Traversing the Bering Sea in a Sailboat
By Ellen Massey Leonard
After our arrival in Dutch Harbor on June 13, we set to work on all the projects needed to make our sailboat Celeste absolutely ready for the Arctic voyaging she has in store. Dutch Harbor is on the Aleutian Islands that form the volcanic chain separating the North Pacific from the notoriously rough Bering Sea, and our route lay north through those waters. Last year Celeste stood up to all kinds of conditions to get to the Aleutians, and those 3,500 nautical miles constituted a bigger voyage than most boats see in their lifetimes. But we have more to go, and thus a few upgrades and maintenance jobs to do before departure. Fortunately they were all minor projects thanks to all the TLC the boat received in the form of a major refit at Platypus Marine boatyard in Port Angeles, WA in 2013-14 and also thanks to how well Celeste weathered the Bering Sea winter in Dutch Harbor.
The jobs spanned everything from installing a new high-output alternator on our engine to sorting our Arctic charts and stowing provisions and all our tools and gear. We redid a little plumbing, mounted a new freshwater foot pump, re-ran our halyards, and tested our new headsail, which we’d ordered in the winter to replace the rotten one that kept tearing last year. One of our most important projects was to remount the autopilot’s compass to move it away from the magnetic interference of the engine which caused it to swerve too much last year. And the coldest project was to don scuba gear and replace the zincs on the propeller shaft, used to prevent corrosion. Finally it was time to go and the wind looked favorable.
A two-day passage in 20-knot southeast winds brought us to St Paul Island in the Pribilofs, where in the past the fur industry almost destroyed the unique fur seal population. The island is known for its nesting seabirds, so we were excited to observe many species of auklets and cormorants. We also saw an Arctic fox shedding his winter coat! We stayed a little longer than expected on account of very strong winds, but when they moderated we headed off for the 470-mile sail to Nome, AK.
The first two days of the passage went quickly on account of the high winds, but then conditions moderated to allow much more pleasant (if slower) sailing. We especially enjoyed the lovely sunset light every morning at 1:30. Not much darkness up here in summer! After a four-day passage we arrived in Nome at 64°N, just shy of the Arctic Circle!
So far the old gold rush town has been wonderful, with its fascinating history and its possibilities for wildlife viewing and fishing in the nearby rivers. We’re happy to have made friends with some of the locals, so it will be hard to leave!
For more information about Seth and Ellen’s Journey on Celeste check out their blog at www.gonefloatabout.com