Thursday Afternoon September 11, 2014 (56o00’N 60o 23’W): The Eli Variety Show
In addition to helping out with the watches, cooking and other crew functions, Eli continuously reminds us of how awesome, in the true sense of the word, it is to be here. Being out in the middle of the Labrador Sea on a clear moonlit night speaks for itself, but for things that have started to seem ordinary for Pete and me, like being chased by a pod of porpoise charging through the waves like the horsemen of the apocalypse, Eli reminds us of how wondrous and strange they truly are. He enthusiastically expresses his desire to be immersed in the full experience, whether that be sailing the boat, cooking dinner, cleaning dishes, transferring fuel, or experiencing a variety of wind and waves. We are glad to accommodate him with regard to all the former and the Labrador Sea seems intent on providing the later, creating for him in a series of choreographed weather events. With the exception perhaps of tornado weather in Alabama, nowhere else have I seen the weather change so dramatically and abruptly as in the Labrador Sea.
By way of review, we left Qikiqtarjuaq last Friday, Sept 5 and sailed before following winds for 4 ½ days, not using the motor except to charge the batteries. Friday was our final day above the arctic circle, with stunning views of the mountains of Baffin Island and the last of the large icebergs. Friday night was reduced-speed bare-pole sailing with limited visibility, mitigating the potential damage from any remaining bergy bits.
Saturday brought gentle winds from the north, providing idea conditions for flying the spinnaker, making good time with only 14 knots of wind from astern. Through Sunday and Monday, we were well out of sight of land, with the winds and seas from the northwest steadily increasing until by Monday afternoon, Lilian was powering southward at over 8kts using only a reefed mainsail, surfing down the faces of the waves, with occasional bursts of speed at over 12 knots. That may sound slow, but for a 40 foot sailboat, 12 knots is very fast and we were making exceptional progress southward.
Then on Tuesday morning, as if on cue, the wind shifted around nearly 180 degrees within an hour’s time. By 9 in the morning they had begun strengthening to gale force, blowing straight on our nose, with the waves building to 4 meters by midday. Heading into 40 knots of wind and 12 foot waves, sailing with two points of reef in the main, and the engine to assist in maintaining headway, Eli appeared to be enjoying his rough weather sailing experience as he referred to the occasional wave dousing the helmsman as “cockpit scuba diving.” This pounding lasted for eight hours and then, more abruptly than they had begun, the surface of the seas reduced from walls of water, to the texture of a gentle stucco, and the winds dropped to near calm as darkness fell, treating us to a relaxed night of motoring under clear skies with a full moon.
In the high arctic, the weather predictions were notoriously inaccurate. It was a running joke to assume the actual conditions would be the exact opposite of whatever came in from the weather bureau. In contracts, the “Grib” wind prediction files for the Labrador Coast have been very good, if only one nearly doubles the strength of the predicted wind. Typically, the wind direction have been accurate to within the hour, and the general trends are also well predicted. Tuesday’s prediction were right on the mark.
Grib files can be downloaded via our Iridium Satellite link each day at 5:50 EST and we increasingly rely on them to decide our course. Following Tuesday’s weather, the Grib that came in Wednesday morning indicated windy (25-30kt) conditions for that evening (Wednesday) followed by a strong storm (50 kts) coming Friday night. Given the predictions of high winds for Wednesday night we altered course directly for the unseen Labrador coast, heading for the nearest anchorage indicated on the charts. It took until sunset to cover the distance, slowed by winds that had already exceeded those predicted. The anchorage was a small cusp in the side of a fiord. With gust to forty knots, we resorted to the same anchoring technique as had worked back Rigby Bay on Devon Island, when anchoring in steady 50 kt winds. Using the sonar to sound the depth, we tucked up as close to the surrounding cliffs as the bottom would allow and then dropped our full length of anchor chain. More chain adds weight and provides a better angle for the anchor to stay dug in. During the night, the wind gusted to 50 kts and Eli got to experience the light sleep and odd dreams associated with waiting for an anchor alarm to go off. I personally slept in my foul weather gear so as to be ready to immediately go on deck and start the engine, in case we needed to re-anchor. Fortunately, the Rigby technique worked well and the anchor held all night,
In the morning left the anchorage at 3:30 am to allow sufficient time to motor/sail today to the populated town of Hopedale, (sounding like a town out of the Hobbit), which has a several anchorages denoted on the chart, and a wharf as well. It has been an exceptionally beautiful day of sailing, starting with Orion in the morning sky followed by a crystal clear sail down the rocky, island spotted coast of Labrador. We expect to arrive in Hopedale late this evening and, once there, we will seek out as secure a spot as possible and remain until Friday’s storm has passed. Eli says he’ll be excited to be in a town when it happens.