Careened in Greenland

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Careen
verb. [‘kɝˈiːn’]

1. to walk as if unable to control one’s movements.

2. to put (a ship or boat) on a beach especially in order to clean, caulk, or repair the hull

A few of the “boat-oriented” folks among you have asked to hear more detail about the careening exercise that Magnus and Julia pulled off last summer. Here’s an excerpt of an article that will appear in full in OCEAN NAVIGATOR later this winter. At the time, the ArcticEarth crew was moving the boat northward…

JULY, 2022.  The goal is to be fully ready, provisioned, and in position next week for two upcoming charters in Disko Bay, on the west coast of Greenland. Disko has the reputation of an exciting place with lots of ice (one glacier dumps 35 billion tons of ice into the sea each year at a flow rate that can exceed 150 feet per day… that’s Sermeq Kujalleq, the fastest moving tidewater glacier on the planet).

Ice is not the only excitement in the neighborhood. There’s also mud. 

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Muskox calve between April and June. The Greenlandic name, Umimmak, means "long-bearded." (photo: natur.gl, all other photos taken by Magnus Day or Julia Prinselaar)

“After seeing a few muskox up on the ridge,” relays Magnus, “we move down the shore and start looking for a place to anchor for the night and go into an uncharted and almost flat-bottomed cove with acres of soft gooey mud with firm mud below.

We realize this is the perfect location to dry out, something we wanted to practice.”

They have enough time for this practice before the next charter. ArcticEarth is already mostly stocked and equipped, designed and built for “any ocean on earth,” per the relatively rare and stringent category zero certification it earns with an annual British-based MECAL inspection (required for a commercial vessel). Not many sailboats are in this certification class, and the ability to use the wind is not its only nod to self-reliance. 

Step out and walk to shore. With the tender on the foredeck, the ArcticEarth is dried out.

Drying out, or mud-berthing, is commonly done in parts of the world where the tidal range and cycle allows. Historically, wooden vessels in need of remote repair would seek out careening beaches where they could lay on their sides. I did a film once about a secret pirate ship careening spot in Madagascar, where the infamous Captain Kidd stopped to fix teredo worm damage on his Adventure Galley in the late 1600’s (Quest for Captain Kidd). 

But drying out is not a common practice these days for a modern deep-keeled ocean voyager, like ArcticEarth, that draws 9 feet.

With the swing keel and rudder "up," the dive ladder is perfectly sized for the 3-foot-step down to the mud.

This boat, however, has a swing ballast keel and rudder. When both keel and rudder are winched into the “up” positions, the boat draws only 3 feet, per this semi-custom design called a Good Hope 56′ by Ed Joy of Camden, Maine. As part of his design, Ed included a canoe-shaped aluminum hull so that ArcticEarth could rest evenly and securely upright.

That is exactly what happens here in Greenland. As the tide drops, the hull settles in. Julia lowers the hinging dive ladder. Magnus has dried out other swing-keeled expedition vessels in various parts of the world, but this is the first time for both him and Julia in Greenland on ArcticEarth. Magnus descends and walks around the hull to check the rudder, the anodes, and the cutlass bearings. All looks pretty good. Then he inspects the propeller. ArcticEarth has already seen plenty of ice this summer in southwest Greenland, and the crew has been vigilant about keeping the propeller away from loose bergy ice when turning or backing astern. The prop, too, looks fine. We find comfort in knowing that swapping out a disabled propeller with the spare prop we carry on board need not require a sail to a very distant boatyard.

Can you spot ArcticEarth in the vastness that is Greenland? 

There are other advantages to a swing keel in the waters of Greenland. In reasonable conditions, the keel may occasionally serve as a useful depth sounder. When you run aground in the uncharted waters, you winch up the keel and set off again in a different direction. The capability to swing up the keel also offers protection from drifting ice. Winch it up and anchor in shallow water, beyond the reach of deep draft icebergs. The swing keel concept has been around for more than 50 years, since Michel Joubert designed a vessel named Damien II for Jérôme and Sally Poncet. There are some disadvantages: extra construction cost, maintenance time/cost and a loss of interior space that is occupied by the keel well. 

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On this day, the tide is starting to turn. Shore is not too far away. Julia volunteers to climb down to the mud and walk forward under the bow, while Magnus lowers the 121-pound Rocna anchor and starts to pay out the ½” chain from the windlass on the deck above.

“Will this even be possible?” Julia recalls thinking to herself as she descends the ladder, “what if I end up sinking into the mud?” She does sink a few inches, but then finds firmament. “The Canadian in me then mud-skates to catch the anchor. And then there was the long and muddy drag!” 

Meanwhile, Magnus is up on the foredeck, musing on the right length of anchor chain if anchoring in zero feet of water. “Keep going!” as he looks up and over the rail. “Watching Julia haul the anchor and the chain through the slimy slippery mud was great fun -from the foredeck. So much so that I had to make a video!”  (writer note: video is not included herein)

Mate Julia Prinselaar and anchor await incoming tide.