Captains Log Bellot Straight to Pond Inlet

08/31/2014 0145

We are six miles from Bellot Straight!

Approaching Bellot straight
Approaching Bellot straight

No or little wind all day, made for a beautiful sunset with reflections on the water and Ice.

Just after sunset, I watched patches of water flash freeze over. It crawled along the water slowly. Setting the surface still, just before our bow interrupted its process.

I was glad to have a deep set, raw water intake. Our strainer never clogged from ice and we purred on through the darkest part of night. Dodging multi year ice flows all the way.

We used 25 gallons of fuel since Taloyoak. Quite a bit but we’ve been grinding hard and did some ice ramming, so not bad overall.

I topped the fuel underway on this smooth water and changed the fuel filter as well. It will be nice to have the foredeck clear of pony drums as we enter Baffin Bay.

We plan to stop at Depot Bay on the other side of Bellot. As long as weather is good we shall.

08/3/2014 1807

At the moment, we are sitting on flat water. The sun is shining and the beauty is stunning. We just woke from a hard sleep. We were tired from or attempt at Bellot Straight.

It went like this…

We entered the straight at 1104 UTC, just before low tide and met ice immediately. At 2 miles in, the flows were very large, single members packed together, some towering quite high.

Attempting Bellot Straight.  Last report, Ice 2/10
Attempting Bellot Straight. Last report, Ice 2/10

Altan Girl who had entered just before us could be seen a mile ahead, but only by the top of her mast. Se was on the other side of these flows.

We proceeded via a narrow lead on the southern shore (Northern most point in North America) and caught up with Erkan of the Altan Girl at 4 nm into the straight.

This is the narrowest part of the straight and was completely blocked from shore to shore as far as the eye could see. We discussed our very limited options…

Approaching the narrow point
Approaching the narrow point


A bit about Bellot Straight.

This infamous body of water is renown for being unpredictable and dangerous. The current runs at speed of 8 knots and carries in, or out whatever free moving ice it slurps up from either end. Then churns the blocks together through out its 16 nautical mile length, 4 times per day.

Ice reports here are only good for 3 hours and the last report we got was that ice was 2-10. We had also spoken with Drina who passed smoothly.

So as I said we discussed dour options. Knowing we had 12 miles to go, with a full blockage, it was a better prospect to bang back through the ice behind us, then get pinched by the blockage ahead and the flows , now behind us.

The current began to shift just then and all the ice started spinning, and pinching off leads. Like giant frozen cigar cutters, they slammed shut. Our helm was finiky and the engine was working hard already… Glad we changed that fuel filter…

Samantha broke one of our ice poles, fending a chunk off.
Samantha broke one of our ice poles, fending a chunk off.

I turned head to wind and we dumped the mainsail. Knowing we would be doing lots of fast maneuvering.

I tried to contact Erkan and let him know that we were turning. Just then the VHF went dead. I opened the hatch behind the radio and jiggled the wires. It came back on, but then cut out again. Lovely…

Samantha went inside to the backup radio and relayed to Erkan that we were aborting the attempt. He agreed and we both made the turn.

By the time we got back to our open leads they had closed. We turned again toward the blockage, staying in the most open water, desperately looking for a lead. We saw a possible opening but it required ramming.

After a second lap around, the open water where we lay, was closing in fast… Ramming it is. So that’s just what we did.


Samantha went up the ratlines and called out port or starboard. I manned the throttle.

I told her don’t be nice. Just yell. Port or starboard, fast or slow, yes or no. In this way we communicated and came together as one.

Ramming heavy ice
Ramming heavy ice
I felt like throwing up...
I felt like throwing up…

At one point, we deflected our portside off a heavy flow, just to make a turn. Then pushed a flow larger then ourselves into a spin, in order to create an opening.

Samantha tried valiantly to fend the ice and snapped an ice pole in the process. A piece drifted by with our point stuck in it. Like a wounded whale, it wagged the stick in its back as we passed.

