Expedition Report: Big decision

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1st September 2016, by Meret:

It’s September already! Today we storm bound get again. We had planned to leave in the afternoon but the weather thought otherwise. Leaving with over 30 knots isn’t fun plus it’s difficult to relieve the load on the anchor and pull up the chain against so much wind.
So we busied ourselves with getting everything on the boat ready. Sabine cooked some food ahead of time. She usually does this because you never know whether it will be calm enough to cook once we leave or whether she will be feeling well enough to cook. Sabine and the rest of the adults, Dario excluded, often feel seasick for the first three days. Then our bodies adapt and we feel better but standing in the galley is one of the worst places to be if you feel sick.
The rest of us took on the task of repairing our ice crasher, as we have named it. The bands we used to attach it to the boat had worn through and the ratchets to tighten it broken. In Cambridge Bay we had gotten replacements for both but due to the lack of ice hadn’t been in need of putting it back on the bow. This as always took a lot longer and was a lot less straight forward than anticipated. The new hook wasn’t the same shape as the old one and could have unhooked in bigger swell, so we had to use shackles to attach the band to the ice crasher instead. But bottom line we managed to put it back on, it only took most of the day. By then gusts up to 50 knots were whistling through the bay.
After dinner we had a film evening something that doesn’t often happen on Pachamama. We even put on the heating for the second time that day, you know just to double check it was actually working. We hadn’t heated the boat yet at all until that point to safe energy; – you never know if you have to overwinter up in these waters. A boat we met in Nome also doing the passage had been using the heater there already…
We decided to do anchor watches to make sure we weren’t dragging and so we could leave as soon as the wind died down.

The past few days we have also been faced with a decision. Either to finish the NW Passage the more traditional route via Prince Regent Inlet, Lancaster Sound and then Pond Inlet or to finish it a completely new, until now impossible, way via the Fury and Hecla Strait through Hudson Bay. This new route, probably opening up the 1st time for boats like us, awoke our inner explorers. Dario always thought that this would be the logical natural route. It makes a much nicer track line and is the shortest path through the Northwest Passage. The reason why sailors did not take it in to consideration is simple: it was always frozen shut. To our current knowledge until this year only a handful of ice breakers made it through this passage and no one has ever completed the Northwest Passage this way.

We had been informing ourselves about the possibility of doing the Hecla and Fury Strait but we knew it would depend a lot on weather and ice conditions. Though the Strait was completely open a few days ago, the wind was pushing the ice back into the entrance. This route would be a lot less certain and we possibly would have to turn back adding a detour of 600 miles, if we weren’t successful.

There is not a bounty of information on the route, so here is how we collected ours:
In Gjoa Haven we were able to download a chart and contacted our friends on Vagabond. Vagabond have been doing research in the Eastern Arctic for years and we have been in contact with them for a decade now. We made plans to meet up in Fort Ross and proceed to F&H from there.
We also read our the sailing directions for Arctic Canada, that we have on board, and compared this to the information we got from the ice breaker Ernest Shackleton. Here is what they told us:
“One of our ice pilots was captain with the Canadian Coast Guard and has had experience transiting through this strait on a large, powerful icebreaker using what charts are available. However, there are not real detailed charts for this passage. His experience with F&H is as reputed, that of being narrow and shallow, and the tidal ranges and currents on this side of the Arctic are significant.” They also included some excerpts from sailing directions.
As mentioned yesterday, we got ice charts from Russian icebreaker Sea Adventure.
Current weather, tides and ice conditions we got from Victor and the IPRC. Vagabond made it through on the 31st of August and would like to meet us on the other side where they are doing some diving. They told us that they had good conditions going through. Polar Bound, a motor boat with a thick double aluminum hull built for the ice, came all the way from Great Britain trough H&F Strait in the opposite direction about the same time. They stopped only once in Greenland before Fort Ross! They told us it was difficult.

We have made the decision to try to get through the Fury and Hecla Strait and to turn back if there is too much ice. Fingers crossed we’ll make it! – In Lancaster Sound towards Pond Inlet there have been constant gale warning recently. So it made no sense to sail North, better to try to do the first Northwest Passage via Hudson Bay and escape the Arctic before being frozen in solid.

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