Bering Strait Kiteboarding Expedition

Maurice Lacroix Bering Strait Expedition 2010

                                                                                                                  Photo copyright Bjorn Detre, 2010.

July 2010

The close of July found me ramping up experiences in the water in preparation and anticipation of the Bering Strait expedition. Namely, 36 miles and over 7 hours on a SUP(StandUp) board from the Knik River to the Port of Anchorage.  And an amazing 30.6 mile down winder with the kite from Twenty Mile River to Bird Creek.   Playing in 69 miles per hour wind gusts kiting on Turnagain Arm.(yeah this was sorta wild and I have the stitches to prove it!)

                                                                               Photo courtesy of Tom Schmid.

A strong southeast wind found me on Turnagain Arm and Eklutna lake training for the Bering Strait crossing in August.  Epic strong winds but beautiful days.

Kiteboarding Eklutna Lake, Alaska.  July 2010.                Photo: Troy Henkels

July 28th, 2010

Currently, Geza and the Swiss support team are in Anchorage making final preparations. Departure for Wales, Alaska is set for Saturday, August 7th.

 Bering Strait kiteboarding team in Alaska preparing to go north.

Geza and the support team get a lesson in Zodiac assembly 101. 

July 31st, 2010.

Geza and the Swiss contingency have laned in Nome to complete the next leg of the expedition.  Assembling the support boat and getting it to Wales will occupy their time this week.  After the boat and all team members are in Wales on August 7th, we will wait for good weather to attempt a crossing.  The team had a busy week with final preparations for the departure to Nome and Wales.

A 4am departure for the airport and heavily loaded truck with all the expedition gear.

The final team dinner the night before the Swiss contingency's departure for Nome.

Bjorn, testing the waters, and the suit in Lake Hood in Anchorage.

Bjorn, our cameraman, sizing up his new drysuit, courtesy of local kiter, Jim Chaplain.


August 3rd, 2010.

Currently final gear modifications are being made to all my equipment.  Just about every piece of equipment I use needs to be modified to be able to tolerate the rigors of the Bering Strait. More importantly all my gear needs to work flawlessly and I must be able to operate every aspect with the blue, dry gloves on.

Just about everything has been modified...footstaps - to adjust with gloves on, Oakley's - keeper cord added, GPS - mounting straps for arm, Helmet - custom homemade visor, kite harness - reinforced straps, life jacket - sewn in hydration system, and the list goes on and on. even my Maurcie Lacroix watch showed up with an extra long band to fit over my dry suit!

In addition, a very important part of this expedition is what I can carry with me for food, water, and safety/emergency gear.  I've been busy figuring out the most efficient, most compact system to have on my life jacket.

Yep, it all fits:  hydration, power bars, goo, waterproof camera, signaling mirror, loud emergency horn, rescue strobe, water dye for visibility, laser flare, and my favorite knife from Alta, Norway.

August 1st, 2010.

Gear, gear, and more gear.  I have gear everywhere when I pack up for a big expedition.  This one is no different.  Fortunately I enjoy organizing and fine tuning all aspects of the gear I will use.

August 4th 2010.

The Swiss contingency of this expedition is currently in Nome taking care of last minute details before departing for Wales at the end of the week.  Their current task, and it's an important one, is assembling the Zodiac that will serve as our support craft.  In doing so today, the Zodiac was just about fully assembled when several bolts broke and the entire thing had to be disassembled to replace them.  None the less they did get the Zodiac in the water for a test run and everything ran great!  However, this may push their departure from Nome back a day.

Geza posing for the camera in Nome with all the sponsor gear.  Photo Bjorn Detre.

Geza hanging out on Bering Street in Nome.                      Photo Bjorn Detre.

August 5th, 2010.

Finally we had a bit of sun in Alaska!  I was anxious to pump up my new Ozone kites, that just arrived a few days ago.  The reason you see the Eddie Bauer logo on the kite is, we were awarded a 'Be First' sponsorship by Eddie Bauer/First Ascent, and they are the Official Apparel Outfitter. Fortunate for us, everything Ozone and Eddie Bauer/First Ascent has sent is great stuff!!  A BIG THANKS to the Eddie Bauer/First Ascent and Ozone team for pulling out all the stops from the design department to the factory, so I could have the new Catalyst kites on time for this expedition! These kites are the perfect tool for this task!!

