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Live Stories and Blogs from the crew of Tecla as they navigate the North West Passage

Disko Bay Iceberg
Our voyage has started

The day has come. Our voyage has started. Our group is on board and the groceries have been bought. Did we forget anything?

Thanks to Simon Damant, Gijs and Sam on the back stay
Thanks to Simon Damant, Gijs and Sam on the back stay

Oh yeah, we had to say goodbye to some of our amazing crew, that have sailed us to Greenland and are now on a well deserved holiday! Thank you Loes, Jehanne and Enki, you are stars.

Preparations

The last few days have been very busy. And somewhat chaotic. We have shifted berth at least 6 times over 3 days and have filled our fuel tank at a fill station that took us over 1,5 hours! As Sam and I went grocery shopping, the Tecla had to shift again and even after our supper we had to go aside for one of the ships on the inside. But we got all the shopping done and our guests on board. Our expedition crew arrived just before dinner, and after a short introduction and safety briefing it was time to socialize, get to know eachother and get used to the ship.

Photo Simon Damant
 
Fog and Bergybits

This morning started with a cooler air then the last few days. After clearing out and stamping out, we were unpleasantly surprised at the sight of not just fog, but also Bergybits coming into the harbor of Ilulissat. One bergybit made it around the corner of the entrance and came straight for our berth. We had postponed our departure with an hour due to the fog, but as we had to shift berth for the launch of a small fishing vessel, we thought we might as well set of. The beginning of our adventure – the beginning of our attempt to sail through the North West Passage. With radar turning and look outs on both sides, we ventured into the thick fog.

Photo Simon Damant

It is now evening when I write this. But the sun is still shining. Behind yet another cover of fog, but it is still very bright. We made our way out of the first bit of the bay, very slowly. We had to swurl around two cruise vessels at anchor, some ice bits and then some icebergs, but we made it out safely. Around 18:00, the fog lifted for a few hours, but has settled in again. We have decided to anchor later this night. Right now there is no wind to sail with, wind is expected in a few days, so we will make the most of our time and do some exploring along the Disko Bay area, until we have some wind to cross over to Canada. Ice reports still give 9/10 for Resolute, so we are not yet in a hurry

Around (the) Disko we go.

Around (the) Disko we go.

Tecla Diskobay

After finding our way into a beautiful anchorage at Fortunebay, we had a good night rest (thanks to a small team of anchor watch keepers) and started of fresh this morning.

First a short hike, some morning gym, before setting of into the fog. Because the fog was still there. And so were the icebergs!

Simon started off with a head start in the small fishing match between him, Sam and Gijs, as he started before breakfast. He caught and released several wolf-fishes, the Atlantic Wolf fish to be exact, two very small Cod fishes and a very strange looking fish I believe was called a skelpie. Seeing mainly smaller fishes, it was mentioned that this might be a sort nursery, a place where small fishes can grow big before heading out to deeper waters. So all were thrown back after a good examination. Last nights dinner was fish, we can wait a little before catching the next meal!

 As we left Fortunebay, the wind turned out the be exactly what we expected, hardly there, or against us. Not a good sailing day.

Right now we are at anchor at Nipisat, a small bay, away from icebergs and sheltered because it is shallow. The group is a shore for a hike to an old whaling station and an old archeological find of an old settlement of Inuits, from before the Danish or even Dutch discovered Greenland.

Tomorrow we set off again for the next bit. Depending on the wind and forecast we will start our crossing to Canada tomorrow or the day after. Ice reports are looking better and better. But we are still not in a hurry. 

Here we go!

All weather and ice reports combined, we have made the decision to wait  no longer, hop no further, but get it over with and set sail for the Canadian coast. Or sail…, first a bit under engine, until we pick up the wind. For now we only have a very light breeze from the North North West.

Disko Bay Iceberg
Disko Bay Iceberg

 As we set out from our last stop on Disko Island we were met by a group of seals as well as a few icebergs. It seems now that  we have left the Icebergs behind us and we only have Baffin Bay ahead of us. The magnificence of the icebergs is hard to explain. Big, white, at first sight, but when you look closer, blue in all sorts, this big mass sticks out of the water. Knowing it is only a small piece we are looking at and the rest is below the water, one can not but wonder. They drift around in the fjords, out on the wide water and are not steered by anything else then nature. Currents and wind. Which ads to the feeling that we should not get too close to any of them. The icebergs we have seen are off all sorts and shapes. Some over 200 meters long, others higher then a 4 story building. Some have already fallen over and you can see the old water lines in the shape of the iceberg. Others have massive, deep blue cracks running from the top all the way to the waterline. We have seen a few of them cave in as we passed them. A loud crack and then a splash with a wave coming up as the falling bit hits the surface again and starts turning itself until it rocks softly and just drifts on..

Iceberg and Yellow Brick

 

 Although the day has been very grey, we are happy that the fog has lifted. Last night the fog was already breaking up and what came from underneath it, was amazing. The sun was shining above the mist and where there was no mist, there were bright sun rays on the cliffs of the island. The light was just amazing. After dinner, all the fog had lifted and we could enjoy the sunlight setting our whole surrounding ablaze. What a light! Now, making our way through the grey, the air is as cold as it looks. Everybody is topping up on layers and making tea and coffee for the next watch, doing dishes or turning the vegetables will soon be every bodies favourite job, as we can then get out of the cold and into the warmth below decks.

The atmosphere on board is good. And although Greenland is beautiful, we are all looking forward to this next part, getting to Canada. For now, we are hoping to have our first stop in Pond Inlet, but first we have over 550 miles to cover.

Sailing across Baffin Bay #5

 Sailing across Baffin Bay #5

Photo Simon Damant

We have made as much North under engine as we could, before the Northerly winds started. Around 06:00 board time (UTC -2) we set most of the sails and at 08:00 watch hand over we set the top-sails as well. And we are off with a nice speed. Averaging between 6 and 7 knots with a course pointing at Baffin Island. Weather reports show that this wind will decrease somewhere in the middle of Baffin Bay and then turn Southerly. So we are making the most of it.

The temperature is around 7 degrees, with a breeze that is water cold, but most of us still have a few extra layer to add when necessary. The clouds have changed from a fog into a altostratus mid level, that is starting to break up.. so grey, other shades of grey and then now with sudden sun rays bouncing of the water surface, there is some colour back into our scenery.

Photo’s Simon Damant

The sea is calm, small waves and a long low swell is running, so it is easy to keep the sails full, even when the wind is a little fickle in strength and direction.

Our expedition members are from all sorts of back grounds, making the conversation lively and ever changing. From cloud formations, ice sorts and density, to sailing the arctic or milling local hard wood on the South side of the world. All is well on board.

About 310 miles until the entrance to Pond Inlet, between Baffin Island and Bylot Island. The ice reports we are receiving are looking promising. Ice has decreased beyond Resolute in the last 4 days. Barrow strait is opening up, but still pretty packed and so is Peel sound. Making our way to Pond Inlet will take at least another 2 days, keeping our eye on those ice reports!

The compass has gone completely koekoek!

The compass has gone completely koekoek

 

Gijs runs outside with a flushed head and turns to the helmsmen ‘What is happening’ the helmsmen looks back at Gijs, then looks at the compass, then looks at Gijs again. ‘I have no idea, its not working any more, I cant get it back on course’. Gijs looks around as the Tecla is turning in a wide angled turn and is nearly 180 degrees off her course, but the compass keeps pointing at the same course..

You know it is going to happen, you are sort of waiting for it.. but then when it happens, it still takes you by surprise. The angle between the true north pole and our compass is getting so small, that it’s reaction has slowed down and has now stopped working. The compass has become useless and is spinning on its own. After doing a 360′ turn on purpose and removing magnets inside the compass, it is still not back to normal, and so we are navigating on sight and GPS. Keep that iceberg to your port side and keep an angle of 30 degrees with that cloud, because even the sun is no help to us here.

Other than that, we are making our miles to Canada under engine again. We sailed out of our comfortable breeze this morning and had to start the engine not to be caught by the South current running along the coast here.

We have had the sun set and sun rise in one watch and both the setting sun and rising sun where an amazing sight. We started our watch at 00:00 last night and it was foggy again. We could see the sun every now and then through the patches, but it was a very watery sun (as we say in the netherlands). Then at 00:45 it started setting and the fog started to lift. An orange ball was visible through the patches as it disappeared behind the horizon. It stayed light, it does not go dark at all these nights, and then the color of the sky starts turning to a morning blue green and the sun started rising again at 03:15. The sky was completely cleared by then, just as the sun broke the horizon it looked green by the refraction, awestruck I just sat there staring. WHAT A VIEW!!! It was soon up completely and I am sure that had I taken a picture, everybody would have said we were in the Caribbean, not on our way to the North West Passage. Such a deep color of orange and so much warmth, yet the temperature did not rise! - By Jet. 

The perfect picture

THE PERFECT PICTURE!

And then it comes from underneath the cloud. It is such a perfect picture. No wind, hardly a movement in the water and such a ray of colors!! THE PERFECT PICTURE!

 

he sun is gone for about an hour or so and we can see it starts rising again, nearly under the horizon. As it rises, it is even more perfect! Again a picture!! We are all staring at the horizon on the starboard side, hours on end, loving our view and then Sam points out, ‘look at the portside, the light on the mountains is amazing’. Again THE PERFECT PICTURE! Pink and lilac is reflected of the ice and snow on the mountains of Baffin Island. We are at that time 45 miles out of the coast and even at this distance the reflection is amazing. I made so many pictures, it will be hard to figure out which one is the best.

 

e are now 44 miles of Pond Inlet and hope to arrive this evening, some time after dinner. Clearing in will be done the next morning and that will see us entered into Canada officially. Pond Inlet was named in 1818 by explorer John Ross after the English astronomer John Pond. The Inuit name for this settlement is Mittimatalik.

 

he last few days we have been in contact with several North West Passage experts and they all agree, it looks very good this year, except that the Easterly wind that will be blowing the next few days, will not help to clean up the bigger icebergs. We still have time, Peel Sound has not yet opened up and nor has Bellot strait. The waiting game will soon be on as we make our way to Lancaster Sound and then Beechey island or Resolute bay.

Pond inlet for orders

8-8-2019 08:45 local time (12:45 utc)

We have made it to Canada, yesterday evening we entered Pond Inlet, Tursukattak, between the North side of Baffin Island and the South of Bylot Island. We anchored close into shore and even met a fellow North West Passage attempter, who cleared in here yesterday.

While making our way in between the islands, we saw spouts out of the water and tried making our way to where they were. But the creatures were somewhat shy and dove deep when they heard our engine. So next time we saw the spouts, we reduced speed a long distance from them and they stayed surfaced a little longer. Just enough to see spots on their skin and no dorsal fin. Could it be, that the first sea life we see in Canada is a female Narwhal? We got excited, but the spouts had disappeared again. Waiting, eying the horizon, camera’s at the ready, it took a few minutes but we spotted the spouts again. Trying to make our way to them quietly, again we could only see the smooth spotted skin of the animal, smaller then a whale, bigger then a dolphin, just before it dove deep again. What a sight. Could it be?

Arriving at the settlement Pond Inlet, the words pittoresk were uttered, but that is most certainly not what it is. It is a settlement made for survival in a very harsh environment. There are shed like houses, wood on poles and somewhat newer apartments, some almost like a mountain hut, but the look is just one of expedition, wilderness and basic. We are well into the wilderness here. Our anchorage also has a view of Bylot Island, the sun set behind its mountains last night. Bylot is a nature reserve that lures the extreme outdoors lovers. It really does look amazing.

This morning we are just waiting for the clearance office to open and make ourselves official visitors of Canada. Depending on that speed, we set sail again and head closer to the ice ridge. Our friendly neighbour, a French American, was here last year as well. He and his yellow yacht and 4 headed crew attempted the North West Passage last year and he said it was out of this world with the amount of ice. It was a totally different world then the one we have arrived in yesterday. Our anchorage here and the whole way into Pond Inlet has been ice free. According to our neighbour, last year, this bay was filled with ice. We asked him where he was heading next, he answered Seattle. We were thinking a little closer by, as in where are you going tomorrow. But it was sort of comforting to hear him say, filled with confidence, that he was planning on making it through, and Seattle was his next port of call.

