Mugford Tickle. A funny name for a narrow foreboding
channel walled on both sides by the sheer cliffs of two deserted
islands on the coast of Labrador. There is no refuge here, no
protection from the tidal current of the steel-colored sea, sprinkled
thick with chunks of ice. Even now, the water temperature is about
36 degrees, not a
place for a casual swim. Mugford Tickle would seem an awesome
place from the deck of the Queen Mary. Looking up at the cliffs
from a 16-foot open sailboat, the place hovers at the edge of
If there had been a way, I would have bypassed it, just as I
would have had a companion with me if luck hadn't run the other
way. But I had decided to sail, and changes of plans and illness
had left me with the choice of either a solo trip north along
the coast of Labrador, or none at all. So there I was, alone in
my Wayfarer dinghy, Wayward Drummer, with Mugford Tickle ahead
of me. It was like sailing straight into the Grand Canyon. Wind
does funny, unpredictable things around cliffs. I had been running
with a 15-knot breeze dead on my stern when suddenly, with no
warning, the wind was blowing 15 knots smack on the nose. Since
my Wayfarer is an unballasted centerboarder and relies on crew
weight for stability, sudden shifts of wind can capsize it. Wayward
Drummer has only tipped over twice, both times at the base of
cliffs, where a slight hesitation in tending the sheet and tiller
brought instant trouble. One capsizing took place in Somes Sound,
at home in Maine. The otherwas on the east coast of Newfoundland,
where Misha Kirk and I were killing time waiting for the freighter
that would carry us and Wayward Drummer north to Nain, Labrador,
its northernmost stop. Kirk and I had decided to get in some sailing
practice, and close under a cliff with the mainsheet cleated down,
we soon got our introduction to the frigid waters of the Far North.
By the time we had righted the boat and emptied the bilges with
a bucket we were wiser and meeker men.
click to enlarge
Trip Takes Shape
As we first planned it, my friend Dave Getchell, Sr. and I were
going to extend a trip we had taken north along the Labrador coast
in an 18-foot aluminum motor boat (SBJ#17). On our second trip,
we hoped to travel farther north, to Ramah Bay, where aerial photographs
showed an impressive range of mountains and glaciers. The only
topographical map of the region was practically blank, a strong
appeal to our spirit of exploration. We planned a combined boating/mountaineering
venture. However, fuel is not available north of Nain, 200 miles
short of Ramah Bay, and hammering along under power lacked the
sense of adventure we were seeking.
A sailboat seemed the most practical solution. The 1980 trip
confirmed our belief that a small, shallow-draft boat made the
most sense along the Labrador coast. Anchoring off in deep-water
fjords under storm conditions is far more dangerous than beaching
a boat and camping on shore. Also, the coast is only sketchily
charted, and the inshore waters are sprinkled with "sunkers,"
the local term for rock ledges. Offshore only a few miles you
run into "iceberg alley," with all the navigational
unpleasantness the name implies. Frequent groundings, or even
occasional brushes with the pack ice, were experiences we could
Adventurer. Misha Kirk mans the helm
of the stalwart Wayfarer dinghy.
Speed as well as seaworthiness were prerequisites in our new
boat. Many of the headlands that we would have to round offer
no shelter for many miles. The swifter the boat, the less time
we would be exposed. The traditional dory and whaleboatwere ruled
out, as a result. The boat had to be able to ride on a trailer
behind my Datsun pickup, and it had to be reasonably cheap. Both
Dave and I had read Frank Dye's book, Ocean Crossing Wayfarer,
which recounts his offshore voyages from England to Iceland and
Norway in his Wayfarer (for other Dye adventures, see "The
Wayfarer Logs," SBJ #36). The Wayfarer certainly wasn't the
only small boat capable of making such a trip, but it was a proven
design, and available in kit form, which meant we could have a
new boat at a reasonable price.
Building and Outfitting
At the time I was working as a boat carpenter at Dan McCafferty's
Clark Island Boat Works, where I was generously provided with
a space to build the boat. The bits and pieces that would eventually
become Wayward Drummer arrived from Wayland Marine, and with the
help of one of the other boatbuilders, Mark Abb, we set about
building the Wayfarer. We put in two hours every day afterwork,
and at least one day each weekend. With Dave helping whenever
he could Find time, we finished the hull in three months.
The Wayfarer is a double-chined hull, built with Bruynzeel®
mahogany plywood over longitudinal stringers and bulkheads. Her
foredeck, stern sheets, and sidedecks add stiffness, and the entire
structure is epoxy glued and screw
fastened. It is an enormously strong boat.
Once the hull was completed, we diverged a bit from the recommended
procedures and covered the hull and foredeck with polypropylene
cloth and epoxy resin to add strength and abrasion resistance.
The boat was painted inside and out with Interlux linear polyurethane
paint, which was easy to put on and held up extremely well.
