After our fantastic bicycling exploration around Nome, we had a day of chores (including trying to help our Dutch friends on Necton with filling their European propane canisters – sadly only moderately successful) and saying goodbye to Pat and Sue before setting sail for our passage north through the notorious Bering Strait!
The Bering Strait – formed by Siberia to the west and Alaska to the east – is the gateway between the Bering Sea (to the south) and the Chukchi Sea (to the north), both known for their storms. So far we’d done well in the Bering Sea, only experiencing moderately strong winds, up to 30 knots. The weather forecast showed ceaseless strong winds, but fortunately from the SW so that once we were clear of the Seward Peninsula, we’d be on a broad reach headed north.
Beating to Windward, Crossing the Arctic Circle
Nonetheless, we still had to get around the peninsula – not a fun beat to windward! The area is so shallow that the 25-knot winds had kicked up a very steep chop, significantly slowing our progress. After a few hours of this unpleasantness, we finally turned the corner and eased the sheets, only for the wind and waves to increase causing what – I see from our log – we recorded as a “horrible night”.
Our log describes the next day (July 19th) as a “Lumpy ride through the Bering Strait, but fast. Ill with the flu – caught from Sue?” [She’d been recovering from something lingering the whole time we’d been there.] “Will cross Arctic Circle today.” Which we did, in pea-soup fog and 30-knot winds! Only in the Arctic….
On the 20th, I wrote in the log, “Sailing fast, had to jibe to avoid the Russian border. Cold. Seth pale and feverish. Autopilot behaving erratically – too far north? Wind vane working well.”
On the 21st, when we were up by Cape Lisburne, about 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, the weather changed dramatically. The wind died right down to nothing; the fog burned off; the sun came out; and we actually took off some layers. By this point we were both recovered from whatever bug we’d caught in Nome, thankfully! Checking the forecast over our OCENS sat phone connection, we found that light northerlies were forecast for the next 24 hours followed by steadily increasing northeasterlies, reaching 25-30 knots – and that was the forecast, not even the highest wind speeds we could expect!
Bit of a contrast in these photos here?!
There’s nowhere to hide from strong winds on the Chukchi Sea Alaskan coast – it’s a straight and shallow coastline all the way until you round Pt Barrow and can duck into its lagoon. A few people we knew of had tried to take shelter (a few years ago) in Peard Bay and had come to grief (boat driven hard aground, etc.). Furthermore, our destination – Barrow – lay exactly NE, right into the forecast wind. So we decided to turn back for Point Hope, where we could wait for favorable winds tucked behind a sheltering peninsula.
First we hove-to for a few hours’ sleep, and then we ran wing ‘n’ wing in calm waters, sun, and a light northerly. It was certainly the most pleasant 50 miles of the trip! We even opened the hatches to take advantage of the 50 degree F temperatures! It almost felt tropical!
We got our first glimpse of a superior mirage when we neared Pt Hope – a strange Arctic phenomenon in which land that’s at or below the horizon looks much higher in the sky, or even seems to float in the sky.
We dropped anchor off Point Hope at 7:30 in the morning on July 22, finding to our surprise that our chart was entirely wrong, that there’s far more than “ruins” on the peninsula, that it’s actually a thriving Inupiaq village! We couldn’t wait to row ashore and see it!
But first we celebrated our arrival with a big breakfast of eggs, toast, coffee, and moose sausage!! (Thanks to Pat and Sue!!)