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.
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.
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.
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.