3rd & 4th September 2016, by Meret:
-The last two days are a jumble in our minds and have been quite an adventure, so we’re doing a joint report. –
It all began with a thick white blanket covering our boat: it had started to snow during the night. It was a very wet snow. It stuck to our cockpit cover and had to be cleaned away every ten minutes in order to see out the front. It was perfect for writing good morning messages for the kids in it. Once they were up, they were so excited they instantly made a snow owl. Noé explains in more detail: “It wasn’t really a snow owl or a snow man, it was kind of both. Mmmmh… maybe a snow m-owl.” By the time they had a break from school most of it had melted away again and they spent their time looking for the last few patches of snow to make snow balls to throw at me.
We had gotten an email from the Russian ice breaker Sea Adventure saying they had encountered larges ice flows to the South of Crown Prince Frederik Island. They had even seen polar bears on some of them. As tempting as it was to see polar bears again, we decided to avoid the large chunks of ice, we weren’t an ice breaker after all. So we went around the North of Crown Prince Frederick instead. There were still some large pieces of ice in the North but they were few and far between. At first we hugged the coast but there we ran into another problem, the depth was way off. Where there should have been at last 30 meters there were 15. 15 meters started to get a little uncomfortable for our liking. Further more we had 4 different times for tides and had no idea what influence they would have on the currents or how strong these currents would be. After matching the time zones Dario found that two were about equal, so we went with that time as our reference. Sea Adventure had also told us they had encountered 2/10 of ice at the entrance of the strait. 2/10 is the upper limit of what you want to sail through, more gets pretty tricky. As we approached we could see ice of all varying sizes and it looked like a fair amount. All on deck it was quite fun navigating through the ice all together. “Rächts!” – “Guet so?” – “Nei, nochli! Jo, so each guet!” (“Right!” – “That good?” – “No, a bit more! Yep, that’s good!”)
Salina spotted a seal, so we zigzagged our way closer. It was big and fat and didn’t seem bothered by us at all. Later we also saw another smaller one and some whales.
In Nome we had organized an ice pole to push away the ice if need be. We hadn’t use it yet but decided now was the moment to try it out. Salina, Andri and I got ready with the pole. The piece of ice was approaching our bow on port. The pole is aluminum, 4 meters long with a pointed end. It was heavy and we got the angle completely wrong. The pole just scrapped over the top of the ice without moving it away from the boat at all. Dario quickly managed to avoid it, only just. The next one was getting closer. Having learnt our lesson we angled the pole better during the approach. And we managed to push the ice block away. But it took all our weight against the pole push it back and away from the boat. In the end we had to watch out the pole didn’t pull us overboard.I’m sure in an emergency we’d be grateful to have it but it certainly isn’t easily maneuverable. Reacting quickly or switching it from port to starboard, would have been difficult.
At some point it seemed we had made it through but alas a few minutes later we were heading strait for another wall of ice. On the mast Christina and Sabine tried to see openings but it was cold up there. So Instead we positioned one on the helm and one on the bow. Now, we were heading straight for Mocklin Island, a shallow area around an island and multiple rocks sticking up. The new challenge was to navigate through maze of ice and still manage to avoid this area. For an hour it looked tight, Cornelia at the bow and Christina by the helm relayed back and forth tirelessly during this time to get us past Mocklin without getting stuck in the ice. As we ate a quick dinner, we could see we had made it. The ice started thinning as Salina dressed up warmly to take on her first night watch, it was Christina’s chance to get some sleep. Yes, indeed it was getting dark and there was still ice. We had all paired up, doing a night watch alone in the ice was not an option.
As I came on deck, Salina and Cornelia told me there wasn’t much ice anymore. I was glad because I wasn’t looking forward to ice in the dark. Salina wanted to go up front for a while, so I took my place by the helm. It didn’t take long and we were back in the ice. By now it was almost dark and the darker it got the more ice there was. The ice blocks that had been so beautiful during the day became menacing objects coming towards us seemingly out of nowhere. Sabine took over Salina’s spot at the bow. I was helming now to be able to react instantly. Dario had taken his usual spot at the chart table by the radar. He could see the bigger pieces of ice on the radar but only if they were either to the right or left of us. The ones dead center weren’t visible as the signal of the radar was blocked by the mast and the stays. So I ended up helming this way and that to make sure we could see those too. Up on deck fog had rolled in and Sabine and I could barely make out anything. Sabine would see the ice bergs last minute, when it was almost too late to react.
