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
(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!)
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
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.
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!
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
In my last post, I introduced Pat and Sue, a wonderful couple who take Arctic sailors under their wing. Seth and I had talked (with each other) about rowing our dinghy up the Snake River that empties into Nome’s harbor, but on our very first full day, Pat and Sue took us up it in their motorboat for a fishing expedition!
Morning dawned with even thicker fog than at our arrival the night before. But we were determined to find as many birds as possible – one of the three reasons for stopping here (the other two being the fur seals and that the island was on our way north). St Paul is known for its many unique sea- and shorebirds that aren’t easy to spot elsewhere. It’s famed in bird-nerd circles (a term I use affectionately!) for red-legged kittiwakes, crested auklets, least auklets, parakeet auklets, horned and tufted puffins, etc. Bird nerds come from all over the world and brave the long toilet-less flight from Anchorage – and they bear with Spartan accommodations and cold and wind and fog – just to spot these little feathery friends. So Seth and I were most definitely going to find the famed birds, too! Continue reading
NB: After 33,000 nautical miles our sunglasses were a bit worn, so we approached Zeal for sponsorship, being drawn to their sustainable manufacturing.
So we’re stoked to be joining up with ZEAL Optics, creators of unique and sustainable eyewear born out of the need for adventure and exploration. While voyaging, Seth and I pretty much live outdoors, which means we’re constantly exposed to sunlight, glare off the water, and wind. Standing watch means—among other things—searching the horizon for hazards like ships, driftwood, submerged containers, or even whales, and it would take a toll on our retinas if we weren’t protected with durable and polarized shades. In the Arctic, with 24-hour daylight and glare off ice as well as ocean, this will be especially important. On calmer, warmer days we’ll be sporting our sunglasses, and when it gets rough and the salt spray starts to sting (or even freeze!) we’ll be digging out our ski goggles. These are polarized too, giving us a good chance of discerning whitecaps from sea ice and allowing us to see rocks and shoals when nosing into a cove or picking our way along the shallow Arctic coastline. Continue reading