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Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Shades of Apollo

Abandoned anchorage covered in ice floes

We're anchored in Fort Ross … this is the site of a former Hudson's Bay Company trading post which had to be abandoned in the late 40's. The reason: for each of three successive summers the Company supply ship couldn't get through because the ice never once relented to allow an approach to the community through Bellot Strait.

So why are we here? Don't worry - we're not unique and all the other sailors we've met are nearby and have the same idea. Our goal: get to Larsen Sound which leads into Gjoa Haven and points west. There are two approaches and both are channels which lead down from Lancaster Sound in the North. The more westerly approach - Peel Sound - is direct. The easterly one also uses Peel to get to Larsen. But you get into Peel halfway down through the narrow (1/4 mile wide, 9 mile long) Bellot Strait which is connected to Lancaster by the more easterly Prince Regent. This year - as in many recent years - the ice in Prince Regent Sound has melted earlier than the ice up at the top of Peel Sound. Bellot Strait is a canyon with scary tidal issues - there's really no going back once you go in. There are also scary high dark canyon walls which keep up the melting job once the ice has cleared from both ends of the Channel.

We got here and anchored at 0400 yesterday. Our chosen site was a beautiful little bay quite far back with a GREEN meadow at hand (we haven't seen that colour for quite some time). An ice watch was mounted, but somehow between an exciting radio story about a nearby polar bear incident, and a discussion with the Coast Guard icebreaker Henry Larsen about whether we cruisers could follow in his wake, we neglected to keep the watch properly. The Coast Guard answer was politely negative - we were advised we would have to keep up with a 65000 horsepower diesel (ours and most are 65!) The bear story raised our hackles. Our kilometre-distant neighbour La Belle Epoque had nearly been boarded by a polar bear - a bear which surfed up to them on an ice-sheet and couldn't easily get aboard due to their somewhat steep sides and canoe stern. We reflected that OUR stern has convenient steps from ice-sheet level right up into the cockpit!

Just as this thought penetrated our sleep-deprived brains, we were attacked by an ice sheet … we hastily put down the flare gun and horn and rushed to raise the anchor. The anchor windlass complained about the additional pieces of ice and rock-embedded kelp it was asked to raise. When we proceeded to a North and East-protected bay opposite, the windlass positively refused to let the anchor go down again. Gleefully our fore-sightful Captain brought out a brand-new motor. But closer inspection revealed there were massive intestinal injuries with the wiring. This ganglia of huge red wires - some rusted- had been yanked out and helpfully encircled by a few over-eager coils of chain. The still willing motor was no longer supported by its collar of plastic mountings which had been trashed. A new engine platform had to be fashioned.

Luckily it turned out that our superb dishwasher Claude has also taught Engineering Design at Laval University. Under his direction and - in Apollo 13 style - using whatever we had on the boat (which turned out to be only some pieces of wood and Sikaflex glue) Dr Claude and Larry designed and fashioned a new support. This took eight hours. My job was to drive the boat around for that entire time so they could work up at the bow. I drove around just like the Flying Dutchman but in Arctic cold and wind - not in a warmer more hellish clime. NOT in turbulent Wagnerian style but in gentle circles so they could work undisturbed.

It WORKS! We anchored again and if all goes well we'll only have to anchor twice more on this trip - getting fuel in Gjoa Haven and in Tuktoyaktuk. We'll be tied to docks at our other fuelling stops.

This is not the first time we've had a failed-windlass-problem - last time it happened we were in Patagonia. We tied three-ways to trees in Cinque Estrella 5* which (since the Armada gave permission) avoided the regulation which bans anchoring in the beautiful tiny bay. Larry Dremmeled a misshapen gear up on deck during a snowstorm.
5*anchorage in Patagonia

At 20/08/2013 12:48 (utc) our position was 71°57.56'N 094°25.88'W


  1. We followed the tracker for ACALEPHE through Bellot Strait on 20140821 at 0530 hours local. What is the local word on conditions and results? Seems several of the yachts would of gone together. Details please.

  2. Now the ACALEPHE tracker indicates they boat has returned back through Bellot Strait to the eastern side? What is with that? Undoubtedly ice problems on the west side?
    Details please.