We also officially received (in hand), all the proper permits from Moscow today, so truly, all systems are go. Numerous Ministry Departments had to sign off on this expedition and we are grateful that this fell into place in time as well.  And yes, it does involve a bit of paperwork.

All proper permits for entry into Russia.

August 6th, 2010.

This satellite image also shows the Strait in its full glory.

Tomorrow I fly to Nome and onto Wales to confront the Strait once again. Today, Geza and the support team trailered the Zodiak to Teller and then put it in the water and continued onto Wales.  I anxiously await to hear news about how the trip was.

The plan is, that after we are all assembled in Wales tomorrow, we will begin the game of trying to decide when the best time to attempt the Strait is. Weather forecasts will be fed to us from our friends in Belgium at Worldwide Weather 4 Expeditions. Because the Strait offers up some of the worst weather on the planet, we have allowed a three week window to wait for the best weather possible to make our attempt.  The last time I attempted the Strait in the winter of 2005, we waited 20 days for a good weather window.  This time around, we listened to the advice of locals, who tell us August weather is typically(hopefully) good and offers the best chance of a successful crossing.

This map shows the location of Wales, the Diomede Islands(in the middle), and Russia. Of course we will try to take a course that offers the shortest distance, but, hard to know what will really go on, once we are underway.

Although short on distance, only 56 miles, it's the other variables that make this a daunting challenge.  Chaotic currents, unpredictable storm systems, cold water temperatures (2-3C), poor visibility, and consistently nasty weather are a few of the dynamic conditions the Bering Strait offers.

So, for me, tomorrow this expedition REALLY gets underway.

August 7th, 2010.

Today I woke up and saw myself on the front page of the Anchorage Daily News, just in time to head to the airport. (Click here to see the article)The flight into Nome and onto Wales was seamless.  This is the third time I've been to Wales and each time I am struck with how remote and stark this community and surrounding environment is.

Flying into Wales....this is one amazing beach for kiting!

It was great to reconnect with the team and hear about their adventure driving the Zodiac from Teller to Wales yesterday.  Due to a fouling spark plug, one motor was not functioning and so the trip took him 8 hours and they arrived at 11pm.  By the time I arrived the team had just come in from ocean testing the boat from fixing the plug.  All was working great but there seems to now be an issue with cavitation(whatever that is).  The locals have been incredibly helpful in assisting us get this issue worked out.  Hopefully by Sunday or Monday we will have a fix.  At any rate, the weather does not look good for the next few days for a departure anyway, so we have some time to get the boat in peak condition.


Pulling the Zodiac out after ocean testing.


Consulting the locals, who have been VERY helpful for advice for a fix.

It is great to back in Wales and see many old friends from my time spent here in 2004 and 2005. And it is really great to see this place in summer!! The beach here is endless and both Geza and I are excited at the prospect of kiting here.

And last but not least, I went to Airport Pizza in Nome and ordered three huge pizzas for dinner tonight.  So, the team and family we are staying with dined on some fabulous pizza. Interestingly enough, Airport Pizza does delivery orders all over the Alaskan bush, via Bering no extra cost!!  Only in Alaska!!

Pizza in Paradise! Wales, Alaska.

August 8th, 2010.

Today was spent getting organized and mostly working out boat issues.  Several things needed to be fixed and tested to insure the support Zodiac is in peak working order for the crossing.  The took most of the day.  In addition I spent some time on my kite gear, reassembling boards, pins, footstraps, and getting the proper logos on all my equipment.

Working on the boards....with a little help from my friends.

The sun came out for a good part of the day and it was actually warm and quite nice.  That was shortly followed up by a downpour. One thing is for sure, the weather changes very rapidly here.   We haven't seen anything to severe yet in the way of weather and there really hasn't been much wind.  It has been right on the edge of being able to kite, but not quite enough.  So we wait.

