SIGHTINGS randall reeves ices northwest passage
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• September, 2019
As you've no doubt already read, Latitude 38's Fall Crew List Party will enjoy a new venue at the Bay Model Visitor Center in Sausalito on Wednesday, September 11. The gathering itself will be held from 6-9 p.m., but come early if you can. At 4 p.m. harbormasters Dick Markie of Paradise Village Marina and Geronimo Cevallos of Marina El Cid will host a free seminar about cruising to and in Mexico. Also starting at 4 p.m., you can tour Call of the Sea's new brigantine, the Matthew Turner, docked in front of the Bay Model. Additional experts on hand to answer questions will include representatives of Ullman Sails, Afterguard Sailing Academy, San Francisco Sailing Science Center, Novamar, Spaulding Marine Center, Mariners General In-
ALL PHOTOS RANDALL REEVES / FIGURE 8 VOYAGE
When Randall Reeves stopped in Nova Scotia this summer after eight straight months at sea, he was beginning the process of "staging" his 41-ft sloop Moli for an attempt through the Northwest Passage — which is essentially the "westing" leg of his Figure 8 Voyage. Even as ice in the poles is shrinking at an alarming rate, punching through the bending, river-shaped route that snakes across the Canadian Arctic Archipelago is never a given. For weeks, Reeves had been inching along up the coast of Greenland before crossing Baffin Bay into Nunavut, Canada, and closely watching charts tracking the clogs of ice in the narrow Passage. His tracker lingered at anchorages for what seemed like days, before he bee-lined abruptly south. Suddenly, he posted on his blog: "Mo is through the ice! One big chapter in the Figure 8 is closed. One long chapter, the 4,000-mile slog home, remains." By contrast to his solitary, 31,000-mile, two-thirds-of-a-year passage from San Francisco, around the Southern Ocean and up the Atlantic to Nova Scotia, Reeves' time in the Arctic has seemed almost landlocked and full of people — namely other cruisers trying the Passage, and congregating around the precious window where various gates open for just a few days or weeks a year. On August 16, Reeves was at anchor at Peel Sound, just inside the "tributary" that shoots well south in one of the main routes through the Northwest Passage. "I reach[ed] out to the ice guide, Victor Wejer, for a consult on anchorages. Mo needs a place to hide if things go badly. I show him the areas I've chosen." Wejer told Reeves that because of the mountains and unpredictable winds in the Canadian Archipelago, most of what look like anchorages on the chart are just not safe. "'Not many have singlehanded the Northwest Passage,' [said] Victor, 'Take your difficult bite; be brave, and exercise your anchor alarm if you do stop,'" Reeves wrote on his blog. On August 17, Reeves entered the final stretch and the first of three "ice gates." As he inched his way in, the ice was scattered and easily navigable. "Only once do I screw up. I aim to pass between two small floes but fail to see the diagnostic light green between them. They are one floe connected by an underwater bridge. But it is too late. There is a clinking sound much like the jostling of ice cubes in a glass. Mo thunks. And the floes drift apart." As he continued south and slightly west, Reeves eventually saw solid white on the horizon. "The day's mirage picks up this image and makes it look like a tidal wave of white rolling towards us. Now we are in it, solid 5/10ths ice. Still, with care and concentration I am always able to find a lane just when it is needed. We weave back and forth; I am pulling on the tiller as though it were the handle of an oar. It is exhilarating. And still we are at full speed. "Ice goes thin then thick then thin again. Hours pass and I am still working the tiller. What has been heavy going begins to thin at 11 p.m. The water is clear enough that my course changes are mere nudges of the tiller. I play the dangerous game: How little can you change course; how close to the ice can you get? Only sometimes do I miss, proof being the thud on the hull and a smudge of black on the ice. At 2 a.m. we are below the ice. Yes, there's a bit here and there, but we've got past our first big plug. A sense of satisfaction. New territory, and we have managed. Maybe we can do this after all." On his blog, Reeves jumped around in the narrative a bit, fastfowarding to the final gate, where he was part of a flotilla. "We've all been sweating bullets over this last 30 miles of ice, and for four days I've been underway and hand steering for 18 to 20 hours a day through 3 – 5/10ths ice to get here. Only a few hours sleep a night this last week. "As it turns out, today was a piece of cake. We saw huge ice floes the size of city blocks but with wide lanes in between. [Two boats] sailed downwind without trouble with Mo bringing up the rear under
fall crew list
The September 2019 issue of the West's premier sailing and marine magazine.