Sails were made by Gambell and Hunter ofCamden, Maine, to their
usual high standards and reasonable price. Grant Gambell sewed
in three sets of reef points, and Dick Gardiner, a local machinist,
fabricated the tack hooks and outhauls for a jiffy reef system,
which I decided to use instead of the Wayfarer's standard roller
By mid-June, the boat was still untested, and many of the logistical
details of the trip were still unattended to. I decided that if
we were going to make our July I departure date, I needed to spend
full time on getting the Wayward Drummer ready. The only logical
thing to do was to quit my job. For me, work is what I do to raise
money for the next trip.
Bad Luck and Good
Things were going along well when disaster struck. Dave Getchell
suddenly found he couldn't make the trip. Circumstances beyond
control. I understood, sympathized, and felt terrible. It looked
as if the trip was off.
Hauled Up. Landing at high tide at the end of a long day on the
water and using a boat roller and block-and-tackle simplified
the task of hauling up.
Where do you find a replacement for the irreplaceable? One friend
(a fisherman) looked at me very oddly as I outlined the trip.
"I don't mind being cold and wet and miserable and in fear
of my life all the time," he told me, "but I tike to
get paid about a thousand a week for that sort of thing."
Alas! The words of H. W. Tilman, the great English climber, sailor,
and arctic explorer, came to mind: "Things and men are not
as they used to be." It was Tilman who found crew for his
arctic voyages by running an ad in the local papers. I was tempted
to copy the exact wording of Tilman's ad: "CREW WANTED for
extended voyage to northern waters. No frills, no pay."
Then Misha Kirk came on the scene. Misha is a mountaineering
friend and ex-Green Beret medic who had sailed on the Pacific.
He was a godsend. The preparations continued — Dave continued
to help — and on the last day of June we launched the Wayward
Drummer. The last week was spent testing the boat, changing small
details of the rig, and laying in supplies.
On July 8, we left Rockport, Maine, and drove the thousand miles
to Lewisport, Newfoundland. In Lewisport, we took our First sail
together in northern waters, where our capsize taught us that
high cliffs and dealed mains are a treacherous combination. We
left the truck in Newfoundland, and pushed the trailer and boat
on board the Canadian ferry bound for Goose Bay, Labrador. In
Goose Bay, we left the trailer in a lot maintained by the steamship
company, and Drummer was swayed up by the cargo tackle of the
weather-scarred coastal steamer Bona Vista and lashed down on
the forward cargo hatch.
When we eventually docked at the pier in Nain, we were overrun
by a hundred Innuit children, who in a few minutes had penetrated
to every corner of the ship. Amidst the pandemonium, Drummer was
unloaded, and we went ashore.
Going It Alone
We stayed in Nain no longer than it took to file our itinerary
with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and rig the boat. Then
we pushed off, ending one journey to begin another under drizzly
skies and 20 knots of wind — and sailed to a camping spot
7 miles out of town.
We camped on Hillsbury Island and climbed to the top of a granite
dome from which we could see the northern shore of the island
where thousand-foot-high sea cliffs dropped through low clouds
straight into the ocean.
Early the next morning, we sailed out in a light fog. The air
was still and we could hear whales blowing all around us. Occasionally,
we would see humpback whales surfacing. As we sailed along beneath
high cliffs, we both were busy climbing with our eyes, following
each crack system up, trying to gauge the difficulty and challenge
of the various routes.
Then disaster struck, again. Misha said that he was feeling
badly, and his face showed it. I knew that if Misha said he hurt,
the pain must be excruciating. We landed and made camp, and during
the night he diagnosed the problem as a kidney stone.
Misha felt even worse the next morning. and it was apparent that
he was near the limit of his endurance. We decided to go for help.
There is a fishing station at Black Island, 20 miles to the south,
and we assumed because of its closeness to Nain that boats would
be going back and forth between the two places quite often. The
clinic in Nain was the only place nearby for Misha to get medical
We beat all morning against a rising southerly and by 2 p.m.
we arrived at Black Island. As we sailed in, a boat was making
ready to leave for Nain .Misha jumped aboard, and by the time
I had tied up Wayward Drummer, the boat was
Misha was taken to the clinic in Nain, and finally flown
to the military hospital in Goose Bay. His diagnosis was correct,
and I'm lucky for his great endurance. Almost anyone else would
have been disabled by the pain.
There I stood, alone on the fishing stage at Black Island. Even
if I wanted to place an ad for "Crew, no frills, no pay,"
there wasn't a newspaper to print it. I was stuck without a companion
to sail and climb with. After all the trouble I had gone to —
buying the kit, building the boat, quitting my job, and travelling
hundreds of miles — I wasn't about to turn back after only
three days on the water. Better, to go ahead alone — and
I've spent a lot of time climbing alone, and have found the satisfaction
of having my life in my own hands is enough to justify the risk.
