Wednesday, September 30, 2009


We have made it into Nome. I was getting really good at making Valve springs for myself. We have had No wind (with a capital N) since our friendly little storm left us behind. Any movement you have seen since then is me getting just a little bit more out of the engine. I was actually getting about an hour of runtime out of each valve spring redneck special. The last runtime was for two and a half hours. Then, just when I thought I was going to make it into Nome harbor, I discovered that the Valves on this engine CAN fall into the cylinder, requiring me to pull the cylinder head. We were four miles out. Bobbing around. I called into Nome, and traded our shotgun for a tow back into town. We are tied up to a floating dock. WE ARE TIED UP TO A FLOATING DOCK! Sorry, just got a little excited there. We can, you know, step off of our boat and go for a walk. Nome itself is a real town. With roads. Deb says to me as we are walking, "You know, this is kind of exciting." Amen honey, amen.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Rough night

We spent the night hove to as the wind climbed to over 30kts. The waves never got over 12 feet, but they were square waves and it seemed that every hour a wave much bigger than the rest would come through. The wind was shifty and it was difficult to remain hove to and hide behind our slick. Our dingy is gone, our spinnaker pole tried to escape its mount, and our windvane sustained some easily repairable damage. We had a wave hit us in such a way early last night that I thought we had hit something solid. At about 4AM, a wave hit that pushed us over on our side over 45 degrees. Not a knockdown, but close. The wind was gusty. It stayed strong until about 10AM, and then suddenly left. Now we are bobbing around in the leftover waves, with less than 5kts of wind to move with. Precipice is fine, the rigging is all good except for some chafing wear. We hope to make Nome late tomorrow.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Phase III - the lower 48

We have crossed the Arctic Circle, completing our quest to navigate the Northwest Passage. Precipice is now the fifth wooden vessel to have ever made it through the Northwest Passage. Less than fifty private vessels have gone through, and less than 120 vessels of any type have gone through. It is a long, long journey. We also made it south of the Arctic Circle before the end of September, another bench mark, barely. Now our goal is to get to the lower 48. We plan on spending a couple of days in Nome doing laundry, restocking our food supply (we are out of snacks, we have another month of food in the hold), and hopefully repairing the diesel engine. We have completed 2/3 of our journey.

On our left, Alaska is a beautiful panorama of snow capped mountains. On our right, is the dark outline of Russia. We are in the Bering Strait. I used to have a map made of wallpaper that took up an entire wall of my childhood bedroom. I dreamed of what it would be like to go through the strait, and now 25 years later I am able to sail through it with my family. It is simply amazing.

We have very little wind today and we are charging along at 2 knots, a Sunday break. It is bright beautiful sunshine, and we are glad in our hearts.

