August 29th, 2009 – Pond Inlet, Baffin Island
by Herb McCormick
(August 29): At the stroke of noon local time, under blue skies and with the distant glaciers of Bylot Island serving as a striking backdrop, the crew aboard the 64-foot cutter Ocean Watch dropped anchor today off the tiny village of Pond Inlet to put the finishing touches on their successful 2009 transit of the Northwest Passage. In so doing, Ocean Watch became the first American yacht ever to complete a west-to-east transit of the elusive northern waterway in a single season, and only the third U.S. boat in history to successfully negotiate the Passage in an eastward direction.
|An iceberg in the short, choppy seas of Lancaster Sound.|
The first American boat to ever tackle the Northwest Passage from west-to-east was legendary contemporary Arctic explorer and author John Bockstoce’s 18-meter motor-sailer, Belvedere, over a five-year span from 1983-88. The second was Arctic Wanderer, an 18-meter yacht skippered by Gary E. Ramos, from 2005-2008. The Ocean Watch team is honored – and still rather stunned – to join the ranks of these fine sailors and crews.
Fittingly, in Barrow, Alaska, earlier this summer, we became good friends with marine biologist and bowhead whale specialist Craig George, who was aboard Belvedere in 1988 as part of the crew when they sailed into Pond Inlet to complete their trip through the Passage. Craig kept telling us that the further east we’d travel, the richer and more dramatic the scenery and vistas would become. Frankly, over the last month of our journey through the mostly barren and often drastic Arctic, we were wondering whether Craig was pulling our leg.
That is, until last night.
We’d had a full day bashing our way under power into headwinds and the short, choppy seas of Lancaster Sound, with only the diversion of our favorite new game – Name That Iceberg! – for relief. Then, shortly after the late dusk, we slipped into the relatively narrow corridor of water known as Navy Board Inlet and were startled to see tall, craggy peaks; steeps freckled with snow; and before long, no less than nine glaciers spilling from an ice field into the sea.
After midnight, as the morning progressed and the sun rose to the east, the Byam Martin Mountain range on Bylot
|The narrow corridor of water known as Navy Board Inlet features tall, craggy peaks and no less than nine glaciers spilling into the sea.|
Island hove into vi ew, with a whole new series of grand glaciers and visual treats merging with the sea. Yesterday’s bleak weather gave way to more glorious sunshine, and at midday the crew set the hook after a very appropriate and grand conclusion to the voyage through the Northwest Passage.
In his skipper’s log, Captain Mark Schrader summed up the occasion and laid out the plans for the next few days:
“The approach to the little hamlet of Pond Inlet was nothing short of spectacular this morning: light following breeze, sunshine, warm temperatures and a flat sea. The community is situated on the north side of a gently sloping hill. A cluster of little white houses framed by the first real mountains we’ve seen for months reflected the morning sunlight and made this a picture-perfect experience. Our resident photographer might even agree.
“The anchorage in front of Pond doesn’t offer any shelter from the east, west or north so we’re more than a little exposed to almost anything that comes along. Happily, the weather forecast for the next three days calls for light and variable winds, nothing major headed in our direction. Our immediate plan is to finish some boat chores, have lunch and then launch the dinghy and go for a Saturday afternoon visit in ‘town.’
|The community of Pond Inlet is situated on the north side of a gently sloping hill with a cluster of little white houses.|
“The longer-range plan includes some grocery shopping and re-fueling. Without a dock here, the fueling process will be as it was in Barrow. Many dinghy loads of 5-gallon jugs filled at the local diesel depot, carried to the dinghy, lifted on board and carefully emptied into the tanks – standard operating procedure for any boat coming into this area. I’m guessing the soonest this can be arranged is Monday morning. We’ll plan to leave immediately after for the long sail to St. John’s, 1,800 nautical miles south – as in South, for the time being we’re finished with North. Monday will mark the three-month anniversary of our voyage – it seems fitting that it will also be our first day of heading south.
“Right now it’s time to enjoy lunch on deck, soak up the sun and scenery and just be very pleased to be here. I’m happy to report we’re in Pond Inlet and all are well aboard the fine ship Ocean Watch.”
As the skipper rightly notes, there’s some serious sailing in our very near future. But today, for now, Pond Inlet represents the pot at the end of the Northwest Passage rainbow. And today, right now, it’s a pot full of gold.
- Herb McCormick and Mark Schrader with photographs by David Thoreson
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