Cleared and ready to go!

Cleared in and ready to go

Yesterday the customs took about 1,5 hours, but at the end we were cleared in, stamped in and had a permit to carry our shotgun throughout the Northern Territories, Nanuvut. The morning was spend taking out our diesel canisters, filling the tanks and refilling the canisters with diesel on shore and dinghying the canisters back to the Tecla. After that, everybody went off to explore Pond Inlet and the surroundings. Last night, with the whole crew back on board for dinner, there were so many different stories and experiences it was very nice to listen to. Some had spoken to the locals and told stories of the history of the Inuit’s here. Other know more about the bio diversity and told us of footprints of a polar bear spotted just outside Pond Inlet at a creek.

At anchor we did not spot any wild life except for some birds. The Loon – the northern diver – was spotted around the ship and a few very big Glaucous Gulls. On shore we have a good view on a pack of sled dogs with puppies. They provide endless entertainment and remind me of our pack of four springer spaniels at home. Sled dogs, like huskies are very talkative, they howl, make strange throat noises and bark at each other. And around food time, it gets very noisy here.

Simon taking pictures

The weather so far has been amazing. Not a lot of wind but a lot of sunshine. Yesterday some of us were walking around in T-shirts and on shore the locals were wearing shorts! Apparently we are about to have a heat record in Pond Inlet, getting up to 17 degrees in the shade. The eclipse sound and Pond Inlet are still free of any ice, so when we set off we will make our way through Navy Board Inlet on the West side of Bylot Island and make for Beechey Island, some 300 miles away from here. As we get to Lancaster Sound we expect there will be a nice breeze. Until that time, we will just have to enjoy the scenery and try to spot a Narwhal again!

Mirages of ice and land

Mirages of ice and land

Photo Loes van Aken

Coming on watch at 00:00 hours board time, there are 3 persons in the back and two in the front. Ice watch has started again and they seem to be busy. With growlers and small bergy bits around we are navigating between ice once more. As we take over the watch, we agree on which angle to point out ice at and what distance is important. An hour into our watch, the amount of ice has decreased rapidly and we are now looking at the horizon for new ice. But there is something strange going on with the horizon. It seems like a band of fog or different colour sky is in between the horizon and the water. And in this band, things seem to be floating around. No real bottom, just a shadow hanging in the sky. And then if you take a closer look at the land mass and in particular the edges of the inlet, it seems like they have a very strange shape as well. On the top there is a part sticking out, like a balcony, a natural platform, hanging at the end of the cliff.. but that can not be. How could that withstand any wind or ice or snow pressure in winter. Then we get closer, and the cliff turns back to a normal size. And it has all been a fata-morgana, a mirage.

And so is part of the ice we see. There is a reflection in the sky of what is behind the horizon and it all looks flat, but might actually be an iceberg. But that’s too far away to worry about, first deal with the small bits just in front.

We have left Pond Inlet behind and set sail for Navy Board Inlet, currently almost at the end of the Inlet, ready for Lancaster Sound. Lancaster Sound is said to be open enough to pass through with 2/10 ice and some isolated Icebergs. Our plan is still Beechey Island, but reports of staying at the South shores are taken into consideration. Whispers are uttered that either Peel Sound or Prince Regent will open up in the next 7 days and getting through depends on being there at the right moment. For now that means we will make as many miles into the Lancaster Sound as possible.

The weather is calm. No wind at all. Again we are staring at golden and orange skies of a setting sun behind the clouds, with reflections on the water. Someone once asked me if I ever get tired of looking at the shores and the cliffs and whether it ever got a little dull or normal… Maybe the same could be set for a perfect sunset every night.. but I don’t think so!! These glacial cliffs, the ice coming down on them in what nearly looks like highways, still amazes me. And this sunset, again, is something I would not want to miss! And that also goes for our expedition crew, again some of them hung around after their watch, not wanting to go to bed yet, because there is so much to see!

sunset, taken by Loes

Under engine we are making our miles until we find the wind. Weather reports say there should be wind in Lancaster Sound, but looking at the end of Navy Board Inlet, we might have to wait until the morning for it to really pick up.

On the wild life front we have not spotted many animals yet, Paul reported 8 snow geese, we saw a dead Narwhal drifting and many fulmars and guillimots. We have tried to spot Polar bears on the shore, but after calling out every speck of snow, realized we were not really able to see them at that distance..

Sea Ice

Sea Ice

Just a short message today and maybe a longer one later on as we are making our way through sea ice most of the evening and the whole watch is on look out. Yesterday, making our way into Lancaster sound, we started with a 3 mile bit with icebergs and the first bit of sea ice. AFter that, clear blue skies and hardly any ice. But since 19:00 this evening it has been very busy.

We had been sailing beautifully last night and most the day, but with the ice starting to fill our radar screen and a speed of 7 to 8 knots down wind, it was better to reduce sail to forestaysail and mizzen. Gybing our way through the ice, the wind decreased more and more and is now down to about 5 knots from the east.

It is also foggy again, with the occasional shower. The fog sort of helps to make our way through the ice, as it makes you deal with the small bits in front in stead of finding your way through the maze ahead of us. And it keeps the heart rate up, which keeps us warm!

Our destination is still Beechey Island. Here we will find some relics of the explores who went before us. This is the last known stop of the Franklin expedition before they disappeared into history. A few graves and some new memorials remain on sight. We are still 75 miles off our anchorage and with 4 knots speed in the ice, we will not get there before evening.

Impressions from the Crew

Some impressions from the guest crew on the North West Passage journey.

Greenland

On Friday August 9th our Arctic adventure commenced the next phase, entering the Canadian archipelago proper.  After captain Gijs and Rob returned from a short shore in the morning visit the anchor was lifted, the rubber dingy hoisted on board and the engine put in gear.  The welcoming, but smudgy settlement of Pond inlet slowly disappeared in the distance and into insignificance compared to the glaciated mountains of northern Baffin Island behind the town.  Without wind and thus motoring, but with the arctic sun doing overtime it was very pleasant on deck even in light clothing.  Nearly everyone brought their lunchplate on deck.  Afterwards reading and conversation with our backs against the warm and soft dingy, or lying on the sails that are stored on deck.  After several hours the ship entered ‘Navy Board Passage’, which is the waterway to the west of Bylot island that connects to Lancaster Sound at its northern end.  A cluster of birds indicated the location of a dead Narwhal, now we know what they look like we are hoping to spot a live one.  Further into the passage we regularly saw seals with their round heads bobbing above the water, but as the ship gets closer they invariably dive under water.  Bylot island looks small on maps of the Canadian arctic archipelago, but when sailing around it the true size becomes apparent.  The island has a main mountain range at the eastern and northern sides, a large glaciated interior, and on the southeastern side a gradually rising plain with some vegetation, which is used by caribou. 

Lancaster Sound is the dominant sea strait that runs westward from Baffin Bay and provides access by sea to the centre of the Canadian arctic archipelago.  Lancaster Sound is about 100km wide and it runs west for some 400km and continues westward, where its name changes to Barrow Straight. Further west is a continuation named Parry Channel and Ultimately McClure Sound, which at its western end opens up to the Arctic ocean.  If ice were absent there would thus be a deep water ocean connection between the Arctic ocean and the North Atlantic via Baffin Bay.  However the westernmost sections (McClure Sound and Parry Channel) are still year-round impassable with ice and preclude shipping via this route.  Lancaster Sound is the result of a massive glacier, which during ice-ages provided a way to drain the ice-buildup on the northern part of the Canadian ice-cap into the sea (Baffin Bay).  The ice has eroded Lancaster Sound to a depth of 500m in the east and at least 200m further west where it is called Barrow Strait.  There are several wide inlets to the north and south, which originate from side glaciers that contributed to the main Lancaster glacier.  Due to erosion of the main channel and compounded by isostatic rebound since the last ice-age (that is areas of land that were under a thick ice-cap during the ice-age have been uplifted since the ice has molten) the general level of land on either side of the sound is roughly between 100 and 300m. Near the eastern opening of the sound into Baffin Bay the mountains are much higher, up to 1500m, part of the western rim of the Baffin Bay rift, or West Greenland rift zone.

The landscape of Lancaster sound is thus like open sea with distant headlands visible, especially to north shore, part of Devon Island.  In the east the rocks are old gneisses and migmatites, which form irregular shaped mountains.  Further west are sediments from the paleozoic era, which have horizontal bedding and form regular cliffs with top layers often harder layers and the slopes scree from softer rock types. Between the headlands and cliffs are deep inlets, where further distant cliffs and hills are visible.  On top of the plateau is often permanent snow and ice and regularly the ice forms small glaciers that follow valleys towards the sounds.  Most glaciers melt before they reach the water level but several make to sea. 

The Tecla entered Lancaster Sound early morning Sat August 10th.  Motoring along under quiet conditions.  Just where Navy Board Inlet entered the sound was a shallower zone, which is exploited by seals to catch fish.  Our crew spotted quite a few surprised seals bobbing their heads up and disappearing under water once the ship got closer.  We had seen seals also in the inlet before, but only occasionally.   After heading north for about an hour we caught an easterly breeze and sails could be hoisted and the engine turned off.  Right from the start of entering Lancaster Sound some ice could be spotted, but initially it was limited to a few pieces that could easily be avoided.  Later during the morning watch  (08.00 to 12.00hrs) a line of ice pieces was kept to port, while we sailed in a northwesterly direction, approximately diagonally crossing Lancaster Sound.  Eventually the line of ice was crossed without much trouble and behind was open water again.  In the afternoon a bit more ice was seen and some nearby, but the evening watch encountered a much denser zone of floating sea-ice without a clear path through.  The wind had dropped to weak and after starting the engine captain Gijs gave instructions to the watch crew: one person at front near the bow with responsibility to signal any ice that looked like short distance impact chance.  Others assisting with watching, but standing out of the captains walk around the wheel.  Also a 5m long pole to push ice away was placed in readiness. 

So Gijs commenced with admirable slalom between the ice pieces and shoals, which would have graced a downhill ski champion.  The ice kept coming, every now and then an open straight of a few 100m appeared, but invariably more ice was behind.  We noticed the analogy with a computer game where navigating obstructions is followed by just more challenges in the next level.  Although most sea-ice forms flat shoals and small pieces, several floats have irregular ice shapes on top and melting sometimes leaves odd table, or mushroom shapes.  Recognising various animals, fantasy creatures or whatever forms part of crew entertainment.  After about an hour of concentrated navigation the ice density decreased and eventually a regular course could be steered again.  On the next watch another dense ice patch was encountered this time compounded by fog, but in the course of Sunday morning the ice gradually disappeared and the ice flows were but a memory.  In the meantime air temperature had dropped and the wind speed picked up so that conditions on deck were truly arctic. Some light showers overnight added to ‘character building conditions’.  In the end most of on this trip joined to experience today’s conditions, while yesterday’s sunny reading on deck could have been enjoyed at many places at lower latitudes. 

The hot meals (breakfast with porridge,  lunch with soup and freshly baked bread, and warm evening dishes like Spaghetti bolognese, Goulash, Chili con and sans carne, etc,  are devoured and keep us warm with a full belly.  As they say true love, but in this case arctic enjoyment goes through the stomach.  Hail Jet (and Gijs and Sam for bread and breakfast).

Exploring Beechey Island

Exploring Beechey Island

Yesterday the day was spend exploring Beechey Island. We shifted anchorage as the wind had increased and made landing with the dinghy on Erebus and Terror bay side very uncomfortable. On the Union Bay side we could anchor close to shore and with the Easterly winds have no trouble with waves or ice. Perfect! Going ashore now means staying with the gun as protection of for the polar bears. We have already found fresh traces off bears, claw marks and some bloody ice. But no sighting of bears yet.

