No ice or dramatic coastlines this year. Took our departure from Bishop Rock on May 25th, two days after leaving Plymouth, and arrived back at Bishop Rock 62 days later. During those 62 days we were never close to land and saw less than six other vessels. For one period in the north-west Atlantic, Labrador Sea and Davis Strait we went 34 days without seeing any ships.
The voyage had two objectives: firstly to get to the west of Greenland, and secondly, if conditions allowed, to penetrate the Davis Strait as far as the Arctic Circle. For the outward leg I went north fairly quickly, then ran west between 55N and 57°N. In theory this is far enough north to get the easterly air flows of the depressions, and far enough south to avoid the severe storms and sea ice associated with Cape Farewell, Greenland’s southern tip.
This worked pretty well. We of course had plenty of heavy weather, but you cannot expect anything less at those latitudes at any time of year. Once well to the south-west of Cape Farewell, I then shaped a course to run north-west through the Labrador Sea and into the Davis Strait.
A south-easterly gale, which started on June 24th, built for a day and a half. We were running before it quite comfortably under bare poles. At 00:15 on the morning of June 26th, at which point we were about 130 miles west of Cape Desolation on the west Greenland coast, a rogue wave caught us on the wrong quarter, gybing us round and then putting Mingming on her beam ends.
I had been dozing on the safe, downhill side of the boat. The gybe moved me to the uphill side, and as we went over I was flipped over onto my back and thrown across the cabin, catching my right side against the corner of the chart table.
I did not realise immediately that I had injured myself. My first concern was for my back, which had been wrenched during this short-haul flight and awkward landing. It was only a few minutes later, when I was getting us back on the correct heading, and had to reach for a steering line with my right hand, that I heard, as much as felt, a loud ‘click’ from my right rib cage – the click of two pieces of displaced bone slotting themselves back together again.
After a great deal of thought I decided that it wasn’t a good idea to keep on north up the Davis Strait. I had no idea of the extent to which a broken rib might incapacitate me. I certainly did not want to be coping with dangerous ice conditions when physically hampered. The first objective of the voyage had been fulfilled; I would have to settle for that.
The storm came off over the next twelve hours, and at midday on June 26th, after thirty-four days at sea, I reluctantly turned for home. At that point we were in
60° 42’N 53° 29’W.
The return leg was a kind of inversion of the outward route. This time I headed south-east quickly, to get myself to 50°N and then run down my easting directly to the Lizard. I hit 50°N round about 28°W, and had an almost unbroken run of following westerly weather, and the benefit of the North Atlantic Current, to drive us home. I brought Mingming into Plymouth at 08:30 on 29th July, after 67 days at sea.
As someone with a fanatical interest in pelagic wildlife and a lifelong ornithologist, the highlight of the voyage came at 10:10 on Tuesday 13th July, when we had a very close encounter with, of all things, a black-browed albatross. Albatrosses are of course extremely rare in the northern hemisphere.
As I was in bird photographer mode, brought on by many weeks spent in the wintering grounds of another southern hemisphere breeder, the great shearwater, I was quick enough to take four shots of the albatross, despite the whole encounter lasting not more than forty seconds. I now have a photograph I will treasure for the rest of my life – Mingming and an albatross in the same frame. Absolutely amazing. The black-browed albatross, by the way has an eight foot-plus wing span.
The statistics for the voyage are as follows. For the outward leg the noon-to-noon (straight-line) distances totalled 1995 miles, covered in 34 days at an average of 59 miles a day. The return leg totalled 2090 miles in 33 days at an average of 64 miles per day. Worst day was 10 miles (no wind), best was 100 miles (twice).
Total distance sailed was therefore 4085 miles at an average of 61 miles per day. Mingming and I have now covered about 16,000 ocean miles.