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High Latitudes Sailing

July 7, 2012

July 6

Day 16

Local Noon Position, (12:09 HST)
GPS: 51.00.85N by 151.00.89W
Sextant: 50.55.3N by 151.10.00W

Good day for shooting the sun, but my results lacked accuracy. Second day that my afternoon shot for longitude failed to compute at all. Not sure the issue. Possibly my aim is bad, seas have been boisterous, or possibly our great speed moving east and the sun’s great speed moving west mean I’m having difficulty stopping it at the horizon.

Course: 50 degrees true
Speed: 6 knots
Wind: 17 WSW
Sea: 3 – 8 feet
Sky: Real sun first part of day; now back to gray on gray
Bar: 1020
Air Temp (in the cabin): 48 degrees
Water Temp: 41.4 degrees
Sails: All sails up for first part of day, but wind has increased, so mizzen down and a reef in both main and mizzen. Wind on port quarter.

Since last noon: 127
Total for passage: 1837
Daily average: 115
Miles to Sitka: 649

Debris: None.

Ships and other piloted vessels: None.

Birds: Fork-tailed storm petrel and Leaches. Sooty Shearwater. The small, as yet unID’d gadfly petrel. An Eider Duck (see below). Sea is still mostly empty.


With the crossing of 50N in the night we are finally, officially in high latitudes. It has long been a dream of mine to sail the high latitudes of the southern ocean, down around Cape of Good Hope, Cape Horn, down where the 40th degrees of latitude are called the “Roaring 40s” and the 50th degrees of latitude, the “Screaming 50s”, down where full gales are the norm and waves can grow to 100 feet, down where the giant Wandering Albatross with a wingspan of ten feet circles the globe endlessly above an ocean that is a perfect loop.

But for now I am quite satisfied to have gotten Murre and myself well and truly into the high latitudes of the north pacific. It is reward enough to be punching our way through seas first explored by Captain Cook and then Vancouver and into territory entirely new to us.

Wind had eased overnight such that I raised the mizzen first thing in the morning. Up here it is light by four and a mature day before six, and today by six we had a full, if wane sun, and a return to blue sky, the familiar towering, complex cumulus and a sea of sparkling obsidian. It was grand. I felt I could breath.

I made a video extolling the virtues of the day and bragging that I’d “figured out the cold” with my layering system. Not much of a system. Just put on all the clothes you have. After that I basked.

It didn’t last.

By noon a leaden sky had rolled in from windward and stiffened the breeze. A steep, difficult sea built quickly; Molly and Murre tussled for control. I lowered the mizzen. This seemed to please them both. Then I retreated below to stare blankly at the odometer as it slowly ticked off the miles to Sitka and wonder if I would ever be warm again.

Breakfast was hot oatmeal; lunch, a can of raviolis heated on the stove. By midday I’d drunk two cups of coffee, two cups of hot cocoa, and two cups of green tea. Each warmed me for a moment, and then the seeping cold began again.

Low and gray the sky–just so, my mood–chill the bones. This too is the adventure.

In the afternoon the water color changed from a steely gray to an ice blue. Like the color found at the heart of a glacier. Also the color of water shoaling over sand. In the distance I expected to see breakers. The chart assured me depths were over a mile. So from whence the ice blue? There was nothing in the cast of sky to cause it.

Against the ice blue, knots of brown kelp are now common, and rafts of sooty terns who always wait until Murre is well past before taking flight en masse, flashing their silvery coverts. Then a lone Eider Duck, a Surf Scoter, dark overall, a shovel-nosed beak with some color, and a squat body. It did not take flight as we passed. I groaned, remembering my otter. No one will believe this one either.


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