Sailing to the Arctic aboard Celeste, 2013 – 2016
Maybe ocean sailing is addictive, because at the end of our circumnavigation, we thought, “what’s next?!” We were both interested in high latitudes and a series of fortuitous circumstances eventually led us to a voyage to Alaska and the Arctic.
It wasn’t easy, but the rewards were tremendous: the wildlife and other-worldly land- and seascapes, the fascinating and generous people we’ve met, and the opportunity to experience a part of our planet that so few people get to see.
Summer 2013: Officially adopted Celeste in Victoria, British Columbia and took her on a 460 nautical mile (nM) shakedown cruise throughout BC’s Inside Passage. We were satisfied with Celeste‘s fast and weatherly performance, including fighting a nasty gale on the return trip, but evidence mounted that she needed a major refit/upgrading. (Disturbing signs of delamination on the bow, VHF didn’t work, no electronics: although we enjoyed navigating without GPS, we thought that might be a useful item in the foggy Bering Sea…).
Fall, Winter, Spring 2013-14: Enormous “30-year-refit”! Upgraded, repaired, installed, and performed so many preventive measures that you’ll get massively bored reading about it all. Abridged summaries here, and the complete story here. We also outfitted Celeste with a ton of safety and emergency gear (such as drogue, life raft, hand-pumped watermaker, survival suits, storm anchor, EPIRB, etc. etc.) Except for a couple of hikes in the Olympic National Park, most of our time was spent at the boatyard. After working 14-16hr days for the last 6 weeks of this, we were pretty well exhausted. Time to set sail!
Summer 2014: All the work pays off! Over three months we covered 3,500nM from Port Angeles, Washington, to Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii, the Inside Passage of Southeast Alaska, across the Gulf of Alaska to Prince William Sound and the Kenai Peninsula, west along the wilderness Alaska Peninsula and out to the cradle of storms, the Aleutian Islands. There were bears, otters, sea lions, porpoises, coyotes, salmon, eagles, and whales. Glaciers, mountains, waterfalls, forests, and tundra. New friends and old friends. Deserted anchorages, gales, rain, and sun. Of course the trip wasn’t without setbacks, repairs, and frustrations, but all that was more than worth it!
Summer 2015: After renewed boat work in Dutch Harbor to resolve and repair some issues, we set off for the Alaskan Arctic! Another incredible summer of challenging sailing, hard-to-spot wildlife, and fascinating cultures and individuals. We sailed 3,000 miles across the Bering Sea and Chukchi Sea to the Arctic Ocean and back. We reached the northernmost point of the United States, ran with the last remaining sled-dog team in Barrow, got to know Inupiat elders in the longest continuously inhabited village in North America, observed herds of prehistoric-looking muskoxen, witnessed flocks of migrating birds, and withstood one of our most difficult ocean passages to date: a 20-day saga from Point Barrow to Dutch Harbor, traversing two of the world’s most notoriously rough seas.
Summer 2016: Celeste was unfortunately damaged during the winter by a typhoon that blew over from Japan and hit Dutch Harbor. So the summer began with some serious structural repairs before we could set sail back to Washington State. Thereafter we had yet another wonderful voyage, this time re-visiting favorite haunts from 2014 and discovering new iconic Alaskan bays, coves, and mountains. After fighting against the prevailing westerly winds in 2014 and after the difficult waters of the Arctic in 2015, this return voyage felt comparatively easy – we enjoyed sailing with the wind abaft the beam and wearing only one layer of long underwear!
All text and photographs © Ellen Massey Leonard and Seton Leonard, 2016, All Rights Reserved.