Rolland for the Trowbridges

Saturday, September 26, 2009


I woke up screaming. I was yelling "Shut it off" before my groggy brain realized why. Bianca was also yelling the same thing, and then Jannelle chimed in our off tune chorus. Our engine was making the worst possible noise. Everyone else only heard it as ten hideous malfunctions mashing against each other. My ears heard valves smashing into pistons, most likely from jumped timing. It was two AM. Of course. We had been motoring in completely calm wind, but the ocean was still angry from the three days of sustained gale force winds so there was a large swell rolling through. Without the steadying force of wind and no motor we started bobbing around with all the grace of an old discarded Styrofoam bait tray. Jannelle and I prepared for engine surgery. I first pulled the belt off the alternator in a wishful attempt hoping that the cracked case finally had failed. The alternator, an easy fix, was just fine. I pulled the valve cover. The number two cylinder exhaust valve spring was in three pieces and the valve had dropped down, hitting the piston. On almost all engines the valves are at an angle to the piston, so usually the valve edge acts as a knife that destroys the piston. This engine is descended from some ancient Norwegian tractor and the valves move straight up and down with the pistons. I turned the engine over by hand and the valve moved up and down with the piston. It wasn't bent. I just happen to have a spare valve spring and keepers so I removed the rocker arms and turned myself into an improvised valve spring compressor. Getting a new valve spring on can be tricky standing in repair shop that happens to be anchored to an immovable 80 ton piece of concrete. Getting a new valve spring on with the angry Chuchki sea throwing you around while working in a cramped space wearing only your underwear is not the definition of ideal working conditions. After having a discussion with the engine about its ancestors, and all valve springs ancestors in general, I was able to work up enough anger to simultaneously push down a valve spring with my bare hands while balancing and dropping two valve keepers in their exact required positions. After reassembly, Deb pushed the big red start button and the engine throbbed to life and Precipice resumed on course as if nothing had happened. Being now completely awake, I took my watch. During my watch I patted myself on the back for having the spare parts needed, and knowing how to use them. I was in a fine mood even though I missed being able to sleep for more than 45 minutes on my last off watch. I was pretty happy with myself until three hours later Bianca was at my face yelling "shut it off". By this time a gentle breeze was blowing, so we already had some sail up and things were stable. Removing the valve cover, we discovered the intake spring on the same cylinder was broken in three pieces. I have replaced many valve springs on engines, but never two on the same engine. I didn't have a second spare. But, I now had two large broken pieces of valve spring. So, after about an hour of experimenting with the two pieces I found I could create one valve spring doubled up in the center using stainless steel rigging wire. I repeated the aforementioned ancestral discussion, and installed my second valve spring for the night. Pushing the big red button gave us the reassuring throbbing diesel sound. After about ten minutes we shut it off as we didn't need the iron sail since the big white billowy ones were working all on their own. How long will the repair last? My guess is about ten minutes. Fortunately, we have had perfect wind since then (last night) and are making good on our destination - Nome.

I wonder what the chances of finding a valve spring for a 1978 Sabb 2h diesel in Nome Alaska are?

Everyone is good, all is well.

Rolland for the Trowbridges.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Free at last.

We ended up spending a week in Wainwright. At first we felt like we had made the wrong choice because the weather we hid from didn't end up being as bad as we thought, but the next front that came through changed our minds. We had constant 35 knot winds for three days, with gusts over 50 on Monday night. Our little anchorage got whipped right up. As the winds picked up, they emptied the lagoon we were in so that the 8 foot anchorage slipped down to 5.7 feet. When waves would go by we would touch bottom. Touching bottom is never good and the noise it makes is the worst part. It sounds like pulling your car to far forward in a parking spot and scraping the curb, magnified by ten. Barunch! Each time we would touch bottom, it was like someone shocked Bianca with a Taser. Barunch! She was beside herself. There wasn't one thing I could do about it until the winds died down. I went outside to check our anchor line, and it was tight enough to walk on and walking on deck was difficult from the gusts. We discovered that if we were in the front cabin, the boat wouldn't touch bottom. We all got our reading quota in for the month though. I read "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair a book about mostly white immigrants who struggle to make it in the huge meat industry in Chicago at the turn of the century. Then I read Alex Haley's "Roots", a book about seven generations of a black mans ancestors from being abducted in Africa to gaining freedom from slavery. Now I am reading "Exodus" by Leon Uris, a book about the struggle of the Jews to win the right to live in Israel. I didn't plan this, as each book was given to us by a different person. After reading these three books, I have gained a new perspective on the little struggles that we have been having with weather and time as just that, little. If you are feeling like your life is difficult, read these three books and you will realize that you are rich. Filthy rich.

Yesterday it took three boats to get us out of Wainwright. One boat pulled sideways on our mast, one boat pulled us forward, and the other took depth soundings with a paddle - this being the only way to check depths in this town. It took nearly the whole day just to get us out. We are impressed with the tenacity of the people who live here. They just plain did not give up, even though getting a boat that draws five and a half feet and weighs ten tons through three feet of water is just about impossible. Afterwards a good chunk of the town lined the shore in a procession of four wheelers to see us off.

