Shape Shifting

The island of Disko broke the wind and the waves.  Qeqertarsuaq is the Inuit name for Disko and it means "the large island".  With its 3300 square mile area, one can understand how this behemoth might have received this moniker.  Rosehearty roared into her lee with double headsails, 25 to 30 knots of breeze aft of the beam, a 2 meter sea on the quarter.  We had just sailed more than 400 miles across Davis Strait.  And then everything went quiet.  Sails went limp and had to be furled away; the sea became smooth. And then, the icebergs appeared.  Now we have seen plenty of icebergs on this voyage,  but what we had not seen was the quantity and size of the bergs that came into view. 

On every part of the horizon, everywhere we looked, big bergs stood, jutting in to the sky.  The ice sheets and strips of Lancaster sound were impressive – and dangerous – but these mountains of frozen water were something entirely different.  The sheer bulk of what we were seeing left us in awe.  There was plenty of deep water between the bergs and very few bergy bits.  This layout, combined with the great visibility and kind sea conditions, allowed us to become absorbed in the view.  The thing with icebergs is that when you see them from a moving ship, they change shape and color as you drive passed.  The sun moves the shadows around. Refraction plays tricks on  you: small bergs become big bergs; their masses floating above the sea..  The clear air makes things that are very far away seem closer.  Ice bergs shapes shift.  On the flybridge, we described what we saw – one looked like a gaff-rigged topsail schooner, another was the shape of a perfect pyramid from Egypt, and a third, we were convinced, looked like a Scottish terrier, resting on all fours. 

The ice bergs we were seeing are calved from the mighty Sermeq Kujalleq glacier, situated next to the picturesque town of Ilulissat.  This icefjord is a designated world heritage site.  The UNESCO site explains, “One of the few places where ice from the Greenland ice cap enters the sea, Sermeq Kujalleq is also one of the fastest moving (40 m per day) and most active glaciers in the world. Its annual calving of over 46 cubic kilometres of ice, i.e. 10% of all Greenland calf ice, is more than any other glacier outside Antarctica. The combination of a huge ice-sheet and the dramatic sounds of a fast-moving glacial ice-stream calving into a fjord full of icebergs make for a dramatic and awe-inspiring natural phenomenon.” 

We ghosted into the Ilulissat anchorage at 0100 local time.  The sky burned orange.  A waning moon rose.  Time for a few hours sleep in this cradle of bergs.

—Jonathan

Photo by Hugo

Photo by Hugo

Photo by Hugo

Photo by Hugo

Photo by Hugo

Photo by Hugo

Photo by Hugo

Photo by Hugo

Photo by Hugo

Photo by Hugo

Photo by Hugo

Photo by Hugo

In the Beginning

If you look at a detailed nautical chart of Baffin Island, you will see that the east coast is heavily indented with deep bays and fjords.  These are rarely visited since ice can be abundant, winds high, and depths too great to anchor.  And so prior to our departure from the Canadian Arctic and before crossing Davis Straits towards Greenland, Hutch suggested that we tour one of the larger fjord complexes.  He chose the Buchan Gulf about hundred miles from Pond Inlet.  With a stout easterly funneling through the narrow channel that leads to Davis Strait, we left Pond behind and made for open water.

Buchan Gulf is comprised of four distinct arms cutting from Davis Strait into the interior of Baffin Island; each of these arms is more than 20 miles long, lined with mountains 1000 meters high, with depths plunging to 500 meters.  The whole way south, the Baffin Coast was shrouded in low cloud, misty rain, and fog.  When we were about ten miles out, the curtain lifted temporarily and we caught glimpses of high rocky mountains, snow, winding glaciers.  But no sooner had we seen the coast, that it disappeared once again behind the thick shade.  "If it's too foggy when we get to the entrance, we won't go in," announced Hutch.  When doing our route planning, he had discovered that the electronic charts for the area were incorrect; land masses were placed almost half a mile from their actual positions.  Our tour of the fjords would be done with our eyes, radar, dividers, parallel rules and a Danish paper chart.  We would keep a careful watch on our depth since there were very few soundings on the chart; in these waters, 200 meters can turn to 10 meters very quickly.  It had taken us all day to get to this fjord; would we have to turn away?

As we swung west onto our final heading we were teased several more times with glimpses of what lay behind the curtain but each preview lasted only a few minutes.  On we pressed into the unknown.  Fortunately, the curtain went up just as we arrived at the mouth of the fjord.  The show was on. We entered a foreign land.  Sheer cliffs plunged straight down into obsidian water.  The cliff faces looked as if an artist had taken his spatula and smeared the canvas with every shade of brown and red.  Hard blue glaciers clung to rocky ravines.  The ice was flecked with boulders and other debris.  Every once in a while we spotted the tops of the mountains, where the clouds parted momentarily.  The summits were sharp, toothlike.  Everyone came on deck, wide-eyed.  What was this place? 

I said to Germain, "It feels like the land that time forgot.:"  "Or maybe," he replied, "the land at the beginning of time."  The shapes were alien, cold, hard.  Everything felt raw.  When I looked at the glaciers I expected at any time to see a group of abominable snowmen, emerge from an icy cave, hold their furry arms skyward, and shake their fists at the intruders.  I imagined huge megalodon still hunted the icy waters and pterodactyls still patrolled the skies. 

—Jonathan

Photo by Jerry Herring

Photo by Jerry Herring

Sunlight lured us in.  Photo by Jerry Herring

Sunlight lured us in. Photo by Jerry Herring

Clouds parted to reveal the toothy summits.  Photo by Jerry Herring

Clouds parted to reveal the toothy summits. Photo by Jerry Herring

Hard blue glaciers clung to rocky ravines.  Photo by Jerry Herring

Hard blue glaciers clung to rocky ravines. Photo by Jerry Herring

We entered a foreign land.  Photo by Catherine Carr

We entered a foreign land. Photo by Catherine Carr

I expected at any time to see a group of abominable snowmen, emerge from an icy cave, hold their furry arms skyward, and shake their fists at the intruders.  Photo by Hugo

I expected at any time to see a group of abominable snowmen, emerge from an icy cave, hold their furry arms skyward, and shake their fists at the intruders. Photo by Hugo

Scratching at the surface

The sun is setting now;  it is midnight but it is not dark.  A red sky lingers.  Shadows cover the mountains but behind them, the sky is aflame.  "Renee, come take a look."  I hear Mark call on the radio.  Renee heads to the foredeck.  She witnesses (and later describes to me) one of the strange phenomena of the arctic summer.  A full moon rises slowly behind the mountains of Baffin Island.  But it does not continue to track higher and higher into the sky; instead, the lower limb barely reaches the peaks; it hangs there, continues its barely discernible arc and then slides behind the mountains once again, just as the sun, which has only dipped below the horizon for a few hours, rises again.  Night is day; day is night.  "It was beautiful the way the moon came up and was then cradled by mountains," says Renee. “It seemed to start to set almost as soon as it appeared.”

Earlier in the day we explored Pond Inlet, which has a population of 1600 and is the largest Canadian hamlet above 72 degrees North.  The Inuit name is Mittimatalik, which translates roughly in to the "place where Mittima is buried."  Not one book nor resident could tell me who Mittima was or why he was celebrated with a place named after him.  Our day consisted of provisioning, walking the town, visiting the cultural centre, chatting with local children and their parents and absorbing the contrasting views.  This is our first contact with anyone outside the yacht since August 4.  The weather was stunning -- another of those cloudless, still days with sharp light illuminating every texture -- craggy cliff, weathered homes,  broad Inuit faces, immense space.

I found myself puzzled by Pond Inlet; like Arctic Bay, the houses were bare and utilitarian with very few colors.  Carcasses of snow mobiles were stacked in yards.  Outboard motors partially stripped lay on pieces of cardboard.  A child's bike lay in a stream. A Chevy Blazer, with both front wheels missing, was propped up by bits of timber.  Power lines crisscrossed the sky, nests of wires emerging from transformers.  Chip packets, plastic drink bottles, and a hat lay in the road.  Quad bikes sputtered past, laden with parents, children, rifles, Narwhale tusks, gasoline cans.  Ford F150s rolled near me, towing aluminium boats, kicking up plumes of dust.  Huskies, chained on the beach, yowled.  The largest ravens I have ever seen, cawed at us.  An Inuit child we passed along the way, cawed back. 

