Fine Tolerance and the North West Passage. Newsletter No 4



Fine Tolerance and the North West Passage.
Newsletter No 4.
Thursday 29th July 06.00 Zulu
Position : 69 deg 34 mins North.   138 deg 54 mins West

Unfortunately the forecast SW winds failed to materialize but we have made it through to the Canadian Arctic, to a place called Herschel Island where we are presently anchored in a small semi protected cove. Herschel Island was given it's name by Sir John Franklin in 1826 and by the 1890's was the home of 1500 American whalers. It is now a national park attended by two rangers throughout the summer months. Our trip here was the first experience we have had of ice. The story of which is as follows. We departed Barrow with the wind on the nose and after rounded Barrow point, the most northerly part of Alaska hardened up onto the wind and headed eastward. It wasn't long before we came to the first pieces of ice and so tacked back towards the shore. Unfortunately the wind died away and so, switching on the engine we headed on course, slightly south of east. It was a brilliantly clear day and as the hours passed we watched the sun move from the west into the north and then into the east on it's way around the horizon. By morning we were weaving through our first ice. The larger pieces were house size but many were only the size of a small car. Not dangerous but the few that we hit made themselves felt. Still it was easy going and with the sun shinning brightly off the ice, the sea a deep blue, everything was looking rosy. Things changed the next morning. We had planned to stop behind a small island just out from Prudhoe Bay, the arctic end of the Alaskan Oil Pipeline but when we reached there the next morning there was  ice everywhere. We had had a email from the Sir Wilfred Laurier, the Canadian Ice Breaker a bit over a day ahead, saying that there was not much ice so in our ignorance we decided not to stop and push on, expecting the ice to become much freer. Within two hours we were in a maze. The ice floes were now covering square kilometres, not square meters, and the gaps between them were getting narrower and narrower. Things had changed a bit in the last day or so, that was for sure. Some of the leads were dead ends and we would have to turn around and try another way . It was sunny with little to no wind which made it ideal for this type of navigation, still we did have a few anxious moments when wondered if we did the right thing in entering this area. One thing was, was that it was just as difficult to go back as forward so onward we went. For twenty four hours we went, moving quietly between the fields of ice until quite suddenly the way ahead started to turn dark and we knew that clearer water lay ahead. Sure enough the ice began thinning again. Just as we were about to toast our first successful ice crossing with a tot of rum, fog descended. This was something new and added another element to the equation. And it wasn't long before the edge of a large ice floe appeared in the fog ahead. Quickly dropping the sails we once again went under motor and slowly began weaving our way through thickening ice. It didn't last for very long though and three hours later once again cleared up with the ice also obliging and thinning out. By early evening, the sun now once again moving into the northern quarter of the sky, we struck open water and a freshening easterly breeze. One thing about being in ice is that there is no swell. Not so in open water and before too long we had short, sharp, steep seas at around 1.5 meters crashing into Fine Tolerance. It took us 28 hours to cover the remaining miles of ice free water to Herschel Island and the protection of Pauline Cove.

The next day was the hottest we have experienced in some time as we went exploring the old whaling settlement. Caribou were galloping along the foreshore, in fact one swum across the bay within 100 meters of where we were anchored, and we had a very relaxing pleasant day. Today has been a different story with a strong wind sending 1 metre waves at us from across the Cove. The temperature has dropped 20 degrees and we have the diesel heater going. All in all we are glad that we had nice weather for our first ice navigation and not what we have today. So far we sure have been very lucky.

Yours   Phil and Liz
'Fine Tolerance'