck on a shoal near Gjoa Haven with 9 million litres of diesel, petrol and aviation fuel. Fortunately it isn't leaking any fuel and another barge is on its way to pump out its contents. Could play havoc with the communities it was supposed to be supplying who all rely on an annual delivery. Also once again shows the hazards of navigating big (and little) ships round here.

Not seen any ice yet, not even small growlers. Neither have we seen a Norwegian trimaran going in the opposite direction. They would be almost flying with this wind. In fact Peter tells us that we have passed each other without noticing.

I have finished reading David Mitchell's Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet which was great. Probably the best readof the journey but they have all been good. I don't ordinarily read enough at home so it is a pleasure to do some catching up. Now on the lighter Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, which is good passage making reading that doesn't require much intellectual investment

I was struggling to provide a picture given that we are 40 miles or more offshore and out of sight of even the big Alaskan mountain ranges. There really is not much to see out here. Sibeal then spotted that we had a stowaway who clearly has been blown a long way from where he should be.

Happy 50th birthday to Ed. Sorry will miss the party. Perhaps you can identify the bird hitching a lift when you have a moment!

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