Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Beaten Back

The evening of July 30, we received an ice map showing dramatic improvement at Arctic Bay. This was a bit earlier than expected and would allow us to take advantage of the tail-end of strong following winds in Lancaster Sound and Admiralty Inlet. Since at our next stop hundreds of liters of fuel will have to be boarded from the beach via dinghy in 20 liter jugs, the saving of perhaps 80 liters of fuel by traveling under sail was a powerful incentive.

As we motored out of peaceful Tay Bay into Navy Board Inlet, we began to feel a noticeable ground swell but the wind remained calm. The lack of wind in Navy Board was expected from the forecast and we assumed the swell was from the strong easterlies in Lancaster Sound. After a short time underway, Mary Anne took over the navigation and Claude and I went to sleep.

An hour later, Mary Anne woke me to strange engine noises and a gale [34+ knot wind] from dead ahead. The winds gusted in direction and speed to such an extent as to make sailing impractical; any sail combination would be either too much or too little as conditions rapidly changed.

The engine noises were from propeller cavitation. Short steep waves were being generated by the gale winds and tidal effects at the junction of Navy Board and Lancaster. Our collision with these waves slowed us to such an extent, placed us at odd angles to our forward progress and entrained so much air under the boat that the propeller couldn't grip the water. This slowed us further and made continuing futile.

After 2 1/2 hours, we again entered Tay Bay. As we anchored behind the sheltering promontory at the bay's entrance, Mary Anne spotted a polar bear on the shore. We called Claude outside from his interrupted sleep and our disappointment at returning was quickly drowned in the sound of clicking camera shutters.

After perhaps an hour of bear entertainment, we all went to bed in preparation for a 5AM start the next morning to perhaps take advantage of those still fair winds in Lancaster and Admiralty.

Well ... to shorten this endless story, we set out after 5 hours sleep and got only half as far as before when the wind, waves and cavitation led to another return to Tay Bay. Although this time there was no bear, we had more excitement then we needed due to a bilge-water alarm. No, we weren't sinking, but the cavitation produced enough vibration in the propeller shaft that water was spurting out around the shaft seal. As soon as we set course toward "home", the cavitation and thus the shaft leak stopped.

So what was wrong with the forecasts? During our one hour return trip back to the anchorage (which was still basking in an eerie calm), I downloaded a new comprehensive set of forecasts both from Environment Canada and a computer model from the US Met Service. Both had revised their forecasts to indicate unacceptably strong contrary winds in Navy Board Inlet. We only needed to make 12 miles in Navy Board before turning off the wind into Lancaster Sound ... but it was evidently 12 miles too many!

Meanwhile the forecasts suggest another opportunity will come in a couple of days ... maybe our bear will even come back for another look while we wait.

At 31/07/2013 15:23 (utc) our position was 73°29.59'N 080°45.27'W

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Some Like it HOT!

What can you say after an entire day of non-stop exhilarating beauty of unimaginable scope … sights and scenes going on and on for all 24 hours? We kept checking behind us and ahead of us - but we were the sole recipients of the sun-infused, unblemished changing canvases of mountains and sea views which passed before us. We arrived at this relatively dull scene at 0330 this morning - what a relief to feel NO compunction to take or edit any more photos.

We'll be here in Tay Bay for anything from 12 more hours (leaving at 0300 Wednesday) to as much as a day and a half. Strong winds are forecast, and it's a safe place to be for any force or direction of wind except strong westerlies. Even then we could move a few meters behind a rocky extrusion which sheltered an over-wintering sailor several years ago while he and his cat waited out the dark months. We're hoping the strong winds and the warm sun will speedily clear Peel Sound and Larsen Sound so that Traversay can forge through those "choke" points and we can get to Dutch Harbor Alaska in a timely way.

However - it has been a very COLD trip - the water temperature yesterday was 4 degrees C (39 F). When we're outside each of us wears nearly our entire collection of warm clothes under our wet-weather gear. We have huge, well-insulated but light neoprene fisherman's boots on our feet. Even so, we enjoy coming into the warm cabin and warm duvets to snuggle under. And we like having hot food in our bellies.

