People & Culture

North-bound from Eternity

  • Jul 29, 2012
  • 449 words
  • 2 minutes
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How’s this for a wake-up call: Belzebub got stuck in the ice. We’re back on the water now, but that little incident at Eternity fiord reminded us what a really high stakes game of uncharted sailing we are undertaking.

We’d been celebrating a milestone moment for our expedition: the crossing of the Arctic Circle. This “bowl” at N 66 32′ contains over six million square miles of ocean, ice and land and has fascinated and challenged explorers and scientists alike for centuries. We’re seeing more ice and larger icebergs as we approach our final staging area in the Canadian high Arctic at Grise Fiord, which is 1,000 nautical miles to the northwest at about N 76 32′.

But these places remain poorly mapped, and retreating glaciers expose more uncharted water every year. Eternity fiord is no different, though it has a long history of use — the Norse who were the first Europeans to settle in Greenland under Erik the Red in the 10th century built here; Danish and Dutch whalers in the 18th century navigated these waters and more recently explorers like Bill Tillman visited the area in the 20th century.

It was on approaching one of the retreating glaciers to go hiking when we realized that we had hit the bottom and were stuck on a falling tide. If the bottom looked anything like the cliffs around us the boat was in serious trouble.

We acted quickly; we got into the dinghy pulling a line from the mast in an attempt to heel us off the ground while we reversed the engine at full throttle. Nothing happened, so we changed tactics. We put the anchors in the dinghy and threw them behind the boat tied to winch ourselves to deeper water. After 20 minutes we had three anchors out with lines running from every possible point of the boat.

Drained of energy and ideas we felt the boat tipping over as the water dispersed beneath it. There was nothing we could do. But after poking the bottom with a stick we where relived to find that it was flat and muddy and that Belzebub would be just fine laying on her side until the tide came back.

With the midnight sun and the beautiful surrounding it was a bizarre but quite amusing feeling. We had to improvise sleeping quarters in the tilted boat which leaned over 60 degrees.

To our great amusement, when the alarm woke us up the next morning the boat was floating as if nothing had happened and we set sail north like so many other adventurers before us.

Let’s hope we won’t have to sleep at a slant again anytime soon.

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