Fine Tolerance and the North West Passage. Newsletter No 18 p2
The day dawned with sunshine and little wind and in a matter of just a few hours Fine Tolerance had her propeller and shaft back in and the rudder bolted in place. A reciprocating saw was used to cut away the mangled pulpit and the stainless tube top rail was bent down and lashed to the toe rail. When the quadrant was attached to the top of the rudder shaft the reason the rudder had 60 degrees turn one way and 10 the other became obvious. Not only had the shaft been bent it had also been twisted 25 degree over a length of approx 300 mm (12 inches). It was too late to fix this now, the ice breaker needed to get going and so with a quick replacement of one of the cables with a longer one and by shortening the other we had a rudder capable of turning 30 degrees either way. We just had to be careful not to turn the wheel more than one turn otherwise the chain would come off the cog again. As soon as we had finished jury rigging the steering we cast off and with a blast of the horn in salute to the Sir Wilfred Laurier we headed out into Prince Regent Inlet. Joton Arctic, who had remained anchored at Fort Ross the previous day, had set sail approximately one hour earlier but was already out of sight. While we would have liked to anchor and explore Fort Ross we felt that we had just had an extremely lucky escape and to hang around could be an invitation to disaster. A hasty exit was more important. We motored for the first two hours, clearing the decks, stowing things away in preparation for open water and swell as a small blow had been predicted later on in the day. At four o'clock Joton Arctic called and said they were going to stop at a small inlet called Port Bowen on the western side of Baffin Island and continue on in the morning so we decided to do the same. Port Bowen offered good shelter and just as dusk was falling we anchored in 12 meters behind a small island, 200 meters away from Joton Arctic. We hadn't seen any ice since we had left Fort Ross, seven hours ago and although we were anchored at over 73 degrees north latitude we felt the grip of the arctic on Fine Tolerance had finally weakened.
The beautiful desolation of Port Bowen. Population 0.
The next morning we sailed out of Port Bowen and headed for the last time northward. Later that day we hit our furthest point north; 73 degrees, 48 minutes, turned the wheel and started to head southwards. We traveled through the night, turned down into Navy Board Inlet passing where Simon Alvah had wintered in Tay Bay in his steel boat, writing the story "North into the Night" and fetching up at Pond Inlet, an Inuit settlement of about 1000 between Baffin and Bylot Islands.With another blow due within hours we anchored as well as we could in the open roadstead just off the hamlet of Pond Inlet and going immediately ashore made hasty arrangements for fuel.. While there is a small boat harbour of sorts there it was only suitable for small runabouts as it is only a few feet deep. By the time the fuel truck had come down to the beach the wind had picked up and Fine Tolerance and Joton Arctic were bucking about in a three to four foot chop. Transporting the jerry cans of fuel out to the boats was not going to be an easy task but luckily a supply barge that had delivered good to the area was on the beach and offered their much larger and more powerful inflatable with two strong crew and so the fuel cans were safely landed on the decks. We then bunkered down to wait out the blow which at this stage was not expected to last 24 hours. While it was not the most comfortable of anchorages we were surrounded by spectacular scenery. This was to be our last stop in Arctic Canada. From here we planed to cross over to Disco Bay on the west coast of Greenland.
Anchored off Pond Inlet.
There is much more we could say about the help that the Canadian Coast Guard gave us and the above story is just mainly the nuts and bolts. The Canadian Coast Guard were not in the area to help out adventurers that get into difficulties. We were very fortunate that they very near the area we were in and we believe even more fortunate that the captain has such a great heart and elected to not only get us out of the Arctic but also our boat. Without him we would now most definitely be boat less as would, in every probability, also be Idlewild. Joton Arctic and Cloud Nine could quite possibly have been able to retreat under their own resources after the storm went through and cleared a way out behind them but this would have been in no way a certainty. Many of the officers and crew had boats of there own and understood our plights but as far as we are concerned their help was far above the call of duty and we will ever be in their debt. Their kindness and concern towards all the boats was beyond reproach. The Arctic is really no place for boats our size to be, but then, neither is the top of Everest any place for humans to be.