This was the surface layer, the foreground.  In the background - just below the surface – we found something else.  There were the mountains, immense ranges plummeting into the sea, there was the water, blue-green mixed with the mud of glacial runoff.  There were the people, lots of people were outdoors, the joy of the brief summer. Kids played, drank from cans of Orange crush, munched on Cheetos.  Women carried babies in slings on their backs while chatting on their iphones.  Long canoe-like boats stacked with harpoons and fishing gear and powered by large 4 stroke motors were hauled up on the beach.  Fathers and sons readied them for the day's hunt.  There was talk of seal and whale.  In lilting phrases, one local hunter answered our questions.  “What is the harpoon for?” I asked.  “What is the harpoon for?” he answered, repeating my question before offering, “Narwhal.” 

Loaded with fresh produce, comfortably tired from several hours of walking but still with lingering questions, we returned to Rosehearty.  It was a day spent among the modern Inuit, watching a full moon roll briefly across mountains in a red sky.

A red sky lingers. Photo by Renee.

A red sky lingers. Photo by Renee.

A full moon rises slowly behind the mountains of Baffin Island. Photo by Renee

A full moon rises slowly behind the mountains of Baffin Island. Photo by Renee

DSC02593 A.jpg
Inuit DAB! Photo by Jerry Herring

Inuit DAB! Photo by Jerry Herring

Photo by Jonathan

Photo by Jonathan

Photo by Jonathan

Photo by Jonathan

Photo by Joan Herring

Photo by Joan Herring

Photo by Jerry Herring

Photo by Jerry Herring

Photo by Jonathan

Photo by Jonathan

Photo by Jonathan

Photo by Jonathan

Photo by Jerry Herring

Photo by Jerry Herring

Photo by Jonathan

Photo by Jonathan

Sign.jpg
Hugo and mountains.jpg
Cross.jpg
Town art 2.jpg
Girls with puppy.JPG

Rust and Snow

Rust and snow

Ice strips, 25 knots of wind and fog greeted us as we left Maxwell Bay and headed east.  The watch teams struggled to distinguish clutter from real targets on the radars.  Some ice strips were large but there were many broken, flat smaller sections as well as smaller shapely ice bergs.  These are not as beautiful in the fog.  We proceeded slowly with eyes straining.  Hutch and the ice pilot, Germaine, were up most of the night.  By 0500 the fog cleared and the ice was dispersed, except for a few very large bergs that presented excellent radar echoes, and, coincidentally, became beautiful again.  Under a shockingly blue sky, we headed south across Lancaster Sound, away from Devon Island and towards our new area of exploration, Bylot and Baffin Islands. 

The Navy Board Inlet is a wide, deep channel that separates Bylot Island from Baffin Island an connects Lancaster Sound to Baffin Bay.  The inlet is 5 miles wide, runs for 120 miles.  Depths range from 100 to 500 meters.  Rosehearty entered the inlet at noon local time and for 16 hours we cruised slowly in its sheltering embrace.  The scenery changed dramatically from what we had seen the previous 10 days.  Hoodoos were less prominent -- Hugo and I found a few and called them "hidden hoodoos" -- they were replaced by smooth rust-coloured mountains in the foreground and snow-capped peaks behind.  Glaciers crept down to the sea.  Scars decorated the land.  Everything was miles away but the textures were prominent and emphatic.  Scale and proportion were difficult to comprehend.

We paused at place called "Low Point" -- a name that did not do justice to this location.  To the west, lichen covered rocks and a fertile meadow spread out before us.  To the east lay the Byam Marten Mountain Range, a prominent line of snow-capped peaks that resembled the Italian Alps.  And next to us rested a huge ice berg, aground, powdery on top and metallic blue on the sides.  We launched a tender and a group of explorers landed on a rocky beach while Rosehearty drifted quietly offshore.  "This is one of my favourite walks," expedition leader Ken explained.  "Once we get to the top there is going to be a great photograph, with the carpet of colour, the ice berg, Rosehearty and the mountains.  There is an impressive Inuksuk at the top as well.  It's probably hundreds of years old, it keeps watch over the bay."

While the line of hikers made their way to the top, we edged Rosehearty closer to the ice berg, positioning her for her portrait.  "Square up the tender pole for the photo," suggested Hutch. 

In his book, Canada's Arctic, Ken writes of Low Point, "Hiking up from the shore near Low Point, I came to the sober realization that a majestic carpet of colour had been set out before me.  It was as if some unseen power had been running amok with acrylic paints and abstract texturing tools.  Everywhere I looked was colour...crimson, yellow, cobalt blue, violet and emerald green."  For our hikers who had just spent the last week in the relative monochrome of Devon Island, this new palette and the varied textures would have been a sensory bombardment. 

The climbers radioed from the top.  "Move forward a couple of boat lengths," the radio crackled.  "It's beautiful. We're having a cup of tea and soaking up the amazing views.  The Inuksuk is showing us where to look."

-- Jonathan

Glaciers crept down to the sea

Glaciers crept down to the sea

smooth rust-coloured mountains in the foreground and snow-capped peaks behind.  Photo by Hugo

smooth rust-coloured mountains in the foreground and snow-capped peaks behind. Photo by Hugo

The textures were prominent and emphatic.  Photo by Hugo

The textures were prominent and emphatic. Photo by Hugo

Hidden hoodoos, photos by Hugo

Hidden hoodoos, photos by Hugo

Photo by Hugo

Photo by Hugo

Photo by Peter Box

Photo by Peter Box

Photo by Hugo

Photo by Hugo

Layers by Peter Box

Layers by Peter Box

Abstract human by Peter Box

Abstract human by Peter Box

Calling for water

We dined with the bears in view.  They watched us and we watched them.  When the galley extraction system sent the aroma of broiled chicken skyward, I thought I saw the mama bear put her nose in the air and take a few deep drafts. How fortunate were we to be sitting in the cockpit and whenever we felt like it, glance over to see what these bears were doing?   Sometimes they crouched on all fours, other times they lay on their sides.  I dozed off at midnight; the bears were still awake.  I came on deck at 6.  Both bears were lying in a small hammock of grass, fast asleep.  There was no movement on board; it was a pleasure to simply watch them rest.  About 0700, the young bear rolled on his back and proceeded to execute an enormous stretch, forepaws extended and hind legs as well, the way Finn, our black lab on board might do.  The mother stirred but did not rise.  Ice started coming in around the point of the island and sweeping towards the boat.  Time to prep poles once again urge the floes passed. 

Around mid-day the bears made their way from their hammock down to the water.  They roamed along the beach, consuming a bit more seaweed.  A light, misty rain fell.  The clouds descended to the water; tails of mist curled off the edges.  The bears walked out of view, leaving the island empty. We would miss them.

As it would be another 4 to 6 hours before the next ice chart was scheduled to be published, Hutch decided to send the twin-engine rib to the entrance of Maxwell Bay so the crew’s report on ice, wind and sea could be compared to the forecast conditions.  Markus, Richie and our ice pilot Germain prepared the boat and themselves for the 20 mile round trip voyage.  Extra precautions were put in play – multiple means of communications, AIS tracker on the tender, and our state of the art insulated “Mustang suits”, and ski goggles for the team.  A thermos of hot coffee with chocolate and milk was added for good measure. 

The reconnaissance team delivered a favourable report – wind in the 20s,  1/10 to 2/10 ice, seas less than 1,5 meters.  “We’ll wait for the ice chart, and assuming the sat radar and chart agree with Germain’s observations, we’ll heave up anchor and head east.”

With a few hours to burn before departure, Richard set up a small fleet of remote control yachts and we enjoyed some jousting and rendezvous sailing near Rosehearty.  Yacht racing in the high Arctic!

Photo by Ethan

Photo by Ethan

Photo by Ethan

Photo by Ethan

Capture Recon.JPG
AUS higher and faster

AUS higher and faster

Photo by Richard

Photo by Richard

Red 09 called for water but AUS 66 did not give way, OUCH

Red 09 called for water but AUS 66 did not give way, OUCH

In the company of bears

We are running two to three expeditions per day from Rosehearty out in to the furthest reaches of Maxwell Bay.  At the moment, a lot of ice is being drawn in to the bay, which is a mixed blessing.  On the one hand, the ice carries with it the prospect of seals, walrus and polar bear.  But the ice also brings tension, with the larger floes as big as or bigger than Rosehearty, long flat sections, often with submerged ledges that extend well beyond what we see on the surface, ledges that could contact rudder, shaft or propeller if they drift passed close enough.  Big sheets started coming in about midnight.  And that was when the call came out, bear on one of the floes, just off our port side.  Guests and crew were awakened to share in the spectacle -- Nanuk under the midnight sun, having a rest, hitching a ride.  Throughout the evening, the floes came, several with bear on them.  The overnight watch teams as well as guests who refused to sleep held a vigil over the scene.

