Holmiabukta Revisited & Arctic Swimming // Delos in the Arctic Part 10

We’re back in Holmiabukta, my favorite anchorage in Spitsbergen so far, in the island’s NW Corner as it's known in the local parlance. Mia is trying to figure out the labeling on the water tanks - we all showered yesterday and didn’t run the watermaker in the silty water, so all but one of the tanks (plus the bladder tank) is empty. The labels got screwed up when we re-did the plumbing, so it’s a matter of trial and error now finding the full tank.

We left Texas Bar at midnight on Saturday morning, knowing there’d be a westerly wind on the north coast of the island and mentally preparing ourselves for a 50-mile beat. The passage started off calm enough. Isbjorn got lifted as we came around Reinsdyrflya, sailing beautifully in 10-12 knots on a flat-calm, though foggy, sea. Once round the headland, through and out of the fjord, it was a different story. As James came off watch and Brian on, the swell starting finding it’s way into the fjord, and the wind, which had held steady at 9-11 knots, was starting to touch 15 on the anemometer. I was trying to get some sleep, but felt like throwing a reef in the jib, then decided to let it ride, as Brian was capable enough himself and could do it once clear offshore.

Meanwhile Brian had been in crisis-mode, trying to figure out why the main hard drive they’d been using for ALL the footage of the trip so far wasn’t mounting in any of the computers. They’d had a backup, of course, but hadn’t copied the files over from the past two days. Ten minutes before he was set to go on watch and relieve James, Brian’s at the nav station dismantling the little portable 4TB drive while Brady was going around removing all the SD cards from each camera, labeling them and sticking them in a sealed ziploc. Apparently the data, even once the card is re-formatted in the camera, can be recovered with special software. Conveniently, Alex has just that software on her laptop. Inconveniently, that laptop is in Stockholm, and of course we have no way of getting online for a while to download it.

Unsuccessful at getting the 1A drive to mount, Brian setup a cloning station at the nav table and began the long process of copying the 1B backup drive - now the main drive, effectively - onto a third drive. With 4TB of data to move over, this would take a while (7 hours to be exact). Knowing the sea-state offshore was about to get rougher, I helped him set up the computer and the drives on some nonskid, we turned the inverter on to keep the whole thing powered up and hoped we wouldn’t get any Isbjorn waterfalls down the companionway hatch. Brian finally went on deck at 0300. I went to bed.


Offshore

I never slept. Once clear of the headland, that westerly - forecast to blow 7-14 knots according to both the GFS GRIB and our weatherman Malik’s analysis - was pumping instead at 18-23, with sharp, steep waves building up across the shallow shelf along the north coast of Spitsbergen. My bunk was on the high side, and Isbjorn likes to heel. Brian duly tucked in two reefs in the genoa.

Kiril came on at 0430 to relieve Brian. Isbjorn was headed north, close-hauled and crashing and bashing to windward in the increasingly gusty conditions, grey skies overhead. Thankfully there was no ice around. He had instructions to wake me up as we approached 80º north, the biggest latitude milestone since crossing the Arctic Circle back in May, which feels like a lifetime ago now.

SeaPilot, our preferred app on the iPad for navigation, uses the C-Map basis for it’s software. C-Map ends at 80º north - beyond, it’s just a grey, blank screen. At 0530, Isbjorn literally sailed off the chart as we cracked 80º North. I’d woken up on my own just before that and joined Kiril in the cockpit. Mia woke up too, though didn’t bother to put on gloves or shoes, so came into the cockpit barefoot and bare-handed for a few photos.

The weather seemed to be increasing as we headed north, and I didn’t want to stick around. My plan of heaving-to and swimming was out the window - it took all you had just to climb out the companionway hatch and clip in - so we tacked over, threw two reefs in the mainsail, and started heading back west. At the nav station, Brian’s laptop station ticked over, slowly.

59 North_2500px.JPG

Sunshine

The wind was still slightly north of west, so on starboard tack we made good ground to the west, almost laying the course to get round the headlands at the entrance to Raudfjorden. The weather improved too. Mia & Karin shook one of the reefs in the main and patchy areas of blue skies that started showing in the southwest. Sun shined on the snow-covered slopes of the mountains in the northwest. Behind us, north and east, the grey persisted. (I’d later learn that farther east, in Nordauslandet, the wind would top 50 knots...).

By the end of Karin’s watch we’d closed the coast, so she called me up to tack back offshore. We were only ten miles from Holmiabukta, so it’d be a quick tack offshore to get round the headlands. When Alex came on deck 45 minutes later, we were able to tack back inshore and had put enough in the bank to lay the course. The winds and seas subsided as we got into the lee of the archipelago in the NW, and the mountains surrounding Holmiabukta hove into view.


Storage

The wind was gusting down the channels between islands. Brady, Alex, Brian & I dropped the sails. Brian, having had nightmares about the storage situation and the potential loss of two days’ worth of filming, setup a 3rd hard drive to mirror while Brady and I anchored the boat back in Holmiabukta. His idea was to take the 1B drive - which was the same make and model as the broken 1A drive - and swap out the controllers on the drives to see if he could make the 1A drive come back to life. Brian’s got a computer background in real life (before Delos), and so was handy enough to do this. Drive #3 copying at the nav station, we launched the dinghy for a shore mission in the sunshine, one that’d we’d missed the first time here when we slept until 4pm in the rain.


Arctic Swimming

Seeing no better opportunity than the present - what with the gorgeous surroundings, brilliant sunshine, clear water and calm winds - I led the Arctic swimming brigade while Mia heated up the day’s first coffee. This is, of course, 4 hours after we dropped anchor after the 75-mile, 12-hour passage. As soon as we shut the engine down everyone immediately went to sleep. So while it felt like morning when we finally woke up, it was actually 5pm! Kiril seemed keen to jump in with me, and that simply started the dominos.

James launched the Phantom and we all went swimming! The reactions of the Delos crew, and Mia, were priceless, and of course it’s all on camera. I genuinely LOVE a good cold swim, but I’ll admit that this was really something - there was literally ice floating around in the water, small broken bits from the glacier at the head of the bay, and the water can’t have been more than 40º F, if that. I managed to float around for a bit and tried to get some deep breaths in. I was the only one who jumped in a second time, after lathering up with soap for a quick cockpit shower. In the end though, everyone but James got in for a swim. “I don’t see any reason to do that,” he said!

 

Stay tuned for the 11th installment of Isbjorn & Delos in the Arctic!