First Step Homeward

Tuesday August 26, 2014 (73o 30’N 80o 43’W): Tay Bay

The arctic has been very gracious in granting us our retreat. Which is to say we have had an excellent start on our first leg homeward bound and are now anchored in Tay Bay, a magnificent spot on the west side of Bylot Island.

We left Port Leopold yesterday with following winds. Less than two miles outside the harbor drifted an sheet ice so  extensive that it was not possible to see its far edge to the north. Old and new ice coming though the channel south of Leopold Island had compressed to form an endless stark white landscape miles across. Skirting close along the southern edge, we looked out hoping to see a polar bear, glad to be offered a  path around , and  thankful to be out of the harbor before the wind was tempted to blow that mass of ice down to seal the  entrance.

Sheet ice outside of Port Leopold

For the next 25 miles east of that large floe were individual rivers of ice running north to south across our route. Fortunately, the wind was steady, the waves light, and the sun was out, making it easy to find openings and cross over. (Similar to a reverse game of “Frogger” for you of the Nintendo 64 generation.)

With the sun and the wind at our backs, the helm felt exceptionally warm as we stood short one-hour watches, enjoying the drive and especially appreciative of the conditions, knowing how totally different crossing through the ice would have been with fog, unfavorable winds and/or high waves.

A fog did form late in the afternoon, but only on queue as we left our last patch of arctic pack-ice behind. Overhead the sky was still visible with penetrating sunlight  creating an arc of light ahead of the boat, similar to a rainbow, but thicker, and whiter, with only a hint of color. It was smaller in size, spreading less than 30 degrees to either side of the bow, creating the illusion that we were sailing straight towards an ethereal arch. The effect lasted for nearly thirty minutes until the fog lifted.

Ice bow leaving Port Leopold

After the fog dissipated, the visibility was so clear that the  cliffs of Devon Island, more than sixty miles across Lancaster Sound  stood out dramatically, spotlighted by the low sun angle. As we continued eastward, a Canadian Coast Guard Icebreaker hailed us to announce that they would be passing within a mile of our position on their way west to be on call for the remaining vessels in the Northwest Passage. They also cautioned us that waters to the east were still “bergy,” referring to remnant pieces of ice spawned by  glaciers. 

Iceberg on the way to Tay Bay

Bergy waters will be a concern from now until we get as far south as Nova Scotia. As of Aug. 25th, at latitude 74.5 N, the sun dips slightly below the horizon around 10:30  pm  returning at 5:00 am. At this time and place,  that  creates a twilight in between  with just enough light to see and avoid any  ice  in the water. But as night returns and we head farther south, night operations will required increasingly  more caution. Last night, the wind dropped and we motored in calm  seas. Watching  out for “bergy bits” was no problem. This morning, the favorable winds returned and we finished the day by sailing into one of the most beautiful harbors we’ve seen yet.

Tay Bay

Given the ease of the first leg of Lillian’s trip home, it’s tempting to extrapolate a quick and relaxed journey home, but looking at the log book, it took  exactly one month to get from Rockport Maine to the other side of the same island, Bylot, where we are now anchored. It will take as long to get home.  We still have some sailing to do.

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