Kevin rowing small
Our schedule for the last days has been row until evening, ride out a big wind until early morning and then start rowing again when the wind subsides.

Frank and I start our shift this morning at 4:30am and move for several hours until we reach the decommissioned DEW line station at Tysoe Point. The landscape of this site is different than everywhere else, we can feel the hand of man has touched it. We pick up on it right away, slopes of land too perfect, gravel ridges too consistent in their shape and line, a barrenness too undeviating in its nothingness.
Arctic Joule from shore small
Looking closer we spy pipes randomly popping out of the ground, like small chimneys no more than 4ft high, speaking to something beneath. There are two metal structures remaining on site, one like a small airplane hanger with a large overhead door that’s locked, the other a simple one storey shoebox its mandoor ripped open from the underside, the result of a bear no doubt, inside ransacked. A large block of concrete sits hundreds of meters away. It’s strangely disassociated with everything but bears a plaque commemorating the site.

We make an effort to stop at such sites to get a better feeling and understanding of the Northwest Passage and its history. It’s just a quick hour break and we’re back at the oars. Within minutes we’re on anchor again waiting out another windstorm and this one has teeth. The wind comes from the south and is extremely warm. It holds a trace of smoke in its air and reminds me of the southerlies coming out of Paulatuk.

The sharp snapping of the flags sound like whips and indicate a very strong wind, likely gusting over 35 knots. We begin to drag our anchor across the sea floor and we deploy the back-up anchor we acquired in Paulatuk. It works, we stop and ride out the storm.

The wind eventually dies and Frank and I seize the moment and begin our shift. What we don’t realize is that this is our storm refuelling, taking a deeper more powerful breath before unloading another bigger blast.

After 30 minutes of rowing it’s obvious that the wind is back. Strong gusts make movement difficult and we drop both anchors in 35ft of water. The wind builds. Our depth gauge and GPS on board make it very clear that we’re moving once again, out to sea. It’s not a fast march, just a few meters a minute, but we’re being pushed into deeper water. Our second anchor only has 60 feet of line and will soon loose purchase. We’re now relying on just a single anchor and the wind has built into a force we’ve not yet seen on this expedition. I can only guess but it must be gusting to at 40 knots or more. The boat is being tossed around like a cork and is slipping fast. We decide to throw our sea anchor to help stop the movement but it’s of little help. 3 anchors and we’re still not holding ground. We need to make a move.

In times like these a little luck has a way of making itself heard and for us it’s an easing of the wind. We jump at it and decide to make a break for shore. Paul and Denis man the oars and Frank and I pull the anchors. I tie off with an emergency line as not to be swept overboard and scramble off the bow to retrieve the sea anchor. I need to use our ice poke-pole to recover it as we’ve run out of rope for a retrieval line.

We’re anchor free heading to shore. As we expect the wind builds back to full force. Paul and Denis row like the possessed fixed on a finish line they cannot see. I’m their eyes, snugged between them on deck manning the steering, ensuring we hold a straight line. In a strong wind like this the bow wants to slip one way or the other and throw the boat broadside. One has to steer constantly, something a rower could not do without stopping to row
“100 meters to go” I lie, helping the boys keep a tempo higher than I think possible. We’re fighting this thing though, somehow.
“50 meters”, I scream truthfully now, “You guys are doing Crean proud!!”

Tom Crean is a heroic Irish Antarctic explorer who was a member of both Scott’s and Shakleton’s Antarctic expeditions. He was one of the crew rowing the 22-ft James Caird on the 800-mile journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia in April 1916, arguably the greatest ocean rowing journey ever undertaken.
Photo of Tom Crean small
After 30 minutes of frantic rowing we make shore. A large swell pushes the Arctic Joule onto the rocky beach. We hit our typical battle stations with Denis and I rigging an anchor and Paul and Frank fighting to keep the boat aligned.

The wind has intensified to a level I can’t even guess at. The gusts are so intense that beach sand is lifted into a sandstorm. We attempt to set up our tent, a model designed for these conditions but within minutes it is flattened by a gust, one pole bending horribly, one pole snapping clean in half.

We spend the rest of the evening tending to the boat as it’s perpetually washed up on the beach by the large surf. By 4:30am, 24 hours since starting our day, the wind begins to subside. Denis and Paul hit the cabin for a quick nap while Frank and I set up our sleeping bags on the beach to keep an eye on the anchor. It’s an odd scene, an endless gravel beach winding into the dust, two red sleeping bags in a straight line, foot to foot separated by a shotgun. Beaches are the pathways for the bears. We fall asleep to the buzz of mosquitos replacing the sound of the wind.