And this is my responsibility - my job is to do most of the cooking and provide HOT food. Larry does all navigating and decision-making (often with Claude's expert opinion) and Claude does all the dishes. For doing the cooking, I take just two 3-hr watches per day; and each of the men have three 3-hr watches.

Claude and Larry would not look out of place in a refugee camp and LOOK as if they eat very little, but standing out in the cold for much of the day creates big appetites for hot and satisfying fare.

I have found it a pleasure to be the cook - I've branched out and tried some new recipes for my ever-appreciative co-sailors. But it has been hard to think about and plan the provisions for this trip. Since our first long passage on Traversay III (46 days to New Zealand in 2004) I've saved my provisioning lists. I thought that THAT was a difficult trip to provision for - however, this will be an 8-10 week trip for 3 people plus the 3 or so weeks (for the 2 of us) after Claude leaves. We knew it would be difficult to get provisions here and that it would be far more expensive in Greenland, so we tried to fill our lockers with tinned meat, fish, vegetables and fruit. We left both London and Scotland with full food lockers. We've been alternating fresh meat from the freezer with tinned meals. So the freezer now contains about 30 meals of fresh meat, 60 days of sandwich meat. When we left Greenland, it was filled to the top with berries and frozen veggies (broccoli, spinach, beans, basil, and dill).

Our 35 3-person-meals of tinned meat and fish is now down to 21 meals. We had 70 tins of fruit and over 140 tins of veggies (not counting tomatoes). I've tried to have some 'extras' like lots of olives, sun-dried tomatoes, lemongrass both frozen and in a jar, Madras and other curry pastes, nuts and dried fruits and I've freshened up and added to my spice inventory. We have a large collections of dried beans, peas and (yes) instant potatoes. Chilled veggies from tins with balsamic-fennel-anchovy dressing or mint vinaigrette can make a really nice salad. We still have 4 of the 6 dozen eggs stored in the bilges - I check them before using and they are lasting well. I've discovered that my gingerbread cakes ALWAYS turn out, so I bake two of these every Sunday and we each get a daily wedge with our standard Traversay III dessert - mandarin oranges from a tin, frozen berries (while they last) and a spoon of golden liquor.

We like to have a snack around 5pm so we have large Danish cheeses and delicious sausages that we've put dates on … they'll have to last a specified time. These are stored outside where they cannot deteriorate. Sandwich cheese for 60 days is stored in the 'fridge.

This boat is too well-insulated to store veggies (except in the 'fridge). For the long-term, I bought many onions and some red cabbage in Nuuk and we tried storing them in the one un-insulated hatch at the stern with the Danish cheeses and sausages. Unfortunately, the area was damp and while cheese/meat is cold and fine, only the onions survived the experiment. It will be impossible for us to afford fresh veggies here in Nunavut as it's horrendously expensive (it all has to be flown in). Research on the internet showed that a cabbage could cost $18 in Resolute Bay.

The male crew eat sandwiches each lunch (since we've run out of green fresh veggies, I use tinned asparagus, a slice of Edam and a slice of meat). Baking bread in the oven would be a serious drain on our propane fuel so I've learned to bake bread in a pressure cooker and will use this method until the Captain feels we have enough propane left to complete the passage and use the oven to bake bread. My friends and family who know me must be laughing at this point - they know I like cooking but I hate baking bread! So far pressure-cooker bread is not as good as the real thing. It's been baked in a large coffee tin so it's round, has a soft white exterior and tends to be a bit 'mushy' in the middle. We find it acceptable, though. Experimenting with making olive bread (using jalepeno-stuffed olives), sun-dried tomato bread, and caraway bread might improve it. This is a COLD environment, so having warm bread is a real plus. There are loads of things to put on bread - jams, peanut butter, butter, and honey.

