Sailing Arctic

A Sailing Adventure into The Arctic

A moment lived in Arctic by Chris Long, a traveller from New Zealand

In July 2015 my girlfriend and I got the amazing chance to be apart of the crew on a small sailing vessel sailing from Baltimore to Alaska, via The North West Passage and Greenland. There have been only about 135 small vessels (under 20m) to ever complete this passage and when you set off the chances of the sea ice in the high Canadian Arctic actually melting is 50/50.  That’s if you even make it up past Greenland.
The captain of the yacht Joe found us on a crew finding website Latitude 38 where we had put up a small advertisement a few months before.
The yacht, SV Hawk, is a very proven sailing vessel.  It has circumnavigated the globe sailed by its previous owners Beth and Evan.
The hardest thing was fitting 4 months food into all the small spaces and cubby holes throughout the boat!!

Departure:  22nd July Baltimore to Halifax
Our first 3 days were absolutely horrible.  We came out into the end of a tropical storm and we had up to 45Knot wind gusts and Huge seas.  I was terribly sea sick and wondered how I could possibly do this for 3 months.  Joe had plenty of sailing experience and he was teaching us how to sail.  But at the same time this was his first time sailing this particular yacht.  Shanan Wolfe and Jérémie St-Pierre were 22 and 25, and had some sailing experience.  But never on the high seas.   Graceie and I had never sailed before.  And only Graceie and I knew each other.  We were all thrown in at the deep end but luckily we were all very capable and learned fast.
2 days north of Halifax just off the coast of Newfoundland disaster struck! A bearing in the steering wheel broke and the steering wheel stopped working.  It sounds serious and it is, but our auto pilot still worked.  We changed course and headed straight for the nearest town, Stephenville, Newfoundland.
The passage from Newfoundland was fast with following winds all the way.  Lots of fog and the first iceberg just off Nuuk, Greenland’s capital.
The day before we set off from Nuuk we got the surprising news that the first 3 yachts had made it through Bellot straight, this is the crux if you like of the whole North West Passage, and this was very early in the season for it to open.  Some years it doesn’t open at all, this was good news. However, we were also worried, some years it only opens for a day…had we missed our chance?
From Greenland it would be over a month before we would get another shower and go to a grocery shop.  Also from here we were on our own, if something serious happened to the yacht or one of us then rescue would be days away.  To me, it was important to know the yacht well enough that if the worst was to happen to Joe the captain we could get back to the nearest port.
We sailed up the west coast of Greenland to a place called Disco Bay, home of the icebergs.  We were had to get used to tacking through the bergs avoiding the downwind area where the small chunks or ice, (growlers) would sit, just on the surface of the water.  These chunks of ice the size of cars pose the largest threat to us as they are hard to see especially in rougher conditions.  We have all seen the Titanic….

Icebergs and polar bear
Disco Bay was one of the most incredible places I have ever been.  The Illulisat Ice Fiord is a massive Fiord that is completely full of icebergs that have calved off the glacier at the edge of the Greenland Ice Cap.
Our first stop in the Canadian Arctic was Pond Inlet, a small Inuit community in on Baffin Island.  With no doc, we had to fill Jerry cans of fuel on the beach from the tanker and do loads in the zodiac back to The Hawk.
We continued through Lancaster Sound to Beachey Island, the wintering oversight for the lost Franklin Expedition in the 1800s.   Here we saw what we had longed to see….the little white dot on the shore that turns into a Polar Bear!!  It’s hard for them to hide when there’s no ice around.
From Beachey Island we headed south down Peel Sound.  Usually, this is hard to navigate through due to heavy ice but with our ice charts we downloaded each day via the sat phone we knew there was plenty of room to navigate south.  You never want to get between a large area of ice and the shore or your history.
In the Bering Sea, we again had 45 knots of wind.  This time, it was behind us but the sea was still large and ugly.  The poor Hawk got thrown around but she handled it well.   We had just our stay sail up and still we would get blown over to 50 degrees with gusts of wind 40+ knots.  Each night we would see the northern lights in the sky above us.  Usually, it was a bit cloudy but one particular night it was right across the sky at 4am with a crescent moon and if you put your face outside the cockpit you would get a cold face full of spray!  Raw nature at its best and another moment I will never forget.  Here we crossed the Arctic Circle ending our successful 31 day transit of the North West Passage!!

When we arrived in Nome, Alaska we got to have our first shower in 5 weeks!!

This traveller has a blog : Wild Kiwi

credit photo : Chris Long
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