We rounded the tip of the Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula after two weeks of hard effort, sand bars and unfriendly winds. We’ve been looking forward to this moment for days, to finally feel a little wind at our stern heading south into Liverpool Bay. Murphy was an Irishman I suppose and must be taking a keen interest in our expedition as the wind shifted to an East North East when we made the turn and, although forecasted to weaken, built into a stormy blow. We held firm, convinced the winds would subside, and kept pushing down the coast. The waves grew larger and steeper until we were in the largest seas we’d seen on this expedition. The water at Cape Dalhousie is exceedingly shallow and big rollers become very dangerous breaking waves in moments. Sand bars loom everywhere, potential time bombs in a turbulent seascape.
By the time we’re looking for an exit strategy we realize a way out on the coast is barred by a continuous sandbar running parallel with the shore. A calm body of water lies tantalizingly close on the other side but is impossible for us to reach. Trying to negotiate this surf zone would be dangerous for us and potentially catastrophic for the Arctic Joule.
Paul and Denis finish their shift and Frank and I take over. It’s a tenuous shift change as the potential of a wave swamping the boat is always a risk when crew members are moving in and out of the cabin. I stand behind Paul at his rowing station, he gets up, I jump in and Denis keeps rowing to keep the boat on the correct angle to the waves. I take on this roll as Frank changes places with Denis. A moments inattention could see the boat swing broadside to the waves and be rolled.
I’ve never paddled or rowed in seas this large and feel both anxiety and exhilaration. Steep walls of water build out of nothing and run at us, tips frothing, their intent unknown. But no sooner are they upon us, they’re sweeping under our bow and marching deftly to an explosive end on shore. We’re not in their cross-hairs it would seem but we keep a close eye on this angry mob, ensuring no change in will or intent.
A break in the sandbar appears after 90 tense minutes of rowing and we decide to go for it, turning the boat into shore and running with the waves. This is the most dangerous position to be in as a large wave can surf the boat, swiftly turn it broadside and roll her. My hearts in my mouth as a large wave begins to build behind us, roll up on our stern and begin to push us aggressively.
The Arctic Joule is a big gal. Her weight and girth are a challenge into headwinds and over sandbars but she’s in her element here. The wave doesn’t push AJ around, she holds her course perfectly. Our big lady is comfortable in these waters. After a few tenuous minutes were whisked into calmer waters and anchor until the wind subsides. We’re happy the Arctic Joule is exactly the way she is.