Sledge Isle attempt #2... and...(0 for 2)

Ever since my half-hearted failed attempt to ride my fat bike to sledge island earlier this spring I have had the itch.  I've been there in an ocean boat while halibut fishing a number of years ago but never under human power. Although I have lived in Nome for over 13 years and have done a ton of kayaking I haven't really set my sights on sledge island. It's one of those places on the radar one day that would be cool to check out.

The island is not without its' challenges.  Sledge sits ~25 miles out of Nome on the edge of Norton Sound 5 miles offshore bordering on the Bering Strait, a potentially highly volatile piece of water.  I've heard the current between sledge and mainland roils around 3 knots heading northwest. The past week we have been having steady 10-20 mph south westerly winds.  That means the surface wind has been pushing water against the normal current and can result in what I call washing-machine water.  I had originally intended to take off 2 work days for this due to the potential hazard, distance, unknown weather conditions and not having a rigid timeline makes things easier.  It's at least 50 miles round trip; longer if you take more coastline before crossing.  My time was trimmed down to 3/4 day off on Friday, due to work commitments, and a return by midnight same day.  The weather was relatively calm, overcast  and only about 10 knot wind from the west. I scrambled my gear together and departed the Nome harbor at 11am.

My boat is a long kayak with a rowing scull insert, custom made by Drew Harrison in Vancouver in 2004.  He's a scull maker so it's one of the only kayak style rowing sculls I've seen (idea taken from Jill Fredtson).  I've sculled a lot of ocean miles in this boat.  The tricky side of ocean rowing is the beating your hands take while traditional sculling.  Friday was a washing machine day even with only about 2-3 foot choppy swell and a 10 knot head wind.   I managed to make my way in good form about 13 miles up the coast in 4 hours.  The next couple of miles are more exposed to the strait and one can begin the crossing of about 8-10 miles depending where you start.  I took some video before entering the choppier water, it's not the greatest but can give a sense of the beautiful scenery and nice day.  I started to cross a little after that video and wish I had one of those go-pro cams because the waves were pumping (I added my wife's original song, Jaded, in the background).  I struggled for about another hour and knew from experience I need to either wait it out or continue in epic fashion.  I decided to wait and pulled ashore.  

On the landing I noticed the boat was much heavier in feel than earlier, I also noticed my mph were more sluggish the last few miles. I thought it was fatigue or the beginnings of tenosynovitis in my wrist that I was feeling.  But I quickly inspected the various holds and found about 5 gallons or 40 lbs of water sloshing around under the scull insert.  I pumped the water out and saw some silicone seals frayed around the seams of the cockpit.  Not a big deal as long as more waves don't crash over or if I had a silicone tube sealant to reseal- which I didn't.

At this point my motivation was diminishing and my general feelings nudged me to turn back.  So that's what I did.  I absolutely cruised back, with a tail wind though some surfing waves turned broadside result in quite technical rowing.  My wrist was swollen by the time I arrived back at the harbor and another 40 lbs were sloshing around.  I felt completely wiped out after 9 hrs out on the ocean, I am assured turning back was a good idea... except the weather the next two days were unbelievable... warm, sunny, completely calm.... that's the way it goes.

I am regrouping and am determined to get this beast another day!


Nomemade said…
Phil, I love your pictures on your blog and your attempts to Sledge Island. I went there for the first time yesterday... by boat. We were able to get on land and walk around I climb my way almost making to the top of sledge till rocks were rolling under my feet. It was beautiful! I wish I had more time to explore and taken the boat around the other side of Sledge. I have some beautiful photos on Facebook that I'll post to my blog later. Right now busy was smoking fish and canning, but wanted to find out more info about Sledge and googled it... your information popped up. Thank you for posting your misadventures.