It feels good to be moving again. Amazingly, we suffered little damage. Precipice is starting to look a little beat up. Between the ice, dragging through sand, and the fact that people in the North just motor right up and bang into your boat as normal operating procedure we have lost an amazing amount of paint on this trip.

But we are still floating. Free.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


At first we had decided that even though the weather was going to be bad, we could handle it. Then the next weather report came in calling for winds in two days 5kts higher than the last report. We thought, OK we can still handle it and kept sailing. Then the next report came in with wind 5kts higher than that with gusts even higher. It was time to find a spot to weather. There really aren't any cruising guides for this area so we made for the nicest looking port on the map, 42 miles out of our way - Wainwright. We found the depths there to be 2 feet lower than charted as discovered by our depth sounder, namely out keel. We ended up grounding four times on our way in, pulled off by the local rescue boat captained by Chuck Wagon (that really is his name). Aparentely when a storm is coming the water level here drops. Nice. We are here, while the wind howls over our head, hanging on our trusty CQR anchor. We are glad for this little bit of rest since we have been going non-stop since Greenland a month ago (with frantic refuel breaks). It was nice to sleep more than four hours last night. We will likely be here until Sunday night or Monday morning. We needed the break. Right now it is too windy to launch our dingy to get into town, but we hope to on Saturday when things quiet down a little. We get to listen to everything that is happening in town though, because the entire town seems to talk on marine channel 9. Birthdays, announcements, greetings, and parents telling children to come home are all heard, just about continually. We are warm, resting, and everyone is OK.

Rolland for the Trowbridges

Monday, September 14, 2009

Turning the corner

We passed Point Barrow this morning, the most northern part of the USA. We have also sailed the Dry Tortugas in Florida, the most southern part of the USA. Turing the corner here means that we get to finally go south. The last week has been spent slowly going north again as we worked our way west along northern Alaska. It was getting colder and colder. We have crossed six time zones going west on this trip. It is good to be finally going south. It is good to be back in the USA. Today a real live person came on the radio and gave the weather and he sounded . . .normal. We didn't get to go into Point Barrow, but from the outside it looks like a real city. I bet there is even a McDonalds. I will Google this once we get internet. Precipice, Deb, Jannelle, and Bianca have all been out of the US for more than a year. Every little thing USA we see or hear is somehow comforting. Weird. We could just walk up to anybody and legally ask for a job! We could buy a gun! We could trade in our junk car for a government bail out! I could buy a gallon of something! I can tell a local that it is 35 degrees out today! The possibilities are endless.

The weather is supposed to be nice today and tomorrow and then get nasty. I will be waiting until tonight's weather briefing to decide if we are going to find a hiding spot or not. We are sailing now after two days of absolutely no wind and it is good.

Rolland for the Trowbridges

Thursday, September 10, 2009


The most difficult part of the Northwest Passage so far is not the ice, the cold, or the desolate landscape. It is the wind. Or, the absence of wind. I had been told by others who had done the passage to carry enough fuel to be able to motor for at least 1000 nautical miles. This required me carrying an extra sixteen jerry cans of fuel on deck giving me a calm sea motoring range of 1100 nautical miles including heater use. The drawback to this, is that to go 1100 miles I would have to motor for nine days. That is nine 24 hour days. So far, we have ended up using our motor for the entire passage. We either had completely no wind, and I have never seen water so still, or we had wind from the wrong direction and the passage was to narrow to let us use it. The end result is we have spent the last three weeks motoring almost non stop. The throbbing pulsing stinky evil that motoring brings slowly works on you. It literally wears you out. It inhibits conversation. The other difficulty motoring brings is that it means that we have to hand steer, hand on the tiller, 24/7. So, the hard part was - motoring. On the Great Lakes we see sailboat after sailboat motoring along in perfectly good wind. We always wondered what that was like. Now we really wonder WHY? would they motor when they could sail?

