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Overview of the 2022 Season in the Northwest Passage

by Victor Wejer 22 Oct 2022 17:34 UTC
Northwest Passage © Victor Wejer

Victor Wejer, OCC Port Officer for the Northwest Passage (NWP), has submitted his summary report at the conclusion of a somewhat 'normal' season post-Covid.

The beginning of July didn't look very promising ice-wise, with Alaska's North Slope being locked up with 5/10 ice until 10 August. At the same time Lancaster, Regent, Peel and Larsen were all clogged. Many "thanks" to the big storms we received that moved all this ice like a proverbial Russian Icebreaker.

From about 25 July Tuktoyaktuk waters opened and in the following days (with small hick-ups), the road to Cambridge Bay was nearly ice-free. Queen Maud started opening on 30 July which included access to Gjoa Haven. In the meantime, strong Easterly storms in Lancaster made for a very good clean-up that helped Peel and Regent to open as well.

As usual, Larsen was holding up to 11 August with Victoria Str mostly closed. At that time another big storm came along from the N/NW with near 40 kt and made James Ross and Larsen off-limits. Only one boat at that time did I manage to push from James Ross to make Bellot in the nick of time. It was a fast Boreal 47 from France that landed at Pond Inlet on 22 August finishing NWP early.

Take a look at the present ice and you will see all roads that had been opened now closed with freeze-up for the past two weeks. Two boats have hidden from a big Larsen storm in Pasley Bay. Larsen ice was blown into this bay locking them in for 10 days with 9+/10 ice that included plenty of ice pressure. It's a bit scary when the anchor is useless. Eventually, they managed to find enough ice crevices to push into 1/10 ice and to Gjoa Haven.

A huge hurricane-force storm (Ex Typhoon Merbok) hit the central Bering Sea causing a lot of damage in Alaska. Some boats were sheltered by Point Hope and Shishmaref for many days in the Chukchi Sea just north of Bering Str.

I didn't want to provide guidance to many boats this year and just selected five. As usual, having a reliable engine to deal with the storms was proven necessary. Three boats withdrew. At least after the pandemic, there was full freedom and no restrictions for sailboats in the Arctic. Police were welcoming all boats with open arms. See the list.

2022 Yachts

  • Draco (CH) 12 m West 6
  • Fraternidade (BRA) - 21 m East 6 with Ukrainian Captain
  • Imaqa 14 m (FRA) East 6
  • Inook (FRA) 14.3 m East 6 back home in France
  • Jaca (CAN) 47 ft. East 6 from Royal Victoria Yacht Club
  • Polar Sun (US) 15.2 m West 4 winters in Nome
  • Taya (US) 15.2 m West 6 winters in Homer
  • Mea West (NED) 15 m West 4 winters in Sand Point.

All those reached their planned wintering place either in Alaska or Greenland.

I had two Search & Rescue (SAR) calls, one for a Polish sailboat with a failed engine just off Disko Bay (Greenland). I contacted friends from Radio Aasiaat and a fishing boat towed it safely to Godhaven.

Another one, a lengthy SAR, was for a missing US boat with the name of Pequod. Mea West (NED) captain relayed to me a note two weeks ago from the sister of the skipper of Pequod - Rex Wyse. She hadn't heard anything since July from her brother who had entered the NWP. I didn't know anything about this boat and re-checked with all crews confirming no such boat was sighted.

The ice barrier in Baffin Bay this year was huge stretching from North to South, and I was suspecting Pequod got stuck there. I contacted SAR Trenton & Greenland and they had no reports of distress.

A few days later it was discovered that this boat landed in southern Greenland with an engine problem requiring repairs toward the end of July. Marine Traffic didn't show anything. His sister mentioned that he may sail to Iceland afterwards.

About a week ago I received word from Greenland Police that the SAR revealed no such boat was anywhere in Greenland, suggesting it may be in France which turned out false. I checked his home port marina in Alabama and nothing there.

Then I received a call from UKMRCC that the EPIRB from Pequod was activated mid-Atlantic in a gale. When I looked at the weather map I saw a large low with W40kt winds. This morning I received another call that the SAR aircraft had contacted the boat which reported a lost mast after it capsized. They dropped food and water for him and several cargo ships were directed to the site, expecting to reach Pequod the following day due to adverse weather conditions. JRCC Halifax was involved as they handle the Atlantic but the SAR is now done by UKMRCC.

It was a nervous two weeks for me while attending the affairs of Pequod, as a vessel by the same name was sunk by Moby Dick 150 years ago according to the book by Herman Melville. Well, this time it was not Moby Dick but rather the Atlantic. This boat has no satellite phone, no sat mail, no AIS and only VHF.

Today, I received a message from the UK Coast Guard that skipper Rex Wyse was picked up by M/T AMAX ANTHEM and is en route to Kalundborg; the boat, Pequod, was abandoned at sea. The vessel was let go drifting in Position: 53 00.2 N - 029 11.9 W on the 16th of October.

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This article has been provided by the courtesy of Ocean Cruising Club.

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