It turned out that we were very lucky with the timing of our passage to Point Barrow. The strong winds we’d had on the passage moderated enough for us to safely enter the lagoon behind the point, but then the wind came right back up in the ‘night’ (the sun didn’t set, of course). For two days we were weatherbound, unable to go ashore!
Despite being anchored not too far from the beach, Celeste endured some unpleasant chop: the 40 knot winds screaming over the low gravely spit kicked up waves that quickly in the 7-8 foot depths. She was fine – her anchor held with no problems (thank you, Mantus! and also thanks to our 175 feet of chain!) – but our 7-foot rowing dinghy was no match for the gale so the two of us were denied a walk ashore until conditions moderated. We passed the time reading, getting in touch (via satellite phone email) with our contact in Barrow (more on him below), and trying to steady the camera and binoculars to see all the amazing birds around us, particularly the colorful eiders!
We also did some chores: replenishing our heater’s fuel – Barrow was significantly colder than Point Hope, with highs never more than 35*F – and changing the engine oil.
On August 4, three days after our arrival, the weather finally improved and we were able to meet our Barrow contact. Craig is an incredibly knowledgeable bowhead whale biologist and a friend of Pat and Sue (our friends from Nome), who had put us in touch with him. Although we could have gotten ashore in our dinghy, he actually came out to get us in his skiff, providing an excuse to see our boat and an excuse for us to show him around. After a wonderful salmon dinner at his house (and a very welcome few loads of laundry!), Craig collected two of his neighbors – including a man who runs a dog team (more on him in a later post) – and we all headed back to Celeste for a couple beers.
Amid a whole lot of great conversation that lasted well into the ‘night’, Craig told us about walrus sightings at the ice edge just a few miles north. That got us really excited – walrus were another critter high on our wish-list of Arctic sightings – so we decided to make a little trip the next day. The forecast looked perfect for it: a lull before the next ferocious low pressure would come crashing into Point Barrow. We would just make a day trip and then return to Elson Lagoon.