(In the last post, we finally got ashore in Barrow, America’s northernmost town, after being weatherbound on board for 2 days. A fun night with our new friends Craig, Cyd, and a few others inspired us to try to find a walrus at the ice edge the next morning!)
The wind and seas had died down as predicted, so after we broke our anchor free – it was buried so much after the gale that its roll bar was caked with mud –
Celeste had a beautiful sail north to the edge of the polar pack ice, close-reaching in a light northerly. We added to our tally of eiders and long-tailed ducks and, as we progressed a little more offshore, we saw many northern fulmars, but this time white morph rather than the dark morphs we’d seen in the Bering Sea.
Sighting the ice reminded us a lot of raising a coral atoll – while still in the distance, the line of ice looked like low-lying land, gleaming white. Of course the cold was not at all like a coral atoll, nor was the absence of green palm fronds… or the heat distortion on the horizon from the liquid ocean being warmer than the air above the ice.
The wind died completely as we got closer, so we started the engine but consoled ourselves that the calm would make it much easier to get the under-over photographs we wanted. As we got closer, we could see the twisted and uplifted pressure ridges in the pack ice. Growlers appeared around us. Before they got too big and close together, we launched the dinghy and Seth rowed off to take pictures of Celeste, both topside and under-over.
Seth in the dinghy looked pretty small among the bergy bits, and the ocean – for that’s what all this ice was – felt very big, cold, and indifferent.
After much offshore sailing, including two month-long passages without sight of land, we’re fairly used to this sense of vast emptiness, but the pack ice intensified that feeling. Neither of us find it frightening; rather, it’s awe-inspiring and humbling. Perhaps what captured it most of all was the sound of slow surf – the swell hitting the pack ice – and realizing that the swell was simply hitting another form of ocean, frozen ocean, that stretched in all directions, across the Pole to Siberia, Svalbard, and Greenland.
All the time I was scanning the ice with binoculars, looking for walrus. In all the hours we drifted there, looking hard, we sadly saw none. We were very disappointed, although a gray whale and a few ringed seals (the favored food of the polar bear) somewhat made up for it. Still, we were very sad to have missed one of our most-wanted arctic creatures.
We took it easy motoring back, not revving the engine too much and just enjoying dinner underway. The arctic light was beautiful on the water and then came the glow of colors at sunset and sunrise (for the sun did set that night and rose again an hour or so later). We had a much easier time entering Elson Lagoon this time, following the track we’d drawn on the chart from our first attempt rather than the erroneous channel that the chart itself showed. The lagoon was beautifully calm, a huge change from our first few days there, so we had a very sound night’s sleep after a wonderful day.