The Hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk
69º25.96' N, 132º58.22´ W
While in Demarcation Bay waiting for the weather to improve, we had finally time to check our email. Amongst the messages were two from Kathleen who works for the NOAA. The first message contained information on both the weather and the ice but the second one, although brief, was even more informative:
I wanted to let you know the ice is moving much closer to the Alaska north coast between Cape Halkett and Camden Bay. There will be an on shore component to the winds for at least the next 10 days. Much of the ice near the coast is multi-year ice, thick and dense!”
Even though this message reached us too late, it was still good to know the reason why the ice had been so much further south than we had anticipated.
We ended up staying in Demarcation Bay for three nights due to the fog, the rain and the headwind. We left the Bay on Sunday morning and a few hours later crossed the US – Canada border at 2.06 p.m. and arrived in Canada at 4.06 p.m., skipping one time zone altogether. The skies had now cleared but the headwind had remained and as a result, we were forced to tack, and mind you, Sarema is no good at tacking, for a total of two and a half days and about 80 extra miles till we arrived in the hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk late Tuesday evening.
In the long, winding and shallow channel leading to the harbour, we experienced a few uneasy moments when our new NavPak-Pro showed us sailing on the wrong side of the buoys and over reefs and islands. There is obviously a chart datum error in the program that has to be corrected. Thank God, we never rely on one single navigation aid, and use our common sense and seamanship at all times!
Thanks to the two-day tacking, we woke up next “morning” at around 2 p.m. and after hurried breakfast, dinghied ashore to check us in Canada. The pleasant office staff of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police took care of all the formalities for us, and after about an hour, we were officially in Canada.
We were also advised how to arrange a visit to the only place that we really wanted to see in Tuktoyaktuk, i.e. the community Ice House. It is a small building the size of a kiosk and inside, there is a hole in the middle of the floor with a cover on it. The cover pulled aside, we climbed down a ladder and found a natural freezer dug in the permafrost about eight metres below ground. It is an ingenious invention used for thousands of years by the Inuit but as summers become warmer and longer-lasting, the time of ice houses is coming to an end, as everything related to permafrost which is melting at an alarming rate.
Due to the climate change, it seems evident that Tuktoyaktuk will also lose its second most popular tourist attraction, namely the pingos. A pingo looks like an ordinary hill but is, in fact, a hill of solid ice covered with a layer of soil thick enough to provide a rooting ground for plants. There are hundreds of pingos on the Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula, all slowly but surely melting away.
We are now anchored in front of Northern Store, our tanks full and ready to leave tomorrow morning for Cambridge Bay. For the next five or six days, we will be at sea again but, this time, the waters should be completely ice-free!