Wednesday, 23 September 2015

North and South......or nobody can hear you scream in Labrador......

We moved on from Punchbowl intent on getting up the coast to Curlew or Grady. I'd been lucky enough to view Nomads (one of the other boats at PB) track through Pond Inlet and used that to plot our way through this shortcut. Sometimes the wind was good with the, seemingly, ever present fog drifting in patches around us. But frequently the sun shone and we anchored once more in Grady Harbour; a tickle between two small islands. Despite being open at both ends it presents reasonable shelter and we once sat out a stiff NW wind here in comfort. Walkabout (Russ & Alison) came in an hour or so later having left several hours after us. The following day we left before them for Holten Hbr and enjoyed the best days sail for many months. The sun shone, the bergs sparkled and the miles were knocked off. Toward the end with Walkabout catching us the wind picked up and up. With only a few miles to go we left the main unreefed as the gust hit 36knots and our speed topped 8 knots...........unprecedented! Of course we needed to get the thing down but achieved with no issues and both boats anchored happily in good sand and shelter. R&A left early the next morning to motor north as strong NE's were forecast and the anchorage offered no real protection. We opted to hold on and see if there was any change but an increase in the wind persuaded us to leave and sail north..... aagh why are we so gullible? The wind lasted long enough for us to clear the harbour by a few miles before switching off. The fog became thicker and was soon joined by rain. Two things happened that improved our day: we remembered we'd cut up a tarp to use as a shelter and draped it over the mizzen boom to allow whoever was steering to shelter and found it worked well. Perhaps more importantly Bee discovered that socks and wellies do make a HUGE difference to comfort and went around grinning as she luxuriated in warm feet. I should say that although we have had boots and socks on board for years we rarely use them and have just put up with bare feet in Crocs, occasionally resorting to socks when things became extreme. No more. So in our semi-dry and warm state we plugged on; alternating half hour on, half hour off steering and finally made it to Cape Harrison. As we rounded it and made our way toward Webeck Hbr I noticed a whale lying on the surface close in but Bee thought it might be a log. Both wrong as it happened; it was a RIB that had drifted from somewhere. We motored over to check it out and make sure nobody was aboard. It looked new although partially deflated and we toyed with the idea of towing it (a lot of water was inside it) but in the end decided to leave it be. With a blow coming in we wanted to get secure and battened down without having to worry about a dinghy we didn't need. Into Webeck, anchoring well into a small bight on the northern shore and settled down. The fog drifted, growlers wandered though on the other side of the harbour and all was well. It did blow although we had no real idea until we tried to leave the following day and found the seas heaping up outside the entrance and went back to anchor. A day later is a different scene and we sailed off toward Manak enjoying the chance to sail for most of the day. On the off chance we called R&A as we neared the anchorage to find them not more than 5 miles from us and heading up to Makkovik. Minutes later they could actually see us and we crossed, distant, paths.

Manak is a small pool surrounded by hills or reefs. Mostly deep but it offers one spot where you can anchor in comfort. A few cabins, heavy snow still clinging to sheltered parts of the hillside and the sound of running water were the company for the night. No bears though. The next day took us across the part of the chart that was simply blank; no soundings, no indication of rocks. You can make assumptions based on the steepness of the surround terrain on whether the route is likely to be deep but it remains a gamble and one reason why the standard yottie remark about old charts and rocks not moving doesn't work here as they simply haven't yet found all the rocks.

We anchored that night in Strawberry Hbr, a tiny (for me) pool which seems crowded with one boat. a derelict cabin leaning forlornly on the shore and steep rock sides hemming you in. Exited the following day almost into the path of one of the coastal steamers that supply the communities along the coast - not sure who was more surprised.

The last few days had been good, some sunshine, little fog and enough wind to sail. It continued as we made our way still north to Roses. R&A were heading out of Makkovic so were some way behind us, this mornings steamer was also heading the our way and suddenly Labrador began to feel crowded. Good winds and sailing took us into this anchorage and the following morning saw little wind as both boats drifted off their anchors and headed out. Light winds are not Hannah's forte and in this case I opted to motor in the hope of reaching what little wind there was. I didn't find it initially but did find a shoal patch in a tickle we were running through. Luckily we were on the edge of it and simply "bounced" a couple of times before continuing...hmmm. Not long after we saw a yacht heading toward us going south and stared incredulously as the two boats drew closer. Heading south and some 5 years after we'd last seen him Dennison Berwick in Kuan Yin passed us, having suffered engine problems and been stuck in Hopedale for a while. Through yet another tickle and onto Cape Harrigan. By the time we surfaced the following morning R&A were long gone bound for Kauk. We had intended to go someplace but opted in the end for John Hayes Hbr as Alison said it was an easy entry and they had seen bears when they went there. Right on both counts as we ticked off 3 black bears as we anchored.