At 0700, the floes were too large and too close and so Markus, who had just come on watch,  made the call to bring both engines and generators on line, and heave up anchor to avoid contact with the approaching slabs.  “You’ve got two engines and three on the board,” Richie confirmed from the control room.   The noise of the thruster, windlass and chain, startled the bear who up until this point, might have mistaken Rosehearty all in white as just another piece of ice floating with the current.  Chef Artur was awake, doing his normal 10 minute stretch in the bridge before commencing his very long day in the galley.   He told me later in an excited French Armenian accent “You should have seen dat bear when he heard the anchor.  It was incredible." 

Once safely re-anchored away from the ice, we launched the first tender.  The mission was to scope out a waterfall about 4 miles from Rosehearty and to look for wildlife along the way.  We sped off in flat water with Hugo at the helm, Ken pointing where he wanted us to go.  The rest of scanned the ice and the shores, with binoculars, telephoto lenses and the naked eye.  When doing 25 knots in the tender, a cold wind becomes an icy blast very quickly.  Exposed skin tingles at first, then burns, and throbs, unless you cover it.  Hugo sported his balaclava, ski goggles, thick ski gloves.

At first, we thought we were looking at dirty ice -- rocks and mud picked up either when the berg is still part of a glacier or when a slab is grounded temporarily by the tide.  But the dirt became a shape and the shape turned into a seal.  Hugo killed the motors and everyone on board became silent – hopeful and reverent at the same time.  We used the paddles to inch our way closer.  The seal had a clear view of us, lifting his head, watchful.  To our delight, the seal stayed put and allowed us to enjoy the views through binoculars and zoom lenses.  “It’s a bearded seal,” Ken explained.  I read later that bearded seals are the largest of the Arctic seals and can grow to 450kg.  They forage usually in bays for clams, octopus and squid, and in open water can dive as deep as 400 meters.  They sport long, even bushy whiskers and a heavy jaw, from which their name is derived (erignathus barbatus).  Apparently, the males sing and can be heard from as far as 20 kilometers away.  When we were about a 100 meters away, the seal had had enough of our presence and flopped into the icy water and swam away. 

In the northern most part of Maxwell Bay’s western arm, there are large sections of moist earth, turned green with arctic grasses, lichens and plants.  By now we had become familiar with this type of terrain and what might be found here and so we were not surprised when Ken pointed towards the fertile slope and said, “Now that is a beautiful specimen.”  A lone musk ox .  We all tried to zoom in and shoot but Paul pretty much summed it when he said,  “I’m going to have quite a few photos of black dots.  I hope my friends believe me when I tell them the dot is a musk ox.”  Where there are musk ox, there are usually wolves, said Ken.  We strained and squinted, imagined a pack of wolves working in unison to avoid the horns and hoofs in their struggle to bring the beast down. 

After our return, more ice sheets entered the anchorage.  Ethan and I used long boat hooks to push the smaller sections of ice away from the hull.  For the larger sheets, we had to use thruster or drop an extra shot of chain and use engines to get out of the way.  Lenka, who was in the master cabin, hear crunching and watched with consternation as she saw boat hooks prodding the ice.  Germain, our ice pilot and Hutch poured over an ice chart and radar sat images that had just been published.  Neither was smiling.  To our east, the entire 60-mile width of Lancaster Sound showed the color orange with reference numbers inside the “egg”.  This translated to 7/10 total coverage, 1/10 first year ice, 7/10 thick first year ice, vast floe size.  Rosehearty was effectively blocked from traveling east or west.  “My concern,” said Germain, “is that with the southeast winds, we will have a lot of ice coming into this bay.  We either try to get out now, or we have to be prepared to wait for a couple of days to leave.”  With winds in the sound at 25 knots, gusting 30 knots, we opted to stay put for at least 24 hours until the next ice report was issued.

Hutch sent the RIB to sound the anchorage behind a nearby island.  The island we thought might make a nice shield against ice being dragged in from the sea.  Mark and I approached, checking depths and looking for ice.  “What’s that on the side of the hill?” Mark said.  “An indistinct lump broke up the otherwise flat slope on the hill.  “could be a boulder or an Inuksuk,” I said.  The binoculars were already on his eyes.  “It’s a bear,” he said, “Have a look.”  On a wide patch of rocky ground the bear came in to view.  And then something quite magical happened.  One shape became two and we suddenly realized we were not looking at a lone male bear but instead were in the company of a mother bear and her adolescent cub.  We radioed the boat, shut off the motors and hoped that the sight of the tender and the approaching Rosehearty would not spook the animals.  Mark and I watched as everyone assembled on the foredeck.  Hutch approached slowly with Rosehearty, and once in position, radioed Ethan to walk the anchor and chain out, rather than do the normal free wheel drop.  We have found that nothing scares wildlife away quicker than a 460 kg anchor and 3 shots of chain rumbling out of the box.  The bears seemed indifferent.  The cub edged towards the shore, while the mother sat on her haunches on higher ground.  She lifted her nose and sniffed to determine our status.  At the high tide line was a long line of brown seaweed.  The young bear picked at it, swallowed some.  Both Mark and I had the impression that the young bear would have preferred seal or Narwhal but at mother’s insistence was required to choke down the ursine equivalent of spinach.  As soon as Rosehearty was anchored, we picked up our team on the side door and moved slowly towards the beach.  The wind blew from behind us and edged us toward the bears.  Ken instructed Mark to approach from the side, not head on.  In silence we drifted in.  Radios were turned off.  Cameras whirred.  The female bear looked on.  We were almost to the beach, truly in the company of bears.

Nanuk under the midnight sun — Photo by Catherine Carr

Nanuk under the midnight sun — Photo by Catherine Carr

Photo by Hugo

Photo by Hugo

Photo by Richie

Photo by Richie

Photo by Dr. Paul

Photo by Dr. Paul

Photo by Lenka

Photo by Lenka

Ice chart 1.JPG
Ice chart 2.JPG
Photo by Richie

Photo by Richie

Photo by Richie

Photo by Richie

Photo by Ken Burton

Photo by Ken Burton

Parting shot!! by Richard

Parting shot!! by Richard

Photo by Ken Burton

Photo by Ken Burton

Polar Desert

I remember hearing David Attenborough explain in one of his documentaries that in the open ocean there are vast areas that are devoid of life, interspersed with areas of abundance.  Where there is krill or anchovy or herring, there are likely to be all of the larger creatures that are sustained by them; but where there are none of these lower food chain organisms there will be few if any larger creatures.  The open ocean can be a desert.  Two days ago, we walked for an hour not far from the shore of the Franklin memorial and found no life, a polar desert.  Even Ken was surprised as we marched up the slopes of crumbled rock -- no lichens, no grasses.  We did find one object or I should say one object dispersed in to 3 pieces.  Ken spotted it and brought us over to it.  A weather balloon, possibly released by the Defense Research Establishment or NASA had ended up here.  The remains of the balloon and line, the circuit board, and the battery pack are here now for future generations to find and ponder.

Yesterday, after re-positioning to a bay called Maxwell Bay, we hiked for a few hours and then explored by tender for a few hours.  On land, we sloshed through a rich, almost clay-like soil full of lichen, moss and small plants.  “Musk ox territory,” Ken announced.   Musk oxen live in the Arctic (we had seen a few in the far distance the day before) and roam the tundra in search of the roots, mosses, and lichens that sustain them. In winter, they use their hooves to dig through snow to graze on these plants. During the summer, they supplement their diet with Arctic flowers and grasses, often feeding near water.  We found plenty of droppings and hoof prints and then that welcome word from Ken, “Wow!” broke the silence.  We joined him and looked down at the well-preserved skull of an adult Musk Ox.   

“I think this one was killed by a bear or wolves,” explained Ken.  “If a hunter had shot this animal, he would have taken the horns, which are used in carvings.” 

In the afternoon we loaded in to two tenders and explored the upper reaches of Maxwell Bay.  In the glassy water, we could see tiny fish near the surface.   I was able to scoop one up and have a look; it was tiny, wriggling in the palm of my hand.  Many birds – our famous “Kanardlys” (otherwise known as Guillemots) and Glaucous Gulls were paddling around on the surface picking up these sprat.  We ventured near some river outlets and took a few casts with the rods we had brought.  Arctic Char apparently roam these areas at this time of the year.  No luck there, but I did manage to drop my lure to 30 meters and snag the monster pictured below.  Our water tour ended with a close inspection of one large ice berg floating serenely in the bay.  We gazed upon it as one might view a piece of art in a gallery.  Floating in absolute glass with a perfect reflection beneath it, the iceberg changed shape and color as we motored around it.  The Polar desert has given way to a pocket of abundance.  What will today bring?

