torstai 14. lokakuuta 2010

October 14th 2010

Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron, Halifax

44º 37.277’ N, 63º 34.835’ W

We arrived in Halifax yesterday afternoon after a pleasant 28-hour crossing from Cape Breton, and are now tied up alongside a wharf at the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron. After all the ice, fog, and winds, it is really great to be here, and the fact that we are going to stay put for at least a fortnight for a change, feels absolutely wonderful!

Our odyssey from Seward, Alaska, to Halifax, Nova Scotia, amounted to a total of 7,143 nautical miles (13.229 kilometres), and it took us exactly four months, eight days, eleven hours and fifteen minutes to complete it. But, I have to confess that the last 1,600 nautical miles with almost continuous headwinds and oncoming seas were a bit too much for us. It would have been so much nicer if, after crossing the Arctic Circle for the second time, the voyage had ended there and then. In order to make it a little easier for those who come after us, I therefore propose that the city of Halifax be moved closer to the Arctic Circle. I would think that all those who have already sailed the Northwest Passage from west to east and know what I am talking about, are more than willing to second this motion.

At the moment, we have rather mixed emotions about our voyage, especially the Northwest Passage as part of it. Even for us, it is difficult to comprehend the enormity of crossing the Passage, and although we are extremely happy that we made it and that it is now finally over, underneath, there persists a deep longing for the Arctic and its mysteries, of which we only saw a glimpse. And we sorely miss Alaska and Kodiak, their beautiful, empty anchorages, pristine nature and abundant wildlife. Hopefully, someday, we'll be back!

We wish to thank all those who helped us along the way either in person or through email: those who provided us with vital ice and weather information; with ice poles to force our way through a field of ice when necessary; with a dozen jerry cans to store extra fuel for our long journey; with a dry suit to go underwater and cut a rope off the propeller if need be; with goggles to see our way even in rough weather; with musk ox wool to keep our hands warm; with fish, crab and moose meat to nourish us; and those who invited us into their homes; who did our dirty laundry for us; who took us sightseeing; who entertained us in various ways; who encouraged us to continue even when the passage seemed impassable and, last but not least, our family who despite their worry and anxiety, allowed us to do what we wanted to. We thank you!

P.S. After a few weeks, we will leave Halifax and set sail for the Caribbean where we'll spend the winter months and restore our good boat Sarema to her pre-Arctic glory. Eventually, we'll go through the Panama Canal once again, and then... but, that's already another story.

keskiviikko 13. lokakuuta 2010

October 13th 2010

At Sea

44º 51.83’ N, 61º 57.00’ W

I should never give a precise date of departure as more often than not we have to change our plans because of the weather. This meaning that we didn't leave on the 9th after all but ended up staying in Campbells Cove for two more days. The reason was that the three separate lows that were originally forecast to move east to the Atlantic joined together forming a single major low that persisted over the area for several days. To be quite honest, we did leave Campbells Cove already on the 9th but, after proceeding only for about two miles, we made a cowardly U-turn and returned to our safe anchorage. When you are in a hurricane hole, it is sometimes difficult to know what is happening outside your little haven, and what we saw, we didn't like: winds gusting to 35 knots and waves speckled with white foam.
We dropped anchor in the very same spot as before and were determined not to leave the cove until the conditions outside had improved significantly. After all the headwinds and oncoming seas we have experienced during the past few months, we have clearly developed an allergy to rough weather, and want to avoid it when ever possible.

On the 11th, we weighed anchor for the last time and headed for St. Peter's Canal. Although it was still very windy, there were no more violent squalls and the sun was shining making our day passage through the lake area quite enjoyable. We arrived in St. Peter's late in the afternoon and spent the night tied up alongside the wharf leading to the canal. The next morning, we woke up to a beautiful day; the sun was shining through the clouds, and there was a veil of mist lingering on the lake. There was only a gentle breeze left of the gusty winds as we walked to the village centre to buy groceries for the hopefully final leg of our ongoing voyage. After returning to the boat, we called the Lock Master via VHF and asked him to open the swing bridge and the lock for us. About an hour later, we were finally on our way to Halifax.

perjantai 8. lokakuuta 2010

October 8th 2010

Finally in Nova Scotia

46º05.98´ N, 60º44.83´ W

The morning we left Port Saunders, the sun was already up and the seas were finally down, and we were so happy to be on the move again. After all that miserable weather, it was an unbelievably beautiful day with gorgeous sunshine and moderate winds, and we were soon sailing on smooth seas in the exact direction we wanted to go. You can only comprehend the true significance of this if you have ever sailed on the Labrador Sea in the autumn against the winds, the oncoming seas and the Labrador Current, for days on end. In the evening, when the sun descented and the darkness settled in, we continued our voyage in a wonder world; from behind the horizon, the crescent moon rose lighting a path for us to follow, with billion stars of the Milky Way shining around us. In the midst of such beauty, it was easy to forget all the downsides of sailing in these wretched waters.