In Nain we tied alongside, fuelled up, chatted to a Nunavit boat whose name I can neither spell nor pronounce. It meant, according to the Newfoundland crew, a goddess of the sea. However a local Inuit guy who stopped to chat said, with a grin, that he had been to check out the boat (a research/hydrographic vessel)  and that it's name meant "chasing after women"....... mebbe someone had a sense of humour?
A Black bear for a change

Although we had thought about heading outside in the end both boats opted for the inside passage The Port Manvers Run. Perhaps 20 miles in length it is entirely protected from the sea and has only one drawback - the need to work out when the tide changes at the Second Rattle as speeds can reach 6 knots... I got it wrong but only suffered a 2 knot deficit but still bloody annoying. Also the lack of wind meant yet more motoring and we hauled into Perry's Gulch for the night whilst R&A plowed on to Cut Throat Hbr. The following day as we sailed/motored up from Perry's toward Amity we were surprised to hear a boat calling Hannah on the vhf. It turned out to be a couple who had met Trevor Robertson - he of the triple over-wintering in Arctic/Antarctic - who had crossed from Scotland to Labrador in 26 days, didn't think he could be bothered to go into Nain but may head back to Perth, Aus....... Will we get to see him before he does so?? It was soon after this as we steadily motored past the odd growler that, in a sickening moment of inattention we ran into one. The lump of ice bounced off to one side and what we first took for seal blood on the ice we rapidly realised was our expensive anti-foul. No harm was done or as far as we can tell at anyrate. I guess if Tilman was running the boat he'd have someone over the side, lathered in seal blubber to check everything over but he ain't and we didn't. In time the hailing boat, Francis B, passed us and all three anchored in Amity Cove in Mugford Bay. We managed a brief chat before the mozzies drove us below and they (Frances B not the mozzies) left the following morning before we'd got up.

Both Bee and Alsion wanted to explore a narrow fiord called the Lost Channel and whilst we discussed the thought of taking one boat we ended up using both. It was a hard motor as the head winds funnelled down from the mountains making progress slow for us. But the scenery was stunning, certainly amongst the best we have seen so far and it ends at a narrow isthmus where the sea outside can be easily seen. Sadly for us the polar bear R&A saw had legged it by the time we arrived and the depths were too great to anchor in comfort.

They stayed on a while hoping for the bear to come back whilst we hoisted a couple of heads'l and the mizzen and enjoyed the sail back down. A few miles from the nights anchorage the mountain effect kicked in and the wind screamed us along easily reaching 6 - 7knots under reduced sail. We toyed briefly with going back to Amity but dropped the hook in peaceful waters. By morning the Walkabout mob were long gone and we tootled along some hours later. Luckily for us as we came across a polar bear swimming through the Mugford Tickle. A narrow passage about 3 or so miles in length with steep sides it affords few opportunities for the bear to get back onto land and we were able to motor at a little under 3 knots and keep a respectful distance from the bear. For 15 or 20 minutes we followed until it reached its "transition area" and loped off up the scree and rocks without so much as a backwards glance . The honey coloured coat blended well with rocks and he/she was soon out of sight.