Beechey Island is a strange place, for me it felt a like an in-between place. Walking around between the grave stones of three of the crew of Erebus and Terror and one of Investigator, it makes you think of time. Now we are there, walking around, knowing of their history, in a place they once walked around in, a place that looks exactly the same as it did 150 years ago. No trees to change the looks, no settlements to alter what it once was, no human interference or anything. Just stone and water, ice and sea, and some mosses on stones, that might be 150 years old! Their graves and hardship are remembered and well preserved, which is good. As there is not much left of their first attempt.

50 years before the Erebus and Terror where there, there was another ship, exactly 200 years ago this year, the Hecla (one can see the name resemblance), out exploring in search of the fabled passage under command of the captain Parry. He was the first to over winter trying to find the passage, but had to head back. Parry channel is of course named after him, but he was the one to give Beechey island its name, after his first lieutenant William Beechey. Parry came back two more times, but never found his way through, the farthest he came was Fury beach in Prince regent inlet, where they had to leave their ship Fury behind, beset in ice, crew rescued onto Hecla, which sailed them back to England.  (http://farhorizons.hull.ac.uk/hms-hecla/)

Today we are making our approach to Peel Sound. Ice charts have shown a rapid decrease in ice, saying 4/10 is the most we could encounter. With a easterly wind we are hoping to hug the shore of Somerset island and make it as far south as we can. And then wait it out until Franklin strait becomes clearer as well

We are now 25 miles of the entrance of Peel sound, somehow everyday feels a bit like the start or beginning of the voyage, but entering Peel sound will be marked as the start of our attempt to sail through the North West Passage.

As we left Union bay we had a strong easterly breeze, we set mizzen and staysail, doing 7 to 8 knots. The wind and the showers made the temperature drop, but did not decrease the waves. We were rolling about until after lunch, when we encountered some sea ice to our port side. Making our way through, the wind seemed to decrease a little, but even better, the waves decreased as well, to nearly half their size. But with the ice, in came the fog. We met two more patches of sea ice and then sailed out of the fog. We set the jib first thinking we would not like to be under full rig with ice around. But no ice was spotted for an hour… so we set the mainsail as well. Now doing 6 knots, aiming for the corner of Peel Sound. No ice in sight.

Ice on our mind

Ice on our mind

We have made our way into Peel Sound. The first bit was as clear as Lancaster Sound, with the weather pretty much the same as we experienced there. Some sunshine, some showers and with ice comes fog. The ice was open enough to keep making our way through with 6 knots, so we covered a fair bit of ground. We decided to make for an anchorage and see some of Somerset Island as we knew there still to be too much ice in Franklin. Making our way for a bay called Four Rivers, the bet for catching the first fish of this week was on again as well. But first, a shore exploration party!

The scenery was amazing. Rock formations with some growth on it, lighter and darker green, were a welcome change to the sand and dry landscape we had seen on Beechey Island. There was some drizzle as we arrived which formed over the hills in fog patches, that gave the place an especially mystic look. We anchored in uncharted waters at 18 meters depth on the south shore, away from any ice, as this seemed to be flowing North steadily. The exploring party went ashore, but just as they came back from their walk, spotting tracks of musk oxen, many hares and some big polar bear foot marks, the ice seemed to have changed its mind and was flowing into our anchorage at a rapid speed. All aboard, anchor up and out we went.

Now we are slowly making our way through some big pack of sea ice. The flow North has become thicker, making it harder to manoeuvre.  We are trying to spot the way through by going up high into the mast, but for now the ice seems to be all around. We had all expected it to start at some point, so for now we are just biting our way through, poles at the ready to poke away bigger ice!

When the Ice takes over the world

When the ice takes over the world

Would you like to be right smack in the middle, or skirting along the edges.. well, we know now! We love being on the outside, along the edge, living on the edge, taking a different path, finding our own way, through the ice… What a 36 hours it has been! From a quiet anchorage to being surrounded by ice, not seeing the way out, but eventually finding a path back to the coast. We have ploughed through the ice, making our own way by gently pushing the ice off and booming it away from the ship with a 7 meter long wooden pole. It has been hard work for the watches, but they did well and did it with a smile! Because it has also been immensely beautiful! Ice as far as the eye could see, ice flows as big as islands, but low to the water. Any color between white and turquoise blue, submerged ice, cracked ice, snow ice. So many shapes and forms, it would take your breath away every now and then.

When we left the anchorage, we thought that the exploring group on shore had seen open water in the middle of Peel Sound, and so we made for that. We made our way out of the coast, away from a (pretty fast) flow of ice. But as we went out, the density of the ice became bigger and bigger. From one lead to another, until there where no more leads, and we just saw ice. Still going ahead, with only steer speed of 0,7 knots, backing up, turning left, then right, almost staying in the same spot, covering less then 1 mile an hour average for over 24 hours. But when we found our way back to the coastline and found a slightly less dens path there, we did not hesitate and are now making our way along the edge, between land and big packages of ice. According to the latest ice reports we have had to make our way through yellow or orange bits in Peel Sound, making the ice density between 5 to 7 out of 10. Had we not been forced out of our anchorage due to ice, we would have stayed tugged away to wait it out!

In between the ice, we have not just seen amazing colors and shapes, but also a variety of wild life! We have spotted ringed seals, bearded seals, something that looked like a hooded seal (although they normally are more open water sort of seals) and when there are seals, there must be a polar bear. But after the one yesterday when we left the anchorage, we have not seen many of them. Many fulmars, glaucous gulls, some kittywake and even a long tailed skua have been reported.

On board all is well. Down below after the watch, even up to two hours after the 20:00 to 00:00 hours watch, you will find someone downstairs, listening to a quit bit of music, rummaging through their pictures of the day or just reading a book with a glass of wine. During the day, when the sun comes out and the fog abates, the deck is filled with sun adorers. Soaking up some rays, peeling off some layers of clothing. The record low has been reported at 3 degrees, but with chill factor even below 0 degrees. But when the sun comes out, it can get up to 15 degrees in the sunshine!!

The lack of wind in Peel Sound was very welcome. Had we had wind, the ice pressure might have build up, making our passage through even more challenging. Last night, some sailing was done along the edge, doing 3,5 knots with just mizzen and staysail. But now the wind has died out again, edging along the Boothia Peninsula. Making our way south.Caribou in Sloping Valley

Caribou in Sloping Valleys

Caribou in sloping valley and then back into the ice

Caribou in sloping valley and then back into the ice We took a well deserved break yesterday afternoon. With little ice along the edge, we made our way past Tasmania islands, saw the amount of ice out at sea, so stuck to the coast until we made our way to Weld Harbour. Which is not really a harbour, more a bay or inlet. As we made our way in we could see a group of caribou eating away at some small pieces of grass or moss at the bottom of the bay, which was the beginning of low sloping hills. The hills looked like loose sand, but upon inspection, they turned out to be rocks. The expedition crew went ashore for a hike and found caribou life signs and presumably also of the musk oxen.

At night we had a drink on deck, as the sun was out and we had a record temperature on deck in the sun of 19,9! What a lovely night it was! After roast chicken dinner, most went to bed early. Next day we set off again. It started with some ice, but along the coast it was very doable! Then we hit some multiple year ice and before night had fallen we were surrounded and had little room to maneuver our way through. It is now half past 1 at night on board and we are still making our way through the fog towards point edwards. Short message tonight, as we are very busy outside!

Nome to Home?!?

Good morning. I am waiting for the logbook of yesterday……and I am not the only one. 
Yesterday I had Gijs on the phone, he asked me to start looking for tickets for the crew, Nome to home………From now on, its almost like cruising he said!
In other words: for all those waiting to book an exceptional ocean voyage, from Nome to Galapagos Islands, Santa Cruz, from the pole to the tropics, I am waiting for your booking forms!

M’Clure was the first man to sail the NWP… Not M’Clintock.

North West Passage Summery

  The riches of the east have pushed men and their little ships to their limits and beyond for centuries. To avoid conflict with the Spanish, French and Portugal, the English where looking for an alternative to the southern route past the Cape’s. The first recorded voyage insearch of such a passage was made by John an Sabastian Cabot at the end of the 15th century. After that many of such expeditions where fitted out. The first attempts where made by way of Hudson Straid and Hudsonbay before it was established an inner sea. It was not until the beginning of the previous century that a sea route through the Canadian archipelago was found

  Here follows a summery according to the Admiralty Sailing Directions.

1576-78 Martin Frobisher completed 3 voyages to the SE end of Baffin Island in search of valvaluable ores, and discovered Frobisher Bay

1585-88 John Davis undertook 3 voyages to the Davis Strait and discover Cumberland Sound

1610-11 Henry Hudson having navigated Hudson strait and discovered Hudson Bay was forced to winter at its south end. After a mutiny in 1611 he was cast adrift in an open boat and never seen again.

1612 Sir Thomas Button, searching for Hudson, navigated to the west side of Hudson bay and was forced to winter in Port Nelson

1613 Sir Thomas Button explored the NW corner of Hudson Bay and Roes Welcome Sound.

1615 Robert Bylot and William Baffin reached Fox channel trough Hudson Strait

1616 Bylot and Baffin reached the coast of Smith sound and discovered Jones Sound and Lancaster Sound

1631-32 Captain Thomas James reached James Bay, where he wintered; Captain Luke Foxe navigated the west side of Hudson bay and subsequently Foxe channel, discovering Foxe basin, before returning to England, for the first time without loss of live

1719 Captain James Knight, exploring the NW corner of Hudson Bay, was wrecked of Marble Island; not until 1767 it was learned the the complete party perished

1741-42 Capt. Chistoph Middleton discovered Wager Bay and Repulse Bay, wintering at  Churchill.

1746 Capt. Moor and capt. Francis Smith discovered Chesterfield Inlet.

1769-71 Samuel Hearne of the Hudson Bay company, traveling overland in search for copper, reached the mouth of the Coppermine river befor returning to Churchill.

1789 Alexander Mackenzie of the North West Company, traveling overland, reached the Mackenzie river and descended it to the Arctic Ocean.

1818 Exploratory voyage of Commander John Ross in HMS Issabella and Lieutenant W E Parry in HMS Alexander to Davis Strait and Avannaata Imaa (Baffin Bay; penetrated entrance to Lancaster Sound.

1819-20 Lieutenant Parry in HMS Hecla and Lieutanent Liddon in HMS Griper navigated Parry Channel as far as the entrance to M’Clure Strait, discovering Prince Regent Inlet and other water ways on both sides of the Channel. Expedition wintered at south side of Melville Isl. in Winter Harbour. Parry was subsequently awarded the longitude prize of 5000 pounds as the first to cross the 110 W in high northerly latitudes.

1820 Parry and Liddon sailed as far as 113’west then explored overland and sighted and named Banks Isl. On the return voyage to England, Admiralty Inlet Navy Bord Inlet and Pond Inlet where discovered.

1821-23 Parry with ships Hecla and Fury explored the west side of Foxe Basin and Fury and Hecla Strait to with in sight of Golf of Boothia.

1824-25 Parry again with Hecla and Fury explored the north part of Prince Regent Inlet and wintered at Port Bowen.

1825 Parry explored south part of Prince Regent Inlet. HMS Fury abandoned at Fury Beach after severe ice damage. Returned to England in Hecla. Concurrently with the expeditions to the east Arctic 1819-25 , Captain John Franklin and others reached the mouth of the Coppermine River traveling overland from Hudson Bay; subsequently a party with canoes traced the south shore of Coronation Gulf as far as Turnagain Point. FRanklin explored the mainland coast as far as 160 miles of Point Barrow, which was reached from the west by a party HMS Blossom under Capt. Beechey.

1829-32 Capt. John Ross in the paddle steamer Victory navigated Prince regent and reached the Gulf of Boothia where the vessel was frozen in and abandoned in 1832. During this time the position of the North Magnetic Pole was determent by Rosses nephew James Clark Ross. The expedition failed to locate Bellot Strait, linking East and West Canadian Arctic waters.

1832-33 Capt John Ross and boat party wintered at Fury Beach, using Fury’s abandoned stores and eventually returned to England having been rescued by the whaler Isabella off the north coast of Bylot Island. This whaler was the same vessel that Ross had commanded as HMS Isabella on his voyage in 1818.