Riding up on a cake.  Only full reverse drug us off the ice.
Riding up on a cake. Only full reverse drug us off the ice.

Empiricus rode up onto a flow on her starboard side. I reversed hard to pull us free, then came back at it with the heavy chain bobstay to complete the spinning of that chunk.

It went on like this for an hour and a half. We were making progress, but I was worried about Erkan. He had gone North and we never saw any leads on that side.

Weaving through the pack
Weaving through the pack

We lost sight of him as the tide made full shift and soon we were clear of the straight.

Samantha immediately sent messages out regarding Altan Girl and soon we contacted him on the radio. We could see his mast and he was almost out. But reported he could not move.

Then nothing… Until an hour later when he hailed us saying he was clear of the straight as well.

We motored to a huge multi year flow to get some rest. I jumped off with the ice screws and put one in with a stern line. Just then the top crust broke free underneath me. As it slid into the water I leapt to the stern of Empiricus.

Mooring to a berg with ice screws
Mooring to a berg with ice screws
Leaping for the stern as the ice gave way under my feet.
Leaping for the stern as the ice gave way under my feet.

Bad things come in 3’s. The radio, the blockage and now this…. It was time to get basic. We motored into the flows for some rest. Then had some great fun together as well. It was getting warm out due to the sun and the wind was zero. So we got the long awaited bikini shot with ice in the background!

After a short nap, Samantha saw an icebreaker entering Bellot. I hailed them and requested an ice report from their passage.

We agree that following an Icebreaker in those heavy flows is a bad idea. Ive hear the horror stories and don’t need my own. We will wait until the ice volume is decreased. Our weather is good. We will try again tomorrow.

In the mean time we are enjoying Caribou meatballs and stew.

09/03/2104 0135 UTC

We have converted fully to UTC, as blasting through time zones becomes a chore.

Where do I begin? So much has happened.
After our 1st attempt at Bellot, we vowed not to go until we had a got, clear ice report. We were prepared and ready to return to Gjoa Haven and did not wish to follow an icebreaker at all.

Erkan radioed us that evening and said that it looked more ice free in the straight. But that straight is 18 miles long and we did not want to repeat ou first attempt. We told him we would look at it in the morning with a fresh report.

A calm night near Bellot brought cold temps
A calm night near Bellot brought cold temps

So after a good rest, that night, adrift near the mouth of Bellot, we woke to a fresh freeze over. A good 2 inches of soft ice had formed.

We were drifting with the current, which drug on our keel, tearing us through the newly formed ice, with a constant growl, Southward all night at .5 knots. By Morning, we did not have an Ice report that we liked yet. So we waited.

New ice formed over night
New ice formed over night

The next morning we tried to call Erkan. But no reply. He had taken it on himself to attempt the straight. Our latest report was thst there was a complete blockage at the narrowest point, with 5-10 coverage.

We hailed the MV Triton. A 150 foot Delta motoryacht who was also waiting. They had turned around and aborted the attempt. But said they saw a sailboat mast beyond reach. In the middle of the pack. They sent a tender in to try and reach him but could not.

It as Altan Girl. We shook our heads… Why? We wondered…

Attempts were made to contact the other side, but no one could reach him if they anted to and the icebreaker was not around.

He was to be flushed down the 18 mile tube, with 50% Old Flow, multi year Ice…

We were mad. He had wanted to travel with us for safety and we did nit understand. But it is his ship and his life. There was nothing to do now but wait.

In the mean time, the sun was out and I felt an urge to prepare prepare prepare. During our first attempt, we were set to sail. So sheets were run and sails tied to the rails. But all this ws a bit cluttery for intense ice navigation and use of Ice poles.

So I removed the Genoa completely. Lifted the mizzen boom to add stern clearance, removed all the sheets and gybe preventers. The I topped off the fuel again as well as the water.

A long list of “to do” was completed. Including radio repairs and an attempt at fixing the depth sounder.

Anything that did not need to be on deck, went inside.

We heard a few hours later that Altan Girl was near the exit, having suffered great difficulties’.

