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Ice Anchoring and Arctic Mooring: Insights from an Experienced Hand on Shore Lines

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

As an Exploration Yacht Builder, I've built vessels that have journeyed across countless nautical miles. But today, we're setting sail for uncharted territories - the icy realms of Arctic waters. I'm thrilled to share with you the riveting tales of my good friends, Magnus and Julia, who've braved these frosty seas time and again. Their experiences with mooring amidst shifting ice and undiscovered shorelines are nothing short of awe-inspiring.


So, strap in as we navigate through the chilling world of Arctic mooring.


My friends Magnus and Julia are no strangers to Arctic Waters, having sailed there frequently on their own keel Baltazar and for others more famous. Today they have taken a few minutes to share their thoughts and experiences of mooring in moving ice and uncharted shorelines. Reading their story reminds me of the old adage, "It's easy when you know how," so here is how!

Words and Images by Magnus & Julia Day


Pelagic Australis with four lines and an anchor in Southern Chile


It’s wonderful to anchor in a wide, sheltered bay with great holding in 10 meters and plenty of swinging room. We discussed using a kellet to reduce scope, but that won’t always be enough. It’s prudent to be set up to use shorelines as well. Many folks who come to us at High Latitudes for advice expect us to recommend installing massive rope spools on the deck, but that’s only worth doing if they’ll be used regularly.


Rope spools on the deck of Pelagic Australis. There are two on the stern as well


We have tried almost every tying-in combination imaginable over the years: one anchor, two anchors, no anchor, and up to eight lines ashore—tied to rocks, pitons driven into cracks in the rocks, trees, and ice floes. We had to dig an enormous pit, bury some salvaged timbers or rocks, and rig off them on several occasions.


This anchor was made by digging a pit next to a boulder on the beach, rolling it into it, and burying it with a line around it.


So what do we carry?

Four 100m lines (ours are 18-22mm polypropylene light enough to float). Two live on spools on the deck, and two live in a couple of old sail bags with drainage holes in the bottom. The advantage of having them in bags is you can chuck them in the tender and rig from the shore if that suits you.


Given the opportunity, we’d swap them out for 12-strand co-polymer, which is lighter, tougher, and stronger. And more expensive. Spectra (Dyneema) lines are lighter still for a given strength and, therefore, easier to handle, but the smaller diameter makes them more susceptible to chafe. They also have hardly any stretch, which can make for an uncomfortable stay, so it’s nice to have something with a bit of stretch, like nylon or polypropylene, in the system if using Spectra. Spectra is very expensive if you’re looking at 400m of it.


Rock or tree strops: we’ve tried chains, wire strops, homemade rope slings, and polyester rigger’s lifting slings, which seem to offer the best compromise. They won’t damage trees and aren’t particularly prone to getting wedged under rocks; they are fairly durable and don’t cost too much. Wire strops are more durable but damage trees and are a real pain to handle. We carry polyester slings in different sizes, but several in 4m and 2m lengths should cover most circumstances, and they can be shackled together to form longer lengths. These live in PVC duffel bags with a bunch of large bow shackles. If ordering lifting strops for this purpose, have the manufacturer fold the webbing of the end loops so it’s easier to fit the shackles.


On top of these, we carry a few pitons of varying designs and a few wrecking bars of various sizes for banging into the ground or cracks in the rock. On that note, anything you can wedge in the rock and get a shackle onto will work, from the tender’s anchor to a combination wrench or, indeed, a shackle itself. We haven’t had much success with ice screws in sea ice floes; instead, we prefer to dig or scrape out a big hole and bury one of the tree strops above to make an anchor or an Ablakov/V thread anchor (Wikipedia description HERE).

A note on shorelines and ice

Of the materials mentioned above, only nylon sinks. The rest float, and any ice coming by on the wind and current will pile up against them, placing a huge strain on the system. Conversely, nylon can get fouled on the seabed, and larger bergy bits can get ‘parked’ on it, making it impossible to retrieve. It’s also just heavy and difficult to handle. So you’ll see me out in the tender at night, struggling to clear our lines of tons of ice.

At the end of the day, there are pros and cons for each material when it comes to practical use on the ice. Some folks take the best of both worlds and carry a pair of nylon and buoyant material. You can’t win unless you find that perfect cove with steep sides where you can tie the lines up high enough to keep them out of the water. Stella Creek, Argentine Islands, Antarctic Peninsula is one such place.


Stella Creek, Pelagic Australis tied into Argentine Islands, Antarctic Peninsula with lines conveniently out of the water


As for laying out the lines, every situation is different, and the exact technique will depend on your setup, the number of folk onboard, and their strengths and weaknesses. Shorelines on deck spools are probably the most convenient (again, if you plan to use them a lot—otherwise, ropes in bags work fine). These can run out in the tender pretty fast if the tender crew knows where they’re going. If your tender is rowed or low-powered, tie one end of the shoreline to the yacht, take the whole line in the tender in a bag, and feed it out as you travel ashore. This is much easier than dragging large quantities of line through the water. Consider sending the tender ahead of the yacht, pre-tying lines to the shore, and bringing them out to the yacht as it enters the cove. Sometimes it’s enough to dump a load of chain on the bottom, even if the nodding is non-existent, to ‘hold’ the yacht roughly in position while you mess with the shorelines. Or, bulldoze your dock…..


We have repeatedly rammed relatively soft decaying sea ice to form an ice dock and laid out a couple of bow lines to hold us in place. Before trying this, try to remove your speed/depth or other vulnerable transducer.


Conclusion

The list of options for tying in is as long as the terrain is varied, but talking it through and setting your gear up in advance should help this to be a stress-free experience. It’s often a case of being creative and using what’s around to park your boat safely. Then you can relax with your crew and enjoy your efforts to get someplace most people only dream of.


Magnus and Julia


High Latitudes - HERE

Eyos Expeditions - HERE

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