We sailed away from Nome in a building northerly and made great speed towards Nunivak Island where we knew that we had to shelter before the next low pressure would hit us. And after three days we reached the south side and the wind decreased and we anchored for the night. The weather forecast showed that we would see a strong Easterly gale the next morning so when we woke up we spent the day cruising around the shallow uncharted bay in search for a better anchorage. We found a small stretch of land that would give us just enough shelter from the East but that meant that we had to go all the way into the beach to only three meters depth. It was a beautiful evening and we decided to take the dinghy ashore for some exploring. The barren beach was lined with tall beautiful sand dunes which reminded me of the Swedish West coast and beyond them a vast marsh land appeared. We waded through the bogs for about an hour in the direction of a few moving dots on the hillside ahead which we assumed to be Muskox. Halfway there we encountered a large furry muskox all by itself. It did not move as we slowly approached it and we soon realized that one of its legs was badly injured. We moved quite close to it but when we realized it was trying to get away on it´s bad legs we backed off and watched it from a distance. It was sad to see the magnificent animal abandoned by it´s herd and we figured that it would be dead in a matter of days. We continued to explore an abandoned summer hunting camp complete with sweat lodge before we headed back to the boat to sleep for the night. At dawn we where abruptly woken by the terrible noise and motion of huge waves washing over the boat. The wind had turned to the East and we swung into it by the anchor, but a large swell came in from the South and at our shallow anchorage that meant huge breaking surf waves washing over the boat from the side. The waves rapidly increased in height and force and the boat was knocked over with only a few meters between the mast and the surface. We fearfully realized that in the time it would take to raise the anchor onto the boat we would most likely end up on the Beach so we decided to put another anchor out to align the bow against the waves or in a worst case scenario we could sacrifice it in order to bring up our main anchor. But with both chain and line in the water it soon turned in to an uncontrolled situation where the anchor line got stuck in the propeller killing the engine and pinning the rudder. At this point we were seriously afraid to loose the boat or worse and while Morgan got into the dry suit Nick and I rigged a blade on to the boat hook and managed to pull out and cut the anchor line. With the adrenaline pumping we decided to abandon our main anchor and 35 meters of chain and tied a line and a fender to it and set a mark on the GPS for later retrieval. At full RPM we motored out into the waves until we reached deeper waters where the waves no longer broke as severely. We got some heavily reefed sails up and headed for a cape 20 nautical miles away that would shelter us from the Southeast where we hoped that the waves wouldn’t be as bad. A few hours later the wind dropped as we came around the cape and we managed to anchor with our third anchor. With the wind howling in the rig we set up the computer and watched at least 4 movies in a row in order to forget the wind, waves and our traumatic morning. The next morning the wind had changed to the north and we sailed back in heavy wind to retrieve our main anchor. At the scene of the close call there was no floating fender to be found. With vague hopes of ever finding the anchor we began to drag the third anchor in circles around the GPS point trying to hook the chain from the bottom but when darkness fell we where tired and out of ideas.
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Leaving Upernavik at about 73 degrees North we are on our way to achieve the most Northern point of our expedition, a major milestone where we will sail until stopped by the polar ice cap which surrounds the North Pole. According to the ice maps we will be able to go as far as 78 degrees North before we reach a wall of ice only 720 nautical miles from the most Northern point of our planet.
It is during this push north bound that for the first time in our expedition we can difinitively say that we are experiencing the effects of polar ice cap depletion. We are sailing up through the infamous Baffin Bay and across Melville Bay through scattered icebergs where not to long ago ice sealed this region to all but the most ambitious captains. According to the Canadian Ice Services ice charts this region has never been so clear of ice at this time of year in recorded history. Beating 2011 and 2007 lows (years registered with lowest Arctic sea ice extent in recorded history) which saw on these exact dates large patches of “middle pack ice” still clogging the area.
It is remarkable to think that ever since English explorer John Ross’ first voyage to Melville Bay in 1818, and where his ships became trapped in ice, that whalers and explorers have tried relentlessly to penetrate the pack ice of this area. They were trying to reach the “North Water Polynya” (an area of open navigable water at the extreme North of Baffin Bay which unfreezes due to currents) so as to reach rich fishing grounds and most importantly the Canadian Arctic to find a possible Northwest Passage. Many expeditions never made it as far North as we are now, being crushed by icebergs and the pack ice which only the most robust ships or fortunate ones could navigate.
Amundsen the first successfull individual to sail the Northwest passage in his boat Gjoa from 1903-1906 crossed the Baffin bay quite easily but at the same time other ships like the Vega sank, and the Balanea was caught in the ice for 80 days. Even in 1977 Willy de ROOS, the second successfull person in history to take a sailboat through the Northwest Passage, bearly escaped the clutches of the ice of Melville and Baffin Bay. Today I sit here writting this on watch crossing that exact area where these ships and men struggled in ice for their lives, but around me lay only a handfull of icebergs and an ice map that shows a bay clear of any pack ice.