Fine Tolerance and the North West Passage. Newsletter No 3



Fine Tolerance and the North West Passage.
Newsletter No 3.
Friday 23rd July 19.00 Zulu
Position : 70 deg 56 mins North.   152 deg 43 mins West

In 1778, on his third and final great voyage, Captain James Cook, following orders from the Admiralty to search for a northern passage from the Pacific to England was turned back by ice not far about the 70th parallel. Turning back to rest his men and winter in the tropics before again attempting the following year to find a northwest passage he met his death at the hands of natives in Hawaii. This second in command did try again the following year but once again was turned back by ice just above the 70th parallel. Today we tacked back towards land after sighting our first large ice flow at 71 deg 30 mins. Global warming is really effecting these waters.

From the position we left you in the last newsletter we continued drifting east with the current that sweeps along the arctic coast at between 1 to 2 knots. Unfortunately we reached the position where we were to meet the Canadian Ice Breaker eight hours too early and so spent the day tacking into a head wind and a 2.6 knot current just to keep position. Right on time, through a light fog at six miles distance, we caught sight of our last hope, the Sir Wilfred Laurier. They stopped on position to conduct some scientific tests while we worked to windward of them and up to a loose line of bergs before dropping our sails and drifting down towards them. As soon as they had finished there work they came alongside. We tied to there lee side (the side of the ship that was sheltered from the wind) and stepped aboard. It only took a few words to know that if anything could be done these were the men to do it. We discussed how they felt they could do the job and as it was well outside there normal orders I would have to take every responsibility. Along with this responsibility I also could call a halt to anything if I didn't approve. These terms were readily agreed to. We lightened Fine Tolerance by 450 kg by removing all our containers of spare fuel and water and, along with getting Fine Tolerance in the exact position and the crane in a perfect position as possible we placed straps under the aft end of the hull, securing them forward so that they would not slip off the back altogether when the weight of the boat came down upon them. We lifted the transom about 900mm ( 3ft ) out of the water watching all the time the bow section to make sure that we weren't sinking her up front while we worked at the back. Then the strap slipped. We stopped and waited, the strapped slipped further back, we only need another 300 mm but we couldn't risk putting a dinghy and person under the hull. We lowered her back into the water. Once more the first mate, bosun and I had a discussion. We felt that we could do it, I was willing to have another go so we tied another three ropes either side of the main lifting strap and secured them forward. We lifted once more. As the weight came on the strap once again started slipping back but this time stopped well within a safe limit. As soon as the prop was half clear I and an able bodied seaman slipped under the hull in a rubber dinghy. We dared not risk lifting any higher, and with hands in the water and heads being thumped by the hull above as the slight swell moved all three of the vessels, the ice breaker, Fine Tolerance and the dinghy in an uncoordinated dance, the net was cut free. The net cutting free operation took less than 15 minutes, the whole setting up and lifting operation only about two hours, the thinking two days. The result, an ecstatic Phil and Liz, and a satisfied officers and crew of the ice breaker. We had been saved a 1200 mile trip back to where we know we could get a diver to do the job but more importantly we did not have to abort the attempt on the Northwest Passage. While on the ice breaker we were also treated to a magnificent meal in the officers mess, hot showers and when it came time to leave and I went in search of Liz who had disappeared while I was discussing weather with the ice breakers meteorologist and ice expert I found her in the crew lounge sharing a red wine with a group of lady crew and scientists. While she came without to much kicking and screaming it was touch and go for a minute.

After casting off we sailed the remaining 25 nm to Barrow, the most northerly town in America, anchored and had a good sound sleep. We had a quick look around Barrow before once more hauling anchor and setting off. The weather report is predicting 25 kt SW winds which will help carry the last 80 miles of ice out from the Alaskan shore and allow us to sail through between it and the shore into a large 300 nm patch of ice free water that will lead us right up to the start of the North West Passage itself.

Yours   Phil and Liz
Fine Tolerance'