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Tiama’s Great Adventure Update 4,

The Central Arctic ice Barrier.

We left Cambridge bay 14 August, after spending the last few days taking on water, fuel and groceries, thinking in the back of our minds that Tiama might have to spend a winter in the Ice. There was also a good hardware shop with good cold weather Arctic clothing – this proved too much of a temptation! Some of the crew are now showing off in cosy jackets and furry hats.

2 Friends from New Zealand, Pascal Otis and Grant Redvers, recently moved to Cambridge bay working in the new Canadian Arctic research station. The day we arrived their beautiful boy Alex was born. I had invited them to come for a sail in the bay that day but they had wisely declined. It would have been great to have a baby born onboard Tiama, but I don’t think Pascal would agree with that.

Skipper meets newly arrived future crew, Alex Redvers, Cambridge Bay.

More fantastic sailing 10 to 15 knots of wind and flat seas, amazing whispering along at 6 knots hard on the wind and no engine sounds. There are lots of uncharted areas, we managed to locate a previously unknown sandbank by sailing into it with full sail up, it brought Tiama to a stop, got off by lifting the keel and rudder, we can reduce our draft from 3 meters to 1.2 meters and this lifting keel arrangement has come in handy on several occasions whilst trying to sneak up closer to shore for a good look and see.

Anchored for a night at Jenny Lind Island, a remote dry desert like place. Tied ‘Mina’ (our nice new aluminium dingy, named after my Mum) to a rock ashore and started walking up the hill, looking back we saw our home and life support system ‘Tiama’ riding at anchor 250 meters of the beach and felt rather uncomfortable realising that our lives were swinging on a stout but potentially fragile dingy line tied to a rock on the beach, (swimming back to Tiama in these waters is not an option) in the end one person waited on the beach keeping “Mina” company.

Next stop Gjoa Haven, a settlement that sprung up around the overwintering harbour of Gjoa the first successful vessel to pass true the NWP a 3 year voyage from 1902 until 1905, Ronald Amundsen and his 6 member crew spent 2 winters in Gjoa Haven. Now about 1000 people live there, loads of kids everywhere, the parents get 1000$ per month per kid from a government scheme to make sure the place stays occupied. It is dry and dusty at the moment (end of summer) strewn with snowmobiles and boats, everybody seems to drive around on Quad bikes, some of the best Native carvers live here and the local RCMP Police office offers showers and free internet. Nice place, different for sure.

Gjoa Haven

A Canadian Coastguard vessel has sort of been traveling along with us for the last 4/5days fixing navigational markers and surveying some of those afore mentioned uncharted waters, (we could have helped them out with some of our unintended keel depth soundings).  As a sailor you got to love the wording on the charts, “The magnetic compass is useless in this area”. We found out 1500 miles ago when our Auto Pilot compass decided to only point North East and have been hand steering the boat ever since. Luckily there are 5 competent crew onboard, doing a great job on the navigation and steering duties, running on peanut butter sandwiches.

No wind and glassy seas from Gjoa Haven to the area around the northern tip of King William Island where this year, the Central Arctic Ice pack begins. This ice is the major obstacle to shipping in the North West Passage, the actual distance to cover is only 300 to 400 nautical miles of ice covered waters but with a small vessel it can take weeks to get through. The Ice is constantly on the move driven by tidal flows and wind forming more or less dense pack ice depending on conditions.

The daily ice charts produced by the Canadian Ice service are by their nature out of date by half a day. Traditionally August is the month with the least Ice, late September freeze up begins again. This year the Arctic has experienced yet another very low Ice year due to climate change, but the area we have to travel through has more ice then normal, due to wind conditions tending to pack up the ice in the island archipelago, several vessels have already turned back because of tough ice conditions.

We have met 5 yachts coming trough from the East, they had already passed the Ice barrier, varying reports from them as to ice thickness and how hard it was to get true, some of them were beset/trapped in 9 tenths of ice cover for days with their hulls getting squeezed by the pressure, some sustained damage to rudders and lost anchors, and others came through unscathed. Of course luck is a factor. But it also seems to relate to what boat you have, there were 2 fibreglass boats in that group.

I would not try this passage in such a vessel, the saying “Steel is Real” very much applies here, and Tiama is a beautiful sturdy steel vessel purposely designed by New Zealander Alan Mummery for this sort of thing and I would like to keep her like that. From the conversations with the other boats it would be possible to start thinking along the lines that it should be easy enough for us. I suffer no such illusions, and doing my bit in the worrying department.