1836-39 PW Dease and Thomas Simpson of the Hudson Bay Company working by boats closed most of the gaps in the survey of the N Canadian coast between Fury and Hecla Strait and Alaska.. Their voyage was the longest under taken in Arctic waters by boat and was accomplished with out loss of live.

1845-48 Although it was now recognized that the North West Passage possessed little commercial interest, Capt. John Franklin in HMS Erebus and Capt. Crozier in HMS Terror where dispatched by the admiralty to continue the search sw and s of Lancaster Sound. Nothing was heard of the expedition for several years although it was established that Wellington Channel , Crozier Strait, McDougall Sound where navigated before wintering at Beechey Island 1845-46. The following year Peel Sound was navigated to the entrance of Victoria Strait where the vessels where frozen in and subsequently lost, having been abandoned in 1848. Franklin had died in 1847, the survivors under Capt. Crozier’s comand all perished while attempting to make their way south from King William Island. In the course of this final journey they closed the last gap in the North West Passage

1846-47 Dr John Rae of the Hudson Bay Company explored Committee Bay and the S part of Boothia, almost completing the survey of the Arctic coast of North America.

1848-59 Many relief expeditions set out during this period to search both east and west Arctic waters for Sir John Franklin and his vessels. These included, 1848-49 HMS Enterprize and Investigator under the command of Sir James Clark Ross; in 1850, a squadron under the command of Captain Horatio Austin in HMS Resolute; Captain Charles Forsyth in command of Lady Franklin’s vessel Prince Albert, and Capt. William Penny, an experienced whaling captain in the Sophia. These and subsequent voyages established four possible routes for a North West Passage and resulted in discovery and survey of the greater part of the Arctic Coast S of a line from Jones Sound and Patrick Isl. Amongst the more important was that of William Kennedy in Prince Albert, in 1852 with Joseph Bellot,a French naval officer, embarked, the later discovered Bellot Strait.

1850-54 Capt. Robert M’Clure in HMS Investigator, searching from the W, penetrated Prince of Whales Strait where he wintered 1850-51. In the spring of 1851 M’Clure reached the N end of the Strait by sledge and was thus the first person to that a North West Passage existed.  Unable to force the Investigator through this strait, M’Clure than attempted to complete the navigation of the North West Passage by sailing around the W coast of Banks Isl. but was this time held up by ice in M’Clure Strait where he wintered 1852-53, finally being ordered by  Captain Henry Kellett to abandon his ship in Mercy Bay in 1853. M’Clure then crossed M’Clure Strait over the ice to join Capt. Kellett in HMS  Resolute which was also abandoned. M’Clure and Kellett proceeded over the ice to the North Star in which they returned to England. M’Clure thus was the first person to traverse the North West  Passage partly by shi partly by foot

1851-55 Capt. Richard Collinson in HMS Enterprise, also searching from the W and wintering in the W Arctic reached the S end of M’Clintock Channel before returning to England by way of Cape of Good Hope having circumnavigated the globe.

1852-54 Capt. Sir Edward Belcher, in command of HM ships Assistance and Pioneer and Capt. Henry Kellett HM ships Resolute and Intrepid where despatched by Admiralty to conduct its last and greatest search for Franklin. Belcher discovered the Islands in Norwegian Bay, but all his four vessels where frozen in and abandoned in the vicinity of Wellington Channel, the crews returning in a relief squadron under command of Edward Inglefield.

1853 Dr John Rae, surveying the S part of the Boothia Peninsula, obtained silver plate and other evidence of Franklins fate from the natives and was given a reward of 10000 pounds by the British government.   

1857-59 Captain Leopolt M’Clintock , continuing Lady Franklins search in the Fox, found the only written documents of the Franklin expedition on the W coast of King William Island, and established that Franklin had found a North West Passage.

1903-06 North West Passage navigated by Amundsen in the Gjoa

1906-10 Capt. Bernier in Canadian government Ship the Arctic completed numerous voyages in the Arctic waters to establish Canadian sovereignty over the archipelago and on the first of July 1909, at winter Harbour, unveiled a tabled on Parry’s Rock, commemorating the annexing of the whole Arctic Archipelago.

1913-18 The Canadian Arctic expedition under the anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefanson finally established the main outlines of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

1937-40 North West Passage repeatedly traversed by the Hudson Bay Company vessel Nascopie, and linking with tenders in Franklin Strait.

1940-42 Sergeant Henry Larsen made the first W to E passage in Royal Canadian Mounted Police schooner St Roch.

1944. Staff sergeant Larsen made the first passage in one season, from E to W in the St Roch

1954 HM Canadian ship Labrador, an ice breaker, became the first medium draft vessel to completed the passage.

1960 US nuclear submarine Seadragon followed a similar route to that of 1957, But at times departed from it to pass under ice.

1969 SS Manhattan, a specially strengthened deep-draught tanker of 110000 dwt and 43000 hp made the passage from E to W. Although escorted by an icebreaker an attempt to pass through M’Clure Strait had to be abandoned after meeting heavy ice.

1984 MS Explore became the first commercial cruise liner to navigate the North West Passage.

2006 MS Bremen became the first scheduled cruise liner to navigate the Passage with the aid of satellite images.            

2012 The World sailed from Nome, Alaska on the 18th of August, arriving Nuuk, Greenland on September the 12, becoming the largest passenger ship to transit the Passage

Making our way along a coast with a beautiful and also horrific history

All pictures made by Simon Damant

We are out of the ice for now and making our way along a coast line with a horrific history. This is where the men of the Franklin Expedition walked, with their belongings in a boat, dragging it south, trying to find a way home. Today we will pass the place the Erebus and Terror where eventually found. One to the South of us, and one to the North. We are not allowed to land on either site, nor are there proper surveyed charts of these areas, so we will continue further. Further along the coast we will find a bay called starvation cove, not without reason. For this is the place the last of the Franklin expedition members perished. What a thought.

But also is it the coast (and were we in the bay) that Amundsen prepared his Gjoa for a long winter in ice. Two long winters eventually, in the name of science. Reading their books and feeling part of their story, history does not feel far away here. The big mountains are gone, we are now making our way past low islands and coastline. Sandy and rocky, but not high at all.

We stayed in Gjoa haven for one night. We went ashore, were able to take in water and some fresh salads, and also visit the sites where Amundsen built his observatories. After that we set sail for Cambridge bay, with a close eye on the weather report. In the afternoon we were making our way past beacons and markers, following leading markers on small rocks and islands in the middle of the Simpson straight. It was a beautiful sailing day and an adventure to sail from one marker to the next, compass not reliable yet, with shoals and small islands all around. But it also became clear that the low pressure area coming in, was coming in fast! Now we are at the bottom of the low pressure area’s, so we were expecting precipitation, wind and waves.. and trying to find these markers in that kind of weather, seemed unlikely and beyond adventures. So we tugged ourselves away in a beautiful, shallow and sheltered bay called M’Clintock Bay. We stayed two nights, sitting out the passing fronts, happily inside with a book and hot chocolate milk! The wind was howling, we had to lash down the forestay sail, bind away any halyards from the mast, as everything was making a noise. Even at a distance of just one cable to the land, at the height of the depression, we were experiencing some waves and rocking on board! But with no need to be outside, it was enough to freshen up with just a glance around the door, we were all very happy with a day off. I finished my woolen sweater, others finished their books! Roast lamb for dinner, what more could one want.

And today the sun is out again, the wind is south south east and blowing with a force 3 to 4. Topsails set we are now past Simpson straight, heading for Queen Maud Gulf, with a possible stop (depending on wind and weather) on Jenny Lind island. About 70 miles away from our current position.

Ships rhythm

After nearly 3,5 weeks on board everybody has pretty much come into the ships rhythm. We work, eat, sleep and repeat, in what ever order is best suited for the places we want to visit. Last night we arrived at Jenny Lind Island, at 04:00 hours, and even though we tried not to wake up the next watch, as they could sleep through while at anchor, some of them did wake up, just because it is the rhythm. Porridge in the morning, at 06:00, in the middle of the 04:00 till 08:00 watch, and at the crew watch hand over, is one of the those rhythm things as well. On days there are no watches, the watch of 04:00 till 08:00 misses their porridge, even though they get to turn around in their bed for a few more hours of sleep.

The Rhythm of the ship is also the violin play by Paul. The singing of the propeller when we are doing a nice speed under full sail and the sound of the generator at 07:00 hours, when we are making coffee and tea, just before breakfast. We have our own little world with which we travel. And right now, that little world is making his way through one of the remotest and most amazing places in this world.

Yesterday we had a beautiful day of sailing. We set top sails and even a mizzen stay sail, doing 8 knots between the little islands, until the wind decreased and the weather changed late at night. We will stay at Jenny Lind for this night, wait for the wind to turn from North West, back into the South South West, before we make our way to Cambridge Bay. Word has it, that there are a few yachts there as well, who have made their way from Pond Inlet as well. We nearly crossed paths with a yachts last night, traveling from West to East. We met a surveillance vessel at M’Clintock bay, but no real traffic other then that. Other that these vessels, there is hardly anybody around.

Northern light in the south

Last night we spotted our first Northern light.. We were all keeping an eye out to the North, watching for signs, but it always seemed to light. The sun sets at 21:00 local time and rises again at 04:00, but in between it is still not very dark. But yesterday, to the South of us, a cloud seemed to be doing a strange thing to the light, or a star was shining behind the cloud, or a helicopter with lights on was passing us to the south… but no! it was the start of a series of light movements through the night!! Our very first Northern light was spotted!! The colors where not yet very clear, as it was still pretty light around us. But a clear white, or even light blue strip was moving between the clouds, growing and slimming as it passed over through the sky. This is promising for the nights to come!

Yesterday we made our way from Jenny Lind Island, leaving our anchorage under sail, to Cambridge Bay where we arrived early in the morning of the 27th.

We will stay here for a few days. Cambridge bay is a bigger settlement that provides the opportunity for some fresh vegetables to be bought and some diesel and water bunkering along side.

Getting a bit chilly

It has been getting chilly the last 24 hours. This night the temperature dropped to 3 degrees and it is expected to drop further to 0 degrees during the day, with sleet expected. This is all due to some low pressure areas with a cold front passing over. After this, the wind is expected to turn to the North West which would be in our favor to set sail again towards other beautiful destinations.

Camebridge bay has been good to us. We are at anchor, but could go alongside yesterday to pick up some fuel and water. The anchorage is close to the town, that seems oddly Western compared to the settlements we have seen so far. There are houses with porches and veranda’s here and even a KFC and Pizza hut! Although the Pizza hut is reported to only sell two sorts of pizza and the KFC has a big menu, but for most of the items on the menu, there is no price… because they do not really offer it..

The group has been exploring the back land of Cambridge bay yesterday and rented a 4×4 to get to one of the higher parts of this island for the view. And it was definitely worth it!! Some of them got a little bruised in the back of the jute, but did not complain when they saw the lakes all spread out in front of them.

Simon Damant story and pictures

McClintock bay safe and sound aboard the Tecla while a force eight gale batters this bleak west coast of King William Island, no a single life to be seen.

However ever since we reached the Canadian shores of Baffin Island wildlife of one description or another has been observed.

As we arrived at Pond Inlet a few Narwhal were spotted in the distance but unfortunately were soon gone. Once ashore in this Inuit settlement the vegetation was in some abundance and even the Arctic and dwarf willow could be found hugging the ground along with such flowers as the yellow Arctic poppy. Most flowering plants though seemed to have long gone as they had mostly flowered in the spring time just after the melting snows.

After leaving Pond Inlet the Tecla sailed past Sirmilk National park on Ballot Island with many Snow geese seen grazing the all to sparse vegetation and the Fulmar, our constant friends circling around the boat, little auks and gilimots were common and a Pom skua. We pasted through Navy Board inlet and out into Lancaster sound where the Tecla pasted through sea ice, a large group of seals were seen swimming as a shoal. After that only the sporadic seal was seen and we soon arrived at Beechy Island which is somewhat attached to Devon Island at high tide. Here the geology turns into a shale limestone and is as 74 degrees north. A few Glaucous gulls were seen but on the whole it was remarkable for the lack of vegetation, a most sterile landscape although at ruins of Northumberland house hundreds of Arctic poppies could be seen.

