Gone Floatabout

Sailing, Photography, Wilderness


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Arctic Voyage Video 4: Arctic Circle and Bering Strait

We’ve just uploaded our 4th episode of our Arctic Voyage video series! Hope you enjoy!

This episode covers sailing from Nome, Alaska through the Bering Strait and across the Arctic Circle to Point Hope in July 2015. It’s a rough passage in cold fog until north winds cause an unplanned stop at the longest continuously inhabited village in North America. As so often happens, the best experiences are the unexpected ones, and here we become immersed in the subsistence culture of Alaska’s North Slope. With south winds finally in the forecast, we end the video explaining how to read sea-ice charts and weather files downloaded by satellite phone.

Since it’s been a long time since we posted the last episode, here are Episodes 1 – 3: Continue reading


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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


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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


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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


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First day on Point Hope, Alaska’s North Slope

When we dropped anchor off Point Hope following our passage north from Nome, our first thought (after seeing the boat secured) was that there was a ton more to the place than our chart had shown. The chart had the word “Ruins” written across the whole peninsula, and while there were ruins, there was also a small but thriving village, populated – it turned out – by Inupiat.

Although the wind was already strengthening significantly, we got together our water bottles, life jackets, and windbreakers and launched the dinghy to row ashore.

Boat and us on Pt Hope

Celeste and us on Pt Hope, Alaska’s North Slope

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