North West Passage Expedition

Progress Reports

A day in the life of Northabout 5            Frank Nugent


A shakedown for Northabout at Tuktoyaktuk, old skills re-visited and Northabout's "Sparks" the remarkable Gearoid O'Riain. 

We arrived art 3am to Tuktoyaktuk, with Paddy and John on watch, we slid in among the barges, loaded and ready for dispatch to the settlements along the Canadian Arctic coast under the silhouette of yet another DEW station.  Kevin and I helped with the anchor, when Paddy picked the spot.

When I awoke again at 8.30 local time it was raining, just like a typical morning at Ringsend Dock.  Tugboats spoke on the VHF to bargemen, as we breakfasted, we discussed the list of things to be done today.  There was a mechanical steering problem, a radio transmission problem, engine oils and waters to be checked, diesel to be purchased and loaded, Canadian customs to be exited, shopping for fresh vegetables, and showers all round if possible. I was allocated the steering and engine jobs with Jarlath, Gearóid "our sparks", was looking for the radio fault; he had already been on a land line trying to contact our man at home (Brendan Minish): the problem effected all outside communication including weather and ice reports and had our e-mail and voice communications out of action.  Paddy dealt with the customs man who called as we were getting ready; he was in the company of local RCMP better known as the Mounties.  Kevin, John, Paddy and Mick took a lift with the Mountie to town with the customs man to do the town duties.  Jarlath , Gearoid and I, stayed for the maintenance.

Jarlath stripped out the offending steering component.  It was a steering arm connection to the rudder, it was bent and cracked, and would have to be replaced which meant making a new component - it was a threaded adaptor at one end, made from stainless steel, with a finished diameter to connect to a universal joint at the other - we needed a machine shop to make one or access to a lathe so we could fabricate it ourselves.  We enquired from Tom Edmunds, the Harbour  Manager of NTCL, a transport company whose jetty we had tied up to, regarding machining resources in "Tuk".  We were directed to Wilson Adey who operated and maintained a couple of generating stations, as the best hope of our salvation.  Word was sent out to find Wilson, he turned up at the jetty at 2pm.  We showed him our problem.  He had a lathe and micrometers, he would give me access to them.  My colleagues looked dubious, they are used to seeing me, dressed in a suit, with little knowledge of my past life as a mechanical engineering fitter, at which, I was self-employed over twenty years ago.  I had turned many threads in my day.  I departed with Wilson who told me he was from Newfoundland, and had come to Tuktoyaktuk, for six months twenty years ago, and found himself still here a nursemaid to four CAT generating sets.  His ancestors came from Scotland.  We first went in search of a piece of Stainless Steel.   Wilson located a 1" stainless bolt, from which we cut the head off with a disk grinder.  Then Wilson brought me to his "special workshop", a forty foot container, where there was a brand new Lathe and a set of carbide cutters, a thread pitch gauge and a micrometer.  I had no excuses.   

I set about turning the screw end top diameter to size, getting under its hardened skin in an anxious moment.  It was "free cutting" enough and produced a good finish once I had found the appropriate speeds and feeds.  Like riding a bicycle, I was soon setting the tool height, and getting the right raked tool for the job.  Then to find the correct gear combination to yield a pitch of 13 threads per inch.  The tables on the machine were easy to follow and soon I was engaging the feed screw and cutting a sixty degree angle thread.  As I was doing this, Wilson turned up with a split die 13 UNC, thanks be to god!  With it I finished the thread.  The other end was relatively easy, the biggest difficulty was to drill a 3/64 th. drill for a split pin retainer at its end.  We only had one bit.  It blunted quickly barely marking the pin.  Five "sharpenings" later and five subsequent "bluntings" and a lot of careful drilling pressure saw the come through the other end.  The part was finished.  Like a child looking for approval I showed off the part when we arrived back at the boat;  the new part modified to make it stronger than the original.  Jarlath, the boatbuilder grinned, and  had it fitted in minutes, as Wilson and I, enjoyed a well deserved glass of Powers.   

Meanwhile Gearoid had spent the day systematically and meticulously checking every connection and setting on radio and antennae, finding eventually inside the cover of the antennae tuner, a loose connection.  On such things our vital communications depend.  I was once again impressed by this irrepressible young man who can combine, cooking dinner for eight, with his normal watch duties and assist the non IT literate mortals in sending and receiving e-mails, while he manipulates  radio and computer to find weather and ice charts on behalf of everybody.  Jarlath had adjusted and freed up the steering and topped up all oils and fluid levels. The diesel has been loaded, the fresh vegetables had been bought by Mick, Kevin and John, and Paddy had completed formalities.   

The Mounties had invited us to a brazier fire of drift wood, to sing and chat.  A baked Arctic Char, was cooked by the mercurial Gearoid, which provided sustenance as we "Powered" our way through discussions on the social problems of marginalized, remote communities of the world.  We departed for Point Barrow at six am next day.    Reflecting with Kevin during our first watch, we observed that the skills of this team are proving to be up to the job, from the expert project management of Paddy, to the sailing and navigation skills of all.  It is nice to part of such a team.  FN. 

Progress Reports


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