We have a lovely assortment of teas and filter coffee and we have some real shortbread from Scotland to share if company comes. There are also some Pringles and cashews hidden away if we're lucky enough to have kids aboard. And lastly - Chocolate: YES … this is an essential on Traversay III.

I've kept a list of the meals we've been having over the last while. We have some COLOUR in the décor our African-print duvet-covers are very warming. Same for my food - I've been making it hot and spicy! Here's a list of food (and spice) from the last 2 ½ weeks:

S 20th: modified fish mulligatawny soup (curry powder, dried apple, celery, mustardy-mackerel fillets)

S 21st: Chunga chicken (fresh ginger, 2 piri-piri tinned chilis, tinned button mushrooms, tinned peas/carrots, white wine, kidney beans)

M 22nd: Claude's pizza from Normande's recipe

T 23rd: Nasi Goreng (pork, prawns, eggs, peas, Thai red curry paste)

W 224th: Same as above with a bulgar wheat salad

Th 25th: Corn & crab soup with parsley lunch; dinner with added cheese cubes

F 26th: black bean soup both meals (Danish tinned luncheon meat added for dinner)

Duvet cover
S 27th: lunch - Southern stew - (carrots, garlic, frozen green beans, tomatoes tinned and puree, chili flakes, baby corns, cinnamon) Dinner: lamb w rosemary and a wine sauce, broccoli, instant potatoes!

S 28th: Stew as above for lunch; Tuna, capers and parsley infused pasta for dinner (add 4 piri-piri peppers)

M 29th: lunch - S Stew again, toasted cheese for sandwiches Dinner: curried pork tenderloin (curry powder, jalapeno peppers & soft cheese sauce)

T 30th: lunch - Soup made of red cabbage w fresh carrots and minced kippers

T 30th dinner: Tonight is my night off from cooking. We're having Claude's wonderful pizza made from Normande's recipe. HURRAY!

At 30/07/2013 20:34 (utc) our position was 73°29.39'N 080°43.33'W

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Across to Canada:

Spring is late coming to the high latitudes. When it does arrive, it touches the land first with the sea lagging well behind. Anchoring spots in Arctic Canada are choked with ice until what southerners would call mid-summer. Open water creeps up the coast of Greenland and makes its way across to Canada typically at the end of July and then creeps west up the myriad of channels amongst the Arctic Islands.

For our first stop in Canada, we needed an ice-free inhabited place in order to clear customs and refuel. ... yes, we are in a sailboat but summer winds in this part of the world are particularly fickle. Three choices along our route were Pond Inlet, Arctic Bay and Resolute. In early deliberations, we decided on Pond Inlet. This idea was later dashed when we found it choked with ice when Arctic Bay was already clear. We further realized that the open roadstead of Pond Inlet could make fuel loading difficult in onshore winds and its 2-knot tidal currents wafting large pieces of ice back and forth would certainly complicate things.

So, with an acceptable weather forecast, we set out for Arctic Bay - still with an eye on Pond Inlet should its ice situation improve.

The past three days of travel have been an infuriating mixture of fog, sunshine, calm, winds from every direction - all within very short periods of time. Sailing has never been for us so much work in so little time! In the middle of it all, ice charts indicated that the ice at Pond Inlet had thickened, or rather moved in from Eclipse Sound where there was lots of ice, and Arctic Bay had become separated from its approaches in Admiralty Inlet by bands of ice.

We declared that Tay Bay in Navy Board Inlet would be our temporary destination. Ah, but that was before the west winds in Lancaster Sound piped up to considerably more than forecast.

So here we now sit, 1/4 mile of water separating us from a Canadian beach in Bathurst Bay, Bylot Island. It is mercifully ice, wind and [almost] wave free.

In this age when everyone seems to have high speed internet, it is difficult to convey in a meaningful way the difficulty and expense of acquiring the information we need to safely conduct our voyage. Our satellite telephone costs $1.60 a minute for outgoing calls. A call TO us would likely be billed at close to $10 per minute! When we use it for data, 5 to 10 minutes vanish in the uploading of a few text emails.

