Heading Home

Monday August 25, 2014 (73o 52’N 90o 18’W): Port Leopold

Retreat from the Arctic

We have decided to abandon our attempts to go through the Northwest Passage. We plan to depart Port Leopold today, beginning the 2000 plus  mile journey back home, heading east via Lancaster Sound then down the along the coast of Baffin Island, past Labrador, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and further on into the familiar waters of   Maine.

The disappointment of not making the passage has been spread over the past weeks, as the ice has failed to offer much promise of opening. Our attempt at a successful passage was predicated on the hope of the ice retreating to the low levels of years like 2011 and 2012, allowing sufficient  time for us to avoid severe weather along the way. This year has been more like 2013, when several yachts were bottled in by ice and had to winter over in the Arctic.  After looking at ice charts and receiving advice for the last week, the decisions feels right and the disappointment gives way quickly  to the relief of having made a decision and the excitement of heading home. Pete and I drank our last beers last night in anticipation.

Ice status and experienced advice ( Aug 24, 2014)

Our next leg is 225 to the east to Pond Inlet, which has all the facilities cherished by yachtsmen looking for resupply. It also has an airport where Eli Simon will join the crew and we look forward to his being on board with great excitement.

As a gentle reminder that we are still not out of the arctic, we awoke this morning to a sharp retort, like a book falling off a desk. Pete and I immediately sat up, turned towards  each other with a “what-the-hell-was-that” look, and hurried on deck to find Lillian  backed up to grounded piece of ice, twice her size. It was the only piece within a half a mile.  Despite 125 feet of chain in only 20 foot water, our anchor had dragged as we slept, finding the only piece of ice nearby. In that sense, it may have been fortunate that the ice caught us rather than us  ending up on the far shore, although the anchor alarm should have gone off by then. In a well practiced maneuver, we motored back up to the other yachts are re-anchored, but only after Pete had removed a large ball of kelp. I take it as an affectionate farewell gesture from Port Leopold Harbor.

Right now the winds are  around 30 kts inside the large bay of Port Leopold and we’ll wait a bit to  see if they  calms down as predicted before heading back out to cross over the band of ice that stretches north to south outside the mouth of the harbor. The ice is reported to be twenty percent, which is similar to what we encountered on the way in. If it is still distributed as seen from the top of the bluff, it thins to the south, so we will explore in that direction. If we find it impassable for now, we will return and try again later.   

We have now said our good-byes and traded contact info with the companion yachts here in the Harbor. Drina and Gjoa are both prepared to winter over in the arctic. Catryn does not want to be caught in the Arctic for the winter  and she has also decided to retreat for this year.  Meanwhile, Arctic Tern is still  making her way down to Fort Ross to get in position to continue through and Novara is already there. We wish everyone safe travels.

Post Script: What a difference a year can make ….

Heavy ice at the exit of Bellot Strait in August 2014
Wide open the same time next year – 2015

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