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Our arrival in Tuk to our departure is less than 24 hours

Our arrival in Tuktoyaktuk to our departure is less than 24 hours. We rejig the Arctic Joule to work better with our daily routine and resupply on essentials for the next leg of the journey (Hazelnut Coffee Mate being at the top of the list). As with all things, it takes some time to get things right and the journey from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk, with all its unexpected delays, proved perfect at flushing things out.

Paul rowing small

The temperature in Tuk is -1C and there’s a strong Northeasterly wind blowing in the morning. Locals tell us it should be 15-20C at this time of year. “The bugs should be bouncing off your head” explained Eilleen who came down to the beach to visit with us.

Strange weather has defined the year we are told. It’s been colder than usual and the ice has been very slow in going out. Climate change critics may quickly point this out as a damning argument but the reality of climate change is not reflected in specific anomaly but rather in overall trend.

The locals in Tuktoyaktuk describe an Arctic that is in profound change. We are told the summer is longer on both ends by at least two weeks. “They shot a grizzly bear at the north end of Banks Island,” explained Billy, a local elder “They saw a wolverine too”.

It would appear many species are making their way further north and the residents are noticing. “Killer whales have been spotted in the channel,” continued Billy, “beavers are damming our rivers, hurting the white fish.”

The words of an elder cuts through the rhetoric of climate skeptics like a scalpel through skin. They know because the live it.

We head out of Tuk in the evening. The temperature is still cool but the winds are light and the sea gentle. The landscape is low lying in this region, the sky being the scenic canvas. This evening’s display is an arcing sweep of white cotton ball dabs on a baby blue background. Strokes of light, etched seemingly from a from a dry brush sweep radially across the canvas, the source of radiance somewhere beyond the frame.

We move well for 20 hours, pushing against a light northeasterly but riding tidal currents to our advantage. We receive a stern warning from our weather router stating unequivocally: “Unwise to move ahead, you are ready for your route but your route is not ready for you.” We immediately tuck into the lee of a sandy spit and access our options.

It would appear that the sea ices not far from us and could be pushed down upon us with these northerly winds. But we need to move as close to the ice edge as possible since we move so slowly and need to be ready to jump when it breaks up. We will maintain forward movement but with heightened caution.

The winds build as we muse on our dilemma and before long we’re hunkering down in high winds again. The sun is now replaced with an icy fog and there’s nothing to do but wait.

Sunday brings high cloud and lighter winds and a renewed sense of vigour in the team. We’ll move forward, with a sharp eye for ice.

- Kevin

We’ve finally made it to Tuktoyaktuk

The wind finally eased enough to make a move from our haven of the last 3 days. It’s still blowing at 15KNs but we hope this to be a reasonable test to the capabilities of the Arctic Joule. We head out from behind the shelter of our pingo lee and the seas immediately start pushing us heavily back to shore. We struggle to keep the boat at 45 degrees to the wind, side slipping, or ferrying, for the next hour and a half.

It’s brutal going with little headway so we return to shore and begin hauling the boat along the beach. The waves are crashing fully on the beam of the Arctic Joule and it takes all four of us to manhandle the behemoth through breaking surf.

Another hour of work has us round a point where the seas lessen and allow us to row again. It’s perfect timing as rocks have begun to appear in the surf and the Arctic Joule is running up hard against them. The water is still steep and challenging but, in comparison to earlier, is manageable.

Finally the homes that we’ve been seeing in the distance for days are in the foreground. We slip into the lee in a small bay at the south end of town and moor on a rocky beach.

Within minutes an RCMP truck races down to meet, both officers displaying a degree of alarm. Evidently a resident saw us coming in, rowing what looked to be a disabled boat, and assumed we’d lost a motor and were in distress. It’s 10:00 p.m. Thursday night and we’ve finally made it to Tuktoyaktuk.


Cabin Fever

Day three of the storm and still no movement. The winds are holding at 30KNs and aren’t subsiding. The weather report indicates an improving trend but we’re still to expect 20KN northerlies though tomorrow with a sharp drop in temperature. Flurries are on the table.

We’re bearing up well to our forced halt but we’re all anxious to get moving. Having Tuktoyaktuk in our sights isn’t helping matters either. We knew going into this adventure that there would be times like this but, like with all things, concept and reality are always different things.

A local reindeer herder in Inuvik wisely advised us that you move on the land when the land allows you to move. Patience is gold to a traveler.

We’re moored within a rolling green grassland broken by small lakes and inland waterways. There are no trees here, only pingos rising out of the landscape surround. These low lying grassy hills – distinctive in this region of the Mackenzie delta – rise several hundred feet and are formed by ice pushing up from beneath. On a miniature level they remind me of the volcanoes of Java, Indonesia, perfectly shaped cones marching across an otherwise uninterrupted countryside.