The forecast for the next two days is calling for decreasing wind, so I guess we will be waiting a bit longer than we hoped. All in all it gives us more time to properly prepare all aspects of our gear.

Making necessary repairs to the support boat on the beach in Wales.

Part of the Swiss support team, Andre and Laurent departed this evening headed back to their jobs in Zurich.  They will be greatly missed as they have been a HUGE help in working out every problem and detail with the Zodiac.  Not sure what we would have done if they had not been here to help.

The Team.
With luck, wind will present itself very soon!

August 9th, 2010.

Quite variable winds today.  We are all amazed how quickly the weather and winds change in Wales.  For most of the day it was a very light wind out of the northeast. By 2pm a squall rolled in and blew a hard south for about an hour.  About that time we were all on the beach trying to get the Zodiac on a trailer to make some repairs to some small holes in the bottom of the boat.  That didn't work out so well and in the end we propped the boat up and Geza crawled underneath with the patches to make the repairs.

Attempting to trailer the Zodiac from the Wales luck.

Geza patching holes in the bottom of the Zodiac.

With the seemingly endless array of Zodiac problems, we are starting to feel like we are on a Zodiac repair expedition, rather than a kiteboarding expedition . With any luck all repairs will be complete by tomorrow afternoon.

Geza and I both got pretty excited, finally, at the prospect of getting some kiting in. By the time we had our gear on and hit the beach, the south wind was gone.  So, it will have to wait for another day.

For now we have been enjoying the local culture in Wales.  Last night turned into a beautiful night and a pod of Orca whales came cruising past very close to shore.  Nearly the entire village was out to see them gracefully swim past.

Local girls in Wales playing on the beach watching whales swim past.

And Elenor, part of Dan's family who we are staying with, was preparing a nice piece of salmon for dinner tonight, as Geza kept busy on the computer.  There is truly never a dull moment in Wales!!

Elenor preparing salmon for dinner.

August 10th, 2010.

Very little wind today, so no chance of getting kites in the air.  Unfortunate, but it does allow us some time to get caught up with the other necessary aspects of this expedition.  Most importantly, having a meeting with the team and Dan(our local host and knowledge man) about emergency scenarios and how things are going to work on the water once we are underway.

Meeting concerning emergency scenarios with the team and Dan.

Wales is a town of about 140 people and everyone here has been amazingly friendly and curious about our expedition.  It's amazing to me that Wales see's several expeditions a year and the locals never lose their enthusiasm and curiosity for the people that show up on their doorstep from all over the world.  It is certainly an interesting and beautiful place so spend time.

Downtown Wales, Alaska.

The forecast says there will be no wind until Friday.  Currently we await the arrival of the airplane(and parts), this evening, so we can finish up repairs on the Zodiac and give it a final test run.  I also spent some time today at the school gym and pre-rigged all my kites. This will allow me to change kites once underway if necessary.

Pre-rigging all my kites in the gym at the Wales school.

The boys: Troy, Bjorn(cameraman), and Geza updating websites at the local internet cafe. (via wireless internet at the school, after hours)

August 11th, 2010.

The locals have been commenting on how uncommon it is to have this little wind in Wales.  Since I arrived on the 7th, there has only been one hour that it was windy enough to kite.  Amazing!  The last time I was here there was no shortage of wind at all.  And the last time I was here, Dan's house, our base of operations was buried to the roof in snow.  This beachfront house is a much different scene this time around.

Wales base of operations, Dan's house.

So, as our patience is tested, we continue to fine tune the boat and make adjustments to our gear. We also have talked with several locals who may either drive our support boat or accompany us with another boat.  Olman and Echo, brothers, and the two best boaters in the village are keen to drive our Zodiac all the way to Russia for us.  These brothers would be quite an asset, as they know the waters of the Strait from having spent their entire life exploring the ocean here.  If we can get the proper Russian permits lined up for them, they will be our key hands on the support boat.

Geza talking with local boatman, Oman about the Strait.

