Almost three hundred miles out we smelled the trees. One of those things I hadn’t realized I’d missed until my senses were awaken by their familiarity. Land was just within reach. Although I knew I had weeks to go, Canada felt so close to home. Landfall here would be different this time. I started to feel my mind press ahead to what comes next. This was our last big passage, afterwards it’d be a few overnight sails before I was boarding a plane in Newfoundland headed west.
I took the first night watch from nine to midnight. It was just past twelve and had I gone up on deck just one more time to see the stars before heading to bed; another thing I hadn’t realized I’d missed this summer in the Arctic. Up on deck my eyes fixated on the sight of the sails against a backdrop of the constellations. My eyes wandered north and landed on the best surprise, the northern lights. I was almost too excited to form words, “Ian! Um, it’s..there…aahhh..look..” I yelled while wildly pointing outside. Standing in the galley, preoccupied by making coffee he replied, “Yeah, I know…stars,” as if I was getting overly excited about our reacquaintance with nighttime. As he looked up his movement stopped and his eyes grew wide with amazement, “Aurora borealis”.
We stood for about fifteen minutes, transfixed by the supernatural lights dancing all across the horizon. I thought to myself that it was fitting for the final chapter of our journey. We’d come full circle from the endless light of the midnight sun to the mystifying darkness of the northern lights. I could tick off another wonder of the world that my eyes had seen. Eventually my cheeks turned numb by the cold and I made myself get some sleep.
There were clinks from the anchor chain as it came to a halt and we all stood silent. We had made it to Fox Harbour, the most easterly permanent community on the North American mainland. Captain Lou turned to me and thrust his hand outward, “Congrats, sailor.” My eyes felt misty as I was catapulted back in time four years to that first coffee shop conversation about sailing the Northwest Passage. I remember trying to imagine what it would feel like at the end of our trip, when I was preparing to head home. Strangely, I thought it would feel like the end, but really it just felt like the beginning.