End Game

Friday August 29, 2014 (72o 42’N 77o 59’W): Pond Inlet

Evening falls on the way to Pond Inlet

We left the magnificence of Tay Bay shortly after noon on Wednesday and began sailing, then motoring, to arrive at the village of Pond Inlet early the next morning. For the first time in months, twilight gave way to near darkness as the wind died and we motored across the south end of Navy Board Inlet across a glassy sea. On the distant shore across the bay was the warm glow of civilization,  the only lights  in hundreds of square miles, with the exception, to our surprise, of the running lights of  a large ship, approaching from far astern. The vessel was the 450 foot cargo ship Qamitak that would pass us in the early morning and then anchor at Pond Inlet, where they have been busy the past two days unloading supplies.

They call at Pond Inlet only once a year, bringing long awaited necessities and luxuries, including automobiles for the few miles of road that service the town. There is no dock at Pond Inlet and the crew has established a beach head with ramps, enabling  heavy fork lifts  brought along expressly for that purpose   to stack  large wooden crates and multi-modal cargo containers along the beach. From here, they will head to Grise Fiord farther north and then on to other ports along their annual resupply route.

Beach at Pond Inlet

While I was pulling our zodiac onto the beach, one of the dock hands came over to lend a hand and asked how long we were staying. The assistant captain of the Qamitak apparently has a deep interest in sailboats and was very curious about us. Today their bridge  called us on the radio and Peter talked for at least 15 minutes, just sharing information.  Ironically, I was frustratingly trying to  repair the head (toilet) at the time, ironic in that it probably would not have matched with the captain’s romantic image of the Lillian B. peacefully at anchor beneath a back drop of snow capped mountains. We did invite him to visit if he has time … and now that the head is fixed.

In the day and half since our arrival, we have prepared for our departure on Sunday evening, when crew member Eli flies in via multiple connections from Maine. The fuel tanks are  full of diesel, we have replenished the propane, bought onions and Brussels sprouts,  done our laundry, and all the usual resupply stuff.  Based on  the Northwest winds predicted for Sunday and Monday, Eli  will not get much time to enjoy the settlement of Pond Inlet, as we will secure the zodiac as soon as he arrives on deck and then weight anchor immediately, briefing him on procedures on the way out. 

Lillian B. anchored off Pond Inlet

This is the beginning of our “end game” for getting home. We wonder how the other boats are doing. Earlier this week, as we were still deciding whether to press on or retreat, Arctic Tern described the attempt to transit the Northwest Passage this year as “a game of chess where the other side hold the queens!!” Last we heard from them, they were with Novara at Fort Ross, waiting to see if Franklin Strait would open. We have not heard from either of them since. The latest ice charts do show open water  along the east edge of the strait, but it looks dangerously close to  a large zone of thick ice (90%) to the west. If they have gone through Bellot Strait into that ice,  one can only hope that they are able to find their way quickly down the coast before the wind changes.  The yacht Gjoa, with whom we shared the anchorage at Port Leopold, e-mailed us shortly after we left that they had decided to continue and were heading the 120 miles down  to  Fort Ross. Perhaps they are with Novara and Arctic Tern, but whether they have pushed through Bellot Strait or decided to turn back is unknown. And Drina, last we heard, was beset by ice in Port Leopold the day after we left. Apparently the extensive ice we saw to the north upon leaving did drift down and block the harbor. We have not heard from them either. It could be that they are still blocked, or the ice moved aside, or perhaps the ice breaker that we passed in Lancaster Sound has been able to help. Communication in the Arctic is very limited. Satellite communications are the most reliable, but very expensive, and not everyone is set up for it. For us, the satellite phones would be our primary means of communication in case of emergency, but we don’t use it ship-to-ship. Sending e-mails is the way that we have communicated with the other yachts, but it is less reliable and has a time delay. And, e-mail is difficult if radio contact it poor and it uses up valuable bandwidth often needed to get weather charts. So we send e-mails sparingly, hoping that no news is good news. But it has been several days now since we have heard from those still in the ice so tonight we will send out an inquiry in the hopes of hearing how they are doing.

We do know that the yachts Adventura, Manevai, Catryn,  and Suilven are doing well. Last report (Aug 20) Aventura was sailing out of Lancaster Sound, bound for Nuuk on their way home to England. As of the 24, Suilven was getting ready to head from Greenland back to the coast of Newfoundland, to leave the boat there, or perhaps farther south, for the winter. The yacht Catryn, having left Leopold shortly after we did, passed us on Tuesday as we lay at anchor in Tay Bay. They refueled and resupplied at Pond Inlet the day before we arrived, and are now headed down the coast of Baffin Island with the intent to winter the boat in Lewisporte, Newfoundland. And just a few days ago, Manevai reported being south of Clyde River, about 250 miles to the south of us. They are deciding where to leave their boat for the winter, Maine being one of them, which I, of course, highly recommend.

Everyone is busy playing out the end game for their respective game of chess.

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