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The Rock-itt : September 2011
enjoyed the best dinner we'v e had in a long time before falling into an exhausted, well deserved sleep, together - the complete lack of sea ice meant we didn't even need to keep anchor watch. Next we headed for Tay Bay, the first protected stop after Pond Inlet, and a good 85 mile hop. This was a great place to see Narwhals (the sm all whale with the unicorn horn sticking out of its head!), and we kept our eyes peeled. Suddenly, on Jess's watch, she called "Whales! Over there!" and we both stared. But these whales had dorsal fins on top, which interestingly, none of the three proper year-round arctic whales (Bowhead, Narwhal and the Beluga or 'white' whale) have, as it would presumably get damaged as they surface around ice. And what staggeringly tall dorsal fins these whales had. I recognised them at once, no other whale has a fin like that - a massive black triangle standing over 2metres tall on the biggest - they were Orcas, 'Killer Whales' - summer visitors to the Arctic! It was a pack of perhaps 10 or more, their exhaled blows lit orange in the low sun as they energetically explored around ev ery single bergy-bit, possibly looking for seals for dinner . Cameras in hand, we silenced our deafening engine and slid towards them , still a good mile away. They ignored us, intently rummaging around the ice. It was spectacular. Then several of them seemed to spot us, and part of the pack swung in our direction, their loud blows and slicing fins surfacing closer and closer, one after another, a little too determinedly for comfort. Tay Bay when we finally got there at 3 am the following morning was amazing. I spotted a few polar bear tracks, but despite keeping a very careful eye out, we didn't see the real deal. W e then dingied over the other side of the bay to a glacial moraine through which many icy cold rivers flowed out into the bay, coming right out of the mammoth glacier above us. Next hop was a long one from Tay Bay all the way 175 nautical miles to the top of Prince Regent Inlet, to a place called Port Leopold. After a brief 2hour nap at anchor, we put the motor on the dingy and zipped over to the far side of the bay. Here a white dot turned out to be a big polar bear ripping into the fresh remains of a small Beluga whale and then went ashore (on the other side!) and examined some immense piles of whale bones scattered around neat piles of stones . This bay has some history also, the old square rig ships HMAS Enterprise and HMAS Investigator stopped here on their 'Search for Franklin' back in 1849! As we waited, the wind picked up still further, the temperature dropped, and it started to get dark beneath the monster cloud that was boiling up over the top of the mountain. Though only a couple of hundred metres from shore, the wind-chop / fetch was already dangerously high for being in a dingy, even without icy cold water, or polar bears waiting downwind. The next day the wind was worse, but motivated by just how dark it got that night (our days are getting shorter, which is a worry for ice sailing ahead), and the latest GRIB showing this wind not letting up for days and then worsening further south, we decided we had to bite the bullet and get outta there, make a break for the calmer conditions still lingering further south and onwards. We enjoyed an exceptionally fast passage from Port Lawrence to Fort Ross, covering the 140 miles in 24hrs. Jess apparently spotted a Beluga whale (AKA White W hale) that surfaced (apparently) right beside us while she was on night- watch, but it had (conveniently) vanished before her excited shouts had me, dazed, in the cockpit in my Icebreaker thermals. We at last dropped anchor in the evening at Fort Ross, a form er Hudson's Bay Company trading post which was abandoned in 1948, when for two successive years, its supply vessels had been unable to reach it due to ice. We had intended to take the next day off, explore the two huts ashore, and prepare ourselves to tackle the infamous 'Bellot Strait' the next day, however looking at the weather prognosis and timings for the all-critical tides that roar in and out of the strait, we decided it best (as always it seems, damnit) that we'd be better to depart at the crack of dawn. Though it was already 10PM, we didn't want to miss out on investigating the huts, so after dinner we promptly flipped the dingy in, popped the outboard on and zipped ashore Scattered around the huts were all sorts of old rusting paraphernalia (even the rusting head of several engines that embarrassingly looked tantalisingly like ours), and inside the main hut (completely boarded up against bears) was completely stocked as a shelter for travellers - full of everything from food, to shotgun bullets, traps, heaters, fuel, stoves, places to sleep, maps, and most importantly the ting we'd been told about the visitors book! W e gently turned the pages, reading entries from even before Jess was born, of passing icebreakers, hydro graphic charting vessels, winter sled expeditions, and more recently, various yachts too. I even found the entry from a friend of mine, Brent Boddy, when he sailed through aboard the historic Dagmar a few years back. We added our blurb, and a picture of Teleport, sealed up the hut again and hurried back to the dingy. Thankfully, it was still inflated, and we were soon asleep, with our alarm clocks set to wake us in 5hrs. We continued on South, arriving at last at Tasmania Islands just as the sun really went down, and it actually started to get dark (That's a first for months!). W e nearly discovered Teleport Rock on the way in - a large area of breaking water over a slightly submerged rock platform just below the surface, completely unmarked on the chart, in about 200 feet of water! And the inlet we aimed for on the chart turned into two completely separate islands with a channel between them. So we skipped that non-inlet, and continued on another hour to another one, which did actually exist, however the shallowest we could find to anchor was 40 feet, and we were only about 200 feet from the crumbling rocky walls of the inlet on each side. Being past midnight we were too tired to look any further, and the wind was light and wasn't predicted to swing, so we dropped anchor and went to sleep, with the anchor-alarm set tight on our VesperMarine AIS Watchmate thing which has proved invaluable.