Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Watching the Weather

Our friends Maurice and Katie were cruising these waters and many others in the days when it was really really difficult. They used sextant, chronometer and barometer [and considerable courage] rather than GPS, radar and weather forecasts. Katie told me we had to get out of the Bering Sea by the middle of August to avoid the autumn storms that would inevitably plague the scene after that date. Of course how to do that when the ice in the Canadian arctic a few thousand miles to the east would not allow passage before that date presented quite a conundrum.

Years ago small boat cruisers based their travel plans on the average weather for the sea and season in which they found themselves and then, once underway, simply dealt with the weather that presented. Today we have access to daily forecasts predicting what will come, if not in exact detail, days in advance. This allows us to get slightly out of the way of bad weather if we are mid-ocean or time to seek shelter when we are in areas where anchorages of refuge might be found. Unfortunately, predictions for some day in the future, say Saturday, change daily. Thus every day a new plan is hatched to deal with some future gale - and then thrown away the following day.

We set out from Nome on Monday after a rushed effort to board diesel and cooking fuel. With over 2000 miles to sail nonstop to Victoria, a fair wind was not to be wasted. A low pressure storm was threatening the Unimak Pass through the Aleutian chain just before we would reach it but the winds to the north of this low would not be excessively strong and there would be advantage in the northwesterly winds that would follow it. A person COULD dreamily await a weather picture holding no future storms but the truth is that, in this season, periods of fair weather will only get shorter and the storms between them only more violent. As well, Nome harbor, like all others we have recently visited, will be frozen in in a matter of weeks.

As we speed south, the predicted characteristics of our low pressure system wax and wane daily - evolving in terms of expected track and of the wind speeds and directions arrayed around it. As of yesterday, we were considering anchoring in one of the sheltering bays that surround St. Paul Island to allow the system to pass; today merely slowing the boat to avoid the worst of it is the preferred option. Tomorrow (who knows?) we may revert to the St. Paul Island plan. As the date of the promised low approaches, its characteristics will no doubt coalesce into some form of certainty.

As the low passes and we charge through Unimak Pass, we will assess the longer term weather for the North Pacific and decide whether it is a good time to set out across a good part of it or whether to seek shelter in one of the many spots on offer to the east of the pass and await a more perfect moment.

The passes through the Aleutians and the harbors and bays of those islands and of the Alaska Peninsula mark the point where the ice is truly behind us even if we stopped for the entire winter. Meanwhile, only a month has passed since we left Barrow Strait and Lancaster Sound seeking a route west that did not yet exist through ice still blocking our path. Today, new ice is already forming in those waterways freezing them in for the upcoming winter.

What a short, short season!

And in other news aboard, a small songbird slept for the night in the cockpit gaining a few free miles toward the south. By morning it had flown away.

At 18/09/2013 19:40 (utc) our position was 60°14.86'N 168°23.29'W

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