Gone Floatabout

Sailing, Photography, Wilderness


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Critter Post 3: Caribou

 

Denali - Caribou in snow

Caribou in the snow, Denali National Park

 

Despite a paucity of images, I’ve decided to write about the caribou for Critter Post 3. Caribou are an integral part of life in the Arctic and we were lucky enough to see one on the shore of the Beaufort Sea on Alaska’s North Slope – quite the sight, the lone antlered creature on the vast tundra. He was too far away to photograph, so for Critter Post 3 we’ll have to content ourselves with a couple of images taken on our trip to Denali National Park in 2015. Continue reading


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1300 miles in 19 days: Passage from Point Barrow to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, August 13-31, 2015

Celeste at Point BarrowAfter a great visit to scientist George Divoky and his seabirds, we headed back to Barrow to say goodbye to Craig and Cyd before beginning the return passage to Dutch Harbor. While much of the reason why we’d spent so much time around Barrow was because we’d been having so much fun, another factor was the weather. There simply hadn’t been a favorable window long enough to permit us to head south without getting a complete thrashing. Low pressure system after low pressure system kept sweeping across the Arctic Ocean from Wrangel Island north of Siberia and hammering the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

Wrangel Island screenshot

Google map screenshot of Wrangel Island (red pin) across the Chukchi Sea from Barrow

There’d been 24-hour windows between lows, of which we’d taken advantage to visit George and to explore the edge of the polar pack ice. But there’d never been a window long enough to make tracks south. Not only had the systems been frequent, but one thing about very cold air is that it actually makes bigger waves than warmer air. It’s denser and thus exerts more force on the water, so that 20 knots in the Arctic feels a lot worse than 20 knots in the Caribbean. We didn’t realize this on our own – Craig the bowhead whale biologist pointed it out to us. However, as autumn – a notoriously bad season in the Chukchi and Bering Seas – approached, our standards for what constituted ‘good’ weather got lower and lower. Continue reading


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Seabirds and sea ice on Alaska’s Arctic coast: August 10, 2015

Black guillemot in flight

Black guillemots, Alaska’s Arctic coast

As you can probably tell if you’ve been reading Gone Floatabout, the two of us are amateur birders. And the Arctic – particularly Barrow (see last post) – is a wonderful place for spotting lots of unique species. So when Craig and Cyd told us about Cooper Island, we had to go!

Route Map_2015 to Barrow

Our route to Point Barrow and the Beaufort Sea, June – August 2015

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Anchored at the top of America, Part 1: Shifting winds, tundra town, and muktuk!

Polar ice

Bits of sea ice near the edge of the polar ice cap north of Barrow, Alaska, August 2015

Our sojourn at the top of America could be summed up as sailing back and forth around Point Barrow to anchor on one side or the other each time the wind shifted. The low, gravely spit of Point Barrow itself shelters Elson Lagoon from the west and a series of low, constantly shifting islands shelters it from the north. But the lagoon is so big and shallow that when the wind blows from the south or east there’s really no protection in the anchorage at the northwest corner. So we’d sail around to anchor in the open sea, protected from the wind by Point Barrow again. We never encountered any problems with this strategy, but it was different than much of the cruising we’ve done before where the goal is to find an anchorage sheltered from all weathers for each place we visit. Here’s a Google earth screenshot Point Barrow (red dot) and Elson lagoon (teal green water to the southeast): Continue reading