We’re idling ourselves by reading, writing and exploring. It’s not often in our hectic lives that we have nothing to do. And the forced break may be a blessing in disguise too. Ice still blocks our route ahead and a strong blow is exactly what’s needed to break things up.

We’ll start moving again when we’re allowed. Until then we’ll take the opportunity to enjoy the moment and the place we’re at.



Man-hauling a 2500 lb row boat through unrelenting winds

It’s been a mystery for over 150 years now. A grizzly discovery on the beaches of King William Island, a large row boat from the doomed Franklin expedition laying abandoned, dead men in their tracks strewn about the boat all clearly in the process of dragging her somewhere. One of the dead men sat at the head of the boat, a gun in each hand, the frozen protector, 25lbs of chocolate stacked at his feet.

franklin image

Our storm didn’t relent today, it strengthened. Thirty knot easterlies shifted to 35KN north-easterlies and made a gale out of a bluster. The winds are too high to row but Tuktoyaktuk is tantalizingly close, just 7.5 km away, and the roofs of its homes are peering at us over the horizon. We decide to push out and by push out I mean exactly that.

Our detailed navigation maps and our GPS indicate that a potential route to Tuktoyaktuk exists running through semi-protected channels on the lee side of a series of sand beaches to the north east. Our hope is to push and row our boat through these channels and sneak into Tuk from the back door.

After five hours of hauling, lining and rowing we reach a dead end. The channel is blocked with driftwood and is impassable. We retreat.

Man-hauling a 2500 lb row boat is a sight to be seen. At times it’s fluid and even graceful but mostly it’s an unwieldy chore of grunting, dragging and pushing, waist deep in frigid water all the time trying to tame a ton of fiberglass that wants to go where a 35 knot wind tells her too.

I gained a strange insight into what might of played out on the beaches of King William Island over a century and a half ago. Here we are hauling our over-sized row boat, loaded to the gunnels with gear and chocolate (50lbs in fact)…and two shot guns. Desperation is what happened.

We’re at a new moorage point tonight 930 meters further ahead than yesterday. We’re moving forward.


Still battling the wind!

We are still battling against the wind! Today we tried to sneak up an inlet today that, according to our charts, would have allowed us to make progress in the lee of some high ground. Unfortunately the charts were not correct and after six hours of pushing and pulling we ended up 930 precious meters ahead of where we started!

The bottom line is that rowing into a 30kt wind with our boat is not only impossible but also very dangerous as the sea has become really nasty. We are currently tucked in behind a pingo, a common feature of the landscape up here, which is a small hill or bump that is perfect to hide behind. We have lots of days ahead of us to make up the lost time and we have planned for these delays so it’s all good.

Stormy beach

We can’t complete this journey in a few days but if we’re not careful, we could certainly end it. For now, we are waiting for the conditions to improve so we can get moving again. We will be ready for a big push when the low pressure moves on. We have always agreed that we would be cautious with our approach and for now we have made all the right decisions.

We are happy, warm and safe, getting to know the boat and all our equipment.


Day 4: Hauling the boat through choppy waters

A few years ago, I was given a tile with a quote that said “the difficult we do immediately, the impossible takes a little longer”. I was reminded of this earlier today as we attempted to haul the boat through the shallow choppy water. It’s only day 4 but already we know we’re up against it.

Tuktoyaktuk (Tuk) is a small community up here that sits about 180 km North East of our starting point – Inuvik. We were hoping to hit Tuk in 2 to 3 days. Right now we’ve taken shelter in a little inlet as we cannot row into the 25 knot wind that has taken an annoying shine to us.

Yesterday morning we came to a halt due to similar conditions so we had to sit out the afternoon and the evening. We got going again this morning in choppy swell but the wind picked up over the course of the morning, which stopped us dead in our tracks again. Another interesting aspect that makes progress very difficult is the depth of the water. It’s very shallow (2 ft) in parts which makes forward progress in a 2,300 lbs rowing boat extremely difficult.

We all knew as Van Morrison put it “there’d be days like this” but if I’m being honest, I supposed we’d hoped that we would have been further into the trip before getting stopped by the weather. Given that forward progress was not possible by rowing, we pushed the boat along the shore line with our feet sinking at times above our ankles in the soft mud. We did this until it was no longer possible. So we’ve taken shelter again, we’re about 7km from Tuk and for now this is where we must sit and simply wait for better conditions.

Hauling boat small size    Hand blister small

Spirits are high, the tea is brewing and we’re all about to have some grub. Is what we’re attempting to do impossible – no it’s not but it just might take a little longer………