WX balloon 1.jpg
Musk ox 3.jpg
Photo by Hugo

Photo by Hugo

Photo by Ethan

Photo by Ethan

Photo by Ken Burton

Photo by Ken Burton

Look Small then Look Big

The ice strips marched in from Lancaster Sound.  We watched them in awe and frustration.  Twenty knots of wind blew down the wide channel, yet these strips, rather than follow the course of the wind and be of no concern to us, edged across the wind and sea fetch, in to the Beechey Island anchorage where Rosehearty lay secure.  In the wheelhouse, we tracked the ice for 2 hours.  “I have ze impression,” said Germaine, our Canadian ice pilot, “zat we are in a gyre.”  It appeared that the ice was being dragged in to the bay from the Sound, and then pulled in a counter-clockwise direction along the 10 meter depth contour line, and ultimately pushed to the far reaches of the bay.  Rosehearty was anchored just outside this 10 meter contour.  “It’s high tide in an hour, we’ll see if this current reverses itself and flushes the ice back out in to the sound,” said Hutch.  High tide came and went but the ice continued its resolute march toward us.  At 2330 we started engines,  heaved up anchor, and moved around the floe to re-anchor in ice free water.  By this time the wind had freshened to around 30 knots.  Richie and I were on the bow operating the windlass for the pick up and the drop.  Exposed skin hurt, gloved hands became numb.  We huddled behind the genoa furler to find a small lee while Hutch picked his way through the ice to our new anchorage.  We were cold, but imagine how Captain John Franklin and his men felt in the fall of 1845, when the decision was made to anchor the exploration ships Terror and the Erebus in this bay and spend the winter – locked in ice, waiting for the thaw in spring, in order to continue their efforts to be the first to complete the transit of the Northwest Passage. 

The Franklin expedition of 1845 was the best funded and best equipped expedition in the history of Arctic exploration.  24 officers and 108 sailors set out from England to be the first to sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, thereby opening shorter and more lucrative trade routes between the far east and Europe and affording the crew a share of the sizeable reward of twenty thousand pounds sterling offered by the crown.  The Terror and Erebus were Hela-class bomb ships of 380 tons, stoutly built and both veterans of the war of 1812.  They had been retrofitted with steam engines and could travel at 4 knots without sails.  For operations in ice they had retractable rudders and propeller shafts.  They carried enough food for 3 years, had fine cutlery, a library, and as much coal as they could fit into their bilges.  They wintered where Rosehearty lay at anchor.  Three sailors died during this stopover but in the spring the ships set out once again, but they only succeeded in traveling a few hundred miles before the ice grabbed their ships and locked them in place.  More crew died.  Those that lived, abandoned the ships and set out on an overland journey south, in the hopes of finding help in the sparsely populated but relatively well mapped wilderness of the Northern Territories.  Oral histories of the Inuit peoples indicate that the sailors may have seen these indigenous local nomadic hunters.  But as far as scholars can tell, there was no contact.  What we do know is that all 129 men perished, the last 30 or so in a place now referred to as Starvation Cove.  After more than 150 years of searching, the doomed ships were finally discovered in 2014, on the bottom but in pristine condition as far as wrecks are concerned, about 300 miles from where we are anchored today.  “After a lot of debate, treasure hunting, and forensic analysis,” explained Ken during our shore expedition, “most historians have concluded that a combination of pneumonia, tuberculosis, scurvy, starvation, exposure, and lead poisoning killed the crews of the Terror and Erebus.”  Sitting on a large rock listening to the explanation, the boss looked at Ken and said dryly, ”Tell me the good news!”  We all laughed but Ken pressed on, “The good news is that the many search and rescue missions that were sent out to find Franklin ended up surveying and mapping this vast archipelago, allowing us to do what we are doing now.”  He paused to let that sink in.  “But there is a bit of bad news: more men and ships were lost searching for Franklin than were lost in the expedition itself.”

The shores of Beechey Island are made up of flat, shingly rock.  High cliffs sweep down on to a narrow isthmus that connects Beechey Island with Devon Island.  Blocks of pack ice are aground on the beach.  Hugo runs Wolfie up on to shore between two enormous slabs; the RIB crunches to a stop and we all remove our life jackets and step onto the beach.  We start at the Franklin Memorial, a series of different structures dedicated to Franklin and his men as well as to the subsequent rescue expeditions that used this bay and these shores to stage their missions.  The remains of the Northumberland House, erected by one of the search parties in 1852, are visible.  We read the various plaques, look out at the bay and try to imagine.  From the Franklin Memorial we walk two kilometres.  There are no trees or shrubs of any kind; we see the graves from a long way off.  There are four graves.  Three belong to men from the Terror and Erebus expedition who died during that first winter and one to a sailor from a subsequent search mission.  The stones are loose under our feet, though just below the surface, the permafrost layer is hard.  In the 1980s the bodies of the three sailors buried here were exhumed for forensic analysis; the pathologist who conducted the studies remarked how well preserved to the bodies were due to the stable temperatures of the permafrost layer in which the men were buried.  Low clouds scud across the bay.  Rosehearty appears and disappears in fog and mist.  There is a chill in the air.  Ethan opens his backpack and produces hot tea.  He has sugar and a spoon for stirring but apologizes for having forgotten the flask of milk that Renee’ had prepared.  We accept this mild hardship in light of the more significant challenges of those who were here before us. 

Ken radios the tender and we leave this site and travel to the eastern side of the bay, which is part of Devon Island.  The scene is remarkably different here.  An enormous alluvial plain stretches out to the horizon.  Small lakes, created by thawing ice and snow, dot the landscape.  Dry stones give way to soft, squishy bogs, and significantly, to color – lichen, moss, small flowers.  The more you look, the more you see.  “Look small, then look big,” advises Ken, encouraging us to go “macro” first, and then widen our gaze. 

“Musk Ox graze these areas,” Ken continues.  “There is fresh water and food.”  A few minutes later I find a large vertebrae bone which Ken confirms is from a Musk Ox.  “Look on the side of those hills,” he continues.  We strain in to the distance.  “Those brown shapes – there are three of four of them, moving.  They’re musk ox.”  At the end of our walk, Ken stops, and I hear that welcome, “Oh wow!” that I first heard when he stumbled upon the Inuksuk cairn in Admiralty Sound.  He picks up a curved plank of weathered wood and points to the nails protruding from it.  “This is Franklin era shipbuilding technology.  Square headed hand forged nails – either from the Franklin expedition or one of the rescue missions.”  At the end of our walk, I pick up a round stone.  It stands out because every other one of the countless stones on the beach are flat.  Looking at it more closely I see the undeniable impression of coral – “A coral fossil, here??!!” I ask Ken.  “Fossilized brain coral,” he says with a slight smile, “At some point a very long time ago, these may have been more temperate, tropical seas.”  What a day for the Rosehearty team – the ghosts of Franklin, tiny forests, and coral reefs on the 75th parallel of the world.

—Jonathan

Jonathan

Jonathan

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Nanuk

When we got in to the heaviest part, the radar was of little use.  Sea ice stretched out as far as we could see, not as a solid mass but as individual sheets, low and flat, some a few meters long others as large as Rosehearty.  The radar display was jammed with echoes in no discernible order  The location of the ice was forecast correctly on the Canadian ice service chart; the density, however, was not.  Hutch took the helm at 2200, joined by Ethan and our Ice Pilot, Germaine.  On the previous watch, Hugo and I had to contend with a two mile wide section of what are referred to as ice strips.  We had to slow down for a short period, hand steer and pick our lanes through.  But this section of strips was relatively narrow, the strips not so large, and within a half an hour we were back up to speed and in relatively open water. About 45 minutes after Hutch and his team took over, the seascape changed dramatically.  Little by little the open water became more cluttered; lanes narrowed until the ice sheets formed a kind of puzzle, not quite interlocking but, with very little space between them.  From 2200 to 0330 Hutch remained at the helm; Germain backed him up.  Ethan, in his warmest gear, was the lookout on the bow until 0200 and was then relieved by Kiwi Mark.  At 0230 I heard the engines in full astern; the thruster rumbled, a chunk of ice thumped its way down the port side.  Hutch had stopped the boat.  I went topside.  We were only 4 miles from our destination but the lane that Hutch had chosen had disappeared.  At our briefing before setting off from Croker Bay, we had discussed the possibility that we might not be able to make it all the way to our target anchorage at Blanely Bay.  We had just covered 68 of the 72 miles; were we going to have to turn around?  Fortunately another alley was opening, just as the one was closing and so after a short period of moving astern and a bit more bow thruster to swing the head, Hutch had the boat pointed where he wanted and we set off slowly once again.  Rosehearty ghosted out of ice around a low rocky spit and in to our anchorage area.  Clearly relieved, but still operating on a plane of heightened awareness, Hutch gave the order to Mark on the bow, "Let go port anchor, 3 shots lazy brake then, out to 5 on a long stay."  We had made it to Blanely Bay.  Over coffees in the crew mess, Hutch noted, “That was pretty much the upper limit of what this boat and crew would want to contend with.”  With that succinct assessment, he stood up, bade us good night and retired to his cabin.