The next leg of the journey passed through Peel sound to Four rivers bay, here there was a lot more vegetation especially around the small rivers with signs of Musk ox and caribou. The plan was to stay the night but with an incoming tide with the associated pack ice a hasty retreat to the sea was required but every cloud has a silver lining for just outside the bay we encountered a polar bear on the ice with many seals in the vicinity which were mostly ringed seal although a few Bearded seal were seen, it may have been possible that there were some Harp seal but not confirmed. We did expect to see more Polar bears but encounters with the thick pack ice mostly at night and in the fog where minds were more concentrated on avoiding the ice and finding possible leads through the icy maze probably prevented their observation. However during the day when the ice was less dense birds like the Phalarope, Arctic tern, sandpiper, fulmar and Glaucous gull were all present along with the occasional Eider ducks and plentiful seals.

The stop in Weld bay allowed us to view a few caribou grazing on the coastal fringe, vegetation cover was more extensive here with a number of late flowering Saxifrage including the purple saxifrage, nodding bladder campion, alpine white heather, Sudetan lousewort, Lapland diapensia to name a few.  As to birds there were quite a few snow geese and loons, on one of the lakes a family of red throated loons were seen while in the bay the yellow billed loons were in abundance while a small flock of lesser golden plover were spotted in a wet boggy area. Snow buntings were always present in most localities and a few pipits or something similar were seen. Most interestingly we saw a Polar bumblebee among the tufted saxifrage, the only bumblebee species in the whole of the Arctic region.

Further sailing down past the Flanklins strait and into James Ross strait led us to Spencer bay and the small settlement, although the landscape looked a bit dull in fact there were some most excellent walks to be had into the surrounding area, low lying but hilly with rocky outcrops of Gniess and many lakes made for very interesting walking. Many of the lakes had small groups of Snow and Canada geese on then and some were loons took refuge. This area is the major route taking by the caribou and a hunting ground for the Inuit and many skeletons of Caribou could be found. Occasionally as you passed a lake and if it had the right sandy conditions the holes of Artic ground squirrel were found and very rarely one could sneak up on them sunning themselves although in the summer they tend to hide in the rocky parts. It was also pleasing to see a peregrine and a nest with two half grown chicks though at first they looked like Gyrfalcons, alas they were not. In the same locality  a winter coated Artic hare bolted from cover to run at speed until out of danger, others were seen elsewhere. On another rocky cliff a pair of Rough legged buzzards came to mob me so I guessed there nest was very close by. Of the plants the willows were relatively   common and larger, many toadstools were also evident. However in a very boggy bit there was Northern water carpet not a plant Ive seen before, very small and yellowish with multi cups for flowers. As to lichens the Gneiss rock seems to have the greatest variety such as the Map lichen, Sunburst lichen and Jewel lichen. There are other very noticeable lichens on the soil such as Mane lichen  and yellow lichen but the most interesting not because its beautiful because its not, is the Tripe lichen which is edible and one that early overland Franklin expedition ate to to survive!!!!!!!. As to fish, there may be some but for all our efforts we could only catch a few small cod and these were the only fish we caught since arriving in Canadian waters, Greenland was far richer in fish!!!!!!! so the elusive artic charr remains a fable.

Our next stop was Gjoahaven and it was noticed that we no longer had the company of the Fulmars, in fact the bird life on the sea had much diminished since leaving the ice behind although more geese were seen flying here and there. Now this small settlement is situated on King William Island and as such the landscape is very barren so not expecting much we walked inland and were pleased to come across some lakes were snow geese were seen, it was also noted that there were numerous lemming burrows almost everywhere which are the main food for snowy owls, well not long after that but a Snowy owl was seen perched on the highest rock in what can only be described as a very flat landscape, we got within 100 meters before it look flight and was absolutely white.

So sailing on, the Tecla took shelter in McClintock bay before the gale force winds arrived which allowed us another walk on King William Island, the vegetation was again very sparse but many snow geese and Canada geese were observed including the blue form of snow goose, a few lemming holes were evident but it was the Artic fox that made the day as it chased after some snow geese to no avail. Caribou signs were all to evident and a few musk ox tracks but none seen and the only flowering plant found was the Purple saxifrage.

The gale has hit us and venturing out from the Tecla this day is not very inviting, we shall sit this one out and enjoy some idleness.

Saturday 31 August – Cambridge bay, by Steven Luitjens

On this last day of August we are sailing south of Victoria island out of the Dease Strait and into Coronation Gulf.  Many names on the maps of this area were allocated during the first half of the 19th century, when the HBC (Hudson’s Bay Company) and the British admiralty sent out exploration ventures that named the hilltops, bays, straits and sounds as they were first observed.  Where we are now reminds of Queen Victoria and her coronation (about 1840).

You need a moustache if you want to join!

Since 2 days ago the weather has changed and there is no more enjoying sunshine in lighter dress in a sheltered spot on deck.  We regularly have light snow (in Canada named flurries) and a stiff north to northwesterly breeze with air temperature a bit above zero celcius, but which feels very much below zero.  Only those on watch stay on deck and even they sometimes wander into the kitchen to warm their hands.  Also volunteering for doing dishes has become popular as a means of staying warm down below a bit longer.  Most of us have found another layer of clothing, or a heavier duty all weather coat to put on.  Only captain Gijs appears immune to cold, since he adjusts sails and coils ropes with bare hands.  This weather was forecast and people in our last port, Cambridge Bay, had warned us, but such cold has to be experienced to be really appreciated.  Apparently the weather we had until then was unusually warm and the current conditions are more typical, so back to normal it is!  The first snowflakes for the year probably indicate that summer, or what goes for summer here, is over.  Bruce Peterson, a local at Cambridge Bay for 48 years, told us that he makes the annual snowman for his children sometime in October and that this fellow normally lasts well into May.  Due to the longevity of the snowmen they give them names and regard them as companions, just as others have pets at lower latitudes.

We had a lengthy 3 day stay at Cambridge Bay, which was interesting from several directions.  Firstly it is the regional logistics hub, with daily flights from Yellowknife and ongoing local flights to the surrounding communities, of which we have already visited Taloyoak and Gjoa Haven.  There are government services, including a new, 2019, large research building: CHARS for Canadian High Arctic Research Station.  During our first day here the station held an open day and after visiting schoolchildren left, several of our group attended public talks by research staff.  It is a service facility with intended research conducted by staff from distant universities and scientific organisations, in winter there will be much less activity than in the summer months, although some research into ice and snow will obviously have to be done during winter.  The shore party quickly spotted a genuine cafe/lunch bar and enjoyed a morning coffee and then ordered burgers and snacks.  Canadian commercial news was displayed on a large flatscreen TV and it showed that we had not missed much:  more Brexit,  POTUS tweets and some fires in the Amazon that will contribute to climate change. 

Next the man who had lunch adjacent to our table commenced a conversation by highlighting his dismay at the demolition of a very tall radio mast several years ago.  Since he had lived here pretty well all his life, this landmark had been dear to him, and he missed it very much, he was offered to buy it for 1$, but maintenance would have been prohibitively expensive so down it came with a thud and only a short section is on display at the local heritage open air park in front of the council building.  After having gotten the heavy subject of the radio mast out of the way, Bruce Peterson turned out to be a friendly, knowledgeable local, with considerable resources due to his ownership of a business that does building, earthmoving, transport, and in fact it might be easier to describe what he does not undertake. 

Mount Pelly and it’s monument. Thanks you Henry Steen

After some time he judged that we needed to be shown the town by vehicle and next a bus, complete with driver, appeared for a ‘Tour de Ville’.  Firstly a visit arcoss the bay to the fuel depot for taking on some diesel, then the combined USA-Canada military post where three very large radar domes keep an electronic eye on who moves in and out of the place (with aircraft and ships).  Next the tour passed along the foreshore where the small wharf is and past the CHARS research station where we picked up another 5 of the Tecla crew.  Past the float plane operation it went and to the turnaround point where a metal bridge crossed a small river.  On and next to the bridge about 7 local Inuit were fishing some with normal rods and others with spears.  Our driver/guide told us that exactly this time of the year the Arctic Char are running upriver.  These fish, like salmon, live and grow at sea, but as an adaption these fish go upriver each autumn to spend the winter at the bottom of freshwater lakes that are abundant inland. 

Steven op de Gjoa

The Inuit have traditionally congregated around rivers this time of the year to spear these fish and prepare them as winter food by drying the fillets on rope made of sinew from seals that was strung between cairns of rocks (you need some poles in a land where the tallest, and only trees are arctic willows that do not grow taller than 25 cm).   The bus tour next led us to a fish processing facility where Arctic Char were prepared as fillets and then sent by plane to exclusive restaurants in Canada’s metropolises down south, and some was smoked as jerky.  We purchased some of the latter to taste the local flavour later on board.  After the bus driver showed us a new suburb where frantic building in a tundra landscape took place he proceeded to the town centre, which we had early that morning already covered on foot.  When we passed the firestation and the bank for a second time we requested to be dropped off at the research facility where the tour ended.  The bus driver was given a tip, and we hope that the fantastic hospitality shown to us can be enjoyed by other visitors in the future.  At the research station we had hoped that WIFI might be accessible, but unfortunately only for those working there so the electronic isolation was maintained.  The only means of internet access available was the (free) use of a laptop in the Library/Heritage Centre. 

GJOA 1903

The second day at Cambridge Bay, Thursday 29 Aug, was spent with more cafe Saxifrage,  shopping, hiking and visiting the Heritage Centre.  The latter is inside the HighSchool, but as an annex.  Entry is through a common door with the school, where you take off boots/shoes, which is standard practice in the arctic, apart from shops where you can wipe the mud, or dust off your footwear.  The Heritage Centre has some nice expositions of Inuit culture including traditional clothing made from caribou and ringed seal skin, some harpoons and spears, a handcrafted kayak covered with waterproof handstitched sealskin and interactive flatscreen information boards that did not work.  The same room contained the library that contained a comprehensive collection of literature about the Arctic history, culture, economy and stories.  Additionally leather sofas made this place a sort of ‘heaven in the outback’.  Late afternoon at the wharf, while waiting for transfer to Tecla with our zodiac, a large and very wide cargo transport approached the wharf.  A tug which had been towing 3 large barges into the bay, had rearranged and tied the 3 barges side by side in the inlet and it was now pushing the barges alongside the wharf.  Slowly the large vessel came alongside and made fast.  The cargo included at least 25 SUV’s and 4-wheel drives, as well as trucks, earthmoving equipment and a dozen or so containers.  We heard that a lot of this cargo had come down the MacKenzie river (from Great Slave lake where the railroad from Edmonton ends).  Much had been sitting past winter by the mouth of the MacKenzie in Tuktoyaktuk, because ice conditions last year prevented further transport.  A few joyful locals came to the wharf to welcome vehicles that had been purchased one and a half years ago.  This barge we were told was also the last transport for the year, so if its not on this ship then ‘next year’. 

Steven with moustache, Dutch boat and Frisian hat!

