2015 Hudson Bay Expedition – Once is Enough

I don’t ever need to do that again.

An old Inuit hunter once told me that before you cross Wager Bay, you must confess in a loud voice all your sins. I worked my way down the list through Pride, Lust, Greed and Vanity, but I must have overlooked a few. Or maybe I needed to speak more clearly. But almost as soon as I left my protected cove I could tell the gods were angry.

And then that anger turned to rage.

Wager Bay lies about a day’s travel south of the arctic circle, and runs a narrow 70 miles deep into the arctic wilderness here. Hudson Bay’s substantial tidal range is only magnified here, and powerful currents form at the mouth. In legend, whirlpools big enough to swallow a boat can form. A few weeks back, I topped 13 knots on the gps with my engines off.

When an outgoing tide meets and easterly, incoming wind, steep and violent standing waves form. When I blithely misjudged the low tide, I motored right out into it. Big waves came at my boat from every direction. Off in the distance I saw a line of breaking seas and thought “I want to stay out of that mess.” And before that thought bubble evaporated the current caught the boat and carried me into it without a prayer of turning back.

I tried to avoid steering right into the waves, angling in for more glancing blows, but careful not to turn sideways and risk getting rolled. The boat took a terrible beating no matter what I tried, as huge waves lifted her up then dumped her off the breaking curl with a deafening crash. Loose bits of gear and dishes went flying. I heard sometime give way overhead as the roof rack began breaking apart. It was almost a relief when I heard it crack and slide away. There wasn’t a chance on earth I could turn around, let alone try to retrieve it. All I could do was look back for a moment to see if floating away before I faced the maelstrom again.

I kept murmuring to myself “the boat wants to float, the boat wants to float,” but as I got sucked further in, each wave send me toppling over, pitching the nose underwater and sending up waves of green water over the bow and into my windows. I felt my heart begin to race, my calm “I’ve got this” game face giving way to gritted teeth and the beginnings of true fear. It was only a few baby steps to the territory of panic, and I was determined not to go there unless and until this thing turned turtle on me. At that point I figured I would have earned the right to flap my arms and scream like a little girl all I wanted.

These were surely worse seas than anything I’ve ever motored through; steeper, angrier, more violent. In the back of my head, I knew that the zodiac wasn’t going to sink, and at worst I could scramble into my dry suit, hit the epirb panic button and sit in cold, wet misery while hoping the helicopter pilots in Repulse hadn’t been out drinking till dawn.

That didn’t sound like any fun, so I just stuck it out and took my medicine.

But little by little the beating lessened, and after an hour I could see I was through the worst. Passing the cape, I picked up a following sea that sent my boat sledding down their face, picking up speed and racing down with a splash. I was still a sitting duck out on the water, with more than 20 miles to go before reaching any sort of sheltered anchorage, so I guess I should have been grateful for the extra push.


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