Well I’ve sailed about as far north as possible. I’ve actually sailed off of my Garmin chart plotter’s map and doing so has freaked it out and my whole screen has turned yellow. Once I get below 75 north It should start working properly again. It’s definitely gotten colder and is feeling a lot more like the Arctic with temperatures in the 30s (3-5c). Exposure is a problem here. I stay warm for the most part but its a struggle keeping my hands warm. The boat is wet 90% of the time so every time I handle a line or rub up against something I get wet. After my last entry I had a couple days of light wind which gave me a opportunity to get some sleep and enjoy watching the icebergs. I slept 3 hours or so on Wednesday and then the winds picked up at around 15kts and and I had a peaceful sail and saw the best and most beautiful icebergs of the trip. Being that I was sailing at a good speed I didn’t sleep thinking to myself “this wind won’t last too long”. I’ve been told that up here you can be becalmed for days and your lucky to get much of any wind. Well, I got a warning of 40kts winds heading my way and so I started to prepare the best I could. Weather reports are not very reliable up here so when the gale didn’t show by the time predicted I thought it wouldn’t come. About the time I thought that – the winds picked up bringing fog and rain. Luckily the winds only reached around 30kts – the problem though, was that as I’ve been going further north I’ve seen more and more small ice chunks mixed in with the big bergs. These small bergy bits are very difficult to see. There might only be a piece of ice the size of a basketball sticking out of the water, but underwater it might be the size of a school bus. When you have 30kts wind behind you, the seas produce a lot of white caps and it becomes incredibly difficult to determine whether you’re looking at a white cap or a mini berg. Especially when you are in the pouring rain, in the fog, going full speed ahead. I dodged a few at the last possible moment. It would be like sailing on a rainy, foggy, windy, day in a area full of submerged containers going at full speed. I really get freaked out by these little hidden bergs and I keep a very sharp watch to avoid them. Of course that meant standing in the ice cold rain for 14 hours.
At around 10pm Friday in the middle of this weather I quickly ducked into my boat to grab something. I noticed a puddle of diesel by my companionway steps. Up here diesel is almost more important then water. In the worst case scenario if I needed water I could just sail up to a ice berg, knock off a piece, melt it, and drink it. Diesel is so important because there is not much wind in the Northwest Passage so you need it to get through. The puddle of diesel came from a leak in my fuel blatter which is holding 85 gallons. Panic struck. I started filing everything I could with diesel – water jugs, my empty bottle of screech, I even filled my 6 gallon sun shower with diesel. This whole time I’m still sailing in thick fog and I noticed something strange out the corner of my eye. I looked up and out my window all I could see was a gaint wall of ice – in the panic to save my diesel I had forgotten to look for icebergs. I came about 100 feet from hitting a monster berg. You should of heard the sound of the waves crashing into the berg, it was like thunder and it shot spray some 30-40 feet in the air. Because of the wind the berg was moving along at a good speed and even after I made evasive maneuvers it still nearly ran me over. I ran back in my cabin and finished filling containers while keeping a watch. The plan was to empty enough diesel so I could raise the leaky side of the fuel bladder up in the air forcing all the diesel to the other end. I did this with the help of a 4 to 1 purchase but then realized that the other side was leaking too. Eventually I was able to raise both ends and force all the fuel to the middle of the blatter. It looks pretty funny inside my cabin with this bladder tied off all crazy. By the end (which took all night) I was covered in diesel, cushions, sleeping bag – well just about everything. I’m not sure how much fuel I lost, I hope no more the 10 gallons (10% of my fuel). You can imagine what my boat smells like right now. So by this morning I had been on watch for over 50 hours strait, 14 of which in the freezing rain I was covered in diesel and I just wanted a hot shower and dry bed. Instead, I hove to and slept for six hours. So now I sit here hove to righting this blog entry with ice cold fingers listening to the driving rain hitting my boat. In a few minutes I’ll put back on my wet foul weather gear and do another 50 hour watch if the winds hold.
With all the drama aside – Baffin Bay is one of my favorite places I’ve ever sailed. It’s up there with the Gambia river, Galicia, and the Exumas. Between the icebergs of unexplainable beauty and 24 hours of daylight it’s as unique as any body of water can be. I’m happy to trade sleep for a chance to sail such incredible waters, but it’s also the most dangerous place I’ve ever sailed. It’s a place I love, fear and respect.
I will take some time to talk about the more technical aspects of the trip. The first rule of fight club is… (sorry I just watched that movie the other day on my laptop). Seriously though, the first rule of singlehanded sailing is….YOU MUST BE ABLE TO MAKE YOUR BOAT SAIL ITSELF. All you should have to do is reef your sails, trim them to the wind direction and adjust your windvane. I use a Monitor windvane. I’ve had three different windvanes over the years (Hyravane, Navic, and Monitor) I find the Monitor to be the strongest and easiest to use. For power I have four solar panels and a wind generator. If I’m not getting power from the sun then I usually am from the wind and vise versa. My daily power is still very limited so I have to be very careful how much power I use. I have three GPS units, two of which I use all the time, and one is for backup. I also have AIS which I love in the open ocean but doesn’t do much up here because there aren’t any other boats. I don’t have a radar because we couldn’t afford one. This is a low budget trip and raising the money was very difficult. I was lucky to be able to leave the dock. As far as food I have a year supply of Shelf Reliance freeze dried food. It’s surprisingly good and I always look forward to my next meal. And the dang blasted watermaker – at least my new one seems to work better but sitting out in the elements for a hour a day slowly pumping away for a half gallon of water really makes me appreciate being able to just turn on a tap. Finally one of the most important items on the boat is my PredictWind itrac satellite communicator. This is new technology out of New Zealand that not just tracks my boat so you can all see where I am but more importantly gives me two sets of weather forecasts, one from the US and one from the Canadian government. Its fun to see which county has given a better forecast for that day. Having a good weather forecast gives me a huge piece of mind. I’ve done a lot of offshore sailing with no forecasts at all and I always feel like I’m sailing blind. It also will give you the quickest route to get to your next waypoint (weather routing) I don’t use that as much because I’m stubborn and like to figure that out day by day, but its a great option to have. All I need is a way to get a hot shower and some pizza and I’d be set. I smell like an Arctic explorer – lucky no one else is around to witness it.
Matt's motivation for the trip is to show people, particularly those with disabilities, that there are no limits to what can be accomplished in life; and to raise money for Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating (CRAB), a nonprofit sailing program for people with disabilities, based in Annapolis, Md. Click here to learn more about CRAB.