As I tacked Drummer out of the harbor, we were laid over
by a sudden gust of wind and my hat blew overboard. I chose to
interpret that as a good sign, a sacrifice lo Neptune that would
guarantee a safe passage.
The strong southerly wind that had hindered our return to Black
Island was now a tail wind, and with whales breeching and spouting
and Drummer making a steady 7-1/2 knots, I headed for
Cape Kigiapait, Mugford Tickle, and Ramah Bay. Around midnight,
the wind vanished, and I mounted my 2 horsepower Mariner outboard
auxiliary and motored in behind an island. The motor was able
to push Drummer at about 3-1/2 knots, but since I had only 5 gallons
of gas with me, I seldom used it.
I anchored in a sheltered cove and heated food on the tiny gimballed
butane stove. The sky was perfectly clear, with northern lights
blazing overhead. I was off again in the morning.
Desolate Shoreline. Labrador has miles of uninhabited coastline,
with impressive mountains and glaciers that appeal to venturesome
Beyond Cape Kiglapait, the trees disappeared, leaving a barren
seashore backed by snow-covered mountains. I was alone in this
deserted world, out of sight of man and his inventions. During
this part of the trip, I went for 22 days without speaking to
another person, but I was occupied by the daily challenges of
moving a small boat through this vast space, among these mountainous
islands and deep-carved fiords.
Rigging for Seaworthiness
As light dinghies go, Wayfarers are very stable and seaworthy.
The fact that they are standard equipment for many sailing schools
and are a popular class boat in Great Britain is testament to
their good qualities. But no dinghy of these proportions can be
considered forgiving. The Wayfarer demands good sailing to achieve
true seaworthiness, and improperly handled in a sudden gust or
squall, it will capsize with appalling speed.
Smart dinghy cruising means being adaptable to every change
in sea and wind. I set certain limits to the conditions l will
sail in and when I've decided to sail, I will reef when the wind
comes up, and put up sail when it goes down. Sailing alone, I
keep the mainsheet in hand and an eye on the weather.
The dinghy can be recovered from a capsizing if there is sea
room and if conditions will allow 20 to 30 minutes to dry out
the boat. But when the sea rages on and buries every attempt at
salvage under a stifling blanket of foam, the game may be over,
particularly if you capsize when single-handing.
Speed and caution are the dinghy sailor's saving graces. One's
boat must be kept shipshape for quick response. Everything is
lashed on or under the seats and in the buoyancy lockers. Three
things are always tied to the boat: a bailing bucket, a jug of
fresh water, and me. Everything I anticipate needing for the day
is in a watertight plastic box within arm's reach of the helm.
This kit includes food, sunglasses, camera, Chapstik, and other
knick-knack's. With a day's sail in Labrador lasting as much as
24 hours, and the Wayfarer unable to sail herself, anything that
I might need that was out of reach was a liability.
To leave the helm means heaving to. This is a safe and reliable
technique, but ground is lost and time is spent, and if there
is a lee shore nearby, it is risky.
Organization and consistency prevent tripping overboard, losing
things, or snarling halyards in a sail change. All the rigging
for reefing is kept within arm's reach at the base of the mast
so that I am able to make a jiffy reef in seconds. The jib is
rigged with a downhaul and can be brought down in one swift movement.
Such quick, reliable reefing arrangements add a solid measure
of safety in a small unballasted boat (see "Tame Your Sail,"
SBJ #43 & 44).
The centerboard is trimmed regularly, and I never use a hold-down
pin in it. The rudder has a hold-down pin, which is necessary
when running, but the pin has a wire lanyard that allows removal
in an instant.
I use slippery cleat hitches on halyards to prevent jamming.
Cam cleats are provided for all sheet ropes and for the jiffy
reef clewlines. l use a Proctor lever boomvang and frequently
rig a preventer to hold the boom steady in a rolling situation.
This preventer is set up on a slip knot through a U-bolt on the
foredeck. In case of a jibe or change of wind speed, I can release
this preventer by pulling on the running end, which I hold in
Heavy ground tackle includes a 25pound fisherman's anchor and
chain lead. This is not only reassuring when on the hook for the
night, but is also useful when set up in tandem with the small
Danforth for hauling the boat clear of the water in lieu of an
appropriately placed boulder.
With any sort of break on the time of day, I landed at or near
high tide and camped ashore. This saved time with haul-up but
committed me to launching on a high tide. Hauling up was made
simple with the aid of a boat roller and a nine-to-one block and
Occasionally, single-handed dinghy cruising requires taking
a calculated risk, but in general, conservative sailing is required
to pull off a long cruise. Keeping the boat and gear in good repair,
anticipating conditions and then adapting the rig to suit, seemed
the safest policy. But there is no escaping the fact that a single-hander
in remote regions must be willing to accept the consequences of
going it alone. This is a condition that one must accept early
in planning, and if the commitment seems more than one can face
with a certain amount of confidence, then it's time to reconsider
the whole idea of going off alone.