The sail from Pond Inlet on Baffin Island, Canada, to Godhavn on Disko Island in Greenland passed without incident. We waited for two days at anchor of Pond Inlet before we could run the 30 miles through the Pond Inlet itself to the open waters of the Davis Strait. For the first two days we motored over glassy waters, always within sight of Joton Arctic who were also headed to Godhavn, a place they knew well, as they had wintered over in the harbour there two years ago after their first attempt at the North West Passage. The weather hovered around zero C degrees (32 F) but with bright sunny days and no wind it was quite pleasant. With a slight current behind us we were half way there before we knew it. The wind filled in gradually from the aft quarter but only to between 4 and 8 kts which while insufficient wind to sail with the engine on idle we were able to keep to between 4 and 5 knots on smooth waters for the next 48 hours. Finally with Disco Island in sight (Disco Island is mountainous and on clear days is able to be seen from well over 60 nm out) the wind increased to 25 knots. As night was approaching and as we were only 50 nm from our destination we decided to heave to for the night and continue on in the morning. With the following wind we drifted at 1 knot through the night towards our goal but with the early morning the wind died before coming up again, this time right on the nose. We paid the price for slacking off the previous night and it took until just after dusk to sail the 40 nm before reaching the entrance that lead into Godhavn. We were now in iceberg waters, this time Titanic size icebergs, and we were glad to be able to drop anchor, with just a light snow falling in a calm corner of the small harbour. An hour later Joton Arctic came in and tied up to a fishing vessel which was tied to a jetty about 100 meters away from where we were anchored.
An iceberg drifting past the Greenlandic town of Godhavn.
The next morning we moved over and rafted off of Joton Arctic. There are next to no roads in Greenland. The country is too rugged. All travel between communities is done by boat, plane or helicopter. Greenland is a colony of Denmark and as such, while Greenlandic is the prominent language, Danish is the second language. There is a high level of education and many people do speak English which for us was very handy as our knowledge of Greenlandic or Danish was nil. All supermarket items were ladled in Danish and Greenlandic but nearly all the storekeepers did speak either fluent or some English. What we had planned to be a brief stay stretched out to nine days as we explored the differences between the Greenlandic culture and the culture where we had spent the last twelve months. Cambridge Bay, buried deep inside the Canadian arctic archipelago was, despite being next to water, land based. Sealing and whaling was not a major occupation and other than the catching of arctic char, a salmon like fish, the ocean waters were left alone. Animals hunted were mainly land based (caribou, musk ox, fox, etc) and what economy generated locally was land based. Here nearly everything was based on the sea. Traditional arts were also flourishing and clothing made from seal skins was everywhere in evidence. There was also a lot of small private enterprise activity and alcohol was freely available. We even went to the Friday night disco at the Hotel Disko. With an arm of the Gulf Stream running along the Greenland coast it experiences a much milder climate than the Canadian side of Davis Strait and thus roads were paved and the houses had much larger windows. It was even warm enough to be able to have water piped to house rather than have it delivered by truck and stored inside as we had been used to for the previous twelve months. Dog teams were still used extensively in the winter with the dog population of the town being roughly equivalent to the human population.
The scenery was also different, Gone were the flat, lake filled expanses of the Canadian Arctic to be replaced by the mountainous shores of Greenland which hold the vast Greenland ice cap in place. It is estimated if the Greenland ice cap melts the world's oceans will rise by 19 ft. Think on that. It's an amazing statistic. As it is the Kangia Glacier at the head of Disko Bay pores around twenty million tons if ice into the sea every single day of the year. We found in quite fascinating but winter was not waiting for us to make new discoveries every day but was creeping it's long tentacles ever nearer and we had to force ourselves to move on. Forty miles across the bay was Aasiaat, situated on the mainland on the southern shores of Disko Bay. It was a pleasant crossing with the sighting of many large icebergs drifting serenely by and out into the Davis Strait. They can only be described as awesomely magnificent; words do not do them justice.
A portion of Aasiaat harbour with Fine Tolerance being near the centre. Snow lightly falling.
Aasiaat means the living place of the whales, the seals; the birds and we were greeted by all three as we entered the protected waters behind the off-lying islands. Aasiaat has 3500 inhabitants and for the first time we came across groups of large, multi-story apartment buildings. These had been built in the fifties as cost effective housing and, while in excellent repair, seem incongruous with the vast open spaces all around. One is reminded of Singapore and crowded cities by them but they appear to have worked out fine and seem fully occupied. Here, as in all other parts of the world, the economic realities of putting people into towns to utilize schools, hospitals, municipal utilities, etc have over ridden the ascetic value. We were to pass many small villages that had been deserted as over the last half century the people have moved to take advantage of the advantages of living in larger communities.
From Aasiaat down to the southern tip of Greenland there is an "inside passage" of semi protected waters. Taking advantage of rocky offshore reefs and islands and only extending out into Davis Strait when necessary this route is used by the locals to travel 100's of miles in their small open boats. Our disadvantage was our draft of seven feet and the fact that most of it is not all charted. There is a publication in Danish describing this inside passage but we could not find anything in English, if such a thing exists, which we very much doubted. However from Aasiaat to Agtu, 55 nm further south, it was charted and so after three days looking around we once again took off.
Warm enough to have the bimini down !!!
