Getting ready for Phase 2

Winter is rapidly approaching in the Arctic and it is time for the crew to begin gearing up for the second phase of the project.

Aasiaat is far from a metropolitan city but it feels like one at this point. We have spent so much of our time in the far north that even basic luxuries seem extravagant. For instance you can do laundry, which is something we haven’t done since May. You can take a fresh water shower, it costs $6 but after 100 days of saltwater showers, who cares? Best of all you can get a draft beer along with a burger and fries; it’s not cheap but we have worked hard for it.

We made it down Baffin Bay to Upernavik without much trouble. We gave the local police the spare anchor the Danish Naval vessel had loaned us, as requested by the captain. We also bought three more large grapple anchors to add to our Bruce Claw anchor rig. That should hold us in a gale.

We needed to get back down to Arrowhead Island to retrieve RBR’s “Solo” pressure sensors but we could no longer operate 24 hours a day. By the third week of August summer ends rather abruptly with the sun beginning to set. The sun doesn’t set completely until the end of the month but once it starts dipping low in the sky at night the seasons change quickly. First off, you can say goodbye to blue skies as grey cloudy skies and near constant light rain becomes the norm. Second, the temperature starts to drop to 30-40 degrees. Last but certainly not least the weather deteriorates; although we had horrible weather in the high Arctic this summer, we haven’t seen anything nearly as bad down here in the low Arctic. The biggest problem of them all is the darkness.

From Upernavik we had to do day jumps from anchorage to anchorage. Normally sailing at night is no different than sailing in the daytime but when you have uncharted rocks and icebergs roaming around at random you really need to see what’s ahead of you. From Upernavik to Aasiaat there is a lot ice and uncharted rocks.

Arrowhead Island (it’s really called Igdluluarssuit Island) was our last hurrah with heavy ice. We were surprised to see just how much ice there was blocking the entrance to the fjord. I decided that we should drop anchor early that day and wait for the wind to die than we could slowly motor through. Luckily the wind died the next day and we were able to wind our way through the maze of ice back to Arrowhead.

Things went well for the most part. The mosquitoes were gone as it was now too cold for them. We retrieved the pressure sensors without too much fuss. Some of the sensors had disappeared, swept away by large icebergs but the rest were there. There was more brash ice and mélange near the southern glacier than before, forcing us to push through very heavy ice. At times we had to push Ault hard. I never thought we would get stuck but it was important to keep momentum in order to have steerage. There wasn’t one square inch of open water for several miles, just ice, all shapes and sizes.

Matt Rutherford/Ocean Research Project
Underway again.Matt Rutherford/Ocean Research Project

Disko Bay was also quite icy with lots of larger bergs, mixed with small pieces. I steered the boat through that ice Greenlandic style, meaning at top speed. Greenlandic people fly through the ice on little open fiberglass boats at 20+ knots. If I tried to do that I would die in 5 minutes, all I can think is they must be ice ninjas. Our top speed is still very slow, but over time you get better at navigating ice.

Aasiaat was the last stop for Dana, who was the mate. He flew out this morning and I have another sailor, Mike, flying in tomorrow. Dana has type 1 diabetes, he has to shoot insulin 4 times a day or he goes into shock and dies. Alexander has something called PKU, which means he can’t eat protein. Basically protein turns into poison and eats his brain. If he ate a normal diet for two weeks he would become permanently mentally handicapped and eventually turn into a vegetable. Nikki has to inject B 12 as that’s the only way her body can absorb it. B12 is very important for memory, and of course she forgets to do it. I have a minor form of turrets called ticks, which have been bad this year. We all have our issues.

There really isn’t much of a fall season in the Arctic. There are no trees to lose their leaves, but more importantly it gets too cold too quick. We had ice on our boat this morning and before I could row Dana over to land so he could catch a taxi to the airport I had to scrape ice off the dingy. Although it was a cold night we did have one surprise, we got to watch the Northern Lights dance above our vessel.

It’s time to leave the Arctic. However beautiful the Aurora Borealis is, winter is coming in a hurry. We have to sail at least 900 miles to get to Canada, crossing the Labrador Sea. Every week that passes the weather in the Labrador gets worse. It looks like we may have a good window to start the voyage south around Sept 17th. Hopefully the passage itself will be uneventful. 900 miles south is the small town of Cartwright in southern Labrador. I hope to make it even further, maybe St Johns before we have to stop. If we are real lucky we will be able to sail all the way back to the US without stopping, but that’s unlikely. Chances are we will have to stop for fuel or to duck from a storm somewhere along the way. It’s time to begin phase 2; our journey home.

Matt Rutherford/Ocean Research Project
However beautiful the Aurora Borealis is, winter is coming in a hurry.Matt Rutherford/Ocean Research Project

Yesterday Alexander told me he was leaving the expedition and flying home. All of us has some fear of crossing the Labrador Sea inside us, you would have to be crazy not to. But you must learn to control fear or fear will control you. Unfortunately Alexander has let his fear grow roots and consume him. I wouldn’t have been so upset about the situation had he told me he was flying back two weeks ago when he first started thinking about it but instead he told me 24 hours before we were leaving on the largest ocean passage of the expedition, sailing from Greenland to Canada. I have no time to fly in another camera man. I had to spend several hours today running all over Aasiaat trying to buy an expensive camera and audio equipment so I can finish filming the expedition. Even worse we are down one crew member. I’d much rather have a crew of four than three for the crossing, but I couldn’t talk Alex into staying. We have a good weather window, I can’t wait here another 2 weeks trying to find someone and fly them in. I don’t have the money either. So we will leave tomorrow morning and Alex will fly out later this week. It feels strange to have Dana and Alex leave and have a new crew member, Mike. Phase 2 will have a new crew dynamic.

We will all be very happy when the Labrador Sea is behind us and the crossing is over.

Fortitudine Vincinimus

–Matt Rutherford