Day 3 at Cambridge Bay was not fully planned, I think, but captain Gijs needed extra time for arranging pump parts that will be important for the Pacific crossing and he wanted to make 100% sure that the parts will be ready in Nome when the ship gets there in September.  We enjoyed more walks, cafe and library and Simon obtained a local fishing licence and went off to the steel bridge over the river to try his luck.  A group of us hired a vehicle, a massive Ford F150, for a trip inland towards Mount Pelly.  After a 1 hour drive on the rocky gravel road they reached the foot of this hill, which is the tallest point in the surrounding flat tundra.  The hill, named after a director of the HBC, is an elongated hill of just over 200m a.s.l.  It provided beautiful views of the surrounding tundra, which is dotted with numerous large and small lakes.  If Finland is the land of 10,000 lakes then Canada must have 100 times more (mainly because it is 100 times larger).  Late afternoon when everyone returned to the ship stories were told in the comfortable kitchen on board.  With the now icy breeze and flurries outside everyone appeared ready for further travel and new adventures elsewhere.  Luckily Gijs also had success with the pump so no 4th day on shore was necessary.  One of the last to return was Simon, the fishing licence had not been in vain!  He proudly showed a near 1m long Arctic Char that he had caught himself.  Since Simon is good looking, or ‘fits in well in the arctic landscape’ whichever way you look at it, he was given two smaller Arctic Char by local ladies and thus he brought more than sufficient proteins for all aboard for a day.  Gutting and filletting the fish in icy cold water was probably the worst of Simon’s day, but he persevered and we had ‘Char sushi’ and a large tray of fillets for next day’s dinner.  It felt like we could now, like the local Inuit, live off the land.  The Arctic Char tasted beautiful, especially with  the salad and spaghetti-garlic-spinach dishes prepared by Jet.

4th September Kugluk, or Bloody Falls

On the evening of the 1st of September we arrived at a settlement called Kugluktuk. Our main objective here was a hike to Kugluk, or Bloody Falls. Partly because of the history, partly because of the beauty and partly because we were looking forward to a good hike!

As we arrived, coming in between small islands, wind dying out and the water becoming smooth (we had an awesome day sailing all the way up to that point!!) we knew it was a possible perfect night to spot the Northern lights. The previous night had been said to be the best, but the sky was overcast and although we saw some light shimmers, we could not really distinguish colour or shape. So this night we were hopeful as the sky was only partly cloudy and the sun had already set. After dropping the anchor at 23:30, we went downstairs for a well deserved drink, with one person sneaking outside every now and then to see if there was any activity. At 00:15 the first lighter clouds started appearing and we went outside. And at 00:30 we called everybody out of their beds as the sky was lighting up with green flashes and the light was dancing from left to right.

Some of us withstood the cold and stayed up till 01:45, watching the skies and the lights. The light got slightly more modest after that first show of about 20 min, but was still very beautiful.

The next day (breakfast a little later) a group of 9 prepared for the hike. Knowing it was going to be at least 30 km hiking, we packed our lunch and some biscuits and set of with a quick step. We soon found out that the trail was marked most of the way, but that we had to share and walk through the tracks of quad bikes. The small 4 by 4 open all terrain motor bikes. For the most part this was not a problem, for the wetter parts, the tracks got somewhat muddy and swamped, but still, there was a track.

The hike was spectacular. The views over the hills, with the river running through really was something else for a change. After mostly flat and sandy surroundings, all of a sudden we found ourselves surrounded by rock formations, stone carved out by the river, sediment running back to when the land was lower and the plain we walked over was actually the delta of the old river, before the last Ice age.

We had heard stories of bears, grizzly bears, and one person we met on the track told us they had been spotted the day before, a female with cubs. So we stayed with the gun once more. On the way there, we saw some ground squirrel, Cranes (birds), gees (Canadian and snow), but no bears, luckily! At a sandy patch we did found their foot prints and again we stayed with the gun. We also saw a big dog footprint and joked around that it might have been a wolf, but hey, would there be wolf here… no probably not. So we came to the conclusion, maybe someone walked their fairly large dog beside the bike..!

To our amazement we encountered a few trees as well! Higher, this time, then a human being! They looked young and there were only a few, but trees!! It has been for ever since we have seen trees!

As we got closer to the Bloody Falls we started walking even faster, curious to see this place. We walked over some dunes and were rewarded with one of the best views! The river and its fast running water over some rapids, the height of the shores, some small canoes and some bigger new age boats fishing on the river and the sun came out!

The name Bloody Falls, comes from an event long ago where some first nation, or Indian people came into an altercation with Inuit’s that were hunting at the falls and there was a big fight. In some stories it was a massacre of the Inuit, in other stories there was really just one family staying there and the were killed in the fight. But at the Bloody Falls, there was nothing to memorize this history. The only thing that is memorize there is their old ways of hunting and gathering. Statements of Inuit elders are posted on plaques with their memories of when they were young and Kugluk was a place the Inuit families would go in the summer to gather food for the winter. It is a place were they are reminded of their old ways and to stay true to their inheritance.

And the young people we saw they were there. They were fishing their hearts out! Standing on the ledge of a rock with a rod, throwing in the line, hooking a Arctic Char, running down the ledge over slippery rock to a lower part where they tried to haul them in. It as amazing to watch! And as we were there, only shortly, we saw at least 4 Arctic Char’s being caught! Skills!

We also saw three of our crew mates on the other side of the river! They did not attempt the 30 km, but rented a boat and guide to take them up the river and back. We waved at each other, and then we set off for our hike back. It had taken us 4,5 hours to get there (including lunch stop and many picture breaks).. if we wanted to be in time for dinner, we had to start making our way back.

That morning, we had started of with flurries, thick clouds and some wind, but on our way back the sun had come out and it got really comfortably warm! We set a strong pace, no more stops, only to stay close to the gun. We set an awesome time of 3 hours and 30 minutes for the hike back. In the end, we hiked 37km to the fall and back.. I (Jet) did not hike much the last few weeks, but I really wanted to go on this hike.. and boy did I know it. The last 5 km were done on character!! We got back on board just after 19:30 hours, to find Sam there with dinner all done! Lamb from the oven with potatoes and salad, what a treat!!!

We shared stories with the others who went ashore, had a glass of wine (I could no longer get out of my little corner where I had dropped as soon as we were back) and found out that the guide of the other party told them about the bear, he had spotted it the day before at only 70 meters from him and his little son. He had been anxious to keep the party close to the gun as well!! But also, the footprints we had seen were in deed of a wolf!! It had been spotted as well and was fairly common.

I am getting called outside now, the Northern light is getting prettier! Strong green and even a little orange! More stories tomorrow!

Dinner in Dease Stait

  Nearly 3 days it took us to beat up Dease Strait, the narrow stretch of water between Victoria Island and the north coast of Canada! Maybe because the strait is so long or Victoria Island is so big… Bigger than the whole of Ireland! Only now are we leaving it behind us. Coming out of Dolphin and Union Strait, Lady Richardson Bay is waving us good by as we leave the area of early explores behind. Early as in before the last journey of Franklin. The happy days… Although Britain did not need the North West Passage by the time Sir John was rising the ranks, it became a matter of national pride. On his first trip north he was to map the area to the east of the Coppermine river.

Accompanying him where dr Richardson and George Back. Both leaving a print in arctic exploration. The Coppermine River was first descended by Samuel Hearne, in 1771. The Indians leading Hearne there had a double agenda and massacred the local Inuit’s who where fishing at the rapids. This became known as the Bloody Falls. When Franklin reached the Falls his Indians got nervous and left him. They did not go any further than point Turnagain on the Kent peninsula. He wrote of the area “The shores between Cape Barrow and  Cape Flinders including the extensive branches of Arctic and Melville Sounds and Bathurst Inlet, may be comprehended in one great gulf, which I have distinguished by the appellation of George IV’s Coronation Gulf, in honour of His Most Gracious Majesty, the later name being added to mark the time of its discovery. The archipelago of Islands which fringe the coast from Coppermine River to Point Turnagain, I have named in honour of His Royal Highness the duke of York” And so they remain named. Soon the struggle for food began. In the end the men ate their own boots. When Franklin returned to England, the book he wrote became a best seller. After this he was known as the man who ate his boot. The area we have spent the last 3 weeks in, was manly “discovered” via land and in open boats. Between 1836-39 Dease and Simpson closed most of the gabs on the north Canadian shore by open boat. Rae had his favourite boats from home, two Orkney Yole’s, built at Moose Factor and sailed, portaged, towed them for hundreds of miles along these coasts. Sitting out storms on these low lying Islands with their boats turned over for shelter. Learning from the Inuit’s. Living of the land and mapping the area. Voyages of hardship but also adventure. Sailing in these gulfs, straits inlets etc it is hard not to wonder of into that world of exploring. Places like Rae River,  Starvation Cove, Richarson River, Backs Point, Coronation Gulf, Lady Franklin Point, Detention Harbour, Simpson Strait, Bank Island and so on and so on they keep you wondering…

  At the moment we are closing in on Amundsen Gulf, leaving Cape Parry close to port before we avoid the shallows of Franklin bay. At Cape Bathurst we will turn south and west into the Beaufort sea, sadly leaving Banks Island (as big as the Netherlands..)far to the north. That is if the ice permits us. If it does, and only than, we might be safe to say we have done the N…. fingers crossed

  Gijs

6th September Ice Ice baby! (tudtudtudtudedudedudu)
Mist before the ice (Iridium)

We are back in ice country. This afternoon the yell came from the front of the ship, “Ice at two o’clock!”. We had been expecting to get into ice around cape Bathurst, which is about 50 miles from our current position, but already the fog that comes with the ice, is on the horizon and we were expecting to meet it sooner rather then later.

For me it is a strange feeling, somewhere between excitement and not wanting to go through one of those nights again. It is between adrenaline and anticipation. It is exactly why we do these amazing things and keep pushing our limits. It is almost addictive, you feel alive. Maybe the explorers from the olden day felt the same sort of thing and that is why they kept coming back to places like this, even though their fates were so uncertain and they were in real peril.

We have a strategy, a plan! Keeping close to shore, like we did in Peel, in Franklin, Larson and all the way up to Simpson strait. For now that means altering our course, finding the edge of the ice and following it to Avvaq Peninsula and then follow the coast line. The nights now are so different from the nights we had coming down Peel Sound. It is dark, maybe a little bit of lighter blue on the horizon, but we can not see what is really in front of us. So making our way through the ice at night is going to be a whole different story. This is also why making our way to the coast is important, here we can drop anchor and wait for the dawn. Ice reports say it should not be more then 4/10 ice.

What pingo?
Photo Simon Damant

Our plan was successful!! We avoided the ice by sticking to the coast and by nighttime we had been moving forwards to Tuk, without spotting any ice ahead of us, only to our starboard. I love it when a plan works out!

Photo Simon Damant

But today the plan had to change somewhat.. We were heading for Tuk, hardly any wind, but nice weather. Most of the day all crew were on deck enjoying the sun and the playing seals around the ship and also the peanut butter muffins at 16:00 hours. But now we are closing in on Tuk, a shallow harbour, which lies to the South of our course line to the Beaufort Sea. Making our way in with an eye on our depth sounder, we start wondering what might be wrong… are the charts old… is the depth sounder having strange readings… or is there just hardly any water on this side of the bay due to a offshore wind that has been blowing…

Photo Simon Damant

Gijs contacts a tug that is in front of us but the tug is also reading a 1,5 meter difference with the chart depth.. and it is almost high water…

Photo Simon Damant

So this plan has to change.. because at some charted parts there will only be 1 meter below our keel according to the current charts. We make our way in a bit further, but soon have only 20 centimeters below the keel.. time to really change plan. So now we are on our way to an anchorage outside the harbor a bit more North. Tomorrow this will give us the chance to hike to a unique feature on these shores, Pingo’s. These volcano shaped hills are made by ice and are at close distance to our anchorage.. we just have to pick one of them.

Pingo

Other then that we hope some of our pictures of the Northern Lights of yesterday have come through. It was again a spectacular show that lasted and lasted, even when the sun started to rise again! It felt like stardust falling from the sky, right above us!

Under sail again
Tuktuyoktuk

As Tuk was only a short stop, we are looking forward to being underway again, with one last possible stop on Hershel Island. And we are under sail!

Mackenzy river

We left under sail from our anchorage and set the topsails and big jib, a very light breeze and no waves at all, we are doing 4,5 knots through the calm night. Even hitting the 6 knots at times. What a treat. There are some very thin low hanging clouds which prevent the Northern light from showing their full glory, but we can see them dance behind the moist layer.

