Dodo's Delight remains anchored 2 nm East of Point Hope. The weather forecast continues to predict northerly winds for the coming 5-7 days, which in turn is pushing ice south. Things aren't looking good. Communications with David Scott Cowper, aboard "Polar Bound" located further south in Dutch Harbour confirms our fears that we are running out of time (Scott Cowper was the first person to navigate the NW Passage single handed and is another experienced Arctic Explorer with a purpose designed and built motor yacht for the Arctic elements).
The open ice pack season in the Arctic is shorter to the West than it is in the East. We have a 1000 mile passage to make with no real cover and are very reliant on favourable winds. How long can we sit here, restlessly wanting to move north then East? Once we have made the dash across the north of Alaska things will become easier. Places to run to in inclement weather and from 125 degrees west the coast changes from an uninspiring tundra to a maze of inlets, islands, navigable sounds and thinner ice.
The normal navigable passage season is in August and September, and as we are basically treading water every day that passes makes success less likely - at least in 2013. Whilst the past two decades have seen the ice melt increase in longevity year on year, 2013 had been to date a reversion of the trend. Many are talking about it being a "bad ice year".
We are in communication with a couple of other boats attempting the passage both from our side (the West) and from the Atlantic. All are concerned. At present the ice is between 5 & 7/10ths from Barrow East for a distance of approx. 350 miles - impassable by most yachts, including Dodo's Delight.
Last night we had a crew discussion on options. If we get a break, we potentially could get to 135 degrees west before the winter bites back. At this longitude the Mackenzie river runs inland into the canadian Yukon territory and c. 120 miles inland there lies the town of Inuvik - a potential wintering hide. However the Mackenzie river has a complex outfall into the Arctic Ocean with many lagoons and tributaries with limited accurate charts. Just getting up the river would cause challenges.
So for now we sit and wait, fingers and toes crossed that we get a consistent Northerly.
Whilst we are protected, and have now found good holding (for the anchor), cabin fever is now on the cards. Five people, all with very different characters, on a small boat which is damp, condensation running everywhere, food staples being tinned varieties and the constant movement is bound to bring friction. We did buy two loaves of bread from the Native Store in Point Hope yesterday - US$10 a loaf! Our living area is little bigger than a garden shed or small bathroom.
6th August 2210 hrs (0710 7/8 UK)
Quiet day. I was on anchor watch from 0400-0600 and then stayed up for an hour or so. After an omelette brunch we lifted the anchor and once more motored closer to the town ship c. 2 nm West. We dropped anchor and leaving Bob onboard went ashore to fill the limited water cans we have up. These consist of well used, former 1 gallon juice bottles! Having previously met the mayor we went to the town offices, which are housed in what resembles a huge igloo. Actually a prefabricated 1970's structure that clearly leaks (buckets on the floor around the inside). It also doubles as the community bingo hall - and bingo in Alaska is a big thing! Point Hope operate their own desalination plant for water.
The library was temporarily closed so I downloaded my last blog entry from their external steps. As the wind swung east we returned to the boat and moved west once more to anchor.
Dinner was fish pie, using the left overs of a large Arctic Chard (a salmon family) that we bought yesterday from a local fisherman for US$20. These fishermen use drift nets from the steeply sloped beach and looking at his haul, are clearly very successful. Point Hope relies heavily on local hunting and fishing. Seals are caught and the town has a whaling quota, this year of 10 whales. To date they have caught 5 (Beluga and grey Bowheads - though they find Beluga meat too rich!). Apparently their sizes are down on last year. They keep the boats in the lagoon to the north of the town, from which they have to sail parallel to the coast for 10 miles before they can leave the lagoon for the open sea.
7th August 1015 hrs (1915 7/8 UK)
A quiet night, some local Easterly wind came in but the prevailing Northerly is still out there. Late in the evening a tug, towing a 2-250' barge started circling offshore - clearly taking shelter from the stronger wide offshore and to the north. It continues to circle now at 1015 hrs Wednesday morning.
Near critical issue just now, whilst reading I hear "running water" in the aft cabin. With so much moisture building up below decks it is important where possible (at anchor) to have port holes open and a through flow of air… David in his wisdom was washing clothes in a bucket and rather than throwing the water over the side was pouring it down the cockpit combings and thence through the port hole. The result one damp sleeping bag, clothes and nearly my lap top - fortunately this was inside its case. My kit is now drying in the wind - which is however damp and the items salt laden so unlikely to be fully dry in the near future as salt water has a tendency to never dry completely.
An early morning e mail to Bob, the skipper from a contact who monitors NW expeditions advised us that a couple of expedition attempts approaching from the East are having similar problems, namely; adverse wind direction and heavy pack ice. They are sitting it out like us but as every day passes I am more concerned than ever that we will get our weather (and ice) break. Even if the ice clears a little and we make the attempt, this years weather raises the concern that it could change again leaving us trapped in the ice - something I joked about with friends before departure but now something we logically and seriously have to weigh up - A 33' GRP production bat is not something you want to be on when the ice squeezes in around you and starts to drive you onto a lee shore, hundreds of miles from civilisation and out of range of the limited resources that feature up here.
I am also aware of the great sponsorship support for the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust that so many have contributed to. It was never a definite that this expedition was a dead cert or that it was a 'walk in the park' and perhaps we all have been too confident that the NW Passage was now easily doable as a result of global warming and the huge steps made in terms of communications, forecasts and equipment over the past 90 years during which year on year successes have increased. It is definitely looking like 2013 is the year where this pattern is interrupted.
7th August 2030 hrs (0530 8/8 UK)
I have spent the majority of the day installing the Autohelm self steering system that Bob bought in the US and I brought out the part he had omitted (the control head (or cockpit display). Prior to leaving Nome I fitted the wheel mounted drive unit (as the wheel required to be removed that was the logical thing to do in the safety of Nome harbour). Today was fitting the cabling, the helm computer and the cockpit control unit. The wiring on Dodo's Delight is a complex web of old, older and not so old with a few more recent additions. It appears that redundant cables are just left in place and even the defunct autopilot parts are to be found. By dinner the drive unit, control unit and computer were all installed in their relevant positions and connected to one another. Power and grounding (earthing) made and the unit is live -just awaiting the fluxgate compass to be fitted and then calibration. Lets hope we have need to use it now!
8th August 2035 hrs (0534 9/8 UK)
A cold, wet and windy day. Gusting force 7-8. Mid morning we re-anchored having dragged c. 300m from 4 to 7 m in depth. Otherwise sitting it out. Pleased with the advice of Vendee and offshore sailor Alex Thomson in bringing an chamois leather out here - useful to keep the condensation build up below at controllable levels.
9th August 1315 hrs (2215 9/8 UK)
Wind looking to break Sunday. Hope to head north then, however the likelihood of making it more than a few hundred miles East is still a concern. Also autumn up here is not far away. During the night, French Canadian yacht Balthazar with Guy and Claire the owners aboard (who had crossed paths last season with Dodo's Delight and then wintered in the Mackenize river) sailed south from Wainwright and anchored 400 m from us. Bob, Steph and I rowed across for coffee and hellos. They had brought a bottle of wine from Fort Ross (E end of Bellow straight) which had been left in the old Hudson Bay Trading Post by the owner of another boat, Billy Budd, which Bob had worked aboard as ice pilot. This afternoon we aim to row ashore to try and download e mails in Point Hope.