As Far North As We Will Go

Posted on: July 2, 2023

“We will go as far north as we can” and this folks is the official word that we have gone as far as we can. With a combination of a heavy ice year and an abnormal amount of NE winds the ice has drawn a clear line in the sea.

It has been some time since my last update, but truth be told it has been a busy time and rest has been a priority for continued safe navigation. So let’s rewind a bit. After leaving Battle Harbour we made a lovely run north. The ice started to become more prevalent with numerous icebergs at every mile and every turn, but manageable and good speeds were sustained under a combination of sail and power. Visibility was good and the days were frigid with no sun. Besides the issues of the NE wind driving the ice to shore, it was sometimes welcome as this direction clears the fog. As soon as the wind was out of the south or even due north fog would roll in because of the warm moist air hitting the cool Labrador Current or the cool air above the ice. After a great day of sustained progress, we found the remote yet historic Hawke Harbour; a well-protected anchorage, the backdrop is beautiful and without a sound. The remains of the rusted whaling station give a stark contrast to the vast landscape of nothing but rock, sparse pine trees, and a still-as-glass lake. Two old hulks, one a coastal freighter and the other the remains of a sinister whaler “killer boat”, sit quietly in their shallow water grave. With a few hours of daylight left the small boat was launched and shore parties were dropped off in two locations. The first party spots a small family of black bears wandering over the distant ridge. The other party carefully navigates the rusted remains of the station. Littered with old, crushed-in tanks, diesel engines, winches, and even a few old harpoon tips the reality sets in after whale bones started to appear within the wreckage. Hard to imagine this apocalyptic scene as a bustling whale station that operated until its fiery ending in 1959. Now nothing but an eerily beautiful reminder of the past. All returned to the ship and with anchor watch posted the crew tucked in for a quiet night.

On 6/23 the following morning, at 0430, the mate completes wakeups, and all turn to deck to start hauling back the anchor. Very few orders other than the necessary ones are given. The crew at this point know their ship, speak the language of maritime jargon, and can anticipate the next move. A big step in becoming skilled mariners.
Anchors up and after a long day of motoring we quickly start to see many icebergs as we approach domino run; a route Mac took many times heading north to stay away from unprotected offshore waters and ice.

The first puffin sighting by the crew was this day, cute little buggers, they can hardly fly as their wingtips furiously slap the water making them some kind of hybrid hovercraft. Perhaps a bit bow heavy with that large beak? An enjoyable sight and many more were seen. Now entering Cartwright our greeting party this time was a group of local Inuit youth who watch the crew work the ship alongside. Very excited the crew gave the youngsters a tour of the ship inspiring a new generation. Again, Bowdoin’s legacy looking forward…

Another day up with the sun to make the run to Makkovik. The ice forecast is still heavy and just north of us calling for 5/10ths first year mixed with old ice. However, there seems to be a lead in the western edge of the ice field where 3/10ths can be found. We will make a go at it before the wind turns NE. With light SE wind and fair visibility within the patchy fog, we make a run north. After 3 nm we are deterred by thickening ice and turn for shelter behind Cape Porcupine to get to take a break and find shelter. After a couple of hours, the ice had completely cleared out of this nicely protected cove of rocky beach. I look to our east and see the ice flow moving south fast. Like a spooky scene in a Stephen King film, the writing is on the wall that the ice is coming and we don’t want to be here to get swallowed up by it. With time to spare, we turn south for Cartwright. With more fog and ice along the way the day grew long but soon we found a nice anchorage where we knew that the ice was not going to catch up with us. The next morning the NE wind was up around 18kts. The crew orchestrated a perfect maneuver sailing off of the anchor toward Cartwright.

After only one night in Cartwright, it was back underway again, this time heading south to a stop on our list, the Punchbowl. Another tucked-away abandon fishing community, this small round harbour was once a bustling little village lined with fishing shacks and a fish processing plant. Up until 1993, you would only want to anchor for the afternoon to replenish some basic supplies as the boat traffic and activity were nonstop. As we sail down the coast the SW wind begins to build and soon, we were making great speed and pointing well despite the contrary wind. By 1600 we made our approach to the Punchbowl. Easing the sheets and rounding Bowdoin off we were now surfing the waves we were punching into earlier. Top speed 12.6 kts we sailed Bowdoin up to the narrow cut to the Punchbowl before taking in all sail. Once sails were in and the engine on, Bowdoin gracefully navigated through the cut as if she knew the way. We secured along the old government wharf and soon parties jumped ashore to explore the remains of old fishing shacks from a not-so-distant past. Others botanized and some found more whalebone vertebrae. After climbing a nearby hilltop to view vast nothingness, one cannot help but feel completely isolated. Nothing as far as the eye could see, ocean and ice to the east and barren land to the north, west, and south. A surreal feeling that begs a rekindling of imagination. In the Punchbowl quickly overnight the wind subsided and at first light we were southbound; this time more fog and a leftover southerly swell made some think twice about breakfast.

Sad to leave Labrador as our journey on this coastline has only just started. It would be nice to stop and see our friends in Battle Harbour for one last Gam, showers, and laundry, however, we must make southerly progress when we can and continue seeking new places. As night began to fall the wind whipped up and the fog rolled in thicker, the seas turned into a washing machine, and up went a conservative sail plan to keep Bowdoin moving but comfortable. Not too many at the dinner table but all still managed to crack a smile and help one another get through.

0800 morning arrival in L’Anse aux Meadows where the crew will explore the original Norse Viking settlement and spend a night at anchor. Thick fog on arrival with patchy fog by noon allowing a first glimpse of the harbour. The crew remains well after a restful day at anchor catching up on weekly assignments and sleep. Tomorrow we will head for St Anthony take on fuel and transit overnight to Englee Island midway down the easter shore of the northern peninsula.

Bowdoin sailing with icebergs