In the morning of the 5th of October, after two sunny days and two starry nights at sea, we arrived at the entrance of the about twenty mile long, narrow passage of Great Bras d'Or leading to the Bras d'Or Lakes in Cape Breton. We arrived there either too early or too late, depending on how we look at things, and the tidal currents were strong and against us. But, as there was no wind to make matters worse, we decided to give it a try. At some point, our speed was no more than 1.8 knots as we were beating against the current but slowly and surely we managed to make progress, and eventually arrived in the beautiful town of Baddeck. Our arrival there marked the end of our circumnavigation around Central and North Americas. It had taken us five years, one month and seven days to complete the 25,572 mile long voyage, and after tying our good boat Sarema to the community wharf, we went to the BYC (Baddeck Yacht Club) to celebrate the occasion. There, we met Barbara and Clarke from Philadelphia who invited us for lunch the next day and entertained us until it was time for us to leave for Campbells Cove, a hurricane hole located only about six miles south-west off Baddeck.

We had been in Campbells Cove back in 2005 and knew that there were oysters in the area. So, as the light was gradually fading and 40 knot winds were forecast for the following day, after dropping anchor, we quickly took our dinghy down and went oyster picking. As always when something is happening, Latte was there jumping around and, in her own way, trying to be of assistance. As the keenest oyster spotter, Latte positioned herself at the bow hanging her head down in order to see better and, suddenly, she slipped overboard. Riitta managed to grab her just before she slid under the dinghy, and Pekka lifted the poor dog back out of the water. After she had shaken most of the water off her coat, there was one wet dog and two semi-wet people aboard but we didn't let this minor incident spoil our oyster hunting trip.

Speaking of Latte, we are not quite sure whether she is just an exceptionally slow learner or if there is a psychological or some other reason for her behaviour. She is now almost eight years old (we don't know the exact date of her birth because she is a street dog whom our daughters rescued when she was only about three or four months old), and it is still extremely difficult and, at times, absolutely impossible for her to remember what such simple words as Sit, Down, and Stay mean. If there are autistic dogs, our guess would be that Latte is one of them. But, her Latin temperament could also be the reason for her behaviour, after all, she is from Andalusia, Spain. This does not imply that because she is from Spain, she is a slow learner, on the contrary! Because she is Spanish, she is full of energy and has very little patience to listen to what we are saying, let alone to obey our orders. So, this may be a simple conflict between the South and the North, us being from Finland as you know. But, what ever the reason, we love Latte very, very much and couldn't imagine a life without her!

Our journey will continue tomorrow to St. Peter's and from there the following morning through St. Peter's Canal which is a man-made passage into and out of the Bras d'Or Lakes. Because of differences in the water level of up to 4' in the lakes, the Canal has a lock with double doors. We have to time our arrival correctly so that, at first, we can go through the swing bridge located before the Canal and then through the Canal itself. And once out of the Bras d'Or Lakes, we have only about 140 nautical miles to Halifax. So, it seems that this is not a never-ending voyage, after all!

sunnuntai 3. lokakuuta 2010

October 2nd 2010

Leaving Safe Haven

During our stay in Port Saunders, the weather has varied from bad to worse. For the past two days, it has definitely been worse; the wind has been 35 knots with gusts to 55, and in between a few sunny patches, it has been raining cats and dogs.
There is another sail boat here in the fishing harbour, from Nova Scotia. Her single hander skipper has already lost all hope of getting his boat back home before winter. Fortunately, Port Saunders is a good place to be in a situation like this as there are all the necessary facilities for lifting the boat on the hard and storing her for the winter. But as for us, we are more than determined to get to Halifax eventually, come rain or shine.

According to the latest weather forecast, the wind should drop by tomorrow morning for a period of about two days before it starts picking up again. We have decided to use this gap to continue our journey, and hopefully reach Cape Breton before the next low moves in. So, we'll cast off our lines, all fifteen of them, early tomorrow morning and head finally for Nova Scotia. Keep your fingers crossed that we'll make it!

keskiviikko 29. syyskuuta 2010

September 29th 2010

Port Saunders

50º38.74' N, 57º16.45' W

We left Red Bay in the evening of the 26th and started off for Port Saunders on tranquil, moonlit seas. As the night wore on, the wind started picking up and soon, we were once more beating against 35 knot headwinds, gusting to 50, and oncoming seas, eventually building up to three to five metres. We arrived at the Port Saunders fishing harbour the next day dripping wet and tired. Part of the small harbour is under construction but fortunately they managed to fit us in. We were given a place alongside a fishing vessel which is alongside another fishing vessel which is alongside a wharf.

Again, taking Latte for a walk is a little problematic. The very first time Pekka and Latte went ashore, Latte miscalculated the distance between the second fishing vessel and the wharf and, as a result, she fell into the water. Pekka managed to lift her up quickly but, understandably, the poor thing was a little shaken afterwards. The good thing about this incident is that she is now more careful and has a little more patience when climbing over the railings.

