Fine Tolerance and the North West Passage. Newsletter No 17



Fine Tolerance and the North West Passage.
Newsletter No 5

Well here is the start of the full story of our trip of the North West Passage. The last full update was from before we left Cambridge Bay so we'll start from there. The plan is to write this in sections so you can come in where you like if you already know the story up to a certain point. We're sorry but there are no photo's. One of the casualties of the crossing was our main computer which we used for all our photography work, emails, etc so we are presently in a semi crippled communication state at the moment. The Greenlandic keyboards are quite different from ours and everything here is in either Greenlandic or Danish, neither languages of which we understand so we have put off purchasing a replacement until we get to an English speaking country.


We had to wait twelve days for the replacement forestay to arrive from Vancouver, watching the time slip away. Finally, on the 23rd August the evening plane came in with a large coil of wire in it's hold which could only be our replacement stay. Even before we had unwrapped it we could see that the swagged thread that was to fit into our Ronstan rigging screw was a lot longer than the original one had been. Still we immediately started to reassemble the furling system around the new forestay until we got to the drum mechanism. The swagged thread was so long that it ran into the drum bearing leaving us with the only option's of either cutting the thread to the correct length or doing away with the furler and modifying the sail by attaching hanks to it. As the second option would mean considerable work we opted for option one and cut the thread and finished assembling the furling system. We then hoisted the forestay up the mast. It was to short. Even with the backstay rigging screws in their maximum out position there was no way we could get the forestay attached. Then it dawned on us. The 50mm we were short was caused by the thread that we had had to cut off. A rummage through the miscellaneous fitting box came up with a couple of toggles and pins so with vice and judicious grinding and grunting we manufactured a fitting that made up for the lost length. Finally it was all connected but as it was now 10.30 pm and pitch dark, and still adjustments had to be made at the masthead we decided to get some sleep and wake up at first light and finish the job. Pre dawn saw me up the mast and by seven o'clock we were off with the first challenge of the trip under our belt successfully conquered. Now all we had to do was get through the passage! If you remember there were four boats attempting the Passage this year from the Pacific to the Atlantic. 'Idlewild', the Canadian Aluminum power boat, 'Minke 1', the Canadian steel sailboat, 'Arctic Wanderer' the USA sailboat and us. 'Minki 1' and 'Idlewild' had already departed and we rushed off to follow them. 'Arctic Wanderer' had limped into Cambridge Bay with a broken engine, dis-functioning depth sounder and a buckled self steering system and made the
decision that Cambridge Bay was as far as he would get this season. It was a glorious day and we had on board two locals who were accompanying us on this leg of the trip. We knew we would not be getting into any ice until first light the next day so had a relaxing time telling tales and generally enjoying the weather. At first light the next day we sighted our first serious ice but it was not too thick and it did not take us long to work our way through it. By noon we were in clear water again and with a nice 20 kt breeze on our quarter had a great sail across to the mouth of Simpson Strait. We had planned to anchor in McClintock Bay and visit a work crew dismantling an old DEW line station nearby but upon arrival found the Bay clogged with ice and now as darkness was gathering around us we decided to forego the shore trip and anchor outside at the entrance to the strait. With ice floating around us we kept an anchor watch throughout the night, fending off the larger flows with our ice poles when they threatened to catch on our anchor chain. At first light a floe the size of half a football pitch came down on us from out of the fog and and were forced to up anchor and move. We had the GPS co-ordinated that we had used last year to get through the shoal waters of Simpson Strait and even though the fog only gave us at a maximum 20 meters of visibility with the radar, two sharp eyes on the bow and some good teamwork we passed through without any major hassles and arrived in Gjoa Haven just before dark that evening having only sighted land once throughout the entire day, the fog having kept us cocooned in it's grasp. 'Idlewild was anchored in the harbour but there was no sign of 'Minke 1'. 'Idlewild' informed us that they had gone aground in Simpson Strait but were hoping to get off and join us as soon as they could. They came in two days later. There was the owner and one crewman aboard. The crewman had had enough and decided to go no further and as the owner did not wish to do it alone, we felt a good decision, he also decided to call it quits and return to Cambridge Bay to wait out the winter. This had been his third year in the Arctic trying to get through the passage. It was becoming increasingly apparent that this route was not going to be a walk in the park. We were now down to just two of us attempting the west to east path. Of the four boats attempting the east to west passage two had already pulled out also. The American Skip Novak in 'Pelagic Australis' had turned around and was heading back to the eastern US seaboard and the New Zealander on 'Austral Express' had got to Nuuk in Greenland and seeing the impossibility of sailing solo non stop through the passage had halted his attempt. The remaining two, the steel Norwegian sailboat 'Jotun Arctic' and the fiberglass American sailboat 'Cloud Nine' were at Fort Ross just three hundred nautical miles north of us.. The ice charts issued by Environment Canada were looking a lot more promising than the previous years had at this stage so 'Idlewild' and we prepared ourselves for the next stage, the stage that had defeated us last year. We said goodbye to JR and Cindy, the two who had sailed from Cambridge Bay with us as well as JR's wife who had flow to Cambridge Bay to greet us on arrival. Their company and having them aboard on this leg had made the trip a really enjoyable passage.


