FROM 2-2. Equator-Dutch Harbor

How I see it.

We have been given dire warning, indirectly, by someone whose opinion deserves the utmost respect, that this is a foolhardy gig. While I agree with some of the points made, I see them differently. Here are a few:
- to get through this year you need to be up there now. I don’t agree – We have the annual stats from the NOAA website for the entire passage and the ice doorway starts to crack open at Point Barrow at the earliest in mid june, more likely early July. I have timed this part of the journey to get us up there round about then. Once up there, we are utterly dependent on a set of circumstances occurring that would make the next stage possible. We need to be able to get around Point Barrow, we need an open lead to the east and we need the prospect of an offshore (southerly) wind to keep the ice to the north and to give us a boost along the Alaskan coast. Lack of any one of these is a showstopper and we wait at Barrow for as long as seems sensible, then come home. However, if all 3 do occur, we have to be there to take advantage.
- we need a crew of heavies. Why? Just more mouths to feed and no real benefit as far as I can see.
- we need an ice strengthened boat. Yes, would certainly help, but I decided quite deliberately not to try to strengthen Berri on the basis that anything we could do would be largely useless and we’d be a lot more careful knowing that we don’t have it.
- we need a cage around the prop. Yes – and this is something I intend to investigate in dutch, but again, it tempers any go/no go decision if you know the extent of the risk.
- the coastguard won’t allow us to proceed. So be it. they know best and we’ll come home. However, the stories from people who have recently been through, or failed, indicate that the local authorities in both the US and Canada were extremely helpful and encouraging. Further, we have a number of very experienced local contacts, fishermen and marine scientists, all of whom have been positive and helpful and will continue to advise us as we progress. No one has yet tried to talk us out of it.
- the boat needs to be big and strong enough to winter in if we get stuck in the ice. Yep – and Berri isn’t and that’s the bottom line. I do not intend to risk getting stuck but I know that a wind change at a critical time is all it could take. The Canadians have an excellent icebreaker service up there and, while use of the icebreaker would represent failure to me, it may be available to get us out as a very last resort. We will need to find out a lot more when we get to Dutch – we need a friendly voice at the Canadian Hydrographic Service, for a start.
A real problem might be that Berri draws about 6 ft and there is a lot of shallow water along the way. Also means we cant use shallow water to escape big ice. But a much bigger boat went through last year, East to West, with no difficulty, owner a farmer from Minnesota, but I don’t have a link to his article. For us. will depend on whether last year’s ice melt was a one off or the sign of things to come.

So we’re not going into this blind to the risks, or obstinately disregarding them. We will take all the advice we can get and I am prepared to pull the plug at any time the signs are negative. Once around the corner at Barrow, the die is cast to some extent, but I think it is far less risky, again using the NOAA data, to be going West to East. But we don’t know until we get much closer what the ice predictions are for this year and I have no internet access out here so am relying on Kimbra’s knowledge and judgement for advice.

Finally, please, everyone keep it short from here. We are out of effective sailmail range for at least the next couple of weeks and I’m using my dwindling number of expensive iridium minutes to send these and to pull in and read your gems. Thanks!

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