Fine Tolerance and the North West Passage. Newsletter No 7



Fine Tolerance and the North West Passage.
Newsletter No 7.
14.00 Zulu Wednesday 18th August
Position : Tied to the dock at Cambridge Bay

As the more astute will have noticed from the above position we made Cambridge Bay safely. Most of the way was sailed in a nice breeze which picked up just before we arrived at around midnight. It then proceeded to blow for the next four days and, notwithstanding that this part of the Arctic is officially a desert, was accompanied by showers. We were glad that we were safely tied up and with the heater fired up and a CD playing softly we were very comfortable. The Canadian Ice Breaker that had helped us off the coast near Barrow was anchored in the harbour. There were also three other vessels in the harbour. We are no longer alone. All three vessels were trapped by the ice last year and have spent the last 11 months in the area. Last year was the 100th anniversary of the beginning of Amundsens three year journey in "Gjoa" which became the first boat to transverse the North West passage.

As we are likely to mention in following newsletters these three boats, here is a brief description of them.

'Dagmar Aaen'.... This is a 60 ft on deck German boat. It is a traditional wooden vessel nearly 70 years old. It has been optimized for polar exploration and has a heavy aluminium sheathing around attached where the hull is likely to come in contact with ice along with a strongly reinforced bow. For helping to pick a way through ice it has a crows nest near the top of the mast as well as a collapsible ultra light on deck to enable them to really scout out the surrounding area when the going gets tough. The skipper and owner is Avend Fuchs, a man that has walked to both the North and South Poles in the one year, has passed through this passage some ten years ago, has skippered the 'Dagmar Aaen' through the North East Passage (that passes over the top of Russia from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean), one of only six small vessels that have made this passage. They have a TV crew on board recording what they hope will be a successful conclusion to their attempt to get out of the North West Passage this year. It has a crew of nine.

'Polar Bound'....This is a 48 ft full displacement power boat,  constructed in aluminium especially for polar work. The owner and skipper is the Englishman David Cowper. David has also passed through this passage (from 1988 to 1990) on his way to becoming the first person to navigate the globe solo via the North West Passage. He also holds 38 other sailing records. The vessel is the culmination of 30 years experience and it shows. Although only 48 ft and constructed in aluminium it displaces 50 tonnes which gives an indication of it's strength. David is trying to achieve this passage solo.

'Minki 1'.... This is a 42 ft Ted Brewer design. Made of steel by it's owner/skipper Peter Brock, a Canadian from Halifax in Nova Scotia, this boat is the closest in design to ours. It is crewed by two young and energetic sail makers.

Since we have been here we have  climbed to the top of the local mountain from which we sighted a herd of Musk Ox, walked the local golf course (called "many Pebbles" due to it's rugged terrain made up entirely from boulders and stones) and socialized with the other boats. The yearly barge of supplies is due in tomorrow which means that we will be able to fill up our propane tanks which we use for cooking. We have topped up with water and we plan to top up our diesel tanks tomorrow.

We have remained here in Cambridge Bay, not only because of the miserable weather of the past few days but also because the passage between here and our next planned stop, Gjoa Haven, has been completely blocked with ice. It has been getting thinner though and we expect to be able to make this next part of the passage by weeks end.

The ice reports of further ahead have, up to today, not been very encouraging though. The ice pack that has been in Peel Sound since last year is still there but today, for the first time, the ice charts put out by the Canadian Weather Bureau showed a small change. Up to now the sound has been packed solid from one shore to the other with thick ice but it has now started to crack up. This is two weeks later than normal. Two weeks in this part of the world is quite significant but the change can be quite rapid in ice once it frees up and starts to move about in the wind and current. The floes hit up against each other and start grinding away against each other. Then, when there is a little open water, small wavelets blown up by the wind lap at the edges of the ice causing more erosion. All this is, of course, good news for us and we still are very optimistic that our plan of achieving a one season crossing can be achieved.

Yours   Phil and Liz
'Fine Tolerance'