It was a still day and although the navigation required constant attention we had a great morning, watching the lightly snow covered hills slide by. Many small open boats zoomed past us, miles from any settlement, some with seals draped on there bow and many other small boats we saw were just drifting among the maze of islands fishing or pulling crab pots. Around three o'clock, just as a traditional wooden trawler style boat passed us it began to snow lightly. Within 30 minutes it was a complete white out. Glued to the radar, depth-sounder, computer screen and chart and with hearts in our mouths we continued on. We had the fishing boat up ahead on radar which gave us some sense of comfort for once when we lagged behind he slowed and switched on a powerful spotlight, obviously for us to follow. Even with him 50 meters ahead there were times when the light, the only thing visible in the white, could be seen. Suddenly he took the port route around an island, not the starboard side as I had planned. Instant decision time. Vessels like his usually drew less than 5 feet maximum. I had considered the side he was going earlier and had rejected it as there were too many areas that were uncharted but in such conditions the light leading us, and what we felt was obviously local knowledge, made us turn and follow him. It also was darkening as we had been in the blinding snow for over three hours and this was the shorter way to Agtu. We crept along at a slightly slower pace watching the depth sounder like hawks. The water deepened and finally the snow started to lighten and we could make out some lights in the distance. Agtu was 200 meters away but instead of turning into the small bay shown on the chart the fishing vessel went straight past and disappeared behind the headland of an island into narrow channel. Our chart and the depth sounder showed a large patch of 6 meter depth and we decided that to anchor would be the prudent thing. Three times we dropped the anchor and three times in dragged. The large area was obviously a smooth rock shelf similar to the one above the water that we could see 30 meters to our port. By now it was almost dark but the snow had almost stopped and with infinite care we crept around the headland and into the channel that the fishing vessel had disappeared down. There was a jetty at the end where it had tied up to and we slowly made our way down the channel in 3.5 meters of water and came up along side him. The fishermen took our lines and made us fast. Safe at last. It had been a nerve racking last 4 hours. Fine Tolerance was covered in up to 100 cm of snow with all her on deck lines frozen. It had been quite some snow storm. The captain of the fishing vessel knew some limited English and welcomed us to his village. We shared a cup of tea and conversation with much hand signs thrown in with he and his wife before stepping back onto Fine Tolerance and turning in for a well earned rest.
Early the next morning the fishing boat wanted to move out so we cast off our lines and continued southward. We felt this section too hazardous for us to try and follow the inside route and took the next fiord out into the open waters of Davis Strait. No sooner had we hit open water than the wind came up from the southeast at 20 knots and we found ourselves hard on the wind with a rising sea. That night we hove to as the sea was becoming increasingly awkward and being still above 67 degrees north the compass was too sluggish to steer to with the boat being thrown around so much. The next day was not much better and it took all day with an adverse current to reach the mouth of the fiord that lead up to Sisimiut, the second largest municipality in Greenland with 6,000 inhabitants. Once again it was pitch dark when we reached the crowded harbour where we rafted up on the outside of a large fishing vessel.
Liz in front of the old section of Sisimiut.
Sisimiut is the most southern town in Greenland where dog sled teams are allowed with the harbour being the most northern most, year round, ice free port in Greenland. The area has a very long history of occupation and on a walk we made around a nearby island we came across ruins from the Thule period of around 500 years ago although remains found in the area have been dated back to 4000 years. Modern history here began with the whalers and missionaries and the buildings in the photo that Liz is standing in front of date to the 17th century. It amazed us how well the buildings are preserved in the various communities along this harsh coast. As no trees grow in Greenland the early wooden building that still stands (and are in every day use even today) were erected in Europe, then dismantled and shipped out on sailing vessels to be erected in their new home. This was a busy harbour with larger fishing vessels coming and going all the time and we were forced to move a number of times. Two gales also hit us while we sheltered among the rafted vessels and although we enjoyed our four day stay and could easily have stayed longer at the first break in the weather we once again pushed on southward. Finally, on the 12th of October we completed our crossing of the North West Passage from the Arctic Circle on the Pacific side of America to the Arctic Circle on the Atlantic side. It had taken us 455 days and to our knowledge Fine Tolerance became the first Australian vessel to make the trip and the 105 vessel in modern recorded history (since Amundsun’s voyage 103 years ago) to have made the 4000 nm journey. We crossed under power on a glassy sea arriving in Nuuk, the capitol of Greenland in the early hours of the morning two days later.
Small boats tied up using the first come, first in method.