Hugo and I were left on deck with the boss, who had been on the flybridge most of the night, watching his boat sneak through the floes of sea ice.  The evening cloud had cleared.  The sun blazed, striking the still water, flashing off the few bergy bits that were in the bay.  Off our stern was a stunning glacier, much smaller in width than those we had seen in Croker Bay but impressive in another way: the river of ice was so steep that from the deck we could see not only the face and piled up frontal layers but we also had a view of the entire frozen river from the sea up to the top of the mountain from which it flowed.  The glacier unwound from the mountain top like a wide snake, nestled between the high walls of a dark canyon.  Hoodoos stood guard in perfectly straight rows.  The water in the bay was the color of obsidian. 

And then we spotted her: a lone polar bear crouched on a rocky hill; several walrus were in the water where the rocky spit touched the sea.  The bear had a clear view of the walrus.  And we had a clear view of the bear.  This was our first bear sighting.  The polar bear, Ursus Maritimus or Nanuk in the Inuit language, is the largest of the land carnivores, weighing up to 500 pounds, and, when standing on its hind legs, towering 12 feet above the ground.  One guide book suggested that polar bears may lead the loneliest life of any mammal on the planet.  They meet other bears for courtship only and after that take no further part in family life.  When the anchor tumbled out of the pocket, the polar bear lifted his head, put his nose in the air and took a few deep breaths, then walked slowly down to the water with a lazy, lumbering gate.  He paused to yawn, giving us a glimpse at how wide he could open his jaws.  Catherine had just come on duty and may have been the most excited.  “Ahh’ve never seen a polar bear in my laaf!” she squealed in that crisp and musical Afrikaans accent.  “Oh, maah wurd she is stunning.”  The walrus left.  The bear paused at the water’s edge.  He began to lick the surface gingerly, not plunging his tongue but delicately running it along the surface.  I surmised that there must be a layer of fresh water on the top of the salt water, a thin lens from which the bear could slake his thirst.  Hydrated, the bear entered the water and swam around the small spit and out of sight, leaving us alone with the glacier and the hoodoos of Blanely Bay.

— Jonathan

A tender expedition led by Ken Burton encountered same the bear a few hours later.  I am told that Jerry Herring and several others have some excellent photos that we will post in a few hours.    

Photo by Kiwi Mark

Photo by Kiwi Mark

Photo by Ethan

Photo by Ethan

Photo by Ethan

Photo by Ethan

Photo b y Ethan

Photo b y Ethan

Photo by Hugo

Photo by Hugo

Photo by Hugo

Photo by Hugo

Rivers of Ice

The Devon Island ice sheet has numerous arms that stretch from the mountainous interior down to the rocky shores.  Rosehearty's project for the day is to visit Croker Bay, a deep fjord just west of Dundas Harbour where two of these glacial arms reach the sea.  We weigh anchor after breakfast and zig zag our way through the dozens of ice bergs that have calved from the faces of these glaciers and are now drifting slowly with the current.  Size and scale became warped as the glacier comes in to view.  I'm on watch with Hugo and am about to slow the engines for what seemed to be our final approach.  Hugo checks the range on the radar and compares it to the Transas electronic chart.

"We're still 5 miles away," Hugo said.  We both check the instruments again because the ice wall looks much closer than that. We press on for another 40 minutes and then stop near the leading edge.  Though only a few hundred meters from where the ice meets the sea, we are still in more than 100 meters of water. 

The river of ice stretches out before us, filling the carved out canyon with its mass.  While Markus keeps Rosehearty on station with engine and thruster, the deck team launches the orange RIB affectionately known as Wolfie.  Crew and guests suit up in their warmest gear and assemble on the port stern quarter, near the shell door.  The call for the day is layers.  Cloudy skies and an icy wind create a bitter cold.    Once everyone has donned life jackets, the call comes from the bridge to open the door and bring the RIB alongside.  Bundled with gear and cameras, everyone steps carefully from the door to the tender.

Wolfie is dwarfed by the glacier, whose face we estimate to be more than 60 meters high.  With Ken providing historical and scientific details, Hugo manoeuvres Woflie right up to the ice edge and then across its entire width.    The ice is blue and white, smeared with rock in some places, translucent in others.  There are giant "teeth" that appear to have been pushed skyward under enormous pressure; there are splits and cracks.  No calving occurs d during the hours we were there.  All is quiet.  We have to remind ourselves that though everything looks static, it is not.  The whole river of ice is sliding towards the sea, its unimaginable weight compacting earth and shearing rock.  It seems invincible.    But we know it is not.  This glacier -- all glaciers -- are melting, in the air and in the water.  Ancient ice meets a warming sea and succumbs. 

— Jonathan

Jerry Herring

Jerry Herring

Jerry Herring

Jerry Herring

Jerry Herring

Jerry Herring

Jerry Herring

Jerry Herring

Jerry Herring

Jerry Herring

Jerry Herring

Jerry Herring

Sacrifices and Sovereignty

Imagine it is the year 1924 and you are a member of the newly formed Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  You've never seen the ocean because you come from  of Saskatchewan, where Grassland covers vast plains in the south and the rugged rocks of the Canadian Shield plateau, coniferous forests, rivers and lakes make up the north.  You are sent to the RCMP detachment at Dundas Harbour, a remote outpost on the largest uninhabited island on the planet, a thousand miles from where you grew up.  Your job, with one other Mountie, is to assert Canadian Sovereignty -- over foreign nations like Denmark and Greenland who may be exploiting the abundant marine resources of Lancaster sound without permission.  You are there to show the flag and collect customs duties or prevent access.  Your commission will last two to three years and your survival will depend on your ability to adapt to this new world as you will have no contact with the outside world until the supply ship reaches you.  The structures you will live in are wood, prefabricated and poorly suited for this environment.  For three months you will have 24 hours of daylight; but for 6 months you will live and work in darkness.  There will be musk ox to hunt and seal.  But marauding polar bears are always a threat and so you will keep your stores well away from your cabins.  You enlist the help of a local Inuit family; they will help you hunt and lead you on far-ranging patrols to the north and west, covering thousands of miles by dog-team.  You survive until the spring of 1926 and you are due to depart that same summer.  But you don't make it to the end of your commission because on June 16 you commit suicide.  You are 26 years old.  Your name is Victor Maisonneuve, Constable 7766.  Less than a year later, your companion, Constable William Robert Stephens will also die, not from suicide but from a gunshot wound during a hunting expedition. 

This is the picture our expedition leader, Ken Burton, paints for us as the Rosehearty team stood on the shores of Dundas Harbour, Devon Island.  A white picket fence surrounds the grave site, which sits at the base of a steep cliff, a gentle slope of crumbling rock edging towards the graves.  Like everything up here in the high Arctic, the bay is vast.  The detachment buildings are dwarfed by the long rocky beach and sheer cliff walls.  There is a small berg stuck on the beach.  A receding glacier forms a backdrop in the adjacent bay.

In 2016 when Rosehearty was here last, the crew saw a Polar Bear.  "It will take me about an hour to clear the area before we can send the group in," Ken explains at the morning briefing.  "I'll start high and work my way down.  I'll radio when to bring everyone in." He’ll carry his 12 gauge shotgun on his shoulder.

The blue ice forms a stark contrast against the red, rocky earth.  Once again we feel like we are either on Mars or in the Grand Canyon, the similarities are so compelling.  "It's funny you should say that," Ken chimes in.  "NASA has established an ongoing research project here."  Intrigued, I went to the NASA website:

NASA's Haughton Mars Project (HMP) is part of an international interdisciplinary field research facility located on the world's largest uninhabited island, Devon Island. This project uses the polar desert setting and harsh climate of the Canadian High Arctic to mimic the environmental conditions that crewmembers are likely to encounter on Mars and other planets.  Devon Island's barren terrain, freezing temperatures, isolation, and remoteness offer NASA scientists and personnel a number of unique research opportunities. Other factors, such as the Arctic day and night cycle and restricted logistics and communications capabilities, offer fitting analogs for the challenges that crewmembers will likely face on long-duration space flights.  In addition to ongoing studies that focus on variables such as communications, equipment testing, and vehicular and extra-vehicular operations, Devon Island is also the site of the Exploration program, which aims to develop new technologies, strategies, and operational protocols geared to support the future exploration of the Moon, Mars, and other planets.

In the Rosehearty crew mess, Renee chuckles at the comparison between yacht crew and space crew on long duration flights. “The last time we were here I couldn’t stop feeling like we were on Mars.  Red rocks, numbing silence.  That’s what I think of when I think of Mars.”