Normally our email is transmitted by short-wave radio. This very old technology is cheap but very slow - on a good day, it is one tenth the speed of dial-up internet. Dial-up internet is the sort that no-one uses any more. An uncompressed 1200 x 900 [1 megapixel] image would take us 16 hours to download! ... so, of course we don't download or upload such things. We make do with text forecasts, digitally compressed weathermaps, and ice maps either cropped and compressed by our friend David Lloyd in Edmonton or received from grainy fax broadcasts [another 1940s technology].

You probably know far more about what awaits us by using Google in the comfort of your home than we do in the middle of this adventure.

Likely tomorrow we will be on our way again toward the west, weather and ice permitting.

Bathurst Bay,
Bylot Island

At 28/07/2013 13:00 (utc) our position was 73°24.31'N 076°07.97'W

Thursday, 25 July 2013

What's Green about Greenland?

sailing along an inside passage
In a previous blog, we mentioned the barren rocks and absence of trees ... the ice cap which covers this entire land stimulated our guide in Iceland to say that the two countries should exchange names. His country
is not nearly as icy, and it is treed and green!
At least around the fringes, this is definitely a green island - and that is what the original  European settlers saw when they first arrived. The country was re-settled by Europeans in the 1700s after the first colonists (brought by Erik the Red in 986)  vanished from the land around 1500 when the ice age recapitulated.
Our impression is based on two different images - that of the ancient, riddled, wrinkled old rocks and the green rounded hills which can also be seen ... the secret of their green-ness lies in the many beautiful species of moss and lichens - all with different shades of green.
Although we have been alone in each of our anchorages, there are usually a few Greenalndic folk racing by in their small boats several times a day. All around on the hills and mountains are signs of man's settlement.
green mosses and lichens 


Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Waiting for Baffin Bay

On 19 July we arrived at Upernavik, Greenland.  This town of some 1100 people is described in one of our books as "the most northerly town in Greenland with full services", whatever that means.

Our late Friday arrival immediately revealed that "full services" did not extend to finding fuel outside office hours so we settled in for the weekend.  The available and sensible berth was at the side of a small anchored ship with our inflatable dinghy providing shore transport. 

Upernavik Children
This enforced weekend stay was, like many unexpected experiences, a blessing.  The well stocked supermarket proved to be the first place since Scotland where we had seen tinned mandarin segments [a dessert favorite] and packages of cashews; the friendly inhabitants sported hundred watt smiles; and the airport, built by chopping enough off the top of the rocky island to create level land, has to be seen to be believed.

Upernavik Harbour
We walked uphill for a long time to see this engineering marvel. Then as we crested the last hill we saw not only the airport but a stunning view to the east across ice-choked fjords toward vertical rock walls that feature in the dreams of serious mountain climbers.

After the sun had done a few lazy circles in the always-lit sky, Monday arrived and, with it, our fuel.  After we moved to one of the town's loading quays, the competent staff of Polar Oil put 600 liters of arctic-diesel aboard Traversay III quickly and efficiently. Not a drop was spilled.  We now have a total of 700 liters in our tanks and 200 additional liters in containers - a capability of over 1000 miles of motoring to deal with the uncertainties of an icy Canadian Arctic.

