Our veteran Boat Manager, Cathy Hawkins, has always had a taste for adventure. Cathy was one of the three people who started the Australian Wooden Boat Festival more than 20 years ago, after a thrilling career as a blue-water ocean racer. Decades later, she’s still going, and an inspiration to all of us who would rather settle for a nice cup of tea and feet up in front of the telly. Cathy took an adventurous career turn just a few years ago and was off to Antarctica for a couple of seasons on the ice with the Australian Antarctic Division. Then she stunned all of us when she announced she was off to sea again, this time on a boat delivery run across the Pacific. Nothing unusual about that you might say, for an experienced yachtswoman and a ticketed coxswain. But it’s the route that has us all gaping: through the Northwest Passage in the high Arctic, travelling from West to East through the Beaufort Sea and across the remote northern coasts of Alaska and Canada to Greenland and eventually to Norway. ‘What I Did In My Summer Vacation’ doesn’t come any more stirring than this.
Cathy has been sending despatches by email from the few places along the route where there is actually electricity and a signal. We look forward to reading the book when Cathy writes it, but in the meantime, a few short excerpts from her emails and a rough map of the terrifying route may interest anyone who goes down to the sea in ships.
Nome to Cambridge Bay, North West Passage, Arctic
We are waiting out a 30-knot easterly headwind in Austin Bay, tucked behind Cape Lady Franklin on the southwestern end of Victoria Island in the Beaufort Sea. Abel Tasman lightly snubs at her anchor 1nm offshore. It’s blowing and doggedly choppy but AT’s 23-meter hull straddles three wave tops in one go so we are as ‘comfy as’.
The biting wind hums constantly through the rigging in the half-light of this Arctic summer midnight. Stranded anywhere outside the comfortable coziness of the warm cabin, heated so snugly by the Dickson diesel oven, we’d be done for. What a complete haven this steel hull is – we are tortoise like, retracted within our shell waiting for the wind to exhaust itself outside.
From Nome to Austin’s Bay we have cruised another 1,617nm – through the Bering Strait, Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, Amundsen Gulf and Dolphin and Union Strait.
There are a lot of miles to make (nearly 3,000nm) through the Northwest Passage so we up-anchored to cross MacKenzie Bay to Tuktoyaktuk. We were in the company of single and small groups of Arctic Bowhead whales, first seeing their V shaped blows from their widely spaced blowholes and then black flukes as they dived. It wasn’t surprising to find them here as they feed on the surface in deep water and near the bottom in shallow water.
Rounding Cape Bathurst we left the Beaufort Sea for the teal green water of Amundsen Gulf followed by Dolphin and Union Strait and our Austin Bay shelter.
I’m writing to you as we head for Pond Inlet after lots of ice bashing. We tried to get north via the eastern shore of Larsen Sound but encountered 5/10ths ice which was way too much ice to deal with. So… we turned back (lost those hard won miles) to take shelter in Oscar Bay and sit out a big NE blow. The blow did the trick and loosened up the ice for us and, tucked behind The Tanberg Polar tug that is towing Amundsen’s Maud to Greenland, we successfully picked our way up the western shore of Larsen Sound.
I couldn’t get this email away to you from Pond Inlet. we have just arrived in Assiat on the east coast of Greenland…
So Cathy, aboard the stout Abel Tasman, has reached Greenland safely and is on her way to Norway. We can only wait for further news. Fair winds and safe travel, Cathy!