Gone Floatabout

Sailing, Photography, Wilderness

Sailing to the top of America



Weighing anchor

Weighing anchor at Point Hope

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.”

Chukchi Sea

Steep waves in the Chukchi Sea

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!

Rounding Pt Barrow

Snapshot of the chart plotter as we round Point Barrow, northernmost point of the US!

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!

King eider

King Eider in his beautiful breeding plumage, seen soon after entering the lagoon!



16 thoughts on “Sailing to the top of America

  1. Pingback: Anchored at the top of America, Part 1: Shifting winds, tundra town, and muktuk! | Gone Floatabout

  2. Another great adventure you have given us. Not everyone would like to be in it but still a thrill seeing and reading about it. I thank you for it , cheers Terry

  3. WOW!! The top of America. Are the blogs finished until 2016?

    • Not quite! We reached our goal, but then we had to get somewhere to winterize the boat and that was rather more exciting than we would have liked… Stay tuned 🙂

  4. Congratulations guys, another unforgettable adventure… And the photos are sensational. Love the one of the anchor at the start, it looks like you were in the water for this shot!

  5. A wild ride! Have you ever deployed your jordan series drogue? I think I remember you saying you had one?

    • We never have deployed it, although we did encounter one storm in which we probably should have. At the time we didn’t know nearly as much as we do now and didn’t realize what extreme conditions we were sailing in. (This was off the Cape of Good Hope – a completely unpredicted freak storm.) Looking back on it, we could easily have rolled or pitchpoled but thankfully good luck and alert steering got us through unscathed.

      These condition in this post – in the Chukchi Sea – were unpleasant but we never felt unsafe or that the boat couldn’t handle it. Of course, one has to deploy a drogue before reaching that point, but since we were pretty much in the heart of the gale already we were fine. I hope I never see another storm like that one off the cape – would be nice to never have to deploy the drogue! Still, good to know it’s there!

      • Yes absolutely. Wow sounds scary particularly in that part of the world!!
        We trailed some lines to help slow us down in a gale in Cook Strait. We had been surfing down the fronts of the big waves at 15 kts which was a bit scary! It was amazing how effective the lines trailing were. Just two sheets. One on either side, not tied together or anything.
        We are still thinking if getting a series drogue too.

        • Sounds much too exciting, especially in a relatively small boat like Wildwood! But good to hear how well the lines worked. I think I’d still want that drogue for the big boat you’re thinking of getting, though – but of course I would think that since I got one for my boat!! We all know how risk averse Americans are 🙂

  6. OMG, you both are sooooooo brave. I simply cannot imagine sailing this far north and ins such a remote location. Congrats on this latest adventure!

  7. Whoa! Sounds like Point Barrow extracted its pound of flesh! You guys are crushing it.