Anemone five meters Underwater
A quick look around our boat in the clear arctic water had revealed a great deal of weed growing on our rudder and keel.  This mass of plant life would slow us down and increase our fuel consumption at the very time when we needed both speed and economy.  Mindful of this, with fuel and provisions aboard, we left Upernavik for Aorrussaarssuk, a small inlet on the shore of Lango island a few miles from Upernavik.  In this uninhabited and scenic bay, Mary Anne and I did a couple of 45 minute dives in the 5C water to turn the forest on the bottom of our boat into more of a patchy meadow.  During one of the dives, we even found the time to look at the colourful marine life adorning the rocky shore.
Our Anchorage at Aorrussaarssuk

Work finally all done, the next few days should allow some scenic hikes on the shore as we wait for the ice to dissipate a bit more on the Canadian side and for a suitable non-traumatic forecast for the  four day crossing to our first Canadian port, perhaps Pond Inlet or else Admiralty Inlet's Arctic Bay.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Photos Along the Way

Sled Dogs Summering on a Tiny Island

Sunshine and Ice

Qeqertarsuaq Town

The sun at midnight

Iceberg and Ship

Saturday, 13 July 2013

An Unexpected Gale and a Sheltered Passage

After a number of days of motoring up the Greenland coast in light winds, a forecast 20 knot southeasterly promised to reduce our incessant usage of diesel fuel. Because our radio communications in the wilderness are best in the evening, we are usually using one-day-old forecasts, but they generally hold true.

As Friday dawned, the open sea outside Iserquk presented us with the same rippled water and light winds as had graced our previous passages in this country. We resolved to have a short day by stopping at Anders Olsens Sund, some 30 miles "down the road".

On approach to this anchorage, it seemed there might just be enough wind to carry us along the coast under sail. But would the wind hold?

We decided to try it out, knowing it might lead to a fairly long day. Little did we know!

As we shaped our course toward 80 mile distant Faeringe Nordhavn, the wind built and built. So did the waves. As the winds passed 35 knots and the waves passed 4 meter height, the autopilot suggested by its actions - or lack of them - that it had no further interest in steering. I leapt outside, not really dressed to be out in the elements, and began steering. It was VERY cold but with the wind well aft, there was fortunately little spray as yet. Claude dressed for the weather and relieved me so I could in turn get on my heavy sailing gear and do my hour at the wheel.

In time, with crew relieving each other at steering duties, the wind grew to 45 knots and the sea to 5 meters. We were certainly sailing and saving fuel, but this was not the day of sailing we had envisaged. As the wind built, the sun eventually came out and brilliantly lit the foam topped rollers dumping their crests into the cockpit. An optimist would note that the cockpit, awash in ocean water, was cleaner than it had been in ages.

As day wore into evening, the winds crested and began to reduce leaving a very lumpy sea behind. At this juncture, the autopilot graciously offered to resume its shirked steering duties. Then evening wore into -- well, more evening [there is no night here] --- and the wind died completely. We were left motoring the last few miles to Faeringe Nordhavn.

We all agreed that we had never seen such a SHORT serious gale; and the day ended as it had begun - with our motoring in light winds.
And of course, when we retrieved the NEW forecasts, our 20 knot southeasterly had been replaced by a genuine 40 knot gale.

On Saturday morning, we decided to continue our route north along the Ikerasarssuk, an inside route leading from the Faeringe Nordhavn anchorage toward Disko Bay. This inside route through narrow channels gave a wonderful opportunity for us to get a close-up view of the rocky moss-covered Greenland landscape. A side benefit was the avoidance of the still sizeable waves left over from yesterday's gale. In stark contrast to the previous day, the water in the passage was only rippled and the deck was as steady as a parking lot.

At 13/07/2013 19:19 (utc) our position was 67°57.60'N 053°40.21'W

Thursday, 11 July 2013


Since Tuesday we've been enjoying the grandeur of the coastal mountains as we travel northwards towards Upernavik. This town is the jumping-off point for the Northwest Passage and we expect to meet a number of other boats of all nationalities once we reach it.

On Monday we were joined by our friend Claude Gosselin from Quebec - he's been sharing the passage along these coastal mountains … and also spotting a pod of whales, some seals and the seabirds which circle around whenever even an onion peel is discarded over the side. These birds are trained to watch for scraps abandoned off fishboats. But so far we have seen very few other boats. There have been none in our anchorages. Every now and then, we see one far off skirting along the edge of this enormous water-way. But only one pastel-coloured fishboat has come anywhere near us. We altered our course so he could go into the port at the town of Maniitsoq.