Lots of things can go wrong quickly, it is a remote and unforgiving environment, pay attention is the word of the day. One has to count the success of a voyage by the things that did not break or go wrong rather then how fast you travel.

When we reached the pack ice we were advised by one of our shore side ice advisors ‘Victor Wejer’, there was a small lead very close to the Boothia Peninsula coast, which we followed. At times we were only 100 meters off the beach but managed to make good time traveling about 100 miles right up to Weld Harbour, on the way meeting up with French single hander ‘Ivan Bourgnon’


who is trying to establish a new record, traveling unsupported through the NWP in an open 22 foot Catamaran.

He sounded really young on the radio but when we met up, he was sporting grey hair. Having that colour hair my self I felt entitled to tell him that he should know better, he is a crazy but nice guy.At Weld Harbour we also met up with yacht Larissa, Mark and Heather the other Kiwi boat in the area.

We now have about 4 hours of darkness at night so pays to find shelter during that time as eyes are still the number one navigational tool amongst the Ice. The Ice Charts showed 7 tenths Ice coverage for the upcoming area around the Tasmanian Islands, this had been so for several days. We can only travel through about 3 maybe 4 tenth’s ice coverage, but decided to go and have a look and see!

With one of the crew up the mast to get a better view ahead pointing us towards the most promising leads we managed to slowly make our way to the Tasmanian Islands. Once past there we had slightly less ice and favourable winds so we could sail downwind under Genoa for most of the day. What an experience, this is what we came here for. Despite the rather challenging conditions I had the biggest grin on my face.

Late that afternoon fog set in, visibility 100 meters and no way to find any leads. The ice seemed to have totally closed in. On dusk we had bashed and pushed through ever reducing conditions to rocky Coutts Island were we found some shelter, however we had to keep an ice watch and re anchor 4 times due to ice floes moving over the anchor onto the boat.

At Anchor Coutts Island.

Next morning the fog lifted and we managed to cover the remaining distance to Bellot Strait without too much trouble. This very narrow passage is a short cut in between Boothia Peninsula and Summerset Island. The pilot book warns, it is often blocked with ice and only navigable for a few days every year, with currents up to 8 knots. On our approach it looked reasonably open. Inside the passage we met 2 very dynamic ice barriers with ice floes being carried Westward at 4 or 5 knots and right next to it, totally opposing floes being carried Eastward by opposing currents, very abrupt changes.

Interesting to navigate a 50 foot yacht through this, but Tiama did great, never missing a beat, and we arrived at the other side in historic Fort Ross at the end of a long but exciting day. Larissa had been following our lead for the last few days, and we shared a celebratory drink that evening at Fort Ross, they got a bit squeezed in Bellot Strait and had a dent mid ships to prove it but now we are on the other side of the aforementioned Central Arctic Ice barrier.

Fort Ross, abandoned Hudson Bay trading post.

We have had a dream run, the last few days have been some of the best of my life as far as boating/sailing experiences go. Tiama under sail manoeuvring between the ice floes, that’s what she was built for. Absolutely magic stuff. We took the chances as they come up before us and pressed on, now it seems the ice has closed into more dense concentrations behind us, 2 other boats in the same area did not leave with us and 10 days later were still waiting in ice locked Weld Harbour.

Fata Morgana, and yacht Larissa

This place is endlessly fascinating the changes are rapid and dramatic, we will have to come back here again.

Happy Crew with ‘line caught’ Arctic Char.

After Bellot Strait the ice has become noticeably less dense, 1 to 2 tenths ice cover but fog and poor visibility still keeps us on our toes. We shifted into sightseeing mode, visiting the graves of crew off the famous and disastrous Franklin Expedition on Beechey Island while always keeping a look out for wildlife. Taking guns when going ashore is recommended. There are hunter gatherers around that eat people if pressed, polar bears are bigger and faster than humans.

Beechey Island

I’m sending this from Greenland. Our crossing of Baffin was a bit of this and that, sailing for 2 days and a bit of motoring as well, cold nights. Ice Bergs every 3 or 4 miles, the big ones come up well on the Radar. The next and last update will hopefully be sent from Amsterdam.

You can follow, click on the heading “where is Tiama now” our position is updated every 12 hours. All is well, Regards, Henk

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