Anchored off an old whaling station at Kekerten

Saxon Blue's Blog
Harvey Jones and Andrea Stokes
Mon 23 Aug 2010 19:58
65:43.040N 65:49.095W Monday afternoon

We've finished our voyage South to Cumberland Sound after 480 miles. We did get some good views of the coast of Baffin Island yesterday afternoon once the fog cleared away. We didn't see much wildlife apart from seals - one group were so intent on cavorting together that they didn't notice us until we were right alongside them. By early evening, the fog had come down again and we passed a ship going North about 2.5 miles away but didn't see any sign. Kali was ill with a fever so Magnus and I were sharing the watches which meant I was on watch most of the day. I did get off to bed for a rest before dinner and then it was time for Andrea and I to do our 2000 to 2400 stint.

By that time, we were nearly into Cumberland Sound itself and we got a few glimpses of the islands at the Northern entrance. There's a Leopold Island and a Saxe-Coburg Island which must be evidence of some historic sucking-up to wealthy patrons. They're off Cape Mercy which seems to be a rather more heartfealt name. As we entered the Sound, the mist really closed in on us so we couldn't see anything around us - although we could see the full moon above. We had our ice light fitted to the pullpit so we had some view of what was immediately ahead. We slowed down to about 4 knots to give us time to react if we did see anything in the water. In fact, it was very pleasant just pottering along at that speed. By the time Magnus took over at midnight, though, I was absolutely knackered and felt like I'd run into a wall of tiredness. I collapsed into bed and was asleep almost straight away.

When Kali took over from Magnus at 0400, they put the twin headsails up as the wind had freshened and was right behind us. When I came back on watch at 0800, we were sailing along merrily and could see the land on the starboard side. It was a succession of craggy, snow-covered mountains so much as it's been for the last few days. There are no settlements for miles along the coast and dozens of long fjords leading inland. I think you could explore along here for months each year and see nobody. None of the fjords are charted and I suspect many of them haven't been visited much since the Inuit gave up their nomadic lifestyle.

As we sailed into the Sound, I was thinking of all the English ships that sailed this way in the 19th Century in pursuit of the Bowhead whales. We were headed for an old whaling station that was marked on the chart although with no details of where it was exactly or any soundings of the harbour. Then it started to rain and the wind died so we were back to motoring. As we approached Kekerten island, we were hailed on the VHF by a fishing boat. They're up here after Turbot for a couple of months before heading back home to the Straight of Belle Isle between New Foundland and Labrador. We should be down there in a couple of weeks. The fishermen were very friendly although they referred to us as "small sailing boat" - what a cheek!

Luckily, it was almost low tide as we approached Kekerten harbour as this allowed us to see the uncharted reefs all around it. We could see the old whaling station on the shore but I'm not sure where exactly they would have anchored. We're not too far away and it's pretty sheltered here so perhaps we're in the right place. The whaling station was set up by William Penny from Scotland in 1857 so that the whale ships could over-winter here. It soon became a real hub for visiting ships as well as for the local Inuit who came to trade with the whalers. The resulting diseases wiped out most of the Inuit population in a few years. It seems that there is some information onshore at the site so we'll have a look at that later when we go ashore (if it stops raining). It seems the ships did most of their hunting in the winter from the ice and that the Inuit carried the blubber back to the shore station on sledges to be rendered down. If the same techniques were used in Isabella Bay, that explains whey there weren't great piles of whale bones on the beach where we found the graves.

Since we anchored, we've had a long chat to another fishing boat from the South. They've promised us some fish later so we'll see if that works out.


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