An icy ocean wonderland to explore

Walking on the ice past a mooring buoy, Jan. 25
Walking on the ice past a mooring buoy, Jan. 25

We’ve had quite a long cold snap, and the ocean ice in and near our inlet is way over 6 inches thickness, the recommended thickness for safety.  Beautifully smooth too, in places, though the wind chill discouraged us from going back for our skates.

A branch which has been stuck in the ice for weeks now
A branch which has been stuck in the ice for weeks now, next to a mooring buoy, with other moorings in the background
We walked out to a small island and explored the ice formations around the rocks
We walked out to a small island and explored the ice formations around the rocks
Along the shoreline at low tide, a weird and wonderful landscape to explore
Along the shoreline at low tide, a weird and wonderful landscape to explore

At low tide, the ice is sitting on or near the bottom, so there’s little risk. It’s harder to get onto the ice when the tide is higher, as the broken pieces around the edge may not bear one’s weight, as my son learned this morning! No harm done, just wet boots and an uncomfortable trot home.

These rocks are just underwater at high tide, and we have to avoid them when rowing or paddling in the summer.
The big rocks in the middle are barely underwater at high tide, and we have to avoid them when rowing or paddling in the summer.

Derek Hatfield is looking for crew!

Got some serious cash and top-notch sailing skills? Want to sail the Southern Ocean in a very fast, well-equipped boat with an experienced skipper, take her round Cape Horn and up the South and North Atlantic to France?  Does Derek Hatfield have an opportunity for you!

Stranded in Tasmania after broken spreaders on the Open 60, Spirit of Canada, forced him to quit the Vendée Globe round-the-world solo race, Derek has been repairing the boat, but can’t afford to pack her in a crate and ship her back.  He has to sail her.  And this is where you come in – if you can outbid your competition, that is.  Go for it!

Get details on the Spirit of Canada website.

Derek Hatfield and “Spirit of Canada” stranded in Tasmania

Derek Hatfield is in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, having carefully piloted his Open 60 sailboat, Spirit of Canada, to the closest shelter of land after the boat was damaged in the Vendée Globe solo, non-stop, round-the-world sailing race (“the Everest of sailing”).

Spirit of Canada had been hit by a huge wave that knocked the boat over and broke the spreaders high above the deck. The race’s rules require that participants repair any damage without any outside help if they are to stay in the race, but this damage is not something that Derek could have repaired alone.

In fact, of the 30 boats that started this race 50 days ago, only 12 remain in the running, so he is in very respectable company. A look at the race’s map (see www.vendeeglobe.org/en/ and click on the Map) shows the southernmost points of land littered with boats that have had to abandon the race.

“Spirit of Canada” has been a shoestring project all along, without the major corporate sponsorship and intense media interest enjoyed by Derek’s European competitors. The whole enterprise has been built on the small donations of thousands of Canadians. Now they have to get the boat back home to Nova Scotia, and fixed so it can participate in future Open 60 races. Shipping a boat like that is very expensive. However, sailing it home would require that it be fixed first, which has its own logistical challenges. If you can help support “Spirit of Canada” with a financial contribution, please do so. You can make a donation via their website, SpiritOfCanada.net, and send supportive e-mails to Derek from there as well.

Freezing and thawing

The tidal inlet on the cold morning of December 9th
The tidal inlet on the cold morning of December 9th

The temperature has been bouncing around like a yo-yo – rather like the price of gas, from minus 10 degrees C to plus 10 and back again within a few days.

Unlike fresh water, which is at its most dense around 4 degrees C, salt water is most dense at its freezing point, which is typically around minus 2 C.  The more salt is in the water, the lower its freezing point.  In oceans that freeze, the water deeper down is saltier, so it stays down, and is less likely to freeze because the high salt concentration lowers its freezing point considerably.  The lighter, relatively fresher water stays on top – so it’s more likely to freeze, and when it does freeze it has little salt in it, as I found out by tasting it.

Ice that formed over rocks at high tide, then bent and cracked as the tide fell.
Ice that formed over rocks at high tide, then bent and cracked as the tide fell - December 14.

Ice on the water’s edge on Mahone Bay

The water's edge, tide rising after a cold night
The water's edge, tide rising after a cold night
The ice that was shaped by this rock and then broke as the tide fell tide now floats over it on the rising tide.
The ice that was shaped by this rock and then broke as the tide fell tide now floats over it on the rising tide.

I tasted the ice that had formed at the water’s edge on a small beach, as I said I would. As predicted, it was indeed fresh, not salty.  A good survival tip, should you ever find yourself shipwrecked on a desert island in winter.

Hatfield encounters a sticky oil spill

Canada’s Derek Hatfield hit an oilslick at 16 knots today, and it washed over the boat making a big mess. Now he has to clean up while still trying to make up for time he lost at the beginning of the race due to equipment problems.  At least he’s not dead last anymore in the Vendée Globe round the world solo yacht race.  But imagine the hazard of a slimy, slippery deck when you’re already pushing the limits.

Rooting for Derek Hatfield

We should all be wildly cheering on Derek Hatfield in his Algimouss Spirit of Canada, 60 foot speed machine, who is sailing alone around the world in the Vendée Globe race. He’s been running a bootstrap operation without the advantages of staff and money that a major sponsor would provide, but with the support of thousands of Canadians. Why isn’t there a daily update in a box on the front page of the Halifax Herald? Check out his site at SpiritOfCanada.net and the Vendée Globe site.

Ice on salt water

Ice crystals forming
Ice crystals forming

People are sometimes surprised to learn that ocean water can freeze (but think about it: we’re worried about the melting polar ice cap).  Two winters out of the last four, we’ve been able to skate on Mahone Bay after a really cold snap.  Salt water freezes at a lower temperature than fresh water, and the saltier it is, the colder it has to be to freeze.  I’ve found that it has a softer quality than freshwater ice, perhaps because of the impurities it would contain.  But I’m sure it’s just as unforgiving if you crack your head on it!

I’ve always found crystals fascinating. In my days as a lab chemist I enjoyed doing crystallization, which is done in the lab as a means of purifying a substance.  That’s because a crystal is formed when the molecules of a substance lock together in a close pattern.  There isn’t much room for anything else in there, between the molecules.  Separate the crystals from the rest, and you’ve got a pretty pure product.

Ice on a rock as the tide recedes
Ice on a rock as the tide recedes
This morning there were water crystals forming in quiet corners of the bay.  They are supposed to contain very little salt.  (Next time I’ll try tasting some!)  When salt water freezes on the surface, the ice is relatively fresh (i.e. not salty).  Polar bears are observed (not in Nova Scotia!) drinking from puddles on ice floes.  Meanwhile, the water beneath the ice gets saltier – and denser, sinking – which makes it even less likely to freeze.

Of course, these ice crystals I saw this morning melted during the day.

Watching the changes in the ice on the bay is one of the joys of living in Nova Scotia in winter.

If you want to read more about the science of seawater freezing, see the Water Encyclopedia.