1 week ago
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Day 5 - some trouble brewin'
As the fog cleared all my excuses evaporated. It was time to get moving again. Looking at all the gear I had to get in the boat I was constantly reminded that my hectic and stressful start had resulted in at least one dry bag too many. Packing was getting easier, so long as I was on a beach. The Folbot Kodiak has a lot of volume but one has to think carefully about how to pack it to ensure best trim. Trimming the boat made all the difference for each paddling stint. If I had a beach to pack from then I was guaranteed good trim. Give me a bad launching point and a couple of clouds of bugs and I suffered all day, especially in wind and waves.
Paddling along the coastline of Hydralgskis Pensinsula I kept a wary eye on some whopping bergs on the horizon. Bergs make great waypoints on open crossings. Until they begin to explode of course. As I neared the point of the pensinsula and began to edge into deeper water a monster berg decided to calve spectacularly. I was between the resultant icy wave and compassion-less rocks of the point. Perfect. With nothing to do but keep paddling, I kept paddling.
It was a particularly smooth crossing after that with very little iceberg activity. I had hoped to see some sign of whales but knew that they rarely ventured this deep into the fjord. Completely alone, with nothing and no one in sight, I got to grips with solitude and found I kind of liked it.
I pulled into the desert at the bottom of Stor Øen to stretch my legs. It was then that I discovered a rather large amount of water in the bottom of my boat. I began to fear that hasty building of the folding kayak and some "interesting" landings had put a hole in the hull. I started to think about the consequences. It was then that I decided to get out of my dry suit and take a pee. Pulling at the seal on my left wrist I tore off a huge chunk of rubber and reduced my dry suit to a glorified rain jacket.
This was just the start of my problems in the desert.
While contemplating the combined consequences of both a hole in the boat and a hole in my dry suit I kicked around in the ubiquitous green fishing line and rope that can be seen all over Uummannaq area, perhaps even Greenland? Anywhere you can fish anyway. As the clouds began to build and the sky to darken I decided I might not push for Saattut this night. I decided to paddle a little further to take a look around the corner. On seeing icebergs move against the wind in the opposite direction I wished to travel I figured the tide was against me and the paddle would be a trifle challenging. I pulled into a bay and found one of the worst take-out points of the trip and made the best of a bad deal. (The pictures below are not the take-out point in question.)
Still annoyed at the holes I went ahead with putting up my tent, wanting to get out of the rain as soon as possible. As I started to push the poles into place I found that the bottom of one pole was missing an end. Damnit! That was three things I had discovered that had failed in the space of a day. I didn't know how long it was going to take to fix the different bits of kit and therefore knew that I was approaching my "window" of five days without contact. It was soon 48 hours since I checked in and there was no mobile signal in the desert or for many kilometres in all directions. If the weather and repairs allowed I could easily get to Saattut within 5-6 hours, but if not I would be approaching the safety margin agreed with Jane and Lars. This was as good a time as any to try out the satellite phone.
I called Lars' mobile in Denmark - a little after midnight Danish time (sorry about that Lars!) - and I got his answer service. I know I said I had a hole in the boat, but I did not remember saying whether or not I was all right before the battery died, completely. It was fully-charged 5 days ago and had not been used. But I had a feeling that it would not hold very long as it was an older Motorola model that I had borrowed from a friend.
This was a testing moment. I had included the satellite phone in my safety plan to compensate for my being alone. The Chief of Police in for the North of Greenland had told me that it was not smart to travel alone. In light of the recent tragedy and the annual rescues and deaths in the wilds of Greenland I was conscious that I should do everything I could to compensate for being alone. My margin of error just got bigger.
Apart from the annoying failures of different bits of gear I was frustrated that I could not get a message out. I now felt that the very bit of kit that was supposed to save me in an emergency was now going to force me to paddle in order to get to Saattut to get a signal for the mobile and to let everyone know I was okay.
Of the entire trip this was the single best learning experience for me. The fog outside Ukkusissat came close but in a different way. I suddenly felt that I could relate to how others must feel not knowing how I was or even where I was. In many ways the failure of the satellite phone was the best thing to happen to me. It made me safer. I never wanted to take it with me in the first place, I figured it would be a white elephant that I would lug around and never use. Now it had become a potentially dangerous white elephant depending upon what I did next.
It sounds like I am making a mountain out of a molehill but I was alone. I was however in an area where I knew people fished and even the hotel boat visited during the week. The only thing I didn't have was water - the desert is appropriately named! With nothing I could do about the weather I decided to find iceberg debris for my drinking water.
I heard a dinghy sailing by and on impulse crawled out of my tent to wave at them just for a little insurance. If I missed my check-in at least someone had seen me alive and well on this particular date. Over a fresh, steaming mug of iceberg-coffee, which is basically coffee made from the inland ice sheet, I mulled over my day.
On closer inspection the Folbot Kodiak had no real holes to speak of, I had just had one too many hasty wet entrances and exits - the spraydeck on the Kodiak is not the easiest to slide in an out of when launching. My tent - a trusty Quasar from back when Terra Nova was called Wild Country (gear-geek info) - was about 15 or so years old and this was the first breakage during a hard, outdoor life, and I fixed it with a tent peg inside of ten seconds anyway. My only problems were the dry suit and the satellite phone.
At this point, provided I could get a message through, I did not think the satellite phone was such a problem - only the problem it had created needed fixing. The dry suit however, was another issue altogether. But, surrounded by water, anywhere I went would requiring paddling, so I decided to conveniently forget about it. Stupid is as stupid does and all that.
I crawled into my sleeping bag and waited on the weather.