Cuming Inlet to Upernavik
Safe in Umiarssuaqarfik
After weeks of waiting, we are on the go again. Not as hoped through the North West Passage, adding Suilven to the remarkably small number of 67 sailing yachts that have ever made it through, but back to Greenland, bound for Upernavik. We have left behind all the other boats that have become our friends over the past few weeks, all engaged in the same endeavour, to make it through the NWP. They will still be receiving the daily ice charts, poring over them, looking for signs of the ice breaking up, anticipating the moment when the decision will be to move forward, South through Regency Inlet, down to the notorious Bellot Strait with its 8 knot adverse current and then through into Franklin Strait and Victoria Sound and through to Cambridge Bay from where there is clear water all the way to the Pacific, and has been for weeks. As we left, there was nine tenths ice completely blocking the way forward. Boats anchored at Beechey Island reported that the National Geographic cruise ship tried to get through three days ago, accompanied by an ice breaker, but had to return to Beechey, unable to break through the ice in Bellot Strait. It’s now five days on since we made our decision to back out, and there has been little change, but in the back of our minds, there’s still a slight nagging thought that we might have abandoned too early.
The four day passage to Upernavik has also turned into a bit of a trial. The auto-pilot system has pretty much stopped working at all. On the way over, it was behaving eccentrically, but it was still possible to put it on auto-pilot or wind angle, and the boat would hold its course for twenty minutes or so before dropping the signal. Now, the auto-pilot works only for minutes at a time, and as there has been very little wind, wind angle hasn’t worked at all. The consequence has been that for the last 36 hours coming into Upernavik, we have had to hand steer the whole way, changing the watch pattern to two hours on, four hours off. We have managed to avoid the gale force winds that were forecast, but not the huge seas that these gales have kicked up, with waves of 4 meters or more coming broadside at us. All this and dodging icebergs and nasty little bits of ice, growlers and bergy bits, which seem to crop up anywhere, it has been a very tiring passage.
We arrived late yesterday afternoon, and tied alongside a small fishing boat. Upernavik is not the most sheltered of harbours, and there was quite a swell coming in, which was going to make for a bit of an uncomfortable night. We had closed the boat up, preparatory to preparing dinner, when the crew of the fishing boat came back, and announced they were leaving, so we had to don our sodden oilies again and cast off to let them out. After tying up alongside the quay we had an excellent dinner and a restorative drink or two, but were becoming uncomfortably aware that the wind was getting up, as was the swell. It soon became apparent that staying the night here was not going to be an option. A hurried consultation of the pilot books identified a safe anchorage about three miles away, with the impossible name of Umiarssuaqarfik. The pilot book says ’Iron Bark rode out a SW gale here lying to a single anchor’. With a southerly wind getting up, this sounded good enough for us, so it was oilies back on again and casting off into the night. The wind quickly picked up with gusts of over 40 knots and it took 2 hours to make our way against the wind, hand steering of course, round to the most sheltered little anchorage you could hope to find, protected from all directions. Max was given a speed lesson in how to release the windlass and drop the anchor in one go.’ How much chain?’ he asked. ‘Never mind that, just drop the lot,’ came the answer. Having survived Dundas Bay in a storm, once the anchor dug in, we felt very safe here, as the wind continued to whistle in the rigging all night.
This morning, the wind has abated somewhat, but not enough yet to leave and go back round to Upernavik. We’re pretty keen to get to get ashore if only to try and find somewhere to deal with the laundry, that has building up for five weeks or so. It’s locked firmly in the forward cabin so as not to cause offence!
Sadly, we received an email last night from Aventura, saying that they had decided to abandon their attempt on the North West Passage. Time was moving on, and they were becoming concerned about not being able to reach the Pacific before ice and storms set in. Three of the crew have found berths on other boats that are still waiting, in the hope that they can get through, while the others are returning to Nuuk and then back to Europe.