This post is out of order, sorry for the inconvenience.
Usually, the stories of our adventures materialize here a few weeks after we have adventured those particular adventures. This gives us time to process the events, organize the words onto the page, edit the photos into beautiful works of art, and upload it to you. But that sanity-saving delay is harder to maintain when on the same page there is a live tracker divulging our secrets and – right now – broadcasting our retreat from the arctic. Ah the double-edged sword of instant communication.
I’m sure you would now not be satisfied to read of the lovely meal we had in Nome 4 weeks ago, or our silly whiffle ball antics as we passed the time at Cross Island. What you want to know right now, what we all want to know, is: “what happened?” And so, I offer you this post, out of order, to explain why that little black triangle on the tracker is going the “wrong way”. (Then we will be back to regularly scheduled programming and you will have to endure frilly posts of casual dinners and long beach strolls once again).
What happened? The short answer is, of course, that we have turned around. It has become clear that this year is not the year for DogBark! to transit the northwest passage. The northwest passage is also out of order. It is closed for business (at least from this customer). It put up the sign, warning customers away from its western door, at the border of Alaska and Canada. The sign was easy to read, constructed of a cold sea choked with 9/10th’s ice through the entirety of August. Out of Order, said the red blobs on the ice chart and the thick unnavigable sea ice they represented, Sorry for any inconvenience.
The decision was a grueling one. Every day for a month, when we downloaded the new ice chart, we stared at that out of order sign, the stubborn blotches of red and orange standing in our path 70 miles to the east, hoping it would fall off its hinges and the door would be unlocked. The cold grey sky, never fully dark and rarely fully sunny, attempted to conceal the progression of time, like a peace offering in place of its warmth. But the X’ed out calendar squares that hung on the wall and swayed insolently with the waves betrayed the endless day’s secret; we were running out of time.
With two empty squares barely buffering us from our third and – this time final – turnaround date, the wind piped up from the east, our last hope reverberating through the rigging with its icy blasts; the hope that this easterly wind would do what the winds from the southwest, south, southeast, north, northwest and west had not been able to do. One last hope that this time, the wind would blow the out of order sign to smithereens and break apart the stubborn barricade of ice obstructing our safe passage east.
While we waited and listened to our own yearning and anticipation whistle through the rigging, we received a series of discouraging emails. The first, from the Coast Guard, was predictably formal and surprisingly blunt. It recommended no pleasure boat attempt navigating the channels of the northwest passage at this time, explaining that the ice was unusually thick and assistance from the Coast Guard for boats in danger would be unsafe and therefore unlikely.
The second email, from Victor, drove it home. Victor has become a beloved character over the weeks, like a remote crew member of DogBark!. He is an arctic enthusiast and advisor to arctic-bound pleasure boats. We have come to look forward to his emails that convey not only his interpretation of the ice conditions but also his love for us and conviction in our ability to make the right decisions. He writes in half sentences that are sometimes hard to interpret, but always informative, compassionate and a little bit goofy; half advisory and half therapeutic.
We value his guidance and that night he made his opinion clear. The email from the Coast Guard, in his experience, was unprecedented and should be taken seriously. Additionally, his interpretation of the ice movement indicated that Franklin Strait (a main thoroughfare on the eastern side of the passage) was already refreezing for the winter. His love for us perseveres and he knows we will “not be dangerous” …
Graeme read the emails aloud, his voice low and calm. And then, after all the weeks – months – of waiting and wondering and anticipating and hoping; right there as John made chili and Talia baked cornbread and I held my book, open and forgotten on my lap; right then we agreed solemnly, almost wordlessly, that it was time to turn around. There were tears and hugs, disappointed sighs and look on the brightside’s, and lots of silence as we each came to terms with our new reality.
At seven the next morning, we piled on layers and layers of fleece and puffy, sliding on the icy decks as we hauled the anchor and turned away. We turned away from Cross Island, the little spit of sand we’d gotten to know all too well. We turned away from the big out of order sign still hung intractably over the barricade of ice entrenched 70 miles to the east. We turned away, and with our stern to the strong easterly breeze now hastening our retreat, we unfurled the genoa and sailed west.
It is disappointing, yes. But we have many things to appreciate. DogBark! kept us not just safe, but warm and comfortable during our time in the arctic. While we navigated through dense patches of sea ice and occasionally had to defend our anchor against rebellious bergy bits, we were never ensnared in the grips of thick ice. With the wisdom of hindsight, there is not a navigational decision we could have made differently to better our chances. We have a crew that is flexible in their dreams and aspirations and particularly good at making lemonade out of lemons, or even blood oranges. The energy on board, overall, remains upbeat and optimistic. We are finding reasons to be excited about our new plans for exploration, not the least of which – at least for me – is the ability to maintain feeling in my fingertips while standing outside.
The northwest passage might be out of order for us this year, but DogBark!’s spirit and sense of adventure are far from broken.
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