Everyone on board seems to be reflecting on the larger themes – stark beauty, sacrifice in the name of the flag, peaceful isolation or frightening silence.

Photo by Hugo Thomas

Photo by Hugo Thomas

Jonathan

Jonathan

Photo by Jonathan

Photo by Jonathan

Jonathan

Jonathan

Jonathan

Jonathan

Jonathan

Jonathan

Jonathan

Jonathan

Stone Sentinels

On our first full day, we departed Arctic Bay in rain, heading south in Admiralty inlet for a place called The Gallery, which was supposed to have fine examples of something called hoodoos. 

“Have you ever seen a hoodoo?” Mayor Frank had asked me the day before our departure.

“What’s the English word?” I asked.

Frank looked at me smiling, “That is the English word.”

I discovered that Mayor Frank from Arctic Bay, had studied geology.  He would often lapse in to musings about the area. “These islands are mostly composed of sedimentary rock,” Frank explained after recovering from my ignorance about hoodoos, “which is formed from pre-existing rocks eroding and weathering into fine small fragments. Over time, these fine sediments get compacted and cemented together.  In some areas, the sedimentary rock is pushed up and then eroded by wind and water turning the rock into life-like shapes called Hoodoos.” 

As we pushed through curtains of rain and a building breeze, I was eager to visit the Gallery and these hoodoos that lived there.  But in the Arctic, one’s plans are often subject to change.  By the time we were approaching the coast where the hoodoos lived, the wind had risen to 25 knots, blowing straight in to the proposed anchorage, creating a lee shore and difficult landing conditions for the tenders.  And so we opted to explore the other coast, an indentation on the chart called Levasseur Inlet.  No one on board knew anything about this anchorage, not even our expedition leader, Ken Burton.  Uncharted shoals prevented us from getting too close with Rosehearty but both tenders were launched and it was not too long before we had 14 of us plus two very excited dogs on the coarse sandy beach.  Though we had studied the shore with binoculars, we did not accurately understand the scale of what we were about to see.  We found ourselves in a surreal place, where colors, shapes, size and distances were all blurred.  A sweeping glacial plain was flanked on ether side by rolling hills that ended abruptly at steep cliffs.  I had the sense that were in a very wide alley, perhaps canyon would be more accurate. 

Ken proposed a walk, which led us from the beach across the flat plain and up on to a granite step.  The colors under our feet were quite extraordinary.  Tiny shrubs, grass, lichens, even blueberries grew on the damp loamy ground.  The dogs were charged; imagine the thousand new scents that would have bombarded their senses after a morning at sea!  As the flat plain gradually turned in to a gentle ascent.  Ken’s arm went up indicating that we should all pause.  He extended the arm and pointed.  We all peered to the area he was indicating but saw nothing.  We held the dogs on a short leash.  After directing us further, we finally all saw the Arctic hare, well camouflaged and crouching in front of a large craggy rock.  The National Geographic website explains, “Arctic hares are fast and can bound at speeds of up to 40 miles an hour.  In winter, they sport a brilliant white coat that provides excellent camouflage in the land of ice and snow. In spring, the hare's colors change to blue-gray in approximation of local rocks and vegetation.  These hares do not hibernate, but survive the dangerous cold with a number of behavioral and physiological adaptations. They sport thick fur and enjoy a low surface area to volume ratio that conserves body heat, most evident in their shortened ears.” 

“Just walk quietly, we should be able to get a lot closer,” whispered Ken.  He was right.  Despite our numbers, the hare stayed put, unphased by the clicking shutters and the oohs and aahs from our shore posse. 

Atop the granite step, Ken paused and said, “Wow.”  Three stone cairns were positioned on the promontory.  They faced out to sea.  “These are amazing,” said Ken.  “They’re called Inuksuk.”  There was one large and two smaller structures.  “The larger one may have been used for navigation or to mark a particular camp or hunting ground,” Ken explained.   But the two smaller pieces represent family, possibly placed by a descendent of the builder of the original.  These are really exceptional.”  In the Tundra biome, this whole area above the Arctic Circle, there are no trees or other natural landmarks.  These Inuksuk can be visible for great distances.  The word “inuksuk” means “that which acts in the capacity of a human.”  Historically, the most common types of inuksuk are built with stone placed upon stone. The simplest type is a single stone, positioned in an upright manner.  There is some debate as to whether the appearance of human- or cross-shaped cairns developed in the Inuit culture before the arrival of European missionaries and explorers.  We are debating on board as to whether our example had arms.

Standing on the precipice next to the Inuksuk, we take in the view, looking where he is looking – we see the high sides of the canyon blending into the wide plain, which then sweeps into the sea, framing Rosehearty against the grey green waters of Admiralty Inlet.

Photo by Jerry Herring

Photo by Jerry Herring

Photo by Jerry Herring

Photo by Jerry Herring

Photo by Ken Burton

Photo by Ken Burton

The Inuit Flag

The Inuit Flag

Photo by Jerry Herring

Photo by Jerry Herring

All who travel by water

Frank saw the twin engine plane first as it emerged from the clouds, flew passed rust-colored hills, over the village's fresh water lake, and rumbled passed the parking area, engines spitting and coughing.   The aircraft touched down on the brown runway, dragging a plume of fine sand  in its wake, finally taxiing to a stop in front of the terminal, where Captain Hutch, Chief Engineer Richie and I were waiting, accompanied by Mayor Frank and the Hamlet's financial officer Eric, both key local contacts -- now friends -- who have helped us during our brief stay in Arctic Bay.  The plane disgorged its contents -- 10 passengers, plus our Arctic expedition leader, Ken Burton, copious amounts of luggage, boxes and boxes of provisions, and 2 nervous dogs.  The sleepy airport -- there was no one here when arrived an hour earlier -- slumbered to life and all of our gear, as well as the boss and his friends, were whisked from the plane to the armada of waiting vehicles.  Things that we take for granted "down south" are often more problematic here in the high Arctic.  It was only through the kindness and generosity of our hosts that we were able to piece together the number of vehicles required to make this transfer successful.

About two hours before the plane was due, Frank phoned me.  "The taxi van has a blown tire," he said matter-of-factly.  I shuddered.  "And remember I told you it's a holiday weekend, well, one of the drivers of the truck is, shall we say, unable to assist us due to ongoing festivities at his home."  My knees felt a little weak.  A twinge of mild nausea crept in to my stomach. 

"What are our options, Frank?  The boss and his wife, 8 of his friends, our expedition leader and all the gear is arriving in a couple of hours."

"I called Eric from the hamlet office and he says he got the keys to another van.  It was bought by a tour company down south but they lost their manager."

I feel a surge of hope.

"Can a couple of our crew drive your trucks?"

"That shouldn't be a problem."

Crisis averted!

By the time our convoy reached the shore, a few low grey clouds offered some light spits of rain.  But big breaks in the cover, allowed thick shafts of sunlight to strike the surrounding hills and illuminate the red cliffs in a haunting russet hue.

Ethan, Mark, Hugo, and Markus expertly managed the transfer of people and luggage.  The children who have been shadowing us every time we came to shore were on station and tousled with each other to be part of our "bucket brigade" - the line we formed to transfer the boxes and bags from the back of the truck to the waiting tenders.

Great voyages of exploration often begin with ceremony, to ensure the success of the endeavour.  This expedition would be no different.  Captain Hutch had arranged a wonderful surprise for our ship's company.  We all assembled in the aft cockpit, where Frank and his wife Lea, Eric and two young women, dressed in colourful costumes were waiting.  Eric introduced himself and told us a little about the history of Arctic Bay. 

"My wife Lea, was born not far from here.  Her family moved in to Arctic Bay in the late 60's.  Until then, Lea spoke no English," Frank explained.  "The discovery of rich iron ore deposits is what really transformed Arctic Bay.  A mine was opened in the mid-seventies and for a time was very successful.  Quite a few of our locals were trained to work in the mines, which really helped our economy."  Frank fielded a few questions: we learned about ice and hunting and the scourge of alcohol.  He then pointed to the two young women who had accompanied him out. 

“This is Molly Oyukuluk and Inga Mickpa and they are going to share with you the Inuit art of throat singing.”  Molly and Inga stood up shyly.  They faced each other, grasping one another’s arms.  From the depths of Molly's throat, originating deep within her abdomen, emerged a low, guttural sound.  Inga then broke in to a kind of huffing and whooshing sequence, creating a rhythm for Molly to follow.  All of our mouths fell open, as none of us had ever heard anything quite like this before.  Wolfie, the German Shepherd, cocked his head, staring intently and offered a low moan.  He had to be escorted from the cockpit as he was clearly either very interested in joining the performance or agitated by the sounds he heard.