Into Maidment to find R&A at anchor in the adjacent cove from where they motored in the following morning to discuss the days approach. Initially we thought of going into Saglek to see if we could buy fuel but the increasing wind suggested we use it to get north. In the end it didn't last (unlike the fog) and fed up of losing time by stopping at night we decided to stay at sea and try and get this part of the journey finished. We kept going until midnight when the gloom and fog made it hard to see any ice. The cold too was making life uncomfortable so we hove to, set the anchor alarm, made up some hot water bottles and huddled down on the sea berth together. Toots, of course has her own sea berth, well padded and heated and ignores life apart from meal times. Onwards the following day toward Stoneman but progress was slow. With twenty miles to go to a reasonable anchorage I made the stupid decision to try to make it for the night. As we closed the coast in gloom and fog checking our radar against the C-Map chart we found the radar image and the chart not matching. Still we crept closer but with Bee warning me that rocks lay ahead we turned away from them to find the depth dropping rapidly and still more breakers appearing. Behind us a wall of water materialised as an overfall was created and things were minutes away from turning ugly. We reversed, slowly extricating ourselves from a dumb situation, turned the boat and headed back out the way we came. Off our starb'd side more breakers could be heard but nothing could be seen through the fog of course. We headed off until we were back in deep water and hove to for a second night. The following day we headed for Home Island as it is the biggest in the "chain" but yet again could not get the radar and chart imagery to agree and went back out and hove to. Our choices now were to remain hove to until the fog cleared or wait until R&A came within range and get info from them. We puzzled it all through with Bee wondering how on earth we had got into Stoneman when we came back from Greenland as we were using C-Map then. She suggested trying the other computer and seeing if the versions might be different and of course they were! The relief aboard Hannah was palpable as the older version had significant coverage of both this area and the Button Islands and before setting off we called R&A to see if they were in range. As they were and agreed to meet in Stoneman that night. Away we went and after a slightly tense time crossing unsurveyed waters we were in, sailing smooth waters and heading into Stoneman.

 As it was 3 years ago the place seems to be the territory of a single large polar bear. Is it the same one? Who knows but this one looks old, thin and very big. He watched as we manoeuvred into position to anchor, shambled closer and we retreated to a spot at the other end of the cove with more swinging room. R&A came in a few hours later with a main that had exploded, tearing from luff to leach, as they rounded a cape and the prospect of either sailing with a triple reefed main or trying to repair. The fog sat heavy.

In the end we sat in Stoneman for 6 nights as the fog was thick and the winds, though favourable were stiff enough to make being at anchor seem very attractive...getting old or what? We did an oil change and R&A repaired the main which ranks as serious bit of work. A repair doesn't really do justice to the work they had to do as the sail has split from luff to leach as they passed one of the headlands. One of the benefits of the bigger boat over Andante is the ability to carry a sewing machine...........

 The bear remained, wandering around, grubbing amongst the lichen for who knows what and sleeping. The days passed, the wind picked up and we made very occasional visits to Walkabout as the temps were low. 6 celsius one morning inside the boat and Russ recorded 2C outside. Would it ever change? And then one day it did. An excited comment in the log records "We can see around us!!" before we all decided we might try for Bowdoin Hbr, named by MacMillan of Bowdoin schooner fame in the 30's. We started to raise the anchor and found the chain encased in fine grass. I went forward to clear it whilst Bee wound the anchor in. In a bizarre moment, whilst leaning over the bow dragging grass away from the chain I overbalanced and fell into the water. Well I somersaulted and ended up to my knees in the water. It was cold. Bee rescued my croc, whilst I extricated myself, was ordered to go and change and told I was not to come up on the foredeck again!!

The journey up to Bowdoin is not to be repeated. Once we had cleared the fiord, pausing to snap yet another bear, and turned north to work our way in a loop along the lightly surveyed route to the harbour. Wasn't long before we knew we had the tides completely wrong and we were stemming a 2-3 knot ebb. At one point I seriously thought of giving up but we persevered and got through the rips and into calmer water. R&A had passed us sometime back and were closing the entrance when we spotted what looked like a fishing boat approaching from the north. Not long after we heard a voice on the radio asking something in French but as we were preoccupied with crossing an unsurveyed area we ignored it. The two boats closed and we could see it wasn't a fishing boat but some sort of expedition craft. As we'd arrived at the channel approach first they hung back to allow us to enter ahead but we waved them on; the stern water churned as they surged ahead and past us; the numerous folks on board waving happily. All three boats anchored and remained there for several days as the wind ripped across the surrounding hills. The other boat was an ex-French Navy tug and had been on a journey that had included the NE passage as well as the NW passage and they had come from Sisimiut in Greenland when we saw them. Something of a shock for them to see two sailboats but we felt confident enough to tell them it would be doubtful if they would see anymore until much further south. The few days were not without drama. Despite our combined Labrador experience Walkabout and Hannah rafted up that first night to share a meal and chat about what happens next. About 1am the wind picked up and we leapt up, dressed and hurtled on deck to find Russ at the wheel, engine running as he thought they had dragged. We'd already decided to cast off and in a rising wind and still dark we headed further into the bay to anchor. Although we were close to the rocks we felt comfortable enough with the holding strength of the Rocna and dozed until 6 ish. We were close and moved further out. Soon after R&A moved too and all three boats settled in for a peaceful day. After a social visit to the tug I got back to find Bee had got a forecast which suggested we would get W20 for the next day. In the end the winds remained above 30 knots most of the time with gusts between 38 and 41 knots.