Today is the 29th of September but, to be quite honest, neither the weather nor the venue is quite what we had hoped for. Although the gale-force winds have died down for the time being, the skies are overcast and it has been pouring for the past two days. But, if we look at the bright side, there are showers, a washing machine and a dryer in the harbour master's building next door, and three grocery stores, a library, a liquor store, a bank, a post office, and a hairdresser's, all within walking distance from the harbour. The last time we had all these luxuries close by was in Nome, about two months ago. So, all things considered, now it's time to do the laundry, install a new hydraulic pump, and go to the hairdresser's. But, as for the birthday party, that has been postponed until further notice.

September 26th 2010

Nearly Visiting Cook's Harbour

We made our next landfall neither in Cook's Harbour nor in Newfoundland for that matter. As we approached the entrance of Cook's Harbour, C-map showed us heading straight in the direction of a nearby island which meant an error of more than half a nautical mile. This time correcting the datum error made no difference, there was something seriously amiss. Ahead of us was a narrow passage unknown to us, heavily breaking waters, and we had no electronic chart to guide us through. The buoys marking the passage into the harbour were covered with welter of foam and the wind was picking up. It was clearly too risky to try to find our way into the harbour. This time, Pekka had enough common sense to agree with me, and we continued our passage to the next conceivable port which was, unfortunately, on Labrador's side of the Strait of the Belle Island. It was called Red Bay, and it was a place to remember!

Our Friend The Beluga

51º42.82' N, 56º26.62' W

What should you do when a beluga wants to be friends with you? This was the problem we were faced with while anchored in Red Bay, Labrador. We arrived in the little bay late Saturday evening in total darkness and did not discover until the following morning that we shared it with a lone beluga. We felt a little apprehensive it being alone as we knew that belugas are sociable creatures who are usually in parties of five to ten individuals.

The beluga had, on his back, well healed but distinctive marks made by a propeller which could be the reason why the pod had been forced to leave him behind. As far as we could judge, he was a young beluga but not a calf, and we thought he seemed healthy and active enough although we are no beluga experts. He kept diving close to Sarema for the better part of the morning feeding on something he found at the sea bottom.

After a while, he seemed to acknowledge our presence and circled the boat every once and a while. But it was not until Pekka lowered our light grey dinghy from the davits that the beluga knew that he had found a true friend. After that, the beluga and we were inseparable. When we went ashore, the beluga came along swimming directly underneath the outboard propeller so that we eventually had to turn it off as we were afraid that he would hurt himself. Now, the only way to proceed was rowing but that too was difficult as the friendly beluga was constantly in the way of the oars. Finally, we had to resort to cunning. As the beluga was swimming around the dinghy, we kept our eye on him and when he was at a distance of about ten metres from us, Pekka quickly turned on the outboard motor, and off we went. We could see the beluga raise his head in astonishment and dash after us but we were too fast for him. He didn't reach us until we had to slow down near the shore due to possible rocks, and again we had to start rowing as he came so close to the outboard motor. When the water became too shallow for the beluga, he finally turned around and swam away.

When heading back to the boat, we carefully monitored the bay in order to spot the beluga, and when we saw where he was, we started off in the opposite direction in order to avoid him, and made a large circle to reach the boat. But, in about fifteen seconds, the beluga appeared by the side of the dinghy, and seemed to be more than happy to be reunited with us.

When it was time to continue our journey, the beluga came to help us weigh the anchor, after which he escorted us to the mouth of the bay. We were a little anxious about the possibility that he would follow us out to the sea but, after a while, we couldn't see him anymore. This was a relief although, at the same time, we felt bad about leaving this friendly and curious whale behind. He is undoubtedly a very exceptional beluga, and we feel honoured to have made his acquaintance.

sunnuntai 26. syyskuuta 2010

September 24th 2010

In the Wake of Igor

After Hurricane Igor, it has taken far longer than we would have thought for even the weather to get back to normal. In our protected Fox Harbour, twenty to forty knot winds have persisted for the best part of the week, and the seas outside are steep and breaking. In Newfoundland, numerous communities are still isolated as roads and bridges were washed out, and tens of thousands of households are without electricity and water. According to statistics, this was the worst natural disaster to hit Newfoundland in modern times.

For us personally, the only thing that Igor managed to ruin was our schedule. We had hoped to be in Halifax by the end of September, actually before the 29th so as to be able to celebrate Riitta's 60th birthday ashore in a manner appropriate for an elderly lady. But as things stand at the moment, we'll just have to make do with the second best alternative which is to find a spectacular (and safe) anchorage somewhere on the coast of Newfoundland, and to enjoy a festive meal of snow-crab, courtesy of a St. Lewis fisherman, accompanied by champagne, naturally. As the worst-case scenario was that we would still be somewhere in Baffin Bay amidst icebergs, that doesn't sound too bad, does it?