A short time later we received word from his family that he had made it, but thought he was going to die…

By that time it was early evening. One of our Honda generators had shut down the night before. I suspected fuel problem. So I tore down the carburetors and gave it a gasoline bath and a good scrubbing.

Just as I was completing a test run, having solved the problem, we got a fresh report from 2 sources.

Bellot straight 2/10 ice.

I looked at the tide. 2 hours before low slack….

Were going! I hailed Triton who was headed into the straight early. They said that they could see six miles in (Past the narrowest point) and were venturing in to take a look.

Slicing fresh ice
Slicing fresh ice
Saving ourselves some sanding on the bow
Saving ourselves some sanding on the bow

We looked at our position and were 6 miles from the entrance. We fired up and were soon running hot For Bellot’s West Entrance.

The great thing was… We were ready.

Triton turning around, as we make our second, and ultimately .successful  attempt
Triton turning around, as we make our second, and ultimately .successful attempt

We made Bellot Straight, after a few tense moments, some heavy ice encounters and lots of teamwork.

Screen shot 2014-10-09 at 1.10.31 AM

I will write a complete account of this passage in a special post, outlining the details, what we learned and our experience there…

I feared we lost our rudder here
I feared we lost our rudder here

Following the passage of Bellot Straight, we rafted directly to tug Tandberg Polar, who was anchored in Depot Bay, awaiting a chance to pass through Bellot.

Tanberg Polar crew going to recover the Maud.
Tanberg Polar crew going to recover the Maud.

This tug was on a mission to recover the hull of SV MAUD. This was the same ship, the nails came from, that Dean Hall and I built the knives from… See (Blades of the Northwest Passage)

The crew was very kind. It was great to make a connection with the team. We told them about the Maud Mast we had recovered and showed them the knives which they enjoyed. We talked until late about Bellot Straight and what we learned from our passing. We were tired but enjoyed their company until late in the night. Then returning to Empiricus, we caught a short sleep until morning.

We used the powered tender of “Tanberg Polar” and went ashore for a visit to the emergency shelter and old Hudson’s Bay buildings.

Depot Bay
Depot Bay
Samantha viewing some polar bears on the far shore.
Samantha viewing some polar bears on the far shore.
The old trading post
The old trading post

From the beach there we saw our first Polar Bears! Just across the bay there was a momma and 2 cubs, thundering along and a casual but fast rate.

We signed our names in the guest book at the shelter, then secured things as we found them.

Some crew came onboard and we enjoyed some more visiting as we prepared to leave.

Just before Tandberg Polar was to depart, I noticed heavy ice moving in. It threatened to pinch us against their hull.

A few moments later it was upon us. I set off in reverse and we cleared the barge with some leg fending.

1830 UTC

We are underway in heavy fog and Ice. But little wind, making our way to Prince Reagent Sound, and the exit to the Northwest Passage.


Under full mainsail, Mizzen and Staysail, beam reaching in light air, with motor on low RPM. Making 4 plus knots to the Northeast up Prince Regeant Sound, dodging occasional, heavy multiyear flows.

The Ice report is 1-3/10 but is more like, clear water and very large clusters of 6-8 / 10.

09/03/2014 0115

Dropped mainsail as night is coming on and Ice all around. Motored to middle of opening. Will drift and rest a little, waiting for daylight to find a way through the pack.


Samantha gets up and sees ice nearby. We collide with Ice as I get dressed. Engine already running, we motor away from very large flow. Now taking 1 hour watches until daylight….

We want to make miles today… Ice in the water around you is a relentless and restless position to endure.

Hopefully in 2 days, we will be clear of these flows, and well on our way to Pond Inlet.

For now, I poke my head into the cold darkness and strain my eyes for what I already know is there… Ice.

09/03/2014 1922 UTC

This morning was a bit spooky. I began picking through leads at daylight. Still groggy from patchy but hard sleep. The leads were open enough. But by my second watch, the fog rolled in. Cold and sinister like, it sucked any heat from the air. Steering was dicey and the ice got very thick. We learned later it was 5/10 ice and from our prospective mostly large old multi year ice.