Photo Simon Damant

Today was an extremely warm day, 18 degrees in Tuk. Right now, with land still close by we are measuring 11,4 degrees on deck, at 45 minutes past midnight! This is sort of a record. One of our expedition crew is keeping track of all the statistics and has been measuring twice and sometimes four times per day, around midnight and around noon. The temperature has not been below 0 yet, only when the wind chill is calculated did we get to -4,4 and close to that some of the nights and days. But we are noticing that since October has come, the general temperature is dropping. Especially with the sun being gone for over 6 hours during the night.

Photo Simon Damant

We will not get into the whole global warming discussion, but to be frank, the open water, the expected temperature of 21 degrees for tomorrow and the growing amount of shipping getting through the passage do mean something. Days and nights like these do make you think.

Photo Simon Damant

One of our other expedition members is collecting plastic information on all the places we go. This afternoon as part of the crew went ashore to explore the Pingo’s (in inuit this means ‘little hill’) he said he recognized that there was a lot of drift wood, but this (at first glance) seemed to be on of the first stops, where he did not see any plastic! The beach was littered with drift wood, big and small, grey, weathered and old, no plastic. But alas, as they climbed over the first bit of permafrost close to shore, there it was. Blown of the banks of the beach, onto land, plastic as far as the eye could see. A small disappointment, but when you think about it, it is nearly logical. Tuktuyoktuk is at the river bank of Mackenzy river. All things floating, drift down river, that goes for trees that have fallen, but it also goes for plastic. One might have thrown in their waste plastic bottle hundreds of miles up river.. in the end in comes into the delta of the river or even gets swept out to the Beaufort Sea.

Enough of the midnight thoughts. Back outside, back to sailing!

Herschel Island

 

Gjoa expeditie

We arrived on the 8th of September on Herschel Island. A place we knew that Amundsen had spend a winter, his third winter, after getting out of the ice in Gjoa Haven very late in the season. Herschel Island is still inhabited by a small group of people who have their own way of living. They still live of the land, catch their salmon, grow a few herbs and vegetables and go hunting in the neighboring mountains. But there is also a lot of history on the island. There is a house where Amundsun stayed, there is a museum with all the different vessels that once stayed there as part of their exploration of the Arctic. The head ranger tells a good story, he can keep a group busy for hours, on just a small piece of land, that seems to shift and relocate itself throughout the years. The locals are used to the moving island, and when the coastline comes to close, they move their house.

In the evening, after a well deserved meal of pork loin, brussel sprouts and baked potatoes, part of the group went back on shore. Not for the owls that were hooting there, nor the falcon that was hunting, nor the stories of the ranger, but for the sauna! Before dinner, the fire was laid and after dinner, the sauna was hot and the outside water was still cold enough for a plunge to cool down! What a treat! But it got better! Just as they got back on board, the sky was filled with Northern Lights, bright and dancing. So spectacular! 

Today we have set off again and will head out into the Beaufort Sea and will keep on going until we reach Nome, which is the most Northern port where we can clear in. We left this morning without any wind, the water reflecting everything like a mirror. We expect to be under engine for at least another night. And with 6 knots this last stretch will take us 6 or 7 days. But we know the wind will pick up with a pretty big low pressure area coming in and crossing over Alaska. Hopefully giving us the expected easterly winds!

The (high)lights of Herschel and Barter Island in a watch By Hester Jiskoot
Hester Jiskoot

The (high)lights of Herschel and Barter Island in a watch By Hester Jiskoot, 10 Sept 2019 Suddenly a blinking light appears on the horizon at the start on our midnight watch. During the next four hours we slowly creep closer and this one intermittent bright light becomes flanked by an evenly-spaced strip of white lights with the occasional red, and then some variegated lights trailing on the west. Once each of these light elements becomes clear enough to make a sum of the whole, we see that we are looking at what we expect: a lighthouse, an airstrip and a settlement. We are approaching Barter Island, with its village Kaktovik, the easternmost settlement on the Alaskan North Slope. During our four hours of watch, from midnight to 4:00 we ultimately leave this island on port and when we pass over the helm to the 4:00-8:00 watch it disappears behind them. We can then crawl into our bunks for a short four-hour stint of sleep on the gently rocking ship, until the clockwork cheery “breakfast-is-ready” call by Gijs.

Photo Hester Jiskoot

This watch has been uneventful and therefore one of the hardest for us: we are propelled by diesel engine as there is no wind; it is dark and damp; we navigate by compass only. A compass that is fortunately working like a dream again, now we have travelled a distance from the magnetic north pole. Because of the darkness we miss out on seeing the tallest peaks of the Brooks Range, including its pinnacle Mt Isto, which exact height of 2736.0 m above sea level has only recently been established yet which may continue to change as peak glaciers continue to melt under current climate change. Because of the cold during this dog watch it is hard to zone out and relax on deck, so when not at the helm  watch members walk circles around the main mast, hide in the sails stored on deck, or stay close to the helmsperson to chat and keep things lively. After days of breathtaking and zealously dancing northern lights, this night we have to do with lazy and broad chalky strokes on the celestial slate. For only a short while we observe this aurora: it is not a show to wake up members of the other two watches.

In addition to our normal watch duties, I have been taking scientific measurements along the entire Northwest Passage Route. If possible, I record a set of weather measurements at the start and end of each of our two four-hour block watches: so up to four times per 24 hours. Most days I photograph and classify clouds around solar noon, and enter these data into the NASA Globe cloud observation app. Whenever possible I take Sea Surface Temperature (SST) measurements using an old-fashioned bucket method and by lowering a string of thermistors to a water depth of 5 m. All these measurements will help fill a huge geographic gap in the scarce ground observations in the Arctic region, especially the Arctic sea, and will help verify satellite data and increase our understanding of cloud, weather and ocean processes. It will also reconcile data recorded from far above the earth surface with that taken from the waterline perspective. The air temperature so far has varied between 1.4 and 17.2°C with wind chills going down to -5. The SST has been between 2.5 and 11.2°C, and what surprised me most was that while we were navigating sea ice in Peel Sound the ice floes were drifting in a warm bath of sea water of about 7°C.

Photo by Hester Jiskoot

Ultimately, we resort to checking our compass course and observing the lights of Barter Island, which at times look like a party-boat. This brings back fond memories of our previous day – this last stop on Canadian soil warms our hearts as well as our cold hands and feet at the helm. We anchored at Pauline Cove on Herschel Island and visited the historic Simpson Point site of Qikiqtaruk Territorial Park, a living park and home of the Inuvialuit people. Herschel Island was formed during the last ice age by an ice sheet lobe pushing up portions of the frozen sea floor. Now you can see these old sea sediments exposed in the 100 m high cliffs around the island. The cultural-historical aspects of the island will be detailed in a future blog, but the highlight for several of us was an evening of alternating sauna time and dips/swims in the polar sea. The cozy warm wood-burning sauna was generously started for us by the Park Wardens, and it was a blast to experience this together. On the dingy-ride back to the Tecla we were first treated to the sight of two probable Northern Hawk Owl attempting to land on the ship’s stays and mast, and later to the most amazing northern light show you can imagine. Rotating and swirling lasers shining down on us, ranging in colour from green to light yellow to red. Short and sweet and before we knew it this wild show was over.

Photo by Hester Jiskoot

From the sea surface temperature measurements of this morning we know that our polar bear dive in Pauline Cove’s was in cold sea water of 3 – 6°C. With a refreshed mind we have now embarked on our last long stretch to Nome, which we will do without stopping. We are heading Northwest across the Beaufort Sea, in a straight course connecting the lovely Herschel Island with Point Barrow, which is inaccessible to us as we won’t land and clear customs until we are at our final destination of Nome. This start of our last leg, an offshore stint of about 1000 nautical miles, is quite in contrast with the otherwise convoluted and varied Northwest Passage Route. After the many events and excursions our onboard world has suddenly become small, and it further shrank today because the rain, fog and clouds have enclosed us, not surprising in Alaska, and stayed with us the entire day after we had left the light of Barter Island on port. Let’s see if tomorrow will bring us more wind or better sight, or both.

Closing in on Point Barrow

The last days we have pulled up the topsails, done 7 knots, would then start drifting again, getting the topsails down, engine on and wait for the wind again. This time it seems more permanent. This morning before watch hand over at 12:00 hours board time, the topsails were set again. With a heading going North, we gibed after lunch, drifted with two knots, doubted about setting the topsails because the wind seemed to be gone, but when we did set them, we picked up a nice speed and are now heading for Point Barrow with 5,5 knots. Just 60 miles away.. Gibing with the topsails up takes some time. Our topsails (for those who have never sailed the Tecla before) are connected to a boom that needs to be hoisted with a halliart and a sheet and a foot or downhaul connected to the deck to pull it tight. When gibing or tacking we have to lower the topsails, get them to the other side of the deck, gibe the ship and then set the sails again. Or if we have a long tack and a short tack, you might choose to leave the topsails on the ‘wrong’ side for the short bit, as it takes about 20 minutes to get the whole thing done. For now, we hope there is no short tack, we hope this course can be maintained around Barrow, where we will sheet in and make our way more South West then West.

Nome, Alaska, is via our plotted course line still 632 miles away. Every now and then the TTA (time to arrival) is 5 days.. some times it is only 3 days and 8 hours. It feels a bit like the countdown has started. For our expedition crew this seems to mean gather pictures, recalling the memories we have already made and talking about the most interesting topics we can come up with, with a feeling of calm confidence and ease among each other.

The night watch, in the dark, is the best for hard topics, stuff to contemplate under the stars and the Northern Light. Things like happiness, why we have the need to achieve anything, why we travel and the meaning of life.

The weather has been kind on this 11th of september. We have had sunshine in the late morning and beginning of the afternoon. Sam and Gijs, together with Jim and Steven made some new splices for the backstays, sitting out on deck and working in the sun. Right now a big arctic fog clouds seems to want to over take us. But with our 5 knots, we can still keep ahead of it. Although the temperature is dropping again.

Time to start on a nice pork and bean stew to keep us warm into the night.

Jet

Around Point Barrow the North East current rules
Point Barrow

Around Point Barrow the North East current rules Last night we went past Point Barrow, with the idea in our head that we could go from a downwind run to a beam reach, we got excited and were looking forward to some steady high speed sailing! But then as we sheeted in a little bit.. nothing really changed.. 4,8 to 5,5 knots, with the ship cruising along quite nicely. We could hear the propeller singing, the ship is humming, it sounds like 7 knots! But the GPS tells us differently.. hmmmm so this North East current we read about, is really happening here… damn.

The sailing has been amazing though! The wind is slowly increasing as there is a big low pressure area to the south of us and here we are humming along the coast of America making our way south. Just 475 miles to Nome on our course line. Since an hour or so the speed has come up as well, doing 7,3 occasionally 8 knots!

Frederick Beechey

The weather is grey, but dry. Waves are building up a little as it is wind against current, so they are short, but not so high yet. Ice reports say all the ice is staying to the North, which is good to know during our night watches. It is very dark at night and it is dark longer and longer at a high speed. The temperature is alright, still far above 0, with a wind chill that is 3 or 4 degrees

Herschel Island, Yukon, on the Canadian north shore near the Alaskan border by Steven Luitjens

Herschel Island was named by John (later Sir John) Franklin when he passed here during his second arctic exploration expedition (1825-27).   Of course it was used long before by the native Inuit who call this place Qikiqtaruk.  This island of about 100 km2, roughly 10 by 10 km, is the only one along an otherwise relatively straight coastline between the Mackenzie delta to the east and well into Alaska to the west.  The coast has a fairly narrow coastal plane followed by hills and further inland there are the higher mountains of the Brooks range with snow covered peaks and up to 2700 m elevation.  Herschel island itself is composed of sand, silt, clay and peat (in short mud), but due to permafrost it is solid and able to withstand erosion until it thaws, which is happening on its cliffs along the shores.  Due to climate warming which thaws permafrost there is enhanced slumping near the shores, which in certain spots is working its way inland, causing a sort of badlands.  Apart from the recent mudslides the whole island is undulating hills with small valleys and covered in thick tundra vegetation.  There are no trees taller than 1 m.  The shore cliffs are mostly more than 20 m in height and the maximum elevation on the island is 182 m.