August 12th, 2010.

We finally got kites in the air today.  We had a short window of wind.  Just enough to fly the kites, to the delight of the local kids.

Finally a kite in the air!

The team ready to roll!

For the most part, it was typical weather in Wales today, overcast and rainy.  We had one final project to take care of to get the Zodiac ready.  Local boatman, Olman, helped us cut out the transom and lower the motors.  A long test drive confirmed the fix was a success.   Much more power and no cavitation issues.  So, now the Zodiac should finally be ready to make the crossing.  A big thanks to the Wales locals for their valuable advice and unwavering support and help.  Olman and Echo have told us for certain they will be our boatmen for the crossing. It's great to have local experience and knowledge of these waters on the team!!

Olman and Echo, local boatmen handing out advice on our support Zodiac. 

Olman cutting down the transom to lower the motors....and it worked!

For the moment, the forecast looks good for us to attempt the crossing on Friday.  Time will tell.  I will not be able to update the website from Russia(that is if we make it), so the best way to follow our progress is to click on the Spot tracker link and see where we are!  With any luck by mid-day Friday we will be on our way.

August 13th, 2010.

First attempt.  Unsuccessful.  Everything was perfect today. Good weather, good visibility, and pretty good wind.  Once the team was organized and the boat loaded and put in the water, Geza and I launched the kites and we were on our way.  We had to return to shore, not once, but twice due to the boat motors not working properly.  Disappointment is to put it midly.  It is now confirmed that, this is an expedition about a boat and maybe not a kiteboarding expedition.  To do this crossing in good order, we must have a have a reliable support boat.  For the moment, this boat is a liability, not an asset.  This is a problem , a big problem.  A team meeting is in order to address the issues we are having and consider the options still available to make this crossing safely and successfully.

Departure day with well wishes from the locals.

Kiting on the Bering Strait.

Back on shore, 5 miles North from our departure point, we pack up to head back to Wales, with only one motor working. 

August 14th, 2010.

With a bad weather forecast for the next few days, we have the luxury of time right now to figure out our best plan of action to be prepared for a second attempt.  The forecast is calling for gale force winds in Wales by Sunday.  So, hopefully we can get out and do some kiting, for fun, before this storm front arrives.

Wales, Alaska.  The Bering Strait(on the left) beckons.

August 15th, 2010.

Finally some great wind in Wales!  Today is what I imagined and remembered the weather in Wales to be.  With a storm front moving in from the Bering Sea, the wind was up and gusting to about 50 knots, the seas were cresting at about six feet, and the surf pounding on shore.  Geza and I were able to get in a great kiting session and really get a taste of what the Bering Strait has to offer.  For me, I've always been very aware of what this place is capable of.  Now, we have all seen it first hand.  A very good day on the water here.                                                                                   Photo copyright Bjorn Detre, 2010.

We now have come up with a replacement boat and are looking for another departure in the days ahead. The forecast is calling for good conditions on Tuesday. But we are very aware that this can change quickly, so we'll be prepared for a departure on the next day that looks feasible.

                                                                                    Photo copyright Bjorn Detre, 2010.

August 16th, 2010.  

                                                                                   Photo copyright Bjorn Detre, 2010.

A big storm blew through Wales last night, fresh off the Bering Sea.  With winds clocking in at 50-70mph, it was a wild night!  The place where we are staying shook all night and by morning the seas were even bigger and angrier than when we had gone to bed.  However, by early afternoon, it mellowed out a bit and Geza and I got on the water for another fantastic session. The forecast for tomorrow looks good and if the seas have mellowed out enough for our new support boat and driver, we will make a go of it.  That of course, assuming, there is wind!!  So stay tuned!

August 17th, 2010.

                                                                                 Photo copyright Bjorn Detre, 2010.

