A Day in the life of Northabout 5
GOODBYE TO THE ICE !
raise your glass with us!
out and almost through.
morning we rounded
Point Barrow, in a cold north-westerly wind, light ice floes
behind and fog to half a mile.
we've only 300 miles to
go southward to the Bering Strait and we'll be through the
week ago it all seemed so problematical, maybe this, if
that-and it was, but we've scraped through and if we weren't
now so whacked, and didn't still have a couple of thousand
miles left to go, we'd be elated and ecstatic---which we are
day last week we were heading for Tuktoyuktuk (
pronounce it as you see it , with emphasis on the 'uk' ) This
was a village on the eastern side of the Mackenzie River,
delta until the DEW ( Distant Early Warning ) Line
Station was built here in the 50's. But it was the Oil
activity in the 70's and 80's that really changed it, and now
dormant, have left it for dead, or nearly so.
the dark early hours of Friday morning in fine calm weather,
we motored in along the shore-transits that mark the twisting
channel in. Then the big bay within opened before us. We
wanted to go to the village jetty, if there was one. We could
see the Dew Station, all domes, masts and lights. We could see
sheds, machinery and containers; tugs and barges, but no
jetty. We went to anchor and slept.
had an introduction to the NTCL Port Captain, Tom Edmunds, who
generously and quietly set aside his time and gave it to us.
Tuk is said to be one of the few good places along the NWP to
haul up a boat. Now we could see why.
places in the Canadian Arctic
get their annual supplies on barges which come
north from Great Slave Lake ( the end of the road ) along the
Mackenzie River to Inuvik and Tuk. Here they tranship to
sea-going barges and are towed, 3 to 6 at a time, to their
destination. That's it for another year.!
transportation of shorter distances is done on ice-roads. When
the sea freezes to about 7 feet thick,
they level and mark a route, along which a Cat D8
Bulldozer will pull a 'cat-train' of sledges, including a
'sleeping-car' for the drivers and workers.
got diesel, we didn't get water, the tank-truck didn't show,
Wilson Adey let us use his lathe to machine a part we
needed. The local RCMP, 5 in this detachment, gave us
use of their showers and a rundown on the local scene ( from
village is shabby and lacks visible vitality; dysfunctional
lifestyle, the boom gone, its people don't seem to have much
going for them. Amundsen, writing of
Gjoahaven in 1906, hoped that its people would be saved
from 'civilisation'-a farseeing man.
Dillon gave me a lift in his pick-up from the village back to
the NTCL barge-jetty where our boat was. He was Irish. His
grandfather had married a Cree Indian down south and his son,
Eds father had moved up here.
left Tuk at first light on Saturday last, keen to be on our
way, 450 miles to Point Barrow.
first 120 miles across Mackenzie Bay gave us a great sail; in
a following wind our two headsails were spread 'wing-and-
wing', a trade-wind sail set up in the cold. Dinner was
caribou steak. We wanted to stop in at Herschel
Island, an old whaling centre. In dark and fog, with
echo-sounder, radar and GPS, we poked into Pauline Cove and
anchored in 3 metres. We slept.
morning on the gravel beach, 200 yards off, a figure moved. Behind were the old timber sheds , now being preserved and
maintained as part of a national park. The two Inavaluit Park
Rangers, Ricky and Frank, will be there until September 14th.
They gave us the 'tour'-and their perspective. Franks
grandfather had said to him
man came in womans clothes. Ten years later, we had a book,
the Bible, and
they had The Land."
whalers wreaked havoc. The native population in the area was
2,000 before they with
their disease, reducing it to 200. "Then the whalers
brought in natives from outside to do the work, all for guns,
alcohol and trinkets"
island, there is even a covering of green grass-lichen. With
ice clear sea, we left to go westward on its seaward side.
Mike, our undisputed naturalist now, had it 'in his bones'
that there would be caribou to be seen. He kept a bow-vigil,
scanning the cliffs as we passed a half-mile off. Then we saw
the bear, a large one, swimming between us and the shore.
