Mugford Tickle, Part I

The Mugford Tickle, Part 1

I cautiously approach the largest iceberg yet.  There are seal sunning themselves on an ice shelf the waves have washed around the grounded berg.  I just couldn’t bring myself to come any closer for a photo-op.  On to the Mugford.

Even the wind, as light as it is, seems to want me to sail the Tickle.  It pushes the CAP’N LEM on toward the massive cliffs of Table Mountain on the southern end of the Island.  Labrador has some of the world’s oldest rocks.  They must have found them on Mugford.  I’ve never seen the likes.  They look old, they feel old, they demand reverence.

I enter the south end of the Tickle making only 2 knots.  A mile into channel and the wind dies completely but only for a moment.  North through the cut I see it coming, wind and lots of it, squeezed by the cliffs it’s in a hurry.  I turn the CAP around and ride it out much faster than I came in.  No use fighting that.

The Mugford Tickle, before the wind change

The Mugford Tickle, before the wind change

East of the south entrance is marked anchorage on my electronic chart.  I head there.  It’s deep for anchoring so small a boat but I have plenty of line.  It’s the pulling it up that’s tough, 69 feet of hauling the anchor and chain remind me why I went the gym all winter.  With the anchor down, I set the alarm for 0400 to get an early start.  I won’t make it to the alarm.

It was in the night the white bear came.

When I was captain of the SHEARWATER, I trained myself to wake up quickly, completely and pleasantly.  Some captains seem to pride themselves on grouchiness especially when being woken up in the night.  I wanted to avoid such a reputation, never wanting my crew to hesitate to call me for even the most trivial mater they thought I should want to know about.  Most times, I was awake when the knock came on the door or the phone rang.  The slightest change in engine RPM would suffice to call me into consciousness.  So it is on the CAP’N LEM.  At anchor a wind change, a change in the rattle of halyards, sometime just the passage of an hour without looking at the position is enough to wake me.

This time it was a bump and a shove.  I awoke with a “that’s odd?” kind of feeling.  I first checked the position.  In the swing circle.  Listen for wind.  There is none.  But there is something, a heavy breathing sound!  To the ladder I pull back the Curtin I use to help hold in the warmth of the fireplace.  Outside, an orange moon is setting in the southwest as long sub arctic summer twilight illuminates the landscape in an eerie predawn looming.  Then from between the port hull and amma he swims leisurely looking back at me straight in the eye.

He had been sizing up this strange bit of flotsam. ‘Its white, like ice, but it’s not ice, way too warm,’ he must have thought when he gave it a push. ‘And what’s that delicious smell?  Could it be…Why, I think it is… Caribou bologna from Uncle Sam’s Butcher Shop in Goose Bay.  Maybe I should just come aboard and see if any ‘s left from supper.’ And then, ‘Look at the ugly seal that just poked his head out the strange ice hole!’  One can only guess at the thoughts a white bear must have when encountering such a small little ship so alone at Mugford Island.

Well, whatever his thoughts, mine were different!  No way am I prepared for an encounter with a polar bear at 0300 in the morning.  Down I go.  Polar Bears pull seals 4 times bigger than me out of little holes in the ice 4 times smaller than the hatch of the CAP’N LEM.  I grab the first thing I can lay my hands on.  My sauce pan.  I bang it against the tea kettle.  Not very lethal weapons, true, but effective.  I bang the pan on the hull for good measure.  I don’t want to even see which way this guy goes.  No, this surprise encounter will do me fine for a first time.  I don’t even go for another look until the dawn has broke and light is all around.

They told me where you see seals, you’ll see bears.

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