With perfect wind today, Geza and I had a great kite session in front of Wales.  We were up early, in hopes to make the crossing.  Actually the wind was perfect, but from the northwest, which isn't ideal, as that is the direction we have to go.  But the bigger issue was when we consulted Ronald, our new boat driver.  He's from Little Diomede and knows the Strait very well.  He took one look at the ocean and said there was no way a boat could go across today.  About 6 miles off shore between Wales and Little Diomede there is a strong current and from shore we could see the chop, huge waves, and chaotic seas that this current was causing as it met with calmer waters.   This was a result of the storm that hammered this coastline for the past two days.  I kited about 5 miles out into the Strait to where this current begins and indeed it was quite wild, but certainly manageable on a kiteboard. But navigating these waters in a boat is an entirely different story.  The forecast is calling for the wind to be dropping off over the next few days, so we'll probably be looking now at the end of the week and see what the wind does then.

                                                                              Photo copyright Bjorn Detre, 2010.

August 18th, 2010.

Whales bones in Wales.                                                                           Photo Bjorn Detre.

No wind here today, nor in the forecast for the next three days.  So we sit and exercise patience.  It's not the first time I've practiced patience in Wales.  Last time I was here we waited for 20 days for good weather.  Hopefully this time around it won't be that long of a wait!!

The new support boat.                                                            Photo Troy Henkels.

And yes, we have a new support boat and driver.  Ronald from Little Diomede is a seasoned Captain and knows the ocean here very well from his many years Walrus hunting in the Strait.

Ronald from Little Diomede, evaluating conditions of the Bering Strait with Geza.

Photo Troy Henkels.

August 19th, 2010.

With the lack of wind at the moment, our days have been spent enjoying the local culture and surrounding area.  Today we went with Dan, our local host, to a place called Tin City, to retrieve a load of driftwood that he will use for firewood to heat his family's home this winter.  Tin City is an old mining area that has artifacts lying all over the tundra and beach, so it was quite interesting.  Equally interesting is talking with Dan to learn the history of this area.  Not only was there a wealth of tin mining that went on here, but it was also an important place during WWII and the cold war.  We even were able to visit an old "White Alice" radar site, which was quite amazing as well.

Late yesterday we had a nice visit with local bachelor and carver, Gene.  He thrilled us with stories about life in Wales.  One amazing thing he told us....he's only left Alaska once in his life.  He was 18 and went on a Senior trip to California and Hawaii.  It was so hot in Hawaii for him that he got a nose bleed when he got off the plane and had to spend the first day in the hotel room to acclimatize. After 52 years, he still loves Wales, mostly because he can hunt and eat the local meat.

The team with local carver and craftsman, Gene.           Photo Troy Henkels.

And, on the way home from Gene's, we came across a vivacious game of Eskimo baseball going on.  When we were invited to play, we could not pass it up!  This is nothing like American baseball and comes with its own set of complex rules, geared towards everyone participating, no matter the age.  It was very fun to say the least.

A wild game of Eskimo baseball on main street in Wales

August 20th, 2010.

Russia is tantalizingly close!

With no wind in the forecast through the weekend, we are testing our patience and enjoying our time in Wales. We finally had a clear day that we could actually see all the way across to mainland Russia.  It looks so very close, but we can't get there without the wind.  Russia, although difficult to see in the really out there!

August 21st, 2010.

Sunset from Wales.                                                          Photo Troy Henkels.

Some beautiful days in Wales.  And that translates into no wind.  The forecast at the moment has us hoping Tuesday might be our day.  Time will tell.  The wind is forecasted to turn south on Monday in front of a new storm system that will be pushing through during next week.

Starfish on the beach.                                      Photo copyright Troy Henkels, 2010.

August 22nd, 2010.

Still no wind in Wales. The locals have been saying how rare it is to have this many days with lack of wind.  The weather is changing and the wind should start blowing from the south, so we will be looking at possibly Monday or Tuesday departure. A quick video from our cameraman Bjorn Detre from our kite session a few days ago.

Bering Strait Kitesession

Click to download

August 23rd, 2010.

Tuesday is lining up to be a good wind day for us to make our crossing.  Keep on eye on the Spot tracker to follow our progress.  I will not be able to update my website until we arrive back in Wales or Nome. The Spot will be the only way to tell where we are, and if we made it.

