Gone Floatabout

Sailing, Photography, Wilderness


16 Comments

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


12 Comments

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


3 Comments

Snowy Owls, Spotted Seals, and an ATV: Good times on Point Hope!

Snowy Owl on whalebone

Snowy Owl perched on bowhead whale bone, Point Hope, Alaska

Although getting to know the people of Tikiġaq was what made our stay there so special, the wildlife and the landscape were wonderful, too. No, we didn’t see a polar bear but yes, our probable snowy owl sighting was in fact a snowy owl! These beautiful birds are high on the wish lists of both birders and Arctic travelers: 2 feet tall with a 4-5ft wingspan, they’re majestic birds – the largest species of owl. The almost completely white plumage of the male makes him a kind of Arctic symbol. Fortunately they’re not endangered or threatened, but their habitat (tundra) and range (strictly Arctic in summer, further south into Canada and Eurasia in winter) make them not so easy to spot in the wild. Owls in general aren’t easy to spot, being nocturnal, but of course the 24hr sunshine of the Arctic solved this problem for us. So it was with excitement akin to what we’d felt on seeing the muskoxen that we saw our snowy owl a second time, and this time without a doubt as to what he was! Continue reading


11 Comments

A chance encounter and the fascinating history of Pt Hope/Tikiġaq

Our unexpected but wonderful stop on Point Hope stretched into a week.  From July 23 to 29 the northeast wind blew constantly, increasing in strength all the time. It would have made for unpleasant upwind sailing and slow progress; furthermore, our Dutch friends aboard Necton had reported from further north (they’d left Nome ahead of us) that the north wind was pushing the sea ice down on shore and they’d had quite a bit of trouble, getting trapped several times.  All that combined with the fact that Pt Hope was rapidly becoming our favorite place on the voyage so far made the decision easy: we would stay until the wind changed.

Fish net

Fishnet spread on Point Hope’s leeward beach

A chance meeting with two Tikiġaq (Pt Hope) residents – Pete and Pauline – cemented that decision. We’d rowed ashore again to verify our potential snowy owl sighting with the zoom lens and, while tramping around the tundra twitching at every white bird, two Inupiat on an ATV approached us and introduced themselves at Pete and Pauline. They were headed out to the ruins of the original village of Tikiġaq (on the end of the peninsula, about 2 or 3 miles from the modern village), to dig for artifacts.  We were immediately interested and ended up spending the whole afternoon with them, poking into the sod and whalebone iglus there, opening up Pauline’s cold cellar and crawling on the permafrost within, and learning a lot about Point Hope’s history and their own lives and culture. Continue reading


6 Comments

Windy passage north through the Bering Strait, July 17 – 22, 2015

After our fantastic bicycling exploration around Nome, we had a day of chores (including trying to help our Dutch friends on Necton with filling their European propane canisters – sadly only moderately successful) and saying goodbye to Pat and Sue before setting sail for our passage north through the notorious Bering Strait!

Map to Point Hope

The Bering Strait – formed by Siberia to the west and Alaska to the east – is the gateway between the Bering Sea (to the south) and the Chukchi Sea (to the north), both known for their storms.  So far we’d done well in the Bering Sea, only experiencing moderately strong winds, up to 30 knots.  The weather forecast showed ceaseless strong winds, but fortunately from the SW so that once we were clear of the Seward Peninsula, we’d be on a broad reach headed north. Continue reading