Rounding towards him, not too close, we saw him swim behind a
floe 100 yards off and then walk up onto the shore and climb
up a very steep cliff, his four legs splayed, no bother. Gone
and all so fast. And I would have felt safe at the top of that
Herschel to Point Barrow was 400 miles. The
ice-charts showed a 50-miles band along by Demarcation
Point.( the Canadian/ Alaskan border.), then an ice free band
behond. The east wind should push the ice out from the shore,
if the solid pack-ice would leave room for it to move. Blown
ice moves at 30
degrees clockwise to the wind, in the northern hemisphere, the
Coriolis effect, the same one that turns the bath water
exiting, the way it does.
pushed on in mostly clear water with all speed, engine, sails
and sometimes both, mostly in light winds, all the time with
fog greater or lesser.
longitude 141 degrees, the Canadian border with
Alaska, we had a little flag changing ceremony, taking
down the red maple-leaf and raising the stars and stripes.
afterwards, we ran
into serious ice. In the twisting, turning and backtracking to
get out of it, Kevin reckoned that we had the wrong flag up
many times over.!
10 pm, local time, dark coming on, ice now all about but loose
and fog down to about 200 yards, we were going in to anchor in
Demarcation Bay. Its eastern entrance was clogged with ice,
impassable. Its wider western entrance, a mile further on, was
clear, as far as we could see. Then the engine gave a queer
rattling noise-O, Lord! With headsail drawing lightly, we
ghosted, in fog, into the bay, now dark and ran our anchor
dark were our thoughts as Frank and Gearoid set to work on the
gearbox. Thoughts of having to lay-up the boat here for the
winter, radio in a bush-plane, flying out with gearbox,
bankruptcy ! All
flashed before my mind so quickly. Happily the lads had all to
rights soon again and we slept soundly.
dawn, 4 hours later, still in fog, we 'felt' our way out of
the bay , our position not so clear because the chart is about
¼ mile out in this area. This was last Tuesday. Our Log for
most of that Tuesday tells of our struggle to get through ice.
We tried to go along the shore, where it was lightest. There
there was an ice-free strip of about 20 yards. But even with
our centre-board up and us drawing only 4 feet, we still went
aground again and again.
In one instance the engine wouldn't refloat us. We were
stuck on an ice lump under our keel. Using the dingy, we ran
out an anchor and line back to one of our sail winches. With
this winched bar taut, most of the crew in the dingy to
lighten the boat and the engine going flat out, she pulled
nightfall we were going good-o, and kept going through the
dark, there being just enough light to make out the floes. We
weaved through them. The lands abeam of us here are rich in
oil, caribou and controversy, not yet opened up to extraction.
Bush may change that.
miles east of Prudoe, we took the 'lagoon route', 10 feet of water generally, and clear of ice. On the VHF radio we could
hear the chat of the Prudoe oilfield. Workboat men, few words,
spoke to a few, unseen, and rattled on in freezing fog, with
ice in our rigging. One of the guys on the radio had worked
with our friend Mal Walsh.
was better for us. We blasted on, happily through light ice
only, but with the solid white line to our starboard never far
away. Now we weaved through ice at 6 knots, which only weeks
earlier would have had us slowing to a crawl.
weather forecast for our area, Cape Lisburn to Cape Halkett, gave Small Craft Advisory, 25 knots , north-easterly,
Ice floes frequent,
Reduced from yankee to staysail. Running rigging
Cold wind blowing. Light ice all over boats deck."
rounded Point Barrow at 6am on Thursday.
village of Barrow was
10 miles on. We had hoped to anchor off and have
breakfast there-the Lonely Planet, Alaska
gives some places. There was too much wind and surf on
the shore to safely land in the dingy.
shook hands, drank a celebratory tot, raised twin headsails
and were on our way.
all this, Kevin bakes the bread daily, Frank, Mike and Gearoid
feed us dinners, John rolls the camera ( you've read the
reports, now see the movie!), and Jarlath oversees all this
with equanimity. Brendan
Minish, back in Castlebar, with friends unseen in Winlink,
make possible all this cyber-communication.
climbing, when you get to the summit, you're not finished yet.
500 miles southward to the Bering Strait. Officially this is
where the Northwest Passage ends. As this is written on
Thursday evening, we're well on or way south-it all seems so
easy now, no ice no creeping along the shore.
out Nome, only a hundred miles behond the Bering Strait. We
feel a celebration coming on!
then it's 600 miles to Dutch Harbour
in the Aluetian Islands and a further 1,200 miles,
across the Gulf of Alaska, to Vancouver.
a bit to go yet.
A Day in the life of Northabout 5
Pictures from expedition