We could only watch with horror as Walkabout's roller reefing began to unfurl and R&A spent several hours trying to tame it. Each victory was short lived and the balloon in the sail was allowing the wind to wrench the foil from side to side; it could only be a matter of time before something went. At its worst it looked as though the whole rig might be in danger..... Phillipe, on the tug, called up on the radio offering bodies and were aboard soon after. Russ felt the only chance they had was a lull and try to get it down using the hands they now had. In the end it went very smoothly, the slightly torn sail was below decks and the French guys returned to their boat via the 25hp outboard and rib. There are definite advantages to having motorised transport. Much as we love the Pudgy there is little chance we could have got back to Hannah if we had tried to get over. The winds continued and soon after the tug left. They called soon after to say they'd gone outside the harbour and turned right (having explored it in the rib before) and found better shelter. Although the wind was still blowing high 20's we opted to follow- ah the lure of a nights sleep! Bee worked like a trojan to extricate the anchor as I fought to keep Hannah facing the right way. With a huge effort we broke it out but the wind pushed our bow the wrong way and we were now being pushed further into the bay and toward Walkabout. Hard astern held us and the outgoing current helped move us away from the obstacles, tiller over and hard ahead saw us clear and moving out. as Bee staggered back along the deck visibly drained from the effort of standing up in the wind whilst raising the anchor. An amazing effort. The new anchorage was better, less wind and no chop although deeper. We had to anchor twice as an eddy kept pushing us too close to the tug and Bee warned me that we had to get it right as she didn't think she had another "up anchor" in her that day. A fine night's sleep followed. Such luxury.

After much discussion both boats decided to head for the Button Islands and then transit the McClenan Sound. The trip up to Button is short at around 20 miles and with the fast running flood should be relatively easy. The plan was to go around the east side thus staying out of the notorious Grey Sound but lack of wind persuaded us it would be easy and shorter......The wind picked up once we were committed and as it was a westerly we had wind over tide, water everywhere and speeds in excess of 9 knots. Not my cup of tea at all but we made it through and into the anchorage.

Up in the Button Islands - looks healthy enough...

Deep but quiet and the benefit of bears the following morning dining on a seal. We snapped away before wandering across the sound to another island to check out an anchorage and get ready for the Mclelan. R&A joined us some hours later having spent hours photographing the bears. For whatever reason we didn't head across to the Mclelan and the delay was enough to convince my over active imagination that taking Hannah along a 15 mile cut through where tides can reach 9 knots, particularly when we didn't have to was not what I wanted to do. Luckily Bee agreed and we decided to start the journey south the following morning. The Buttons are ok but the anchorages we used are not, as far as we felt, the ones you would feel happy in a blow. R&A took the news calmly and the following morning as we hauled up the anchor said they were heading up to Resolution Island to have a look and to try and reach Baffin. Both boats left about the same time and we motored south across the Grey Strait until we were close enough to ensure we wouldn't pick up a foul tide. Crept into Clarks "crossing" the land to do so - aagh the glory of gps and old charts. The local bear took one look at us coming in and legged it across the hills but a grazing caribou kept us entertained that evening. We took the ebbing tide and northerly wind down to Williams Hbr as a) we had never been there and b) I needed to re-splice a different, longer rode to the anchor chain. The wind switched to the south giving us a beat for much of the distance and then failed all together leaving us an hour or so of motoring into an enormous natural harbour. It seemed pretty uninspiring compared to what we'd been used to but in the end we grew to like it, the vast openness of the surrounding hills and protection easily reached around the perimeter. But the forecast for NW20 would mean a hard slog to get out so we moved to another, unreported, bay and anchored. Bears lay slumped on rocks or spreadeagled in snowfields as the sun obviously didn't make them comfy. In that anchorage Bee counted 6 polar bears spread over various hills, almost all dozing in the coldest places they could find but too far away for decent pics.

