(Posted the day after) Father’s Day, 2014

Happy Fathers’ Day! This week I travelled from Baffin Island to Juneau, Alaska, where I am writing this post. On the way I spent a couple of days with my family, seeing two of my three brothers and catching up with my sister, too. My brothers are great dads and I enjoyed visiting with their growing families. We talked a lot about the upcoming summer, and a lot about our Dad, Jim.

Hercules! Hercules!  Dad at work, flying the C130 Hercules

Hercules! Hercules! Dad at work, flying the C130 Hercules

Let me tell you a bit about him. My Dad is a supercool explorer. His skills include: navigating by the stars, flying vintage aircraft (yup, exactly like the ones featured in Ice Pilots), evaluating sea ice by air in the high Arctic to determine suitability for landing, playing six games of chess simultaneously on his iPad with various, curated opponents from his treks around the world, scuba diving (a recently acquired skill), oh – and he can waterski on one leg while holding the other ski over his head. I’ll try to dig up the picture of this last item next week for any doubters. There are a few things he is not very good at, but it is Father’s Day and the list would be short in any case.

So if I want to do anything cool, or adventurous, chances are, papa has already done it. North Pole – check. South Pole – check. Flying floatplanes – check. Trading a parka for a Soviet fur hat at a Siberian research station – check. Delivering an aircraft for the United Nations to Nepal via Iceland – check. Scuba diving – check. Sailing around the world – *check. (* In process.) Currently, he is in New Zealand, living on his sailboat with my lovely step-mom Isabel. They sailed there from Hawaii this winter past.

On of the sailing trophies won by my Dad. This is the Commissioner's Cup, a race across Great Slave Lake.

On of the many sailing trophies won by my Dad. This one is Commissioner’s Cup, given to the winner of  a race across Great Slave Lake,Northwest Territories.

You’ll have to forgive me, then, if I take just a little, teensy-weensy bit of pleasure from the fact I am going to do something that my Dad has NOT already done – yet. I certainly wouldn’t have nominated myself for the “Most Likely to Sail the Northwest Passage” category in the Cool Life Achievements awards. And I haven’t done it yet – but it is a pretty bad-ass goal to have. I am delighted to join Jesse in the pursuit of his goal, and I confess to enjoying in a very un-modest way the notoriety and cool factor that comes along with such a rigorous pursuit.

But back to my father for a minute. Obviously, my Dad is a cool guy. But I think the coolest thing about him is that he strives to be a good person, and a good dad, and not just a guy that does cool things all the time. I used to say that if I told my folks that I was selling all my worldly possessions and moving to Africa to work at an elephant nursery, their reply would be: “Right on! We love you.” Growing up, I took this this “go-for-it” attitude toward unorthodox life decisions for granted, and only now do I realize how unusual this unconditional support is.

When I told my Dad about my plans to marry Jesse, sail the Northwest Passage and move to Alaska, he said “Awesome. I love you.” Then he wanted to know how big Jesse’s boat was.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you.

Dad checking out a train, somewhere in the world...

Dad checking out a train, somewhere in the world…


An Unexpected Journey.

I would like to tell everyone that it is my lifelong dream to sail through the Northwest Passage.  But frankly, that just isn’t true.  I have never dreamed of Arctic exploration, rather, I dreamt of sailing to exotic locales in a bikini, not a parka.  But this summer, through an improbable set of circumstances, I will join my fiancé to do exactly that.  In late July, we plan to set sail from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, to Iceland.  And a bit unexpectedly, I am really, really excited about it!

I am not a stranger to the North.  When I was six (a few decades ago, now), I crossed the Arctic Circle for the first time to spend Christmas on Little Cornwallis Island.  It is right smack in the middle of the Canadian Arctic, just north of Resolute Bay.  My dad was stationed up there as a pilot and he had the opportunity to bring my mom and me along with him over the Christmas holidays.  I remember the darkness of the days, the biting, dry cold, and seeing fluffy arctic foxes prance in front of the windows of the camp.   Another Christmas a few years later, my family joined my dad in Iqaluit (the capital of Nunavut on southern Baffin Island).  As we were above the treeline, my mother, unable to secure a real tree (the few that were flown in – amazing! – were sold out quickly) reluctantly erected a “fake” tree.  The near 24-hour darkness stymied our sleep schedule and I think we ate Christmas dinner at 4 p.m.

I have lived in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories for 23 years.  It is a sub-arctic town, just skirting the edge of the treeline.  It boasts long summer days and many, many inland lakes, full of fish.  It is a gateway to the remote hamlets that dot the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

Pretty typical summer view near Yellowknife.  Lakes, trees, rocks. Aircraft is a Beaver on amphibious floats.

Pretty typical summer view near Yellowknife. Lakes, trees, rocks. Aircraft is a Beaver on amphibious floats.

I work there as a pilot, flying people to various communities and remote destinations across the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.  Right now, I am writing this post from a mining camp on Northern Baffin Island. One of the places I fly to regularly from the mine site here is Pond Inlet, about 100 miles away.  It is hard to imagine that in another two months, I will sail into this little town, beside icebergs and the glaciers that pour into the ocean from their mountain origins.


About 14 miles south of Pond Inlet, May 2014.

The same view, July 2013.

The same view, July 2013. The ocean was ice-free in this picture.

When I met Jesse, I told him that I like to go fast in my sailboat, and I wasn’t up for puttering around, tourist-style, through life, whether on a boat or on land.  That is still true.  I like to have a mission: a race to win, a destination to get to, a schedule to keep, cargo to deliver. The best part of my job as a pilot is that it is mission-oriented.  I get to balance many factors to have a safe, successful mission.  Weather, aircraft performance, facilities at the destination, my skill set, my first officer’s abilities, customer expectations, company expectations and government regulations all come into play in my decision-making.

My sailing experiences are fairly limited, compared to my flying background.  For a few years, I did own a 25 foot racing sloop (a Kirby 25) called “Knot Krazy”.  She’s now sold to an enthusiastic new owner who will love her quick response and sporty performance as much as I did.  I raced her regularly on Great Slave Lake in Yellowknife, but I didn’t go outside of the 5 miles of race course, ever.  Last fall, before heading to Alaska, I spent 4 days on a Bavaria 32 called “Arcturus” in the Gulf Islands between mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island.  This trip was the first time I had sailed more than 6 hours in a row, and the first time I overnighted on a boat.    So I have much to learn; I need to hone my sailing skills, learn more about navigation, ocean weather, trip planning and ice avoidance.

Sailing Knot Krazy.  Photo credit Darren Jacquard

Sailing Knot Krazy. Photo credit Darren Jacquard

About Empiricus:  she is a gaff-rigged yawl (this means she has a mizzen mast, a little mast on her stern). She weighs 38,000 lbs and is about 50 feet long.  I haven’t spent any time aboard her under sail, so I really don’t know much about her.  We will get to know each other this summer.

I am ready to take in the view from the boat, sailing at 6-8 knots, and seeing the world from the horizontal.  It will differ from the speedy, bird’s eye view of the aeroplane.

My goal is to post weekly updates on our preparations and subsequent voyage through the passage.  I welcome comments and questions – I hope you enjoy the blog.