Journey Through the Northwest Passage: Arctic Circle Party | Cruising World
John Guillote

Journey Through the Northwest Passage: Arctic Circle Party

The journey continues as the crew of DogBark! reaches the arctic circle.

We expected a short 3-day layover in Nome to provision, add crew and fuel up before sailing for Barrow. But as we approached Nome, strong northerly winds pressed sea ice onto the coast east of Barrow, blocking our path around the corner. After 18 days tied up to Nome’s pier, it felt like DogBark! – and the rest of us – had grown roots. Every day we studied the ice charts and weather reports, hoping for a strip of blue, indicating clear water, between the shore and the red and orange blobs representing thick ice. Several times, the forecast looked promising enough to set a tentative departure time and get ready to go, complete with provisioning, filling water tanks and stowing gear. Each time, something would hold us up – a new piece of advice, a challenging wind forecast, an unimproved ice report. But finally! The ice had retreated from Barrow (though our path was still choked up about 200 nm east of Barrow) and the weather forecast looked docile.

The day dawned (can a day dawn if it never went dark?) wet and dreary, but the excitement on DogBark! drove away the dreariness as we scurried about, stowing last minute items and untangling 18 days’ worth of dock line modifications from the pier. We waved goodbye to our newfound Nome friends that had loaded us up with homemade blueberry jam and fresh veggies from their garden as we slowly motored out of Nome’s shallow bay. As soon as we cleared the breakwater, we hoisted sails and DogBark! shook off the harbor cobwebs as she powered up and charged north.

This passage was a particularly exciting one, not only because we had felt constrained in Nome and were all eager to continue moving, but also because on this passage – in fact the very next day – we would cross the infamous arctic circle and officially be in the arctic. It was a moment we had been diligently preparing for for months. Talia and Savai had picked out and personality-matched full fleece arctic animal themed onesies for the crew in anticipation of whatever shenanigans we might find.

The arctic circle is a line drawn around the globe at approximately 66 degrees 33 minutes north. It is not static but is defined as the most southerly point at which the sun never dips below the horizon for at least one day each year. The variation in the earth’s tilt causes the exact line to wiggle from year to year. Once inside this circle, we would experience 24 hours of daylight (although just barely; our delay in Nome had pushed us well past the longest day of the year, June 21, and the sun had already begun its long journey towards winter).

The following morning was sunny and abnormally warm as DogBark! ghosted along the shore through settled seas with light puffs of breeze ushering us along. The previous evening, Talia and Savai had ensured each of us had located and set out our onesie for easy access so as the crew awoke from their various post-nightwatch naps, they emerged cuddled head to toe in fuzzy fleecey arctic creature love. Graeme, the commanding captain polar bear (with a cotton ball tail), Janna in her super soft grizzly fleece, John with his dopey walrus tusks over his face, Talia warm and toasty as a fleece-insulated seal, Savai a blur of fuzzy penguin activity (visiting from Antarctica for the occasion), and my own bright blue furry narwhal outfit, complete with a single goofy tusk.

The cockpit brimmed with laughter and singing and fuzzy fleecey excitement. Sea birds squawked and chattered as they dared each other to land on the masthead as it swayed gently in the breeze. Humpback whales surfaced in every direction, feeding and breaching and laughing along with us. Inevitably, because what else would you do if you crossed the arctic circle on a sailboat dressed like arctic creatures, we had a dance party on the bow. It was truly surreal to be barefoot and warm in the sun as we glided along in seas as flat as the Puget sound on a summer evening, dancing and giggling on the bow in celebration of entering the arctic, renowned for its tempestuous weather and intolerable cold.

I have no doubt that the arctic will exhibit its full range of attitudes and emotions in the coming months as we pick our way north to Barrow and east along the top edge of Canada. But for the moment, we are content to soak up the sun in our fleecey onesies, savor the easy sailing through tranquil seas, and relish the beauty of the arctic.