That night the wind came in early, funneled down the valley and battered us. We dozed but didn't really sleep and in the morning got ready to up anchor and escape. Given the last problem we'd had with the wind taking charge we talked it through and what we needed to do and then set about it. The gusts came repeatedly, all in excess of 30 knots, as Bee wound the chain in whilst I slowly motored forward. With the best part of 50 metres out this was going to be a slow job but gradually we were winning. With about 20 metres to go (we were in 14 metres of water) the wind caught the bow and hurled as sideways, plucking the anchor out of the sea-bed. Many of the anchorages are heavily coated in kelp with perhaps mud or sand underneath and as Bee kept winching the anchor in the weight, as we swung through the water coupled to the enormous quantity of kelp actually on it, made her job desperate. With the engine hard astern we were still getting pushed sideways and I finally gunned it ahead and was overjoyed at the positive reaction as Hannah immediately began to respond and swing in the desired direction. No doubt the weight of the anchor dangling over the bow had something to do with it but it all needed to got back on board before we could leave. Bee came aft as we slowly motored away from the danger to where we could finish the job. She was trembling from the sheer physical effort, it had been a huge effort and I don't know anyone else who would have been able to deal with it. Certainly not me. Remarkable effort.

Out through the passage we had failed to find in the fog when we arrived a few weeks back. How much easier it is to identify islands when they can be seen! No surprises and out into the ocean where a NW wind was a fraction of what the anchorage had been. Offshore R&A could be seen (they'd got to Resolution but the ice sliding out of Frobisher had been more than they wanted) and we enjoyed a good day, stunning scenery, blue sky and relatively warm conditions. Toward the late afternoon the wind began fade and if we were to make Nachvak we needed to motor. Even so it was almost midnight before the anchor dropped into Schooner Cove and we were able to appreciate the Northern Lights before downing a very large drink.
Couple of cubs - mother was in the water swimming but the offspring watched then padded along the shore...

We spent a couple of nights there as a low pressure system was producing strong winds. We'd looked on the chart for an alternative but anything suitable was either north or into a headwind to get there. We opted to remain as the winds went from SE20 to E30 to NW35. In the event it was nothing like that of course but everyone was pleased with the shelter Schooner gives. The one drawback to anchoring in Labrador is the enormous amount of kelp the anchor needs to penetrate before it can get to the mud underneath. Getting the thing up with, seemingly, acres of the damn stuff clinging to chain and anchor is something else.

Now we're in Eastern Harbour on Big Island, Saglek. Cape Uvik is to our south. The pool we're in is shallow - 5 metres or so with good holding and land-locked. Another blow is forecast in a few days although there is some uncertainty about the direction. Whatever, we've had enough of motoring in order to get somewhere so we'll sit it out here, we think, until we get favourable winds........

Random thoughts:On the vhf weather forecast we heard "....rain and fog ending tomorrow morning. Rain and fog commencing tomorrow afternoon...." Whilst in Clark's Harbour we heard (on Aug 11), Iqualit radio forecast say that East Clyde would get snow flurries and we chortled to ourselves. When we left Schooner Cove, Aug 18 we noticed that fresh snow had fallen on the surrounding mountains...... Having said that it is noticeably warmer this bit further south.

Aug 25th. So much for the sit and wait for favourable winds.....high pressure to the east of us gives a diet of either headwinds or light and variable. After 4 nights sat at anchor,with 2 days of constant rain we upped and headed for Maidmont some 15 miles away. Much of the journey was foggy with a lumpy swell off Uivik but we were moving south. The following day we pushed on, mostly under power, to get into the Mugford Bay area, passing through the tickle with a sighting of a Black Bear. R&A had sussed out a new anchorage with great shelter from west through south to south east. Unfortunately it blew up from the north in the night which made for a sleepless night but the excitement of knowing we had, at last, a favourable wind eased that pain. Of course it only lasted for an hour or so once we'd got going and once more we plugged on under engine. With calm seas and little wind we opted to make another long push to gain shelter in Port Manvers Run and arrived very tired around 8pm. Trees!! How we miss those trees and the softening they bring to a landscape.