Fine Tolerance and the North West Passage. Newsletter No 1



Fine Tolerance and the North West Passage.
Newsletter No 1.
Position : 65 deg 16 mins North.   166 deg 51 mins West.

Well, we are back cruising again. This year we are attempting the North West Passage. This is the sea route that crosses over the top of North America. Blocked with ice  for over 11 months of the year there is only a small window each summer, and then sometimes even no window at all, where the passage is possible. For those unfamiliar with the North West Passage here
is a very brief summery.
*1576 ..... Frobisher made his first voyage in search of a North West Passage over the top of the Americas.
*1845-1848 ..... After many famous explorers had tried and failed Franklin on his third attempt disappeared with all 134 hands. His wife and the English government spent the next 8 years attempting to find him during which time much of the eastern entrance was mapped.
*1903-1906 ..... The 'Gjoa' ,  a converted fishing boat skippered by Roald Amundsen, became the first boat the transit the Passage, over three hundred years after the first attempts had been made. This is the same Amundsen the became the first man to the South Pole.
*1940-1944 ..... The 'St Roch', a Royal Canadian Mounted Police vessel became the first vessel to complete the passage in one season and the first vessel to pass through both ways.
*1969 ..... Exxon's specially modified oil tanker, the 'Manhattan' became the first commercial vessel to transit the passage. Accompanied by two ice breakers and at a cost of ten's of millions of dollars it symbolically took on one barrel of oil. As of 2004 it remains the only commercial vessel to make the passage.
*1977 ..... The Belgian, Willie de Roos, sailing his 44 ft steel sailboat became the first sailboat to transit the passage and completing the voyage in one season.
*1995 .... 'Dove' a 27ft steel sailboat, built and skippered by Winston Bushnell and with two friends as crew also completed the voyage in one season becoming the fifth boat in history to do so.
*2003 .... On the 100th anniversary of 'Gjoa' first ever transit seven vessels attempted the passage. Two made it through successfully. Three were caught in the ice where they have been for the past 10 months. The remaining two we haven't yet been able to track down.
* 2004 .... We're making the attempt.

A brief summary of our past year is following Japan, the Aleutian Islands, Canada and South East Alaska our journeys were curtailed when Liz's father became critically ill and passed away soon after Liz had arrived back in Australia, having flown home immediately upon hearing the news. I had stayed looking after Fine Tolerance in Vancouver Island. When Liz returned we sailed on down to Port Townsend in Washington State and readied Fine Tolerance for the trip ahead. This entailed more insulation, the addition of a radar, spare GPS, diesel fired stove/heater, an enclosed bimini around the steering station and the stowage of one years supply of food and spares, just in case we do get caught and have to spend a winter iced in. In Port Townsend we were helped by good friends and the time went quickly. We departed Port Townsend mid April and sailed up the inland passage to Sitka, visiting many friends along the way. From Sitka we had a pleasant crossing of the Gulf of Alaska to Kodiak and from there sailed further west to False
Pass which is the first pass from the east that leads into the Bearing Sea. From there it was straight north to Nome.

We have now departed Nome and tomorrow should cross over the arctic circle. The days have been quite mild and yesterday and today the sun has shone most of the day. It no longer gets dark at night and although the sun still does go down below the horizon even in the darkest hours we can still read a book without any artificial lighting. The wind so far has favoured us as well coming mainly from between south and west giving us nice reaching and running conditions. It is just as well as fuel in Nome, at US$3.50, was over twice as much as when we last topped up our tanks  in False Pass 600 nautical miles earlier. The current ice charts show pretty much ice free waters all the way to Barrow, our next major stop. Today a group of Eskimos came up in a aluminium dinghy with carvings and beads for sale. The carvings, scrimshaw on walrus tusks, were quite spectacular. We expect to take seven to ten days to get to Barrow. We'll catch you again then.

Phil and Liz
'Fine Tolerance'