After four days of waiting in suspense about whether we would be able to find fuel, with the possibility of getting stuck in Pond Inlet for a long time being really high, we were now ready to turn back toward home, our dreams of traveling the Northwest Passage at an end. We had to cross the Baffin Sea for the second time.
Those days were particularly painful for us. It was an unforgettably bad experience to have been defeated in our quest, and it created a heavy psychological cost. We were trying to forget it and get back to normal.
Knowing that there was no gasoline this year in any of the Eskimo villages of the Northwest Passage, while at the same time the ice would be slow to melt due to this year's harsh winter, we were preparing for our return to Upernaviq-Greenland on Monday morning.
DAY 44 - Monday, 15 of August
At 06:15 in the morning we had already untied the lines. We slowly left our safe harbor and turned our bow to the east. Some 390 nautical miles separated us from Upernaviq.
The sea was calm in Eclipse sound, the narrow passage between Baffin Island and Bylot Island, so we were out in the open sea of Baffin Bay very quickly.
Position: 72°45΄N 75°00΄W
After two hours we were 15 miles off the coast of Canada. We had covered 56 nautical miles and consumed 219 liters (58 gal) of fuel. At that point the weather conditions started to worsen with south-eastern winds, while the sea was becoming increasingly rough.
Position: 72°44΄N 71°21΄W
We pushed onward through the Baffin Sea. During these two and a half hours our progress was good against worsening weather conditions. We covered another 65 nautical miles, consuming an additional 253 liters (67 gal) of gasoline. But we still had 269 miles to go and the waves were getting rougher on our bow.
After noon the sea started to make it difficult for us. Speed dropped and our fuel consumption increased rapidly.
Once again we began calculating our range to be sure we had enough petrol. Faced with the risk of running out of fuel, we decided to travel at 7 knots in order to reduce consumption, at the expense, of course, of our time of arrival.
There were only two of us now, after Carlos' hasty departure, and we had to manage our forces much more carefully. We slept in two hour shifts, trading off the helm.
Into a Fog Bank
At 22:00, when we had already been navigating for 16 hours, the fog started to thicken.
Big fields of ice began to appear in front of us. But there were quite large channels between the shards and so we continued staying close to our course without major deviations.
But visibility was becoming increasingly limited. Soon it reached absolute zero. We could hardly see our bow, while the large pieces of ice around us began to be hardly visible at a distance of just a few meters. Carefully scanning our very limited field, we were trying to navigate between them at a speed of only 3 knots.
The situation was getting worse and there were still 120 nautical miles left to approach the west coast of Greenland. Soon we were not able to estimate our distance from the icebergs correctly, and there were many times that we barely brushed past their menacing ledges. The air temperature dropped to -1 C. The cold was creeping through our layered coats.
We slowly passed the north side of a small iceberg, so close I could almost touch it. I slightly corrected my course and the bow was then pointing to a small gap between two ice plates.
There was an absolute stillness and deafening silence of the absolute fog.
This fog seemed different from others. This fog was brighter and shinier. But the white-out was equally suffocating and dangerous.
The temperature kept dropping. The thermometer now indicated -4 °C. Our teeth chattered from the cold.
We couldn't even say a word to each other anymore.
Invisible sky, invisible sea, invisible world. Soon I was completely incapable of discerning anything anymore beyond the radar and GPS. We seemed trapped in a frozen maze. We lost any orientation in the dense fog and endless ice hills and seemed to have been wandering for hours around the same spot.
Time to Abandon Ship?
The more we watched our radar screen, the more our despair was growing. We had lost our bearings completely. After hours of aimless circling, unable to find an exit, it started to seem there was
no point in trying anymore. We needed help. Whether anyone could reach us was an open question, of course, but we agreed to try calling for assistance.
I actually had the satellite phone in my hands, angry at myself because for the first time in my life I couldn't find a way out of a tough situation.
I kept on thinking, however, that if we called a helicopter for help then we would have to say goodbye forever to our lovely RIB to which we had become so attached, and which was a very valuable piece of equipment.
Finally, I tossed the phone into the cabin and almost pissed off, I let go of the steering wheel and shouted to Chris: “I can't think of anything anymore. All I want is to clear my mind. Find a spot where we can be at a safe distance from the ice and stay there. We will stay still for as many hours or days as needed. I'm going to lie down in the cabin. Wake me up in one hour”.
I entered the cabin, turned on the heater and without thinking about anything at all, I laid down as if nothing was happening. I closed my eyes pretending that everything was fine, and all I wanted was to be able to sleep even for a few minutes. I just wanted to empty my mind from dark thoughts.
But sleep seemed like a rare privilege at these hours.