For a full three hours, we had a constant stream of ice bergs coming at us. It was like a mine field and we had no intention of ending like the Titanic. None of us had slept yet and it was extremely tiring being so alert the whole time.
Sabine, who was sitting at the bow during this dark and foggy night, said it was like a nightmare roller coaster ride, where you can’t tell what is up and what is down, it’s all just one big blur.
Dario described this way: It was like a computer game, where you have enemies coming towards you and the further into the game you get the more enemies come at you and the faster they approach.
I knew, that whatever I saw from the helm, I’d see it far too late to react, so I blindly trusted and followed Dario and Sabine’s instructions. But without any reference point to look at it was hard to stay on course, a few seconds trying to understand what Sabine was calling out and I was off by a critical 5 degrees. We had one very near miss but eventually we got out of the ice. Phew! Sabine and I decided to wake the other two, that had gotten a few hours of sleep now. There was no point in falling almost falling asleep on the bow and at the stern, better we get a few hours of sleep too and then swap with Christina and Cornelia again.
As we came down below, Dario showed us the ice chart he had only just managed to download. Victor had sent it earlier that day but it had taken a long time for us to download the large file. On it we could see exactly how we had unknowingly navigated directly into the area with the most ice. We had gone through 2/10 of ice at night at almost new moon in the fog, we couldn’t have planed it any better if we had wanted to.
I got maybe two, two and a half hours sleep, then Dario woke me to come take over from Christina. The ice had mostly cleared and we had gotten 20+ knots of wind. A little later we entered the Labrador narrows, the last most challenging part of the Fury & Hecla Strait. We had timed this, so we would transit it during daylight an after the nights navigation, seeing well was a very welcome change.
All of us were on deck again apart from Dario, who was still navigating. He had not slept at all that night. We knew we had to be quite fast to make it through the narrows with the tide with us. As we approached there was still the odd piece of ice but it was easily avoided. The brown rocky coast of Baffin Island and Melville Peninsula were covered in a dusting of icing sugar-like snow. The cold wintery atmosphere made us feel like we should start singing Christmas carols. Knowing we were tight on time we set the Genoa and with no main instantly heeled over. The wind gusts, whistling through the valleys we passed, suddenly hit us and we had up to 30 knots (usually we would not have the Genoa sail out in such high winds but we had to keep our speed up). The tide still with us, we were rocketing along at 13.5 knots, 7-8 of those knots were thanks to the current. Now, Dario’s rafting guide experience came in handy once again. While in the Bellot Strait we had purposefully used the eddies, now we were purposefully avoiding them. The wind coming more and more from the front, was making us adapt our course more and more towards the mainland. This is where the eddies were and around Cape Lilly there was even a counter current along the shore. Coming from an 8 knot current into a much slower current or even a counter current would cause the boat to tip, as any kayaker would surely know. The toe rail already close to the water we wanted to avoid this. Luckily, the counter current was easily spotted by the different waves. So once again made it through in the nick of time. High tide was at 12:58pm UTC, we got through at 12:56. It’s hard to put into words what we felt at that moment. But I can say it was huge relief to have made it through. We all congratulated each other and had a chai and a Nutella-filled tortilla wrap in celebration. We had made it through the Fury & Hecla Strait!!! This makes Pachamama the first boat to take this route through the Northwest Passage. Of course we still have to make it out of the Arctic circle and the out of Hudson Bay thought the Hudson Strait. But it’s looking pretty good and it’s all very exciting. We have to say a big thank you to Victor for suggesting it in passing. It became 1st time possible this year to sail through it, because of climate change. A huge thank you and mention also goes out to Eric from Vagabond, as they were the first sail boat to go through the strait 3 days before and gave us lots of tips.
That evening we got to Igloolik and were instantly welcomed by multiple boats of fishermen and hunters. We showed them our boat and then all fell into bed exhausted from the past few days.