According to the National Geographic website, Inuit throat singing, or katajjaq, is a form of musical performance uniquely found among the Inuit. The traditional form consists of two women who sing duets in a close face-to-face formation with no instrumental accompaniment.  Frank had explained that the art of throat singing was developed for fun and competition among Inuit women while the men were off on hunting expeditions.  Once the duet begins, breath control is essential, as is a steady countenance.  Whichever performer laughs first or runs out of breath at the wrong time loses the game. 

Molly and Inga rock and sway from one foot to the next to keep time.  Growls and raspy cries create a strange hypnotic rhythm.  Molly seemed to create the pattern, leaving silent gaps for Inga to populate with her own rhythmic pattern.  We hear voiced and unvoiced sounds, through inhalation and exhalation.  Molly loses pace first and starts to laugh.  Inga giggles as well.  We join in the laughter too.  We are treated to several rounds, including one called the Walrus.

Frank’s wife, Leah Qaqqasiq, is next to stand.  She is a deacon at the local Anglican church, and a respected Inuit community member.  She has a broad dignified face, that seems connected to a rich, ancient past.  She has brought her red Bible with her.  In the local Inuktitut language, Leah offers a prayer.  The only word we understand is “Rosehearty” but then Leah recites the prayer in English; it is a prayer for a safe voyage and  a bountiful trip.  “Preserve, we beseech thee, all who travel by water, (especially those people for travelling by water in this Rosehearty boat), we pray for them…surround them with thy loving care, protect them from every danger, and bring them in safety to their journey’s end.”

A perfectly timed “Amen” comes from our team, and this Rosehearty adventure is underway.

Jonathan

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Showtime

Today marks the real beginning.  All of the voyaging, preparations,  and training were really the prelude for Act I, which begins now.  Fuel, stores, deck, cabins, charts, forecasts, pilots, guides are all in order.  Rosehearty, at anchor under a cloudless sky in Arctic Bay, gleams in the rarefied air.  The sea is a polished slate.  We hold our breaths and urge the conditions to remain the same.  

There is an energy in the yachting industry where weeks of preparations are brought in to sharp focus on to a single point in time. Everything that comes before, crystallizes the moment the boss and his guests step on board. And if you are superyacht crew, you want to get that moment right -- any oversight that detracts from the instant of arrival can dilute if not destroy all of the preparations that have come before. And so as I write this blog, there is checking and double checking going on in all departments to be sure that every single one of the parts add up to the perfect whole. The work underway in these last few hours is visible -- ice and weather reports being dissected by the bridge team; main engines, generators, sailing systems, and all hotel equipment under final scrutiny by the engineers; tenders being fueled and checked over by the deck crew; cabins, salon and cockpits being dusted and polished by the interior squad; ingredients in the galley being measured, sliced, peeled, grated by the chef. What is not as visible but entirely palpable is the immense pride that accompanies every action. I have felt this in varying degrees on every yacht I have worked aboard, but here on the good ship Rosehearty, the pulse is strong.

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Arcit Bay hike 1.JPG

The Pocket -- Arctic Bay

After 4 days and a thousand miles of heading North, we turn West, leaving Baffin Bay and Davis Straits behind.  Greenland is far to the east and well below the horizon.  With that simple manoeuvre, that port hand turn, we enter Lancaster Sound, the gateway to the Northwest Passage, the fabled route connecting the North Atlantic Ocean with the Beaufort Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

 A day earlier, our course brought us close to the coast of Bylot Island. Low cloud obscured the sun and turned the water a steel grey.  The snow-capped mountains of the Byam Martin Range stood sentinel over winding glaciers, whose frozen tendrils cut giant swaths across exposed rocky soil.  Mud and debris pushed towards the sea.  Some of the lower peaks had no snow, the sharp ridge lines resembling the spines of half-buried ancient lizards. 

 As soon as we turn into Lancaster Sound, the landscape changes dramatically.   Sheer cliffs with exposed sedimentary lines guard the deep channel.  There is no snow.  The land is red, fractured, the color I imagine Mars would be.  There are no trees.  The water is flat, a mirror.  We move at ten knots but it feels like we are standing still.  I hear the engine, I see the wake curling away from the hull, but the scale of our surroundings swallows our movements.

 From Lancaster Sound we turn south into Admiralty Inlet and from there into the snug anchorage of Arctic Bay in the Nunavut Territory.  Ethan opens the brake, and the anchor rumbles out of the hawsepipe, breaking a sunlit but eerie silence.  The hamlet of Arctic Bay – or Ikpiarjuk, meaning “the pocket” in the Inuit language -- becomes our first port of call since casting off the lines from Nuuk.  Though the journey is well underway, our expedition begins here.  We will prep, refuel and in 48 hrs meet the boss and his friends and our expedition leader, all arriving by air from America. 

 It is good we have a little time here.  There is a population of 900 and so far I have only met the two policemen (Royal Canadian Mounted Police), the grocery store cashier, the town comptroller, the gift shop clerk and the Mayor, whose name is Frank.  “Our Prime Minister was here yesterday,” he said proudly as we climbed into his pick-up.  He had a toothpick balanced in the corner of his mouth. 

 “Aw just push that stuff aside.”  A drill, a hat and one shoe were on the passenger seat. 

“And how was the Prime Minister received?”  I asked. 

“He knows how to work a crowd.  They loved him.  He met with our oldest village elder, Qaapik Attagutsiak, spent time with the school kids, even took a hike.  I think he drove his own people crazy, not following the time schedule.”

 “Do you see that shoe?” he said pointing to a black dress shoe squeezed into a zippered felt pouch.  “These are my best dress shoes, I wore them for his visit but I’ve lost one.  It’s gotta be in here somewhere.”

 According to several Canadian newspapers that reported on the visit, Mr. Trudeau announced the creation of a new marine protected area now known as the Tallurutiup Imanga National Marine Conservation Area, and a second area on the northwest coast of Ellesmere Island that will be known as the Tuvaijuittuq Marine Protected Area. Tuvaijuittuq means “the place where the ice never melts.”  Together, these reserves cover more than 427,000 square kilometres, an area larger than Newfoundland and Labrador combined.

 Mayor Frank told me that of the 900 inhabitants, almost 50% were children under 16.  The Rosehearty crew were fortunate enough to meet a few of them – toddler to teen age -- who came to greet us when we first tendered in.   They stayed with us the entire day as we filled fuel bladders and transferred them to Rosehearty for pumping on board.  They played in the tenders, tried on life jackets, drank from our water flasks, looked through our cameras, showed us their phones, and asked lots of questions: Boxy and I told one young teen we were from New Zealand.  “What do you have in New Zealand that we don’t have here?”  he asked.

 “Trees, I said, lots and lots of trees.”

“I would be afraid,” he replied. 

“Why?” I queried. 

“Because of the ghosts that hide in them.” 

“These are friendly trees, with no ghosts,” Boxy reassured the lad.  The boy did not seem convinced.

“We have Kiwi birds,”  Boxy continued, “They come out at night, they can’t fly.” 

“They must be easy to shoot; are they good to eat?” retorted our companion.

 The older kids acted tough, asking for beer or vodka.  The younger ones begged for rides in the tender.  One young man showed me a photo on his phone of him standing next to a seven and a half foot Narwhal tusk he had just cut out of mature adult male he had shot.  He asked me if I liked it, suggesting he could procure one for me too, provided I had the money.

 As we left the beach having completed our last fuel and provisioning run, I felt uneasy, balancing my preconceptions of this place and these people against the stark realities of what I actually saw.  Fortunately, I have another day to sort things out in this marvelous bay near the top of the world.

—Jonathan

photo by Richard Smith

photo by Richard Smith

Photo by Richard Smith

Photo by Richard Smith

Photo by Richard Smith

Photo by Richard Smith

Photo by Jonathan Kline

Photo by Jonathan Kline

Photo by Peter Box

Photo by Peter Box

Back in Lancaster Sound

"Terra!" Comes the call from the flybridge. Far off to port, with icebergs
in the foreground, we spy the mountain ranges of Baffin and Bylot Islands,
the southern sentinels of Lancaster Sound. The snow-covered peaks, some
rising to almost two-thousand meters are clearly visible, even 50 miles off
shore. These islands are significant for geography fans and wildlife
enthusiasts: Baffin Island is the fifth largest island on earth and boasts
the largest lake of any island on our planet. Bylot Island is a bird
sanctuary with more than 35 migratory breeding species gathering by the
hundreds of thousands among the mountains, snowfields, and glaciers.

