August 29, 2014
We are anchored at Williams Harbour, in northern Labrador – the northernmost reach of the Torngat National Park. As we have experienced for the vast majority of the past 2 months, it is raining, foggy and cold around 3C or 38F. We arrived yesterday morning (Friday 29 August) after a nail biting 48-hour trip south. Yesterday also happened to be Kathy and my 15-year anniversary. I can absolutely say that without her skills, hard work and support our lives on board Shear Madness would not be possible. We both certainly have been fortunate on many fronts. While I dated many wonderful women in my life, I do not believe any of them would be up for the challenges Kathy & I have faced and overcome together. She is a wonderful partner – Thanks Dear!
So do you want to hear about the second half of the trip south or what happened after we arrived, first?
Actually Poseidon smiled on us, while at the same time teasing us a little. We had departed Wed. 27 Aug and had a 400 mile trip to make before the weather turned against us, which was forecast to begin sometime Friday morning. As the previous blog discussed, the first day of the trip improved as the day advanced. We were making good time – just a little behind schedule and the sea had settled.
On day two, I was on watch for a beautiful sunrise. The sky had been clear all night. Wind and sea were cooperating. We needed to average 8 knots – and were tantalizingly close – and the forecast fronts needed to arrive on time or late. However on several 3 to 5 hours periods during the day, our speed would drop to the 6.5 knot range while the wind & Sea was building on our Stbd nose. Late in the afternoon we started to average just above 8 knots, and then on my watch – (we are each responsible for the speed of the vessel during our watch), our speed picked up to over 9 and even hit 10 a couple of times. What was really interesting was the wind and sea were still running against us on our Stbd at 60 degrees. And, as we crossed the Hudson Strait, even though the wind picked up, the seas settled. What a ride 9+ knots, at 1070 RPM and 7 gallons per hour. In fact for the whole trip we ended up averaging 8 knots at 1.1 miles to the gallon.
That night was the most amazing Aurora Borealis show we have seen. The night was perfectly clear, we were surrounded by a light show for hours. It was so bright, it was like a full moon lighting our way. We saw shades of green and red and lots of stars.
After my watch, Poseidon then again teased us with a couple of 6.5 knot hours, but the great Labrador current came to our rescue. I was back on watch Friday at 05:00 to a stunning sunrise with beautiful clear skies and a very smooth ride – the weather had held and we were going to have a perfect ending to a great two day cruise south. We arrived at our anchorage around 10 AM to a beautiful day, light warm winds and temps in mid 50’s, something we have not seen in 45 days or more.
We immediately off loaded the tender and prepared for some serious hiking. We knew we were in polar bear territory, so precautions had to be taken. Each of us carries a bear deterrent; a loud air horn, bear pepper spray, and some flares as a last resort. In preparing for this trip, we thought long and hard about carrying a rifle on board, but that introduces complications with country check-ins, and in some areas like the park, only registered guides are permitted to carry.
Off in the tender we go exploring, to take full advantage of the weather. At any moment we were expecting it to begin to turn stormy as predicted, but so far this was actually acting like a late summer day. The first thing we find are three shipping boxes on shore just above the water line with the largest box being 5” tall & wide, 8” long. It appeared to contain an igloo that can be assembled, like we saw at the Torngat Park base camp.
After a few tries we were able to get ashore and secure the tender in a way that it would not end up high and dry on a dropping 2.5 meter tide. We went for a wonderful 2+ hour hike up a hill. It was the first time we had been off the boat since Sunday in Aasiaat. While we did see some signs of wild life, like some huge hoof prints, signs of field mice and some animal scat, no polar bears were seen. We decided to return to the tender to explore a second arm of the bay that went several miles deep into the mountains. As we are heading over there, we noted a white fishing float bobbing in the water and decided to pick it up. As we headed there, we realized it is moving – and Kathy grabs her camera thinking we have spotted a white seal! Just about that time, it turns its head to look us in the eye and we realize we are seeing a Polar Bear swimming around looking for dinner. We back off the throttle, but he decides to head for the near shore, where Kathy successfully snaps some pictures.
So as not to bother him, but be in a position to watch him for a while we decide to circle far away from him and end up near where he is heading, to just sit and watch quietly. Just as we are approaching shore, and getting ready to kill our engines, what do we spot – a mother and 2 cubs, moving very smartly up the hill. They had clearly seen, heard or smelled us coming, before we saw them. We were very impressed by just how fast all three were able to scamper over the large boulders and move up the hill. This clearly reinforces the warnings – humans cannot out run a polar bear. We watched them move up the hill, while our first bear continued to come towards us on the shore, before seeing us. After studying us for a short time, he simply climbed a little higher and continued on his course.
By that time, Kathy had filled the card on her camera with pictures and we were starting to feel quite a chill in the air. The Temperature was starting to drop rapidly – the storm front was arriving. We returned back to Shear Madness, passing one more PB high up on shore, bringing our total sightings to 6 (1 on Baffin Island and five today!).
This has been one of the best 24 hours on what has turned out to be an incredible trip. Our only sorrow was that Migration and Capt. Gulliver were not with us.