Our rest in the sandbar lee is a short lived affair as we’re eager to make our first big open water crossing across Liverpool Bay to the Bathurst Peninsula. If we had our choice we’d have made a number of larger crossings already but conditions have made this impossible.
Since entering the Beaufort Sea two weeks ago we’ve been hampered by relentless Easterly and North Easterly winds. For a vessel travelling under motor or sail winds such as these (15-35Kn) might be manageable but for our 2500lb behemoth, presenting lots of windage for very little relative forward propulsion of two people rowing, strong winds stop movement in its tracks.
For the Arctic Joule strong winds in open water mean being pushed backwards or being anchored and holding fast. Strong winds close to shore mean options: the use of island lees and peninsulas to hide and maneuver behind and beaches that can be used to drag the boat when rowing is impossible. The strategy is working, albeit slowly.
Strategy or not, we need to make an open crossing and move out across Liverpool Bay in the early hours of this evening. Winds are predicted to dissipate by midnight and our hope is that the seas will diminish as well. The moment we pull out from the sandbar lee however we are hit with a jolt. The waves are sharper and tighter in rhythm than before. A strong sense of ill-ease washes over me but we’re committed to our line and we keep our tempo high. The steep faces of water that bear down on us have such a menacing presence that I get in the habit at focusing on them only after the’ve rolled up under the boat and are charging away from us. My ostrich approach to discomfort seems to work
The boat rocks wildly and for the first time this trip a mild sensation of nausea starts to well up in my gut. I put it out of my mind and focus on watching for the next wave, trying to time my oar stroke to catch it and trying not to hit Frank’s oars in the process.
Our plan is to make a direct line across to Cape Wolki on the Bathurst Peninsula but the strong north wind does not subside as was forecast and we’re driven further south to Nicholson Island, home to a cold-war era distant early warning (DEW) line radar station and about two-thirds the way across the bay.
Nicholson Island is roughly 10 kms long and 3 kms wide and rises to a height of roughly 300ft. On this summit sits the DEW line station with a 60ft radar tower standing guard over a low lying single story metal clad structure, a series of diesel storage chambers and a couple of large white geodesic domes.
We decide to stretch our legs, anchor the boat in knee deep water and head out on the island for some exploration. The DEW line station is several kilometres away so we stick closer to our moorage and poke around. Within minutes a large arctic fox comes to investigate us but scampers off when he catches our scent. We haven’t bathed in nearly three weeks so our scent comes easily. Hawks fly overhand screeching at us in alarm. We’re confronted by an agitated herd of caribou on the beach, driven mad by swarms of mosquitos, and intent on passing us to get to the water in order to escape their pursuers They quiver uncontrollably, powerless to the insects, and charge pass us with wild-eyed, crazed abandon.
By the time we get back to the boat we realize the tide has slipped out faster than we anticipated and we’re now beached, stuck until the next high tide. Frustrated but resigned we take the forced break set about cleaning up the boat, drying out gear and doing a little more exploring.