Struggling North
Struggling North

Perhaps the most concerning thing was that right in the middle of day, new ice wa forming on the water. We had to throttle on hard, breaking new ice, sending shards scattering across the slippery surface.

Ice and Fog
Ice and Fog

This went on most of the day with fog, tight ice pack and new ice patches. Then I found a lead of 1-3/10 and stuck with it until the new report came in. We plotted the coordinates and path of least resistance. With no wind et, we continue under motor at a speed of 4 knots average.

Deadly beauty
Deadly beauty

We are making good headway, but night is coming. One thing is for sure. Even if we go 1 knot. We will continue as long as it is safe.

Refreeze becomes a major concern
Refreeze becomes a major concern

90 Miles to go along our zig zag of lesser ice. Then we are free to head East, then South to Pond inlet.

09/04/14 0725 UTC

Steered all night at 2 knots in heavy fog and Ice. More on this later. Must sleep a little, while we calmly drift, Samantha is fending the bergs.

09/05/2014 1250 UTC

Haven’t had much time to write. We’ve been grinding hard since daylight yesterday. Dodging the last bits of Ice in the dark, as nightfall came on was exhausting.

We are sleeping well though and staying fed We are now in the middle of Lancaster Sound. The East wind has picked up, but its fluky. One minute your sailing and pointing. The next you are bouncing in a lumpy sea with no wind. So as much as I hate to, we are motor sailing Northeast.

It was forecast to blow much harder from the East, which is where we are headed and we have some obligations on land to meet.
One day I hope to be free of lands call. But until then, we need to make money. So in the interest of time we mix motor and sail as we grind out some miles.

Last night while sailing nicely, I cut up the ice poles for firewood, dismantled the grapple hooks and cleared the deck for ocean sailing. Hopefully we will make Pond Inlet in 2 more days. Then we can get a splash of fuel and charge for Greenland!

Its so nice to be in Ice free water, just wind and waves…

09/08/2014 0118 hrs UTC

I have so much to write and catch up on and so little time to do so.

We are abeam of Tay Bay in Navy Board Inlet. After 2 days of bucking 15-30 knots of headwind and spending one night hove too under a drogue. Did some fun sailing. But after the 30 knots, the seas stayed built in the lighter winds. We used the Iron Jib to help us point East beginning early this morning.

Monster bergs
Monster bergs


Now finally in Navy Board Inlet, we feel like were catching up. Sailing 6 knots, with a little push from the motor. What’s the hurry?

The scale is difficult to grasp.  But huge is not a big enough word.
The scale is difficult to grasp. But huge is not a big enough word.

We think this might be a good weather window to cross Baffin Bay. But we need some fuel for safety margin in Pond Inlet.

The viz is good and the wind is astern, so were pushing hard for Pond.

If the WX is fair for a crossing, we will get our goods and head out. If it sucks, we will wait. But the anchorage in Pond is not the best we hear. So either way we will not be there long.

Canadian Warship in the channel
Canadian Warship in the channel

We anchored in front of Pond Inlet and were glad to see no ice on the horizon. The anchoring there is very nerveracking as the current sets hard from the east at 2 or more knots, with an aggressively sloping bottom.

Gearing up in Pond Inlet
Gearing up in Pond Inlet

This was a quick stop to be sure and we splashed scarlet immediately. By nightfall we had full fuel tanks and 2 pony drums (90 gallons in all), having bought showers and done laundry at the hotel for $75.00

We slept hard and woke early, pulling anchor just after sunrise with a course plotted across Baffin Bay. Straight for Aasiaat Greenland.

More logs to follow, from Captain Jesse Osborn


2 thoughts on “Captains Log Bellot Straight to Pond Inlet

  1. friends of Jim Merritt… we met in Peace River Alberta….Very impressed with your adventure. I’m not a sailor but being from Newfoundland … it’s in my heritage!!! Bruce and Gwen Stratton

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s