The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Q&A: What Is The Middle Pack?

Question: I am planning a passage from Cartwright, Labrador to Disko Bay in Greenland leaving about July 1st. You wrote that I should watch out for the ‘Middle Pack’, please explain.

Answer: The “Middle Pack” is the tongue of ice that reaches down from Baffin Bay into Davis Strait and sometimes as far as the Labrador Sea. In early July it could easily lie on your rhumb line course from Cartwright to Disko. Also, as I’m sure you know, the ice may not even let you get to Cartwright that early. It is even possible, if it is a very bad year like 1991, that you won’t be able to transit the Strait of Belle Isle that early, assuming that you are planning to go up the west coast of Newfoundland.

We normally leave it until a bit later (say mid-July) to head for Greenland for just these reasons. Having said that, if you get a good ice year you will have more time in Greenland by leaving early.

One thought would be to leave from say Battle Harbour or a little further north and head for Nuuk or even further south on the Greenland coast. This has several advantages: it takes you further away from the Middle Pack, lets you cross ‘Ice Berg Alley’ off the Labrador coast at the narrowest place, and means that your approach to Greenland will likely be ice free until the last 50 miles or so. You could then coast north to Disko without much worry about ice in most years.

By the time you are ready to leave Greenland, the Middle Pack should be further north, so you could sail from Disko to Labrador, making landfall at say Saglek. We did something close to this in ’95 returning from Uummannaq Fjord via Baffin, Hudson Strait and Labrador, and it worked great, although the gale frequency goes up dramatically Sept 1st.

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