This puts us in the company of sea birds. Northern Fulmar, with their
stocky shoulders and fast wingbeats, cruise around Rosehearty, looking for
small fish and squid disturbed by our wake. They fly close enough for us to
see their naricorns, the name for their protruding nostrils, attached to
their upper bill. Richie, Boxy and Ethan, all armed with lightning shutter
speed cameras and long telephoto lenses, try to capture these birds as they
swoop and careen close to the surface. According to the Audubon Society
website, these Fulmar have at least two fascinating adaptations. For
defence, Fulmar produce a waxy stomach oil, which when ejected from their
mouths can mat the feathers and disable approaching predators. And because
of the large amounts of ocean water they ingest as they feed, Fulmar have
their own on board desalinators: a gland situated above the nasal passage
extracts the salt and pushes the nearly pure saline out of their nostrils.

We are also seeing large flocks of what I now know are Guillemots. When I
first saw these birds sitting in clusters on the water, I noticed that they
were not very efficient in flight, often needing rapid wing beats and a long
runway to get in to the air. I asked Kiwi Mark, if he knew what they were
called.

"Aw yep," he insisted; "They're called Kanardlys."

I was impressed with his avian knowledge and did not take notice of Markus,
his watch partner, smothering a laugh in his cup of coffee. Kiwi Mark
continued, "They're called Kanardlys because they canardlyfly!"

Kanardlys or Guillemots, may not be great fliers but they are excellent
swimmers. As we approach the floating clusters, often, rather than scatter
to the air, these birds simply dive down, and "fly" underwater. Apparently,
young Guillemot get little flying practice. Nesting parents lay a single
egg on sheer cliff faces of places like Bylot Island in spring so that by
the start of summer, their young are ready to take to the ocean to hunt for
squid, fish and small crustaceans. The challenge is that in order to get
from the cliff edge to the sea, the young birds have to leap, as far away
from the edge as possible and use webbed feet and small wings to flap and
glide as best they can in to the sea. Many tumble in flight, bouncing off
rocks, on the way, their downy coats cushioning them from the knocks and
jolts, until they drop into a frigid, foamy sea.

"The water has dropped two degrees since yesterday," Ethan tells me as we
watch the birds dive under water out of our way. Ethan is working on his
Chief Office's ticket and as such is doing most of the passage plans and
nautical publication review under Markus and Captain Hutch's watchful eyes.
"It was 5c and now it's down to 3c. I guess it's all that cold water from
the Arctic Ocean, running out of Lancaster Sound. That's the way the water
moves this time of the year."

"Do you prefer warm water cruising like we did in Tahiti or cold water
sailing?" I ask him. He smiles faintly and reflects for a moment. "I love
being up here. The landscape is on steroids and the water, well with all
the sea life and the ice, it's just magic."

Jonathan

Photo by Richard Smith

Photo by Richard Smith

No Fog (for Now!)

Greenland disappeared very shortly after departure a couple of days ago, not
because the land had slipped below the horizon, but because the fog was so
thick that it swallowed up the coast. The blanket stayed on us for about 40
hrs with no sign of letting up. We sighted some ice bergs just as we were
leaving Nuuk but with the visibility down to less than a 100 meters for most
of our voyage thus far, we have not seen any since. We peer in to the
white, squint at the radars but so far, no sightings in what we know are
"bergy waters". Chris Dickson, during the 1993/94 Whitbread Race commented
that during the Southern Ocean leg, from New Zealand to Cape Horn, they
would see many icebergs during the day but none at night. He theorized that
they must all return to Antarctica once the evening sets in. In these
northern Arctic waters, the icebergs exhibit similar behaviour, retreating
back to shore when the fog gets too thick. Great peace of mind for those on
watch.

Our destination for this leg, Arctic Bay, is still 2 days away but now that
we are above the Arctic Circle, we have the midnight sun. Richard, who
shares the engineering role with Boxy, sailed with the yacht on the 2016
expedition; he told me yesterday that he has already contacted his friend in
Arctic Bay to be sure that a round of golf will be possible. Incredulous, I
said, "Golf?"

"You play on rocks and gravel," he explained with an Aussie twang, "and on
top of your drivers and wedges in the golf bag, there is the important club
the locals call the 'bear club.'"

"Is that for really long fairways?" I asked. He chuckled and showed me a
photo. "The bear club is a rifle, usually loaded with non-lethal rounds at
the front, and more deadly last-resort rounds at the back."

We sailed out of the blanket of fog a few hours ago. When I came up at
0300, I was greeted with a startling blue sky and the sun just above the
northern horizon. It had dipped but not set. Mark and Marcus were on
watch, buzzing over the views and the exceptional visibility. To port and
starboard were massive bergs seemingly fixed to the ocean floor but on the
move at about a knot, according to our plotter. Now that the fog has
lifted, it seems the ice bergs have come back out to sea.

Jonathan

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Arctic Circle

Athletes seek medals, best times, or wins in the finals. Bluewater sailors
measure their successes in ocean miles, rounded capes, and imaginary lines
of latitude. Of the five major circles of latitude, the crossing of the
equator is the most celebrated, and on board all ships the crossing of this
line is usually accompanied by excruciating anticipation, pungent
concoctions mixed with glee, hilarious costumes and an appearance by Neptune
himself. The lesser known lines that circle the earth are the Tropic of
Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, and the two polar circles, the Arctic
and the Antarctic. Here on board Rosehearty for this expedition north,
most of the crew crossed 66 degrees north, the accepted line around the
globe designating the Arctic, during the yacht's 2016 voyage here. But
there are a few of us on board who have not and who, since departing
Greenland yesterday, have been keen to join the ranks of those polar
explorers who have journeyed here. Our chef for this adventure, Artur lives
in Tahiti and though he has logged many miles in the South Pacific, he has
never sailed in the high latitudes of the North Atlantic. "What a nice
change of scenery," he explained to me yesterday as he was dicing a
cucumber. "You know in Tahiti, for feesh I am always preparing Mahi Mahi,
Tuna, Wahoo, and then more Mahi Mahi, Tuna and Wahoo. This is my first time
being able to work with the cold water feesh -- Turbot, Halibut, Arctic
Char. So delicious." Cat crossed the Antarctic circle with Rosehearty
earlier this year but was not on board for the Arctic expedition of 2016.
"Coming from Durban," Cat explained in her smooth English Afrikaans accent,
"Ahh never dreamed in my laahf that I would sail to the Arctic and the
Antarctic in the same year." And though I have cruised the Aleutian Islands
in the North Pacific, and dipped to 60 degrees south while sailing in the
Southern Ocean I have never quite made it to this magic realm of 66 North or
higher. Though there will be no slops bucket nor any visit from Neptune
here today, the three new recruits still commemorated the occasion with a
photo and a big smile.

Jonathan


Photo By Renee

Photo By Renee

Nuuk

It is not often that the crew day off coincides with perfect weather, but
for the Roshearty team, in Nuuk, Greenland, after the passage from Newport,
the weather gods conspired to deliver that stunning day. A cloudless sky
presided over what locals described as their warmest day this year. As it
was also a Sunday, most of the community was out as well and Rosehearty's
dock was buzzing with adults and children, eager to see the white ship with
the two tall masts, surrounded by fishing boats unloading their catch and
small bulk carriers disgorging the contents of their holds. But we were not
the only attraction; a Danish Navy frigate, named Epsilon, was berthed at
another near by dock, with an open ship day for the local community. Some
of the Rosehearty crew joined hundreds of locals for a tour of the ship.
Boxy, one of our Chief Engineers, described the 140 sailors on board as most
gracious and the ship and its equipment, wildly impressive. Other crew went
on long walks in town or set out for nearby promontories with a view. Cat
and Hugo had somehow managed to procure a fresh baguette, a wedge of brie
and a pot of fig jam for a picnic. Lenka set out for the highest peak,
determined to reach the top and glimpse what lay beyond. Nuuk sits slightly
inland on the edge of the sea. To the east are the treeless rocky hills of
the main island, dotted with pools of melted ice; beyond that, the famous
Greenland ice sheet. To the west are hundreds of rocky island, also bare,
lining the edge of Davis Strait that patch of ocean that leads from the
Labrador Sea to Baffin Bay and the Canadian Arctic. Today, the Rosehearty
crew will cross Davis Strait. sailing north from Nuuk to Arctic Bay, an 1100
nm voyage that will bring us closer to the edge of the ice. And that
perfectly clear day that I described yesterday and that we had hoped for
today -- well, that has given way to a damp, soupy day of fog, light drizzle
and cold. But that has not quashed the spirits of those lucky enough to be
on this expedition; quite the opposite -- what the fog hides adds
excitement, challenge and purpose to this very special expedition and what
treasures it might reveal.

Jonathan Kline.

Photo by JK

Photo by JK

Photo By Lenka

Photo By Lenka