2015 Hudson Bay Expedition – Heading North

After days of utter calm, the wind returns like a jilted lover in a 
country song; howling with rage, waving a pistol and busting up the 

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

For three days I motored north and east, making a stately five knots 
over glassy seas. At times, it was practically t-shirt weather. From 
Marble Island I headed toward Chesterfield Inlet, a small Inuit hamlet 
about 50 miles north of Rankin Inlet. Two guys in a pickup truck drive 
up, chat me up in Quebecois French. They get a good laugh at my j’suis 
americaine-ing before switching to english, offering me a ride to town 
and the use of an ATV to haul my gas cans to the station.

I make another 10 miles toward a small cluster of islands before 
anchoring for the night. At dawn, I see a cloud of arctic terns 
dive-bombing some unseen intruder. Thinking it might be a polar bear, I 
head over in my dingy, but find no sign of intruders ursine or 
otherwise. I did mange to fly my little Phantom quadcopter above the 
island though, hoping that one of the small birds would fly up to take a 
look, but no so close as to tangle with the blades.

As it turns out, birds are indeed smart enough to avoid coming to grief 
with a flying weed whacker.

Motoring east then north, the water is like mercury, low clouds 
perfectly mirrored in the sea. I spot the occasional wary ring seal, 
eyeing  me nervously from the water before diving to safety. There’s the 
flash of white as a beluga whale sounds then disappears below the 
surface. Sandhill cranes and Eiders and a dozen other flavors of ducks 
wing north on their migrations.

I spot my first polar bears amid a maze of islands west of Cape 
Fullerton. One is sleeping, while another watches me warily across a 
quarter mile of water. Neither seems terribly photogenic, and the thick 
fog, gloomy light and late hour preclude any effort on my part. I bid 
them a peaceful summer and head back into the fog.

Almost immediately, I ground the boat on a shallow rock shelf. Even 
ghosting along at three knots in the fog, I can’t avoid it and slide 
right on top, like a pizza going into the oven, grinding to a stop on 
flat granite. It’s barely a foot deep, but with a falling tide I have no 
time at all to get her off. I try hopping out in boots to shove, but 
just manage to soak my socks. I wield the boat hook instead, heaving one 
side, then another, before I get the stern backed away from danger. I 
angle the outboards back into the water, goose the throttle and grind 
back off.

Good thing no one ever sees the bottom of this boat. The stories it 
could tell.

Cape Fullerton was once home to a Hudson Bay outpost. The story goes 
that a mountie’s wife stayed behind while her husband headed out on 
patrol. She went to feed the sled dogs, slipped and fell, and the dogs 
were on her. She’s buried there , and they say in the fog you can still 
hear piano music and a woman crying. I’d like to say I had the nerve to 
wander around an abandoned graveyard in the dark, in the fog, in polar 
bear country. But there are limits.

Though the forecast calls for one more calm day, the weather gods are 
fickle. After a rainy, foggy, utterly still morning motoring north from 
Fullerton, the winds arrive. First a gentle breath on the water, raising 
the smallest of ripples. By afternoon, it’s breezing ten knots and I’m 
taking a nasty chop right on the bow. By evening, I’m battling standing 
waves and an incoming tide and there’s no way I can keep going.

I turn tail and backtrack ten miles south to Whale Point, sledding down 
the waves. I find a small cove behind the point, narrow and shallow but 
just enough space for a small boat to tuck in for shelter. Dark clouds 
sweep in from the northeast, snuffing out the sun like a guttering 
match. The wind builds overnight to a steady banshee wail, buffeting the 
boat and swinging her back and forth on anchor. There’s a gale warning 
in effect, and by Saturday it’s predicted to build to 40 knots.

I’ve heard this song before. It looks like I’ll be hunkered down for a 

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