Crossing the Bering Sea
Crossing the Bering Sea
Before we left Newport last June someone asked me if the thought of trying to transit the Northwest Passage worried me. My answer received no hesitation when I responded, “Yup, but not as much as the Bering Sea.” Throughout maritime history the Bering has more times than not played a role bordering on villainous and unforgiving. Nowadays such television shows as “The Deadliest Catch” show us graphically all too well why it’s earned the reputation that it has; it’s a very shallow sea which receives a strong current from the south and more times than not, stronger weather systems from the north. All factors make for an unpredictable, play-for-keeps sort of scenario.
After downloading and studying weather charts for a few days we decided the time was “now” and on Sunday the 13th we started our leg south down through the Bering. We had three days to get to the Aleutians before some weather systems closed in from the top. As I type these words, I’m very happy to be anchored in Cold Bay, a protected anchorage in Alaska’s North Pacific Ocean… Pacific Ocean. The weather charts proved 100% reliable, as they usually do, and the 650 mile trip south was, while I won’t say easy, manageable. We had nothing over 20 kts from the NW and the seas never reached over four feet. Bagan made great time and daily, at one point or another, one of us would say how wonderful it’s going to be to get the Bering behind us and back into Bagan’s home waters, the Pacific. Oh Mother Nature… Always with the sense of humor. At 8:30 last night we transited Unimak Pass in the Aleutians, crossing from the benign Bering to the awaiting Pacific.
Trying to take shelter from a growing northerly we motored along Unimak Island’s south shore towards a pre-planned anchorage, only to get battered in the dark by an onslaught of williwaws rolling down the island’s slope. A strong westerly current also ran along the shore which immediately made for huge winds and higher waves. We were blown out of our intended anchorage. We struck a course for off-shore to try and escape the grip of the current/wind combination and while we did manage to lose some of the waves, the winds generated stronger and steeper seas of their own. Bagan slammed along in sustained 40kt winds for about half an hour before we all decided that the ride we had back on shore was, albeit no better, a bit more manageable, which by the time we got back there, it wasn’t. So, once again, after 30 minutes of trying to find an angle she would be happy with, we again struck off for the off-shore route, edging our way NE towards Seward. To give you an example of what the winds were like, I came on watch at 2:00 a.m. Within 15 minutes I’d seen every strength of breeze up to 48kts coming from every point on the compass. Sefton summed it up best when he matter-of-factly said, “This is insane.”
At 3 in the morning, Dominique was poring over the Coast Pilot finding us a suitable anchorage within a 50 mile radius. What she found for us couldn’t have been better as where we sit now is the perfect respite for all of us, including Bagan who once again performed above and beyond her duties.
We’re keeping all eyes on some other systems and, for now, the plan is to leave at first light and head to Humboldt Harbor on Popof Island. From what we can see there’s a good marina there which would be a prefect place to wait out the next few blows.
On a more personal note: It’s with great regret that we all had to say good-bye to Clinton Bolton before we left Nome. Clinton indicated he had pressing issues back east which needed attending to. Simply put, Clinton was the person who got us to and through The Northwest Passage. His wit, wisdom and company will sorely be missed. Life is anything but predictable and as Clinton always said, even while trapped in the ice, “It is what it is.” All of us aboard wish Clinton only the very best.
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