Fine Tolerance and the North West Passage. Newsletter No 15
Fine Tolerance and the North West Passage.
2005 Newsletter No 15
18.00 Zulu, Thursday, 18th August, 2005
Position: Preparing for departure, Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, Canada.
Fine Tolerance flying, from the top, the Canadian flag, the Nunavut flag, the Kititmeot Inuit Association flag.
We are now on the verge of departing Cambridge Bay to give the North West Passage one more try. Today we should receive the part we are waiting for and then, when a patch of 6/10th ice disappears that is about 60 miles from here, we will be on our way. Our claim of having only the accumulator tank damaged by the winters freezing weather was a bit over optimistic. Once the new accumulator tank arrived and the whole plumbing system was put back into commission water spurted out from under each tap set. The short piece of piping between the hot and cold taps had retained water which had frozen and burst the pipe. Dismantling each tap set and applying fibreglass and resin appears to have fixed it. We also broke a injector pipe on the engine. It was the easiest injector pipe to get too and a new part was easily obtained. We don't believe this was a cold related problem, more one of using to much brute force when tightening the holding nut which caused the pipe ferrule to snap off the end.
Every year, or before a major ocean crossing, Liz winches me up the mast and I give the rigging a close visual check. The only thing that I found amiss was that where the stainless forestay wire exits from the swaged fitting at the top of the mast the wire was bulging slightly although I could not find any evidence of any broken strands. We decided that with the difficulty of getting a replacement freighted up we would go with it as it was. To further prepare we decided on taking a shakedown sail over to the mainland with four people that live locally.
From the picture below you can all see what sailing in the Arctic in summer is all about.
Although the sun does set now it is still light throughout the whole of the night. It was beautiful sailing weather and a beautiful day but the hoods and coats show that even when it's nice it's still quite cool. We had only done a little over 100nm when there was a loud bang and the forestay broke. The furler halyard and inner forestay stopped the mast from disappearing over the side and as we quickly attached and winched taut the spinnaker halyard and spare genoa halyard to the bow to secure the mast better I quietly demonished myself for letting that slight bulge I had noticed next to the top swage slide by. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Luckily the furling headsail still furled up but it was a quick U turn and head back to Cambridge Bay as getting a new forestay organized to be sent up quickly took priority over everything else. We had planned to spend the week in the region exploring abandoned trading posts, uncharted anchorages and visiting the two small Inuit communities (one with 5 people and one with 25 people) that were in the area.
We are no longer alone. There are two boats now with us and with one more due in a few days we have quite a small flotilla ready for the assault. As you can see from below, one is a aluminium hulled powerboat making his first attempt, the other a steel hulled sailboat that is trying for the third year to make the passage. Both are Canadian boats. The missing vessel, also a steel hulled sailboat, is currently being held up by ice 200nm to the west of us but hopefully should be here sometime in the weekend. Our small flotilla travelling from the west is equalled by a similar small flotilla approaching from the East. There we have 'Pelagic' a 79ft aluminium sailboat skippered by Skip Novak, 'Cloud Nine' a 57ft fibreglass sailboat from the USA, 'Austral Express" a new kevlar hulled sailboat from NZ and our friends on 'Jotun Arctic', the Norwegians in their steel hulled sailboat who like us spent the entire year in the Arctic. This will be their third attempt at the passage having wintered the year before in Greenland. If the passage does open up and we can all pass through then it will break all records for the North West Passage. Already a large Russian built icebreaking cruise ship has passed through, Canada's largest icebreaker has passed through and one more Canadian icebreaker has just left Montreal on a data gathering scientific mission who plans to transit both ways through the passage. This makes for a grand total of 12 transits in a single year which when compared to the grand total of 102 in the past 102 years is a lot. Of course we are getting ahead of ourselves here a bit as only two of the transits have happened so far, by two of the largest ice breakers in the world, and while conditions are looking a lot better for us than last year there is no guarantee that any off the rest of us will make it.
Since we have returned we have been kept busy. We have reloaded all our supplies which you can see Liz attacking with gusto in the photo below. How it all fitted below we are not too sure but we have to be prepared just in case we do get caught in the middle of nowhere. After our experience last year we are not approaching the passage with as much confidence even though it looks so much more promising and we will be exercising more caution than last year as regarding being trapped by ice closing in behind but it would be foolhardy not to be as prepared as we possibly can be.
However it hasn't been all work and no play. As our departure has drawn closer our social life as increased proportionally. We did managed to take quite a few of the local children out for a sail before the headstay broke and we have, on the few breathless sunny days played with our folding canoe. So from us both, thanks for all your well wishes and here's hoping that in 30 days time we will be able to write, 'late this afternoon the high peaks of Greenland appeared on the horizon just off the port bow'. We'll keep you informed of our progress.
Yours Phil and Liz
Sailing with the local children.