Franklin

Qikiqtaruk and its surrounding region have abundant and varied fauna and flora.  More than 50 different types of birds have been recorded and over 100 different plants.  On the mainland the north shore caribou herd, which in summer grazes on the northern coastal plain of Alaska, migrates north of the mountains of the Brooks ranges over the coastal plain to the boreal forests of Canada.  Similarly elk migrate on the coastal plain.  On the island there is a small herd of about 30 Muskox, which live here permanently.  Other mammals that frequent the island are grizzly and polar bears, arctic foxes, arctic hare, wolves and small mammals like voles and lemmings.  In the waters surrounding the island there are beluga whale, ring seal and bearded seal, bowhead whale and fish like arctic char, trout and salmon.  The salmon have lately increased significantly, the park ranger told us, most likely as a consequence of global warming.  With so many food resouces the island was an important place to stay for the Inuit before european influence.   This comparatively rich arctic environment has attracted local nomadic Inuit for well over 1,000 years as a significant resource, where they would spend part of the year.  The original Inuit used to have 3 settlements on the island.

On the eastern side of the island lies a sand and gravel bank (Simpson Point), which envelopes a protected bay (Pauline Cove, or Ilutag), where the settlement is located.  When approaching from the east a group of friendly looking houses appears to rise out of the sea.    Coming closer the houses are surrounded by a low sand and gravel bank which is littered with a massive amount of driftwood, that originates from the large Mackenzie river whose delta lies 100 miles to the east.  Before whalers established their buildings at the sand/gravel bank of Simpson Point next to Pauline Cove.  The reason for building on the low sandbank is that this location is not underlain by permafrost, which would cause buildings elsewhere on the island to have become unstable. 

After the visit by the Franklin expedition initially no other Europeans came past, but in the late 19th century things changed markedly.  By 1890 American whalers stayed for winter at Pauline Cove so that they could commence whaling as soon as the whales arrived, without the need to get ships first through the Bering strait and icebound waters north of Alaska.  From 1893 onwards the Pacific Whaling Company established a post at Simpson Point with warehouses and crew quarters.  Up to fifteen whaling ships and 500 crew would spend winter here.  This activity also attracted local Inuit to build their peat-snow shelters nearby and trade with the whalers.  Conseqences were disastrous for the Inuit, of a total district population of about 2000 (not all at Herschel Island, but at least affected by the newcomers) after a number of years only a couple of hundred were left.  Causes for Inuit deaths are mentioned as disease and alcohol.  By 1893 anglican reverend I.O. Stringer visited and set up a mission and in 1903 the Northwest Mounted Police set up a post to enforce Canadian law.  The RCMP remained until 1964 and the post at Herschel Island was for some time the Western Arctic regional headquarters for RCMP.  The whaling era did not last long, after afew years whales became scarcer and in 1907 a collapse in the price of whalebone made whaling uneconomic, and the non native population dwindled rapidly.  Only services (mission, RCMP, trading post) remained.  Fur trading flourished until the 1930’s, but then population and trade moved to places in the Mackenzie delta.  In 1987 a territorial park covering the island and the nearby sea was established with the dual aim of providing the Inuit population (via a committee with elders and active users) with a say in affairs concerning the island and to preserve both its natural assets and cultural heritage.  Management of the island is carried out by park rangers employed by the Yukon government, who maintain presence on the island from June until mid-September.  They arrange provisions for their own maintenance, make inspection tours on the island and surrounding waters, support visiting scientists and guide visitors.  Maintaining buildings, the airstrip, heritage collection, counting wildlife and chasing off polar bears that approach the settlement are all part of regular duties.  During the remaining 8 months the general accommodation building remains open to visitors, mainly Inuit on hunting trips, with strict advice to keep the place neat and tidy and to dispose of slaughter offal well away from the settlement area.  

Our shore party received a warm welcome from the park rangers and senior ranger Richard, who is of Inuit descent, gave an informative and personal tour of the facilities.  When we arrived unannounced Richard was busy filletting salmon that had been caught earlier in the day.  He interupted this work for our group and spent the next oneandhalf hour providing us with stories of wildlife, local history and his personal involvement with managing the park and how his Inuit knowledge came from his exposure to Inuit elders.  He showed us several of the buildings, including the Northern Whaling and Trading Company store shed, the Canada Customs Bonded Warehouse and the Pacific Whaling Company Community House, now museum and park offices.  This building he told us dated from around 1893 and that my exploration-hero Roald Amundsen had stayed here during his stay in 1906.  He also told us to be careful and not stray too far on the island, because two days previous a polar bear had been near the settlement and had to be scared away by firing a gun.   The australians in our group agreed that Herschel Island is the true Canadian outback.  A beautiful and unique place, which presented us with a memorable last highlight of the Canadian arctic, before we sailed on into Alaska the next day.

The information provide here is sourced from:

-Herschel Island Park ranger Richard

-Yukon Government Cultural Services Branch -Yukon Bird Club brochure:  Checklist of Birds of Herschel island – Qikiqtaruk -Yukon Parks

By Steven

With a raging speed we sped out through the Chukchi Sea!

After last nights message, the wind soon picked up more and so did the speed. Averaging between 8 and 10 knots we were making good time. The current was totally gone, but the waves kept building up as the wind speed got higher. With a reef in mainsail and mizzen it felt good to blow of some steam or dust off some dust. The dogs watch ladies had a blast steering through the night, no moonlight, no stars, just a course and the wind.

Then the morning came, we expected more wind around 10 in the morning. And on the dot, the wind was there. The before noon watch hit a max speed of 13 knots surfing down a wave, which made it time for the mainsail to come down. With just one watch on deck, the mainsail came down nice and smoothly and was secured against the rocking of the waves. The Tecla was still speeding along with 9 knots, hitting the 11,7 when surfing down the waves.

 

At noon hand over it was clear that the worst had come and gone. The sun was out, beautiful light on the waves that had build up to 3,5 meters. To keep the speed up, the mainsail was set again after lunch, with a reef still in. And at dinner time the reefs were shaken out and we were once again under full sail, doing 7,5 knots.

The downside of our speeds is that we were moving towards the center of the low pressure area at a high speed as well.. so now, around 01:00 board time, we are down to 5 knots, wondering when we need to stop sailing and start the engine, as the waves (which have decreased a lot already) are rocking us and the sails some times loose their pressure and flap violently in the short waves.

But we can not start the engine just yet. We first have to watch the Northern Light show in peace, watch the full moon set for another hour or so and try and spot the whales we keep hearing around us. Some even as close as 50 meters from the ship. We can not make out what sort they are, we hear their spout and then see a glimpse of their back if we are looking in the right direction.. but can not tell whether something is a dorsal vin or small wave.. it is just too dark for that..

In about 65 miles south we will leave the Arctic circle if all goes well and just 233 miles to Nome left.. looking back on yesterdays blog, that means we did 242 miles towards our goal in the last 32 hours!! 

Marine plastics in the Canadian Arctic waters

Peter Gijsbers, working as hydrologist at a Dutch research institute called Deltares. Over the last ten year she has developed river flow forecasting systems in the USA, Australia and the Netherlands. Currently Peter is analyzing what the fresh water supply issues of the Netherlands will look like in the 2050’s. In Holland Peter did put a lot of glas pots onboard the Tecla for his researche on water during the voyage. Results later.

The spread of plastics in the marine environment has received much attention in the last few years. For the Arctic, a lot of focus is on the Barentz Sea, which seams to fill up with plastic coming from the Atlantic Ocean by the Gulf stream. For the Canadian Arctic waters hardly any information can be found. When signing up for the NWP trip of Tecla, I decided to conduct some beach observations using the OSPAR beach litter classification scheme as guideline. I did not follow their strict instruction to square off a 100m or 1 km section, but conducted the observations as appropriate at the beginning or end of our landing hikes. I was primarily interested in the amount and age of litter deposited by sea.

https://oap.ospar.org/en/ospar-assessments/intermediate-assessment-2017/pressures-human-activities/marine-litter/beach-litter/

This is not the Arctic this is N Europe

From a litter perspective, our landings could be divided in three types: settlement landings (e.g. Pond Inlet, Gjoa Haven), landings within 5 miles of a settlement (e.g. Fortune Bay and Disko Fjord/Nipisat in Greenland, as well as Kugluktuk) and remote area landings (e.g. Beechey Island, Four Rivers Bay, Weld Harbour, M´Clintock Bay, Jerry Lind Island and the landing at the pingos north of Tuktoyaktuk).

I did not take any observations at settlement landingsfor the simple fact that many humans do not seem to care and leave a lot of stuff behind. We´ve seen many abandoned children bikes in or near the water, as well as car tyres, ropes and materials used for fishing. Landings close to settlements often showed signs of camping, such as fuel cans shotgun cartridges, cigarette buds and drink cans. Sometimes these were partly overgrown, sometimes the litter seemed pretty recent. Remote area landings were most interesting to me. generally we came across a few items. At the Union Bay side of Beechey Island, we found a decayed cleaner bottle and an aluminium drink can. At Four Rivers Bay, we found a glass bottle and a large rusty oil drum. Caribou at Weld Harbour were exposed to a few pieces of strapping bands. M´Clintock Bay has its own story, but some bottle caps and a juice bottle (best before 02-2019) were clearly recent. During our walk on Jerry Lind Island, we hit a beach facing Queen Maud Gulf, where some aluminium drink cans and cleaner bottle and wire had been deposited by the sea. With the landing on the pingo hike, a few miles north of Tuktoyaktuk, we saw lots of drift wood from the Mackenzie river. I almost thought the beach was litter free until I left the beach and found some cloth, cleaner bottles and a few other plastic pieces just blown up the land.

Nipisat (the abandoned whaling station in Disko Fjord), the Northumberland House side of Beechey Island and M´Clintock Bay (former settlement around the removed Defence Early Warning line radar station) all showed a lot of aged pollution from the settlement. Especially the first 300m beach of the headland at M´Clintock Bay was a mess, it looked like a former waste belt ruptured open by the ice. All over the place you could find glass, ceramic plates, cloth, even pieces of a recordplayer single overgrown by lichen, and completely decayed Eveready batteries.

My conclusion from all those observations: remote beaches in the Canadian Arctic are unfortunately not free from marine litter, although the quantities are low and the litter found is seldom of recent origin.

Peter

Back home

We made it. We made it through the North West Passage. We made it from Ilulissat, Greenland to Nome, Alaska. And then Sam and I went home. Within 26 hours we traveled the same distance and double or more back to Amsterdam and arrived 36 hours later then the time we actually left.. the world is round, and it is a strange thing to travel forward in time after traveling backwards in time for so long. 

We went all the way backwards to where time had stood still for over two decades and we could see the stones Franklin once stood on. We traveled back to a time where he called a bay Return Again bay. Not Return Bay, as in once, but return again.. as in having to do it all over again. We traveled back in time to a time zone closer to a different date then to UTC. But we did not cross the dateline. We traveled back in time in the different cultural centers we visited and saw the Inuit way of life. A life well adapted to living so far North. And then we were brought back into our own time again as we got cellphone reception again for the first time in weeks. 

And now Sam and I are back home, but the Tecla is not yet! She is traveling between Nome and Dutch Harbor before setting sail for the Galapogos Islands. 

After arriving in Nome, we had a great time there. Most of us went off exploring town the first day. Setting foot in Gold mining land was beautiful. We saw the small constructed vessels go out with their big hoovers on deck, to vacuum clean the ocean bottom and see if any gold dust comes up. We also saw the enormous dredgers that were built for serious gold digging activity! We talked to some of the gold diggers in the bars and even over breakfast in the local diner. Their stories filled with gold fever. 

The night were getting colder and colder. The morning thaw was frozen to the deck and the days shortened quickly. After shopping, getting fuel and doing the last bit of maintenance on board, the Tecla set sail again. Off for a new adventure. 

We can still follow the Tecla on her way South through our YellowBrick. The reports coming in will be less as there is only a small crew on board right now. 

Where is Tecla now?

 

 
Iceberg Tecla

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