Ramah Bay Adventures
In spite of the violent nature of the weather in high latitudes,
I predicted changes reasonably well using a small altimeter as
a barometer, and my logbook. As weather patterns revealed themselves,
I constantly checked the barometer, and then recorded the reading
with descriptions of cloud cover, wind, temperature, and any other
significant feature in my log. I soon had a body of information
that proved extremely useful in interpreting weather signs. If
I was confused by a certain pattern of clouds or a sudden drop
in the barometer, I would took back through the log for a similar
set of indications, and usually found something to help make a
forecast, or at least an informed guess. This admittedly rough
system worked well enough under the circumstances, and I was never
caught out by any of the several gales that came
through while I was on the coast.
The fury of a sub-arctic gale is terrible to endure, but it
is somehow less personal a threat than that posed by the polar
bear, mighty "nanuk." A polar bear is a huge animal,
superbly camouflaged, fast as a horse ashore or a seal in the
water, fearless, ferocious, and magnificent. I carried no weapons,
although my iceaxe and flare gun might be confused as such, nor
did I honestly imagine that I would be able to do more to a bear
than make him mad enough to work up an appetite. When I was camping
on shore, I tried to pitch my tent near a cliff, gambling that
I'm probably a better rock climber than a polar bear. What he
might do to my boat and gear was a question I wouldn't think about.
There wasn't much to be done in any case and so there was nothing
to lose sleep over. In fact, I never did see a polar bear, and
I hope none saw me.
The most difficult part of the trip was the passage through
Mugford Tickle, simply because the risk of capsizing was great,
and the chance of recovery slight. In fact, it was something of
an anti-climax. We didn't tip; there wasn't even anything you'd
call a close call — nothing more than a very, very long
ten minutes, with the cliffs soaring up on both sides, and the
clouds hanging low overhead. Then we were through, and the Drummer
was running fast for Ramah Bay, where the land-based side of the
trip would begin.
On shore in Little Ramah Bay I set up my tent and hauled the
Wayfarer up on the beach. I camped 30 feet from the collapsed
sod house of a Dorset culture home, the Dorsets being an ancient
race that lived in this area eons before the Innuit.
Once the Drummer was well secured, I loaded my pack
and set off on a week-long trek around the Ramah Bay region. The
weather was fine, clear, and warm, so warm that one day I watched
a herd of caribou climb onto a glacier and lie down on the snow.
Caribou don't seem to be able to recognize shapes; they respond
only to motion. By standing perfectly still, you can remain quite
close to a herd without frightening them in the least.
I climbed two 4,000-foot peaks in the Ramah Bay area, choosing
one because of an interesting snow couloir, and the other on account
of a beautiful rock buttress. On both peaks my altimeter read
1,000 feet higher than the height marked on the topographical
After a week of hiking and climbing, I decided that I'd had
enough of these warm days and the good exercise of hiking. It
was time to get back to the frigid, humid air that lies over the
water. By the time I had the boat-ready to go, the wind was out
of the south, so I headed north, reaching all the way to the mouth
of Nachvak Fjord before the wind died. I was near a small iceberg,
and as an experiment, I went in close to the leeward side and
planted my iceaxe for a mooring. I lay behind the iceberg for
six hours before the breeze came up from the northwest. Then I
recovered my axe and set sail for home. After a week ashore, it
was fine to be sailing again before a fresh breeze. I passed through
a small field of brash ice before coming back close to land.
The next day a storm developed that proved to be the worst of
the summer. I spent three days on shore while my tent kept trying
to tear loose and fly me home. The only diversion was a caribou
herd that ranged close to camp.
When the weather finally cleared I set out south again, a little
anxious to see people, but more than a bit sorry to give up the
wild freedom that I had enjoyed. As the day wore on, the clouds
and fog lifted enough to give me a view of the mountains, covered
with a new layer of snow that had fallen during the storm. It
was the first heavy snowfall of the season, and a sure sign that
it was time for visitors from the south in small open boats to
The weather continued in good grace, and within a few days I
was back in Nain, enjoying the dubious fruits of civilization.
I continued sailing south until I met the Bona Vista in Hopedale,
where the Drummer was once again swayed up on deck and
As I settled into the routine of life on the old packet, plans
formed for next year. Two hundred miles north of Ramah Bay, north
of Cape Chidley, lies Baffin Island, the site of one of the largest
continuous rockwalls in the world — Mount Asgaard. Think
of that. It's been climbed, by a solo climber, no less. You'd
have to winter over with the Innuit, but it's said that they're
willing to have you.
Baffin Island. The name of the place rolls well on a fella's