My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.
Before turning south from Saglek I spent one day enjoying the sunshine, baking bread and readying Kuan Yin for the 600 mile passage back to the Strait of Belle Isle. I intended to sail non-stop, 30 or 40 miles out from the islands, headlands and outlaying reefs along the coast.
Going non-stop would give me 1) my first ever night alone at sea, 2) a thorough shake-down of the new Cape Horn windwane self-steering gear and 3) a change from the intricacies of navigating between the islands, rocks and reefs strewn along the Labrador coast.
But when I turned the key to start the diesel engine early next morning (to leave St. John’s Harbour) all I heard was “click – click”. My heart sank, as this was the first mechanical trouble all summer (after some initital teething problems) and it was the same problem that plagued me two years earlier.
I soon had the engine started, but misdiagnosed the problem – and this was to lead to more serious consequences.
The weather was still clear and settled, but I knew conditions might change at any time, the Torngat Mountains Park base camp was about to close at the end of the season, and I wanted to be as far south as possible before the fall gales began.
My original intention had been to reach Ungava Bay – retracing the voyage in 1811 of an Inuit family and two Moravian missionaries, the first ever joint Inuit-European voyage – and I was still some 125 miles short of reaching even the northern tip on the Atlantic side. However, I was content with what I had achieved. It was almost 5 years to the day that I departed Toronto at the start of this quest, I’d sailed almost 3000 coastal miles (navigating a new landfall almost every night) and seen and met many wonderful places and people.
Any disappointment was moderated by a sense of personal achievement.
For the first two days the wind stayed from the South East 15 knots, with clear blue skies. Progress into the wind was slow, so I decided to head back to the coast because at least I’d be out of the swell. I was still too far north to get the CoastGuard weather forecasts but the barometer was steady so I hoped for continued settled weather.
But on the third morning conditions suddenly changed. I was sailing out from the islands to get around a headland jutting into the Atlantic when suddenly the entire coastline and the islands vanished in thick clouds, the wind veered to the North West and picked up speed.
The safest action was to sail away from the land, away from the islands and rocks and reefs. Within two hours the wind had risen to 25 knots, the waves were 2 – 3 metres, with a short interval. I was very glad to have the Cape Horn very capably steering the boat.
By nightfall, the waves were reaching 4 metres, the wind was still 25 knots, gusting maybe 30 knots. Kuan Yin was speeding along at more than five knots with just a small jib and a reefed mizzen. I felt sick to my stomach – but I wasn’t sure if this was seasickness, fear or hunger. This was just my second night at sea alone and I might have wished for easier conditions. I trusted Kuan Yin; she is a strong vessel, well founded. My concern was the weakness of the crew – myself. My fear was that I was forgetting to do something that I should be doing, that I had been taught or had read was necessary in such “lively” conditions.
The noises in the cabin was quite alarming until I was able to identify every sound and reassure myself. The sound of water washing about under the cabin sole was not sea water pouring in from a broken seacock, but bilge water gushing about as the boat rolled with the waves. The banging on the mast was not the standing rigging about to fail, but a small rope flaying in the wind. I lay in the dark in my sleeping bag, with a hot water bottle, identifying every sound and feeling every movement Kuan Yin was making. So long as Kuan Yin made the same movements over and over through the water, then all was well and I could (try to) relax.
Every two hours I clipped on to the safety strap and went out on deck to check that the Cape Horn was happy, that there was no chafe in the lines and that the jib was settled. It was a long night. By the morning Kuan Yin was about 40 miles off the coast and I was somewhat alarmed to pass two icebergs not far off my course. (Having not seen any icebergs for several days I’d rashly assumed that they were gone for the season!) Gradually wind and waves diminished and I sailed for a sheltered anchorage.
Now that the weather was obviously changing – shifting from summertime local weather to the huge low pressure systems of the fall and winter, I wanted to sail within the shelter of the coastal islands. All likelihood of a swift passage south now seemed to be ended.
(Part 2 of 2 coming soon)