Seeing the ice in clear skies was a hell of a reward for the heavy weather yesterday. Thus far we’ve stopped to admire two big bergs from close range, bringing in ICEBEAR under power (the wind, after all that fuss, shut down completely around 1200 noon as we rounded Cape Race) to within a hundred yards or so. I put the drone up to get a bird’s eye view, and the crew stopped to admire the beauty of nature’s most striking sculpture. Both bergs we stopped for had at some point in their decay rolled, for the tops of them were pure white and smooth as marble, highlighted in spots by deep turquoise cracks where they’d broken apart and re-frozen during their lifespan.
Above the village are staggering, vertical cliffs rising to 700-feet in sheer granite walls. A feature called ‘the Friar’ stands guard in the northwest, and after a heavy rain, waterfalls line the walls of the fjord on each side. The ‘streets’ are paved in hand-poured concrete and the locals get around on four-wheelers and snowmobiles, depending on the season. Only 60 remain in the village full-time, but they still maintain a school for the local kids - with just two teachers and six students, one of whom was graduating the 12th grade the week after we arrived. There is no pub, no restaurant or coffee shop, only a one-stop-shop for groceries, booze and hardware.
ICEBEAR encountered her first whales yesterday. After the wild breaching we saw a couple of humpbacks exhibiting in the distance earlier in the day, we’d kept a sharp lookout for the rest of the morning, hoping to spot more, and closer. Around lunchtime, I casually came up to check the water temperature on the speedo gauge at the helm. I heard the whale before I saw him, heard his spout off to port over my left shoulder. I turned just in time to see his low dorsal slip beneath the surface.
An hour after the dolphin show Tom spotted a whale spout to port. I saw the fin and shiny smooth top of a humpback gliding off to port. He spouted a few more times, then disappeared. Then, further in the distance, another spout. And suddenly a huge breach! There on the horizon, several more humpbacks were taking turns breaching and spouting, leaping full-body out of the ocean and crashing down in a huge splash.
Today is Mia & my 8th wedding anniversary! I never know what to celebrate more - the day we met, on December 28, 2006. Or the day we got married, June 18, 2011. After that first day, the second day seemed inevitable. One week after our wedding we flew back to the USA and prepared ARCTURUS for our first trans-Atlantic passage, leaving Annapolis harbor on July 4 (and forgetting the paper charts!), proceeding north and east to Newport first, then on up this way. We called at Lunenburg for the first time then (the last time I sailed with my mom), where we dropped my parents off and traded them for our friend Clint who joined us for the rest of the journey, continuing on to St. Pierre, our last stop before Ireland.
I hadn’t given a thought to the fact that we’re headed north again. Not just north, like from the Caribbean to Bermuda is a ‘northerly’ course, but north, as in towards THE north. We’ve only just crossed the 40th parallel, but it feels like an altogether different ocean here. The water is darker, colder. The air crisper. The sunrises and sunsets linger longer.
Which brings me to today’s topic. Mistakes. We’re at sea again, heading towards home waters on the Chesapeake, motor-boating through a completely flat sea and trying to get out ahead of the seasons first tropical disturbance, which we’re hoping doesn’t turn into a tropical depression. We’re only going 5.8 knots, with full sail up and the engine ticking over at 1,400 RPMs, because we didn’t fill up diesel in Bermuda. Mistake.
On deck she’s a bucking bronco. I was getting frustrated yesterday afternoon for our sluggish progress - it felt like we should have been able to easily make 7-8 knots in this breeze, even despite our horrible headsail (more on that in a sec). But all along we’d only make 6-6.5, and the boat would slam hard in the troughs of the bigger waves. So yesterday before dinner I tweaked a few settings, took the helm and ICEBEAR took flight.
Thus far we’ve covered 687 miles in a flash. The run up the Gulf Stream from Key West was fast and smooth, the wind from the southeast and never more than 12 knots, allowing us to lay our course around the Keys and never once kicking up that gnarly Gulf Stream sea. The current boosted us past 10 knots SOG and we rounded the turn north of the Bahamas in just a little over 24 hours.
Next morning we hoisted sail for a very brief blast up the coast to the underwater sculpture park off Moliniere Point. All the moorings were taken so Mia & I dropped the crew off next to the dive site and just drifted offshore while they explored. We anchored up again for the night just off the beach in 12 meters and did some more free diving before dinner. We left early the next morning, bound nonstop for San Juan.
This is different. ISBJORN’s been at sea over 20 days now. The world we’re about to re-enter won’t be the same from the one we left. Three weeks is enough time to guarantee that. We’ve been well and truly cutoff. Not so much as in the old days - I can text friends and family and we get weather reports of course. But no email. No news. I have no idea if the US government has re-opened yet, nor do I know anything else about the world outside our little bubble. Sailing across oceans is like traveling in a steam-punk time machine. In slow-motion, we’re moving into the future with no knowledge of what’s happened in the interval.
Welp, we did it. Mia & I got complacent and paid the price of letting our guard down. I figuratively kicked myself the first time I was at the top of the mast in the dark, freeing a horribly twisted spinnaker halyard, and then promised myself I’d not make the same mistake twice the second time I was up the rig cutting the wrapped sail down from the forestay and swinging around in the swell like an idiot.
About a week ago I had found a broken screw on deck, and had quizzed the crew at dinner to figure out where it had come from. I knew of course that it had come from the pole track on the front of the mast (it’s never good by the way to find broken screws that have fallen out of the rigging!). At the time we noticed just that one and two others - three, total - that had succumbed to the shearing forces of the sail on the pole. We just repositioned the car higher or lower on the track and figured that’d be fine.
A whale came to visit on my mom’s birthday, after I had written that tearful post about stargazing early in the morning, before dawn. Later that day the rains came while I was on watch, again alone, and RIGHT next to the boat a 20-30-foot minke whale made his presence known with a puff of air and a glimpse of his dorsal fin. He stayed with me for over an hour, diving and playing under the boat.
My mom would have turned 69 today had she lived. Today marks the second birthday I’ve celebrated at sea on this trans-Atlantic passage - mine, with Mia’s birthday balls dessert on Jan 25; and mom’s this morning, where on my 0200-0400 early morning watch I shared a quiet cry and contemplated the sea and the stars for two hours by myself in the cockpit, gazing out at the vastness and just being.
One card will be inserted into each book before shipping! AND best yet - ONE single postcard was signed in GOLD INK, to be inserted into book no. 80 of 250...we’ll randomly select one of the orders, and if you’re the lucky golden postcard holder, you’ll get a FREE 1-week passage on either ISBJÖRN or ICE BEAR with 59 NORTH, a $3,400 value! There’s still about 100 copies left to pre-order, so go get ‘em! Shipping in early March!
Note: The title - and gist - of this post will come back to haunt me in the next installment…
So much for the January Trades. Shortly after my birthday balls celebration the weather pattern took a turn for the weird. A not-unheard of cutoff low spun up at the tail end of a strong cold front much farther north and began meandering around to our north, just west of the Canary Islands, disrupting the classic easterly tradewind pattern we were so very much enjoying prior. By sunrise on the 25th, the wind had started veering into the SE, then S, and getting lighter...we dropped the spinnaker that evening as the apparent wind moved forward, and have been fighting for every mile since.