Labrador 1974

Emily M Labrador

Emily M Labrador

In June 1974, six young sailors left Maine for Greenland, via Nova Scotia, St. Pierre and Miquelon, Newfoundland and Labrador on a 48-foot wooden sailboat. Ice migration from the Arctic was very late that summer.  Icebergs and their calving remnants (“growlers”) crowded the coastline. The group never reached Godthab, but they scratched cultures and histories on their trip. One of the sailors kept a journal, which will be presented herein as excerpts, as below, and published later as a memoir:

August 1

In Labrador Current, 55 miles east of White Bear Islands at the mouth of Hamilton Inlet.

Sometime around 1015 PM, the clouds above were showing some blue sky streaks and the day’s eternal gray had lifted a bit. We were busy with DFs to determine directions further up the Labrador coast for our planned approach into Hamilton Inlet with guidance from the Herring Island light. At the time, we were under a gentle breeze with mizzen staysail and genoa jib, and the haloed moon, full as mentioned, was burning erratically through the clouds, throwing the proverbial  “ eerie glow” on an ocean surface that resembled a separate coastland. Rem was up with us in the cockpit.  We soon heard a thundering ahead that sounded like waves breaking on a beach, though our fathometer read great depths and we were nowhere near the coast. We felt the chill in the air that we’d come to associate with icebergs. Night seemed to carry this crashing noise to us more easily, and sure enough, out of the darkness ahead, separate icebergs, huge shadowy mountains, loomed up, one after the other, their growler “debris” reminding us with collective hissing of the sounds that we had first heard earlier.  By now, Gina had taken the helm, and with the rising moon now brighter, we sailed into a soupy patch of growlers that grew thicker and more dangerous to the boat’s wooden hull. These ice fragments from a mother iceberg somewhere ahead could be as large as dinghies or steamers, and we only wanted to avoid them altogether, especially when we encountered them at night.  As we continued the sail, Grant and I took spotlights to the bowsprit and hoarsely shouted out directions (“hard to starboard “) back to Gina at the wheel.  The ice fragments thickened and appeared more frequently. The roar intensified, and our situation turned  dangerous, especially with the  “mother berg” in the  vicinity. We made a quick “come about” circle, then swung erratically to find openings between growler ice. All six of us were now topside, clipped by safety lines to the pitching gunwales and shrouded from different angles in the quicksilver glows of moon and spotlights. I was wide-eyed and freezing on the bow. It was getting too difficult to avoid ice. Taylor and Grant took down the sails, we switched to engine power, and then started a ten mile steam east and out to sea, away from all destinations. As the growlers thinned, we slipped through fog bands and sought radio replies from the Goose Bay weather station on ice conditions in the area. We had already discovered them first-hand from our cold bow watches, our reality far ahead of any reports. Pitching swells and lightning on the horizon suggested a storm threat on top of everything else. We retreated, mesmerized by the night and the silvered ocean to the west, beyond the sailboat’s cockpit. Our “heave to” started at 130 AM on August 2. As our watch ended, I fell into the forecastle berth, exhilarated from the three hour “ice drill”. With no frantic boot clomping noises from topside, I slept undisturbed for eight hours. 

Comments

  1. Awesome! I would love to read the rest of this account. I’m crewing on a sloop this summer, that will trace a very similar path! How do I read the remainder?

    • Steve-

      I’ve had to transcribe both journal and log books into something fluid and interesting….probably won’t be done with that until March because of other projects, but will post more later this month. Where will you start…and how far N, NE do you intend to sail?

      Best-

      Jack

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