After our wonderful, unanticipated stop on Point Hope, we weighed anchor on July 30, 2015. Both the GRIB files and the National Weather Service forecast strong southerly winds, just what we needed for the ~400 miles to Point Barrow, the northernmost tip of the United States. The southerlies would, of course, also make our exposed anchorage off Point Hope untenable, so it was time to go. We were a bit sad to leave, as we’d had so much fun there, and we also had a sense of anticipation about the passage since the winds were supposed to be quite strong – 30 knots – and the seas quite high – 10-12 feet.
We departed in the calm before the storm, motoring in mirror-like water past Cape Lisburne where Pete had mentioned gathering murre eggs while dangling from a rope over the cliff. Sure enough, we saw thousands of murres! (Click on any of the photos below for a slideshow of Cape Lisburne and all the murres, tiny against the cliffs!)
Late that afternoon, high wispy clouds built to the south and a large, ominous halo surrounded the sun – the gale was heading our way. The next entry in Celeste‘s log reads, “SW winds built overnight, had in 3 reefs at 07:00, then took down main altogether. Wind vane broke in steep, confused seas. Fixed it. [This was one of the blocks leading from the vane’s rudder to Celeste‘s tiller. The shackle at the base of the block snapped with the strain. It was easy enough to fix with some strong line, but it does indicate the kind of conditions we were sailing under.] Only staysail up now. Horrible motion, but very fast.”
The entry for that night reads, “Wind’s come north now – 25-30 knots. Not much fun, but can still lay Point Barrow.” (This means we could still steer our course without having to tack against the wind.)
On August 1, the wind moderated just as we closed the land and rounded Point Barrow. We’d reached the northernmost point of the United States at 71.4*N!
We’d have been celebrating if we weren’t already thinking of the next hurdle, entering Elson Lagoon, the anchorage beyond the point. It’s badly charted on account of the constantly shifting sands and eroding beach, and it’s very shallow. It was fortunate that the wind had died down because the lagoon is impossible to enter in strong northerlies – breakers form and it’s essentially a lee shore. As it was, we could feel our way in. The chart was wrong, of course, and at one point we had only 6 inches of water beneath the keel, but we made it!