We had a nice few days visiting with friends that we had made during our last visit the previous year. The ice charts still showed approximately 150 nm of various thicknesses of ice between us and Fort Ross but with favourable wind forecasts 'Idlewild' and ourselves departed Gjoa Haven to run up to the ice edge which was in roughly the same position as last year, at the north west end of James Ross Strait although this year the ice charts were showing a thinner patch in this ice choked section of the North West Passage. Once again we had a nice sail up to James Ross Strait and just after dark anchored on the Boothia Peninsula shore side. There was no ice in sight which made a welcome change from anchoring here last year. Early the next morning we arose and in company with 'Idlewild' got underway, heading north into what we knew would be heavier ice and not really knowing how far, if any distance at all, we would get. The first ice we met wasn't too bad and with 'Idlewild' leading and us following we started to work our way through the ice. Always ahead we could see leads opening and as the ice was not that thick we felt that we could turn and get back to ice free water if we had to. After a three or four hours of working through the leads we came across an open expanse of clear water stretching up to 1 nm from the shore and completely ice free. Not only that, it also stretched as far as our eyes could see. For the next three hours we ran northwards along the lead, silently hoping that it would last until we reached Bellot Strait and Fort Ross but it was not to be. Near Paisley Bay it once more closed down onto the coast and although we once again started to work our way through the thickening ice we could see that very soon it would be impassable so, with darkness due within a few hours, we decided to return to a largish patch of open water near the end of the long open lead we had travelled down most of the day. One thing with ice navigation is to keep as good an eye on what is happening behind you as on what is happening in front of you. We could then decide in the morning our next course of action. It was not possible to enter Paisley Bay as it was completely ice clogged and so we just nudged our bows onto either side of a 30 m wide ice floe on the edge of the open patch of water and settled in for the night.The next morning a quick glance around showed that we wouldn't be going anywhere that day. The ice had completely closed it all around us. It was a beautiful sunny day and by that evening we had drifted with the current nearly 10 nm further northward, sitting quietly trapped in the ice. We were not overly concerned, we still felt that we had a very good chance of making it through as there would most likely be at least twelve days before everything started to ice up completely again with new ice. The next two days were similar to the first. The ice was not exerting a lot of pressure on us, we continued to drift at 10 nm per day in the direction we wanted to go and the sun kept shinning. The fourth day however was different. We were now at the southern end of the Tasmanian Islands, a group of small islands and islets that protrude out from the Boothia Peninsula and run in a south east to north west direction.. Here we felt more ice pressure and every so often 'Fine Tolerance' would be rocked and jarred as ice bumped and grinder along her hull. Large sheets of ice were being pushed up on top of each other as the current took the water through the gaps between the islands and started to pile up the ice which couldn't pass through so easily. Just before midday, with a jolt and a grind 'Fine Tolerance' was pushed partly up onto a piece of ice. We clambered out onto the ice and surveyed the situation. Things didn't look that bad and we returned on board. Soon after 'Fine Tolerance' slipped back into the water between two large floes. After a few hours of being buffetted around we were once again pushed up onto an ice floe.'Fine Tolerance' was now on a 40 degree angle. This time we made a small bag with our passports, cards and cash and cameras in it and once again climbed out onto the ice. After about 1/2 an hour things seemed to settle down and once again we re-boarded. Within 20 minutes'Fine Tolerance' was lifted up and layed down on her other side. Things were starting to get out of our control. 'Idlewild' who had drifted up to well over 1 nm away from us during our four day drift was currently closing in on us again on a current of her own and now lay only about 200 meters away. Another lurch took 'Fine Tolerance' to nearer 50 degrees from the vertical and we were well aware that if we were pushed right over and held down by ice 'Fine Tolerance' would surely sink. With this is mind, and knowing darkness would be on us in less than an hour, we decided to walk over the ice to 'Idlewild' and spend the night there. Being a power boat and not having a deep keel we felt that she was by far the safer boat in the present condition. We went back on board, got a spare set of clothes and stepped up off the deck and back onto the ice. Three of there crew walked over dragging their dinghy and helped us to cross the distance. They made us welcome and agreed that it was the most prudent thing to do. We would be able to access everything again in the morning. We could only hope that the two boats would be close come light the next day.At 10.00 that night, with a bump and grind 'Idlewild' also was pushed up onto a floe. As 'Idlewild' did not have any real keel to speak of she only listed five or so degrees and now, being up on the ice, the continuing noise of the ice pressuring the sides of the hull disappeared. The problem was, of course, was that she was now also disabled being, in effect, high and dry. 'Jotun Arctic' and 'Cloud Nine' were anchored in a small bay only 40 miles north of us with mostly open water being there. We didn't have that far to go. We were up at first light when a polar bear appeared close to the boat and a glance around showed a different view than we had gone to bed with. One of the rocky shores of one of the larger Tasmanian Islands was now less than 100 m away and 'Fine Tolerance' was nowhere in sight.

Will get the two sections; TASMANIAN ISLANDS to FORT ROSS and FORT
ROSS to DISCO ISLAND out as soon as we can.

Yours  Phil and Liz