August 9, 2014
Torngat National Park and The Davis Strait Crossing – (July 29 – Aug 5)
(Written by Bradley with minor edits and additions by Kathy)
Torngat National Park is a large area of wilderness in the most northern part of Labrador. It was set aside as a National Park in the 80’s following a lengthy land settlement with the Inuit people. During a six-week summer season, a base camp is set up, providing minimal accommodations for adventurous folks who want to experience this unspoiled wilderness. These accommodations range from tents to larger, hard-sided “shelters” that even come with heaters. There is plenty of great hiking, though you are encouraged to hire a “beer guard” – at least that’s what it sounds like. This is actually a local Inuit guide whose primary job is to carry a big rifle to protect you from polar bears (which the locals pronounce “beer”).
As soon as we arrived at the park, we received word from our weather router (a land-based meteorologist who helps predict weather and route you along safe routes for long passages) that a window for the crossing to Greenland was opening up within 24 hours. It had been clear from our last weather download in Nain that near perfect conditions for a crossing would be arriving before we were ready to take advantage of them. The primary cruising rules that we have learned to follow are 1) No Schedule and 2) Take the weather windows when they develop. So after some careful discussions with Capt. Gulliver and team on Migration and the weather router, we elected to cut our trip to the park short and depart less than 60 hours after arriving. A major factor in our decision was that we only have the month of August for cruising Greenland before we have to start looking for weather windows to get out of town. We had also already made the decision that we would return to Labrador for an entire season in the future. As I sit here at N64.42 and W 55.46 (crossing the Davis Strait) drafting this blog, I can tell you we made the correct decision.
We arrived at the park late Wed afternoon 30 July and departed at 03:30 Saturday 2 Aug. We had just two days to experience as much as we could of the park while making final preparation for a 3 to 5 day crossing of what can be a very nasty sea if it so decides. So far, we have only had to run our stabilizers for less than 12 hours out of 60. We have had, with the exception of that same 12 hours, seas of less than .5 meters (1.5ft) and winds in the single digits. The forecast is calling for this to continue for at least 24, if not 36 hours. We have already altered our crossing course from Nuuk further north to Sisimiut, Greenland to put us closer to our intended northernmost destination of Disko Bay. We may again alter course this evening after we hear from the weather router to arrive within 100 miles of Disko, an easy day trip where it remains light for 20+ hours a day this time of year.
After hearing from the router and having some discussion with Migration, we elected to continue to head for Sisimiut. It is a major city (population 5000) with a port, which means local cruising knowledge is available. A substantial part of the coast is not charted, so local information will be critical.
Back to the park – Anchoring was a challenge, with both boats using most of the chain in our respective anchor lockers to secure “ok” holding. We ended up with all 133 meters (400 feet) of our chain out, so we used this opportunity to scrub out the anchor locker on Thursday. It is amazing what accumulates down there, even though we use both a fire-hose sized pump to wash the chain and also spray it with a saltwater hose as it comes up to keep it as clean as possible. (Having put all the chain out and having already reversed it several years ago, an item clearly added to our winter project list is to secure new chain. The chain is now going on 11 years old. We will most likely secure around 150 meters.)
Once we anchored, we all went to shore to meet the park managers and sort out options. Gary, the director for Parks Canada on site, asked us to come back at 20:00 for an organizational meeting, as they were busy organizing the departure of a group. At our meeting, it was agreed we would secure the services of a guide for hiking the next morning at 08:00. Of course, we ended up having to delay because of – you guessed it – FOG. We ended up hiking up the hills surrounding base camp for almost 2 hours and then back down in 1 hour. One could spend days hiking the area. Unfortunately we did not spot any polar bears, but did see lots of grandeur and beauty.
While our plan had been to return to the boat for lunch and then do an afternoon hike we were all too tired for a second walk. Some boat preparation chores were attacked – the anchor locker, cleaning a raw water intake, chasing down a hydraulic drip and beginning a very detailed review of the entire boat, securing everything for a major passage. We had become a little spoiled in the calm coastal waters of Labrador. On Friday morning several of our knees were a little too sore and the fog was in again so we continued with boat chores. The two boats decided Shear Madness would launch our big tender and we would attempt a circumnavigation of the “The Big Island” (correct name) we has passed on the way into the anchorage. At our briefing, we had learned that this was one place we were most likely to see a polar bear. Up until this point in the trip, once Migration had joined us, we had been either docking or they had been graciously launching their small tender, which is much more easily launched and retrieved, than either of our large tenders.
We started out in clear weather, but quickly ended up engulfed in heavy fog, as we crossed the channel to “The Big Island”. The fog cleared as we arrived. We enjoyed several hours cruising the shores, but could not find any bears. We did note the amazing clarity of the water, often able to see close to 30 feet down. We all returned very cold, as the wind chill brought the temperature to below 0C or 32F.
We did have some luck fishing. Matt caught two large (9+pound) Arctic Char – a cousin of salmon and trout. George and I went ashore to show the camp managers George’s drone and we lucky enough to be invited on a short helicopter ride. We got a great tour and were lucky enough to finally see a polar bear!
There was to be a concert that night at base camp, given by the guest artist Ian Tambyn, who we desperately wanted to see. He had spent a week at the camp working with a group of visiting teenagers selected by Parks Canada in conjunction with local town councils as future leaders. However given our planned departure time, we needed to reload our tender, wrap up everything, eat a wonderful dinner of extremely fresh Arctic Char, and get a couple hours of sleep before our wake up call of 02:45. It is amazing how quickly the call arrives, after only 4 hours of sleep! It was time for final checks before beginning anchor retrieval.
Dawn had already started to arrive. As we turned east out of the anchorage we were greeted by a stunning sunrise, peaking through some fog on the horizon.
Engine rooms checks have become more interesting as we have cruised north. The average engine room temperarture used to be in 90’s (32C) or above. Now we are lucky if it is in 70’s (21C) even with intake fans reduced to their lowest settings. Outside temps have been 34F (1C) to 45F (7C), with the exception of an occasional very sunny windless afternoon reaching 70F (21C). While most of the machinery seems to enjoy the cooler temp, it has led to drips here and there. Anywhere seawater is running through pipes, we are getting heavy condensation. Often where rubber hose connects to hard piping we were getting dripping seawater. After a couple rounds of carefully tightening the clamps we have eliminated the saltwater drips and only have to wipe up after the condensation. While none of the operating temperatures on the equipment we monitor each hour has changed, it is a much cooler environment and therefore much better for all electronic items.
We could not have asked for a better trip across the Davis Strait. After three days covering close to 600 miles, with very little wind or waves, we arrived safely in Sisimiut, Greenland, crossing into the Arctic Circle! Now the real adventure begins!