Well, we are out of the narrow part of the Passage now (I consider the NW passage to be the entire time you go above the Arctic Circle to the time you go below the circle on the other side, so we are not out yet) and this means we can sail.

And it feels good, and we needed that.

Rolland for the Trowbridges

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


We just got done with six days on the water and we are tired. We made it here at 3 AM, tied up to to the first wharf we could find and got woken up this morning by a grumpy dock worker with a power complex who let us know that in order to use that wharf we had to give 96 hours notice and wear a hard hat at all times. So we moved to the "correct" wharf and called for fuel. After he filled our main tank, the fuel delivery driver then started whining about how much time it was going to take to fill up our individual jerry cans and wanted us and the sailboat with us to carry them to the local gas station. I told him that at 8.25 a gallon I felt like the little extra time to go from can to can might just be ok, and that he should try to take care of the other sailboat also. He just shrugged and started filling our jerry cans. So I was ready to call down my mechanics curse on this town, which makes every headgasket in town leak, when the local doctor from the clinic stopped by and asked if we needed anything. If only Tuktoyuktuk knew how close they came . . . .

Thank you, Mr. Doctor. We really appreciated you. We hope Tuktoyuktuk does also.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Motoring Along

We are motoring in no wind through Dease Strait. Tomorrow and Saturday we are expecting winds up to 30kts, right on our nose so we will likely be looking for a hidey spot since we are neither good at going to windward with a gaff rig, and we don't have the horsepower to pound into waves. You work with what you have.

As far as email goes, it looks like I will be able to connect to Alaska from here on out - I hope.

All is well.

We would like to thank Captain Steve, First Mate Jason and the crew of Nunakput who showed us so much hospitality, especially for the use of their galley table to perform surgery on a sail. True Ambassadors of the North!

Rolland for the Trowbridges

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Still in Cambridge

We were fueled up, oil changed, water topped off and ready to go this morning. We got invited to breakfast by the ocean tug Nunakput and were finally ready to go when news that a 44' German sailboat had ripped a sail and lost their engine and were limping back. We decided to stay until they made it back, seeing that we probably are carrying the only sail repair materials within about 1000 miles from here. They got towed back by the Coast Guard Auxiliary. I first got their diesel engine going for them, and then Deb and I repaired their sail and canopy cover that had been ripped in the storms 55kt winds - the reason we had skipped Gjoa haven and stayed in Cambridge Bay. Our Sailrite Ultrafeed sewing machine once again proved that it is worth its weight on the boat. They couple on the German boat hadn't really slept in three days and had spent the last two days trying to get their motor going while the sailed under their jibsail alone. We told them to sleep while we worked. We now are ready to go again, it looks like we have at least five days of good weather which is what we need.

All is well.

Rolland for the Trowbridges

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Quick Picture Fix

This couple is Lena and Tue who devoted an entire weekend to feeding us, showing us around Nuuk, and letting us use showers and laundry. They also were great to be around. We miss them. We still are awed at how much love they showed us.

This is Tom and Suzanne, who were our hosts in Ilulissat. If you can't tell, Suzanne is Lena's sister. Tom taught me more about Greenland in a weekend than I could have learned in a year of reading. He is of the generation that is making Greenland into a world class country. I look forward to talking to him again.

Suzanne let Deb try on the traditional Greenland Dress

The icebergs in Ilulissat dwarf the bergs south of Greenland, you can almost feel their gravitational pull.

We felt like we had landed on the Moon when we made it to Resolute.

This is what most of Peel sound looked like as we sailed through. You would pick your "lead" and sail it for miles. Sometimes it would be open at the end, sometimes not. It was all terribly beautiful, a cruel terrible beauty.

One of the leads we followed ended up as a dead end. When we turned around, it had closed up behind us. We spent the rest of the afternoon bashing our way through to another lead. There is no way to describe the horrible demon sound sea ice makes as it gashes your hull. Demonic Screams from Hell is probably close.