We definitely had our hardest and most eventful day so far yesterday. Things started to go pear shaped around 7am. Denis and myself were on the oars and the last 2 hours of our shift had been great with very calm conditions. The next hour saw a strong wind whip up, the swell became very choppy and there were dark clouds on the horizon. We pulled as hard as we could for the next hour to try and get in behind a headland to take some shelter but Mother Nature was too strong.
We put out the sea anchor to try and halt our backwards progress, it wasn’t ideal but we couldn’t make any progress with the oars. We rested for a few hours and Kevin and Frank tried to make some progress but again to no avail. Our depth was ok to use the ground anchor so they deployed that and we agreed to rest up for a few hours in the cabin and go again as soon as conditions would permit. We were all exhausted and fell asleep.
We then woke to the crunching sound of a large ice berg nudging up against the boat. The ice berg had pinned our anchor line and hard as we tried, we couldn’t free the line. Because the berg was moving, the nose of the boat was starting to be pulled underneath it so we had to cut the line and in doing so say good bye to our anchor. We then spent the next few hours trying to battle our way out of the choppy conditions but again we simply couldn’t make progress into the wind and find a safe place to shelter.
The best option (out of a bunch of bad ones) was to use some ice screws and anchor the boat to an ice berg that was anchored to the ground and close to shore. So we did this and fell into the cabin once again exhausted. After a few hours the berg cracked and shifted so we had to scamper quickly to free the ice screws and quickly work to prevent the boat hitting the rocky shore line where it could have been damaged.
At this point the wind had whipped up to about 20 – 25 knots and was pushing us hard onto shore. Kevin and Frank were still in their dry suits. Denis and myself weren’t but that didn’t matter it was all hands on deck. Frank and Kevin released the ice crews, Denis and myself attended to our centre board and rudder. By now we were virtually on shore so all four of us jumped into the water to physically hold the boat from grounding into the rocky shoreline.
At this point Denis and I were in our socks and underclothes absolutely soaked. Frank and Kevin held the boat while we jumped into our dry suits. We tried to use our winch to pull the boat safely up on shore using some logs as rollers but there wasn’t anything on the shore we could use that was a strong enough anchor point so we simply had to try and row the boat away from the shore. It was like rowing on a treadmill and we were pulling as hard as we could to simply stop running aground. 20 minutes of this and one would be absolutely shagged so we rotated into 20 minute shifts for the next few hours.
This was back breaking stuff but we managed to get away from the shore line and eventually we found a place where we could safely beach the boat, take some shelter and regroup. We used the opportunity to dry our clothes and the cabin (everything was soaked), we lit a fire, had a big feed and got the spirits up again after our adventurous day.
We all agreed that we will now have to wait for a decent weather window before we can push on so hopefully this comes soon. We have been cautious up to now and rightly so. We are far too remote to be taking any stupid risks and doing so would be absolutely foolish. One thing we are all very clear on now is that we can only move when we have half decent weather conditions. If the weather is rough but in our favour, that’s fine but anything that is pushing us backwards or dangerously towards rocky shorelines means we just have to shelter and proceed again when its safe. That is the reality of moving up here in Arctic……