                                                                                                           Photo Troy Henkels

Sunset over Russia. Fairway rock on the left.  Diomede islands in the center, and Russia just in front of the sun and to the right of the sun.

As time passes in Wales, I venture further from the village to explore the local surroundings.  Late yesterday, Bjorn, our cameraman and I hiked north along the beach for several hours.  At one point we saw something moving ahead in the distance.   Bjorn pulled out his camera with long lens and had a look......POLAR BEAR!  Intuitively and against better judgment, we sprint up the beach to have a closer look.  The bear had come from across the tundra, lumbered across the beach, slipped into the ocean and swam off...never to be seen again.  I would have never believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes!  We waited on shore for over an hour waiting for the bear to come back to land, but it never did, nor were we able to see it once it was in the water.  Unbelievable!  Our local friend, Gene(aka: Honey bucket Man) tells us polar bears typically move with the ice, but sometimes get caught at lower latitudes when the ice moves north in the spring.  They spend their days on land, until they get too hot, then go to the ocean to swim and cool off before coming ashore in another spot.  I guess we will add polar bears to the list of things to watch out for when we kite across the Strait!

This experience was topped off with the best sunset we have had since we arrived in Wales.  Russia very visible, and so very close, on the horizon to the northwest of here.

Polar bear tracks! 

Polar bear tracks heading to the ocean!

August 24th, 2010.

                                                                                   Photo copyright Bjorn Detre, 2010.

The entire team went to bed last night expecting to go to Russia today.  The forecast was for perfect wind to make the crossing.  At 8am when we consulted Ronald, our boat Captain from Little Diomede, he had other news.  After several calls to Little Diomede, which sits in the middle of the Strait, he found out that the ocean was just to wild to navigate in his boat.  The problem is, we want wind to be able to kite.  But wind creates chaotic seas, which are difficult and dangerous for a boat to be out in.  Ronald wants calm seas to make a crossing, which typically only happens when there is no wind.  So there is a delicate line that we seek, in order for us to kite and the support boat to follow us safely.  As you can imagine the team was quite disappointed.  None the less, we rigged our kites anyway.  At least if the wind is blowing we might as well kite!  I had a spectacular day on the water and after 5 hours, my GPS said I covered a distance of 60 miles!  This would have been enough to get to Russia, had I been going in that direction.

So, our patience stays in place, and again, we continue to wait for the right conditions to make this crossing in a safe manner.  Someone once said, patience is a virtue, and now I believe this to be true.

August 25th, 2010.

Kiting in front of whale bones in Wales.         Photo copyright Bjorn Detre.

Good enough wind today, so I went out kiting and had a great time.  But the seas are still too rough for our boat to venture out in.   Oddly enough another expedition has shown up in town.  A team from the Dominican Republic is here to try to swim between the Big and Little Diomede islands, a span of about three miles. Very nice guys and their swimmer, Marcos, has already completed some amazing swims.

August 26th, 2010.

Congratulations to Marcos!  He made it in 1 hour and 5 minutes!!  The seas have calmed down and the wind has stopped blowing in Wales.  Not good for a kiteboarding expedition.  However, Marcos set out by boat this morning for Little Diomede for his swim crossing between the Diomede Islands.  If all goes as planned, it should take him around an hour and he'll be back in Wales tonight.  We sent him off this morning with our best wishes!

Marcos prepared for departure and the swim!

Wales expeditioners, Geza, Marcos, Troy.

August 27th, 2010.

                                                                                                                                  Photo copyright Bjorn Detre, 2010.

Late in the day today the wind came up and we made another attempt.  After two miles the wind died and Ronald, our boat captain, brought us back to Wales.  This expedition is over for me. Unfortunately, my three week window away from my job, is up.  It has been an unforgettable experience to say the least.  The opportunity to kiteboard on the Bering Strait has been immense.  The camaraderie, friendship, and good times shared with the rest of the team will always be a fond memory.  And of course, the opportunity to make friends and enjoy the community of Wales again, has been a real highlight.  It is often said, that, it is all about the journey, and for me, this much is true.