Returning to Normal?

The Arctic is not most people’s “normal”

I wondered, as Polar Sun rolled downwind across the Beaufort Sea along the cold, cold northern coast of Alaska, whether integrating back into normal life after the Northwest Passage would be easy.  I could see it both ways: perhaps just to arrive, unpack, fire up the truck and head off to the boatyard to rustle up some work, as if I’d never left.  Or maybe it would be surpassingly strange, after 112 days away from busy roads and traffic lights and almost no people anywhere, to see a streaming freeway, a crowded parking lot, and something—anything—other than gray sea, brown land, and the inside of a boat.

Cape Liscomb, Alaska
Cape Lisburne, on the long, long, arctic shoreline of Alaska.

When Singer came back from a solo climbing expedition to Baffin Island, he had gone weird—jumpy, cagey, suspicious of crowds.  Hard to define, but altered, somehow.  I hoped I wouldn’t come back weird, or worse, using the trip to annoy others.  You know the sort—they’re just waiting for the chance to upstage.

“This is exceedingly good coffee,” you might say at a gathering.

“That’s nothing to the Stinkweed tea we had in the Arctic!” the weirdo will put in, fingering his polar-bear-claw necklace.

Or, “What a delicious ribeye,” one will say, to be one-upped by the Explorer, “You should have seen the whale meat we had at Manitsooq!”  It’s a serious temptation, and one hard to guard against, especially since very few of us have ever brought back a real walrus tusk from anywhere.

Greenland Fjord
Where stinkweed tea and whale is what’s for dinner…

It was strange, for the first couple of days: the streaming freeway on the way back from the airport was terrifying to someone who hadn’t moved faster than nine knots all summer, and the elbow room in a bed bigger even than the main cabin of the boat was luxurious.  But they call it normal life because it’s just that: mostly unremarkable, and slipping back into it was easy.  Of course, there were people to see, and catching up to do, and all the projects I’d back-burnered could now be taken up again, if I could figure out where to start.

Work was slow, which was expected.  You can’t come back to a rigging business in the fall, after sending all your spring customers to other shops, and expect there to be much going on.  Just as well, perhaps.  I had several magazine articles to write, and winter preparations: firewood to chop, a boat to haul and store, gutters to clean—all the things that have to be tidied away before things freeze in earnest.  One of the biggest back-burnered projects, that’s been neglected far longer than I intended, is Ganymede, and I used most of my under-employed days to get a running start on her re-fit.  You see, we want to launch her next spring, with an eye toward getting back to Greenland if possible (more on that later), and the laundry list is huge.

It all began when the staysail chainplates—one of the only bits of hardware that still went though the deck—began to leak.  I’d designed most of the things that need bolting on—chainplates and padeyes and winches and such—to be in places where they didn’t bolt though to the inside of the boat.  But I had seen no alternative with the staysail lead chainplates, which were let into the cabintop to bolt to a bulkhead.  As everything of that nature eventually will, they had begun to leak after more than a decade intact.  Re-bedding them was only a temporary and annoying solution; they needed to be re-designed.  I’ve learned a lot about composites since building Ganymede, and could now confidently put in what I hadn’t even known possible before: carbon fiber chainplates that will never ever leak.

Since a good deal of the local woodwork had to be disturbed so that I could remove the old chainplates, I thought it a good time to disturb the seating area as well.

The fore-and-aft section of the settee had always been difficult for tall people, since their heads would knock on the cabin carlin.  This isn’t a problem with three short people sitting there always, but those short people are a lot taller now.  In view of that, I’ll be moving the settee inboard, so there’s headroom above it, and since one thing leads to another, re-fairing the bilge and putting in a new sole.

Not only that, but the portholes need re-bedding; all the inside varnish refreshed, and the decks and house, last painted more than five years ago, ought to get some attention.  In short, I have my winter work cut out for me, and not a minute to worry about whether I’m turning into a social weirdo or not.

A couple weirdos about 95 days in…
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