We're just a tiny speck moving along in a canvas in which the deep, deep waterway is held in by mountains of great strength and formidable hardness. These mountains around us were scarred and shaped by enormous forces three billion years ago. Their surface is unmarked by the grace or softness of any tree or nesting bird. The crevassed and wrinkled faces show every change of light and shade. There are times when it feels as if we are the only three people to enjoy the subtle changes of colour which envelop these mountains … that we are the only humans in this panorama of beauty. Most of our time here has been overcast and rainy and the mountains have been shadowed and forbidding … but last night around 2300 a pink glow of light gradually crept down from the top of the mountains. We enjoyed it and tried to capture some of the effect with our cameras.

Claude and Larry have been sharing knowledge and ideas covering a wide range of topics including power loss from connecting solar panel regulators, how to start airplane engines in -47 degree weather in Northern Canada, what the relative merits of fluxgate and of Larry's newly invented compass might be and about how to interest students in engineering and in flying. In fact, there are so many topics that I feel these represent a tip of the iceberg and the discussions will continue for the entire passage.

Meanwhile I keep myself busy with preparing the best food I can, with playing music and with reading several books at once. I appreciate someone who can be a real intellectual companion to Larry. For this I thank Claude's partner Normande Dion. Recognizing that Claude had the opportunity to realize his dream of sailing the NW Passage, she happily sent him over to us and is consequently spending the next weeks on her own. Meanwhile their yacht ('SV Azzar') is in New Zealand over the southern winter.

There's a fourth person who's helping us from a distance - David Lloyd in Edmonton supplied us with ice maps as we approached Greenland and will do so again in the northern reaches of the passage… Thank you David!

Friday, 5 July 2013

Folks and Photos

From Narsaq we travelled west along a sheltered inner passage with beautiful sights (see iceberg photo) and then northwest in a very rolly Davis Strait. Now we're stopped at Ravns Storø waiting for north winds to fade. We reflect back on some of the people we've met so far in Greenland.

Freddy the policeman - he's on a temporary three- month posting from Copenhagen - enjoying the slower pace. There's a lack of major crime - just the crime that comes with many northern towns where the indigenous folk have lost their bearings and are unprepared for today's world. He worries that the young people are only the Greenlandic tongue and will not have the skills they need to survive.

Nils and his trees
A French documentary maker - making a TV programme about the choice which may now be open to Narsaq. It could bring a solution to employment and the poverty of the town. A rich deposit of Rare Earth minerals has been located near the townsite and an Australian company wants to build a mine … it would take years to fully exploit and would bring the opportunity for real and long-term prosperity with it. The big problem: uranium would necessarily be extracted along with the rare earth. Greenland is a Danish protectorate and unless Danish lawmakers change the current stance against any use of nuclear technology.

Table decor
Nils and his tree stand at the Village party … the trees you will see (we can only post one picture out here in the wilderness) have stayed in Nils nursery for seven years and are only now ready for re-planting. Nils is financed in part by the Danish government to collect trees from other arctic communities which will grow in the S Greenland environment. He has trees from Canada, Alaska and Siberia.

Narsaq Hotel Restaurant … the owners love their countryside and instead of flowers or (worse) plastic flowers, they have local plants as decorations on their beautifully laid-out dining room. Even the lowly dandelion has pride of place on one of their tables. Larry had delicious muskox steak, and I had Greenlandic crab.

Met at the ferry dock … a band of musicians going home from a gig in the 'South'. After the ferry trip and an airplane ride, they'll have to take a dog team to get to their Northern home.

Mr. Greenlandic reindeer … he literally waltzed down the mountain next to where we were anchored. He's moulting, so his piebald coloration fit right in with the rocks. He has incredibly skinny legs and HUGE hooves. Also seen: minke whales, a seal.

At 05/07/2013 18:49 (utc) our position was 62°43.60'N 050°24.62'W