Off all the towns we visited in Greenland, Nuuk held the least attraction for us. Even with only population of 15,000 it already had a big town feel to it. It did have many attractions though and we spent seven days walking around the streets and riding the buses to the outer lying suburbs. We also had the good fortune to met 'Kisak' a large charter vessel who's home port was Nuuk and who gave us many navigational pointers for the inside route. Even though Nuuk was cosmopolitan city hunting was the underlying theme of weekly existence. Those that could took their boats out at anytime during the week while others that could not crowded the waterways throughout the weekend. Seals, fish and reindeer were the catches. We left on the Saturday, traveling down fiords and past islands for the first 25 nm before once again reaching the waters of Davis Strait. In some sections it was like being in World War Three as small boats filled with two or three hunters each, dashed after seals as they broke surface. Out in the open water peace reigned again with only the odd whale to disturb our thoughts. Fog closed in against the land but we had a clear run offshore and arrived in the town of Paamiut a few hours after dark on the second night out. All but one of our landfalls in Greenland had been at night, not our idea of the best time for entering these small harbours but it did force us to be extra vigilant. We found an open space against a sea wall, tied up and retired for the evening.
The pretty town of Paamiut in which can be seen, in the background, the many blocks of apartment buildings which we saw in many of the southern towns.
Paamiut was a attractive town of 2000 people whose main industry was fishing. The large population reflected also the fact that Greenland's maritime school was situated here. As in some of the other towns we had visited the museum and tourist bureau were closed as we were traveling to late for the summer tourist season and to early for the winter one and thus could fully appreciate all the Paamiut had to offer but we passed two pleasant days before once again heading south. It was nearly all inside passage traveling from here to Qaqortoq, 150 nm away and our jumping off point for the Atlantic Ocean. We had picked out two anchorages to avoid traveling at night and after nice days run interspersed with light snow showers we reached our first planned anchorage, after dark again. Luckily the northern lights were in a fine mood with the sky filled from horizon to horizon with constantly swirling green lights which lit up the shore. While the indent had looked good on the chart it proved to be far deeper and smaller than shown and we were forced to back out and move on, finding a ledge to drop our anchor on in a small bay 2 nm further on up the fiord.
We were up early next morning and hauled anchor, departing before sunrise in an attempt to find anchor for the night before dark this time. We had a great day passing fiords and behind islands before turning due east to run along a fiord to the south side of Greenland. This was an old route with stone cairns on prominent points still used as guides through the channels.
Running down one of the fiords in crisp, clean air.
Unfortunately we didn't quite make it to our selected anchorage before darkness. This was my fault as we found the tide with us and I moved the goalpost further along the canal. Still, it was a nice small bay we had selected and with a light snow falling. and thus no northern lights to light up our way, we managed to make a successful entry and anchored in 9 meters. The next mooring it was still snowing, heavier now and the wind had risen to 20 knots from the direction in which we wanted to travel so with the heater purring quietly alone we remained at anchor for the day. Qaqortoq was only 50 nm away and could wait another day.
With the next morning bright and sunny we weighed anchor and got underway for the final leg. It was a glorious day and as we past various fiords we would sometimes catch glimpses of glaciers at their ends and the flat top of the Greenland ice cap in the distance. We reached harbour just after dark but this time it was a major port, well light by navigational lights and the entrance was no problems. Turning into the harbour we spied a large well kept wharf with only one vessel tied to it so we sailed to the far end and tied up directly to some large ships bollards. We could sort out where to go in the morning.
Morning came and with it a harbour worker who informed us in understandable English that a big ship was due. Now that it was light we took a walk around the harbour and spied a spot nest to a old fishing boat that looked like it hadn't moved for years and coming back to Fine Tolerance started the engine and motored across.
We found Qaqortoq a delightful, friendly place and spent nine days exploring and preparing Fine Tolerance as best we could for the next leg of her journey. We had decided to head for Portugal as we felt that it would be here that haul out prices would be reasonable and parts, equipment and machining work would be available. Besides, we should have the westerlies at our back for most of the trip. On the seventh night that we were in the harbour a storm was predicted to pass through. All day small boats rafted off of us until they reached up and joined other small craft rafting up from a vessel 50 meters away. Ropes were tied everywhere and we tripled the ropes that held Fine Tolerance. Luckily the wind came from over the hill directly in front of us but I have never seen anything like it. The scene looked like a picture from Dante's Inferno. The bright lights from the main harbour wharf shone against the bright orange hull of the Danish Arctic Line's container vessel that was at dock giving the scene a bright red look. Gusts of air reached down and snatched armfuls of water, swirling them high into the air creating ever changing chaotic patterns of red sparkling light against the jet black sky which every now and then was lit up by extended flashes of lightening. Thank god were not out in that I thought.
Two days later, with everything calmed down, and after taking on fuel with the help of the local librarian and vet, we departed to latch onto the few remaining winds left behind by the fury of the storm that had passed through the few nights before. It was now the 6th of November, no time for a small boat to still be sailing in 60 degree north waters but we had no regrets. We had found Greenland to be a wonderful place, populated by wonderful people and if all went well we would be in warmer climes before the month was out.
Yours Phil and Liz