Decision Time

Tuesday August 18, 2014 (73o 02’N 89o 09’W): Arctic Bay,

Retreat to Arctic Bay
Entrance to Admiralty Inlet

We are anchored in the picturesque harbor of the village of Arctic Bay, off Admiralty Inlet. The final decision to depart Beechey Island was precipitated late Sunday (Aug 16th) by the afternoon download of the ice charts and weather report, indicating short-term favorable winds for the passage, combined with no sign of improvement for reaching Resolute in the near future. Within the hour we had said our goodbyes to the crew of Manevai, hoisted the Zodiac on deck, and left the stark harbor of Erebus and Terror behind.

The thirty six hour trip  southeast across Lancaster Sound to Arctic Bay was “by the numbers” as we settled into 2 ½ hour watches. Two and half hours is short enough to tolerate the cold and hand steering (when needed),  while creating sufficient intervals between watches to catch  at least four hours of sleep. The temperatures have dropped into the thirties, but we have also acclimatized to  life under forty degrees (10 C) in exchange for voracious appetites. 

The ice charts for the crossing proved accurate in identifying regions to be negotiated or avoided.  With a large region of ice in the middle of Lancaster Sound, the best approach before tuning south was a nostalgic retracing of our  steps down the desolate coast of Devon Island.   As predicted, the weather was good,  with good winds and the skies partly cloudy and clear. 

As also predicted, there was a band of ten to thirty percent ice stretching out across the 20 nautical mile wide mouth of Admiralty Inlet.  Motoring east to explore the northern limits of the ice,  a small triangular blip appeared on our chart plotter, tagged with information identifying the blip as  Arctic Tern. Looking south, we could see her mast, still several miles away on the other side of the ice field, but headed in our general direction. Encouraged by her ice report over the VHF radio, we picked our way south as she did the same to the north, crossing paths on the way. Les, Ali and Randall on board were  on their way back to Devon Island to pick up additional crew from the yacht Adventura.

David Johanson points out the way through the ice in Admiralty Inlet
Sam Lowry follows his leads

While extensive, the ice patch across the top of Admiralty Inlet was sufficiently diffuse that Lillian could find her way through with only occasional help from Pete and Dave on the foredeck, pointing out leads and, when necessary, pushing any threatening pieces out of the way. Once through the band of ice, it was forty miles of clear water down to the harbor, where on our final early morning approach we sailed out of a light fog being dissipated by a brilliant sunrise. For the first time in the weeks since entering the Arctic, we are sufficiently far south and sufficiently late in the summer, that the sun had dipped below the  horizon.

Our point of arrival, Arctic Bay is on Baffin Island which in comparison to Devon Island has mountains that look more “traditional”, with weathered slopes and a distinct snow line, versus the bleak eroded plateaus of Devon which are predominately arid except where capped with glaciers. The town, with the snow covered mountains not far off, curves around the head of the harbor. The buildings have the pre-fab look common to the other northern villages we have visited, but Arctic Bay  has a welcoming appeal, first evident by the proud display of the town name,  “Arctic Bay, Nunavut” spelled out on the hillside behind the town. The greeting occupies a large portion of the hillside, using  small boulders painted white, looking as if it could have been  a  civic project by the local high school. Or perhaps Arctic Bay simply looked so inviting on approach, because of the excitement of  civilization after weeks of Devon Island.

Arctic Bay

Civilization meant the opportunity to resupply and relax. Even though we arrived just this morning, before   the fuel depot was open Pete and Dave had already lowered the dinghy into the water, and have since made two trips across the harbor  transporting 15 jerry cans worth of fuel, with the result that Lillian  now has enough fuel on board to motor for over 1200 miles.

Lillian at Anchor in Arctic Bay

And on the human front, our  food stocks are being replenished with coveted items, like eggs, fresh brussel sprouts, apples, potatoes, onions, and other items not found in cans.

Resupply

In addition to resupply, the primary reason to abandon Resolute and sail instead to  Arctic Bay was to insure that  crew member Dave Johanson could catch a flight home in time to teach high school. Dave  is now booked for a flight out of resolute Wednesday morning., making his ways home via no less than five airports. We envy him his hot showers and cold beer upon his return. In addition to the skill needed to teach high school students Dave grew up sailing  boats on the coast of Maine, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and has extensive experience sailing, building and maintaining boats.  He  has been both a mentor and valuable crew member, especially in times of ice and wind, and we regret seeing him go,

Dave’s plane home

After Dave leaves, the obvious question is what is next. With the slow thawing of the ice this year, the answer is not clear. In order to successfully transient the passage requires  passing through Franklin Strait, but Franklin Strait is still blocked with ice.  In all probability, it will still open up  by the last week in August or first week in September, but that is  late in the year for continuing west around Alaska. 

Some boats, like Gjoa, with whom we are sharing the harbor here in Arctic Bay, already plan to “winter over”  part way through the passage and then come back next year and continue. Last year, many boats were forced to do just that, planned or not, when the two ends of the passage became blocked for the winter around the 27th of August. Wintering over is not an option that I want to consider for Lillian B.  The yacht Manevai holds the same viewpoint. They are still back at Erebus and Terror Bay, trying to decide whether to continue or abort.  This evening, without sufficient signal to transmit myself, I could hear one side of  Manevai’s communication with Peter Semiotuk via SSB as they tried to gather information to make their decision.  Peter Semiotuk is a renowned expert on the NWP, but he was uncertain as to when Franklin might open. He hopes to have a better idea by at the end of the week as what will happen near term,  while at the same time offering the  comment that global warming is not helping the fleet this year.

Meanwhile, Suilven and Adventura of Jimmy Cornell’s Blue Planet Odyssey are heading home. Suilven left last week, while Adventura made their decision shortly after we left them at Erebus and Terror Bay, leaving some of her crew looking for other boats, like Arctic Tern, who still intend to pass through.  (

As for the Lillian B., we will stay here and enjoy Arctic Bay at least through Wednesday, keeping an eye on the ice charts and communicating with Peter Semiotuk,  Arctic Tern, Manevai and other yachts here in the Arctic to better understand the odds. If the probability is not good, then we will be heading back down to Maine within the next week.  We’ll share our decision as soon as we know.

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