NORTHWEST PASSAGE 1996
The British searched for the Northwest Passage so assiduously since it HAD to be there. The Spanish and the Portuguese controlled the other routes to the rich Orient. They had them locked up. The British needed the Northwest Passage so it had to exist.
In addition, the philosophers/geographers of the time felt that there was a great open sea at the top of the World. This was partly based upon the feeling that salt water froze only near land where it was diluted by fresh water flowing off of the land. This belief persisted in the face of repeated unsuccessful expeditions that were stopped by impenetrable ice fields.
One sport of the time seemed to be the production of fanciful maps and books of voyages that didn't happen. Many serious explorers based their actions on others' fancy.
In this day of satellite mapping and navigation and airplanes, one must remember that the searchers for the Northwest Passage were limited to what they could see from the deck of a ship, or, if agile enough, from the mast. The only way to tell where a inlet led was to follow it. There were some clues, such as tidal flow. Many early expeditions explored Hudson Bay until it was conclusively proven that it had no outlet. It was just a process of trial and error. Amundsen's success was based upon the foundation (and bodies) laid by many unsuccessful trips.
Someone, probably Confusus, said, "A trip of a thousand miles starts with a single step."
Modern travel usually starts with a ghastly trip on an airliner. One experiences the joys of being packed with 5 persons into a space that would be adequate for one. Other benefits include rebreathing others and your own exhalations in the interests of airline profits, something the FAA takes very seriously. You are allowed to share at least two toilets with 165 of your close personal friends. Then there are meals, if your trip is longer than 801 miles and encompasses at least two normal meal times you might be served a cold sandwich, but then again, in the interests of airline profits, you might not.
But enough bitching. The first part of the trip was a nonstop flight from LA to Anchorage. We spent the first night at a nice resort hotel, the Aleskya Prince, in Girdwood, at least 30 miles outside of Anchorage. It was OK, even fun, but it would have been better to stay in one of the nice hotels in downtown Anchorage. Curious fact; the bathrooms have coffee cups even though there is no coffee available anywhere. Why? The Japanese like to use coffee cups to rinse after brushing their teeth. The glasses are hidden in a closet it the main room.
The usual hassle with Alaska Airlines preceded our flight to Nome via Kotsabue. After identifying our luggage we boarded a yellow school bus for the ride to the MS HANSEATIC. We quickly surrendered our pass ports and tickets and were shown to our cabin. The words "opulent," "luxurious," or "gorgeous" came to mind. For example, the bathrooms are all luminous white marble. No wonder that Society Expeditions went bankrupt building the ship. There is beautiful art work throughout the ship.
We awakened this morning with our cabin picture window filled with King Island. As most Arctic islands, this one is the home of thousands of sea birds. There is also an abandoned village clinging to one slope.
After sailing around King we passed on to Faraway Rock, a sharp pinnacle rising from the sea. Almost every surface was covered with birds. Puffins, horned and crested, claimed any areas with even a smidgin of grass. The other areas were occupied by auks, gillimonts, common muirs, muirletts. There were clouds of these birds sweeping about the island and the ship. Even the water surface was covered, just like ants at a picnic. As we sailed away we would occasionally disturb some birds on the surface, some too full of krill to fly so they frantically flapped along the surface, unable to reach the air.
Two miles, one day and two countries separate the Diomedes. Little Diomede, the town, has about 150 inhabitants and clings to the side of the island. Big Diomede has been unoccupied since the Russian government drove the inhabitants off at the start of the cold war. We checked out Big Diomede and found three walrus along a southern beach. There were also a couple of people on top, nationality unknown.
The natives lead a sustenance existence, with a healthy infusion of government or oil money. They have had electrical power since the 70s and have running water, telephones, and cable TV, and share the island with thousands of sea birds, a principle food source. An Evergreen helicopter brings mail and freight, and the occasional visitor in every Wednesday, weather permitting. The round-trip air fare from Nome is $400. In the winter they make a runway on the sea ice and small planes visit.
Our second visit was like the first on the World Discoverer, a brief stroll about the village and then some very enjoyable drum dancing. Their hospitality is not altruistic. The ship pays approximately $100 per passenger ashore.
8/20/96 - POINT HOPE
I think that this point was named by Capt. Cook and was the furthest north he reached before the arrival of winter caused him to head to Hawaii and his fate. There are many old sod houses and structures made of whale bones. The present small village has moved to higher ground down the spit. Although fall is coming here there were still some wild flowers blooming.
The water was glassy-smooth and the early morning sun gave a steel-grey-rose quality to the light. The ship was especially beautiful in this light as seen from the shore.
8/21 - BARROW
Arrived in a light but very windy snow shower. Since we have already done the city tour we went to the grocery etc store. Rode the banana boat back to the ship. We departed Barrow in late afternoon and rounded Point Barrow. The Northwest Passage has officially begun!
8/22 - UNDER WAY
The entire day has been spent at sea. Most of the cruising has been ice free. In early afternoon we encountered widely scattered pack ice. By late afternoon it become had more dense. Since passing Barter Island this afternoon our average speed has been 3.8 nm/h. Barter Island is the site of a DEW-line station and a small village. We have 85 nm to Hershell Island. We have done some "ice breaking" since encountering the heavier ice.
We have been following the shore lead all day, playing tag with a tug pulling three barges from Barrow to Tucktoutuck. We first encountered it as we approached Barter Island yesterday. He was turning back to Tuck for some reason.
After traveling through fairly light pack ice for a couple of days it occurs to me that the NWP books I have read didn't do justice to the difficulties the early explorers had. Taking a wooden sailing ship through pack ice would have been incredibly difficult. With a modern ship it is simply a matter of identifying a prospective lead and then turning to follow it. Given sufficient hull strength the ship can push it out of the way or perhaps ride up on it and crush it. The early sailors had to go where both the ice and the wind allowed them. They didn't have current radarsat images from the Ottawa Ice Center to help them along, either.
Today we crossed into Canada and were welcomed by some musk ox at quite a distance on the shore, and by Canadian Immigration. The border was marked with a metal pyramid made of poles. When we returned to the ship after an interlude in the zodiacs watching the ship work through the ice we were greeted by a helicopter bringing the immigration inspector out from Inuvik. He made a token check of several passports and then cleared us. The Alaskan pilot, Jim, left with him.
8/22 - Herschel Island
When we went to bed last night, we could see Herschel Island in the distance. Our approach from the west was blocked with fairly heavy ice. Pauline Cove is on the southeast side however the water between the south end and the mainland is too shallow for us to pass through. We turned North in search of better passage.
We awakened this morning to almost ice-free seas and Herschel on the starboard side. We quickly reached Pauline Cove and anchored. The cove was fairly ice-free so the zodiac shuttles began.
Herschel Island, the "Sodom of the Arctic," was a over-wintering spot for the San Francisco whaling fleet. The ships would make their way here as soon as possible, off-load supplies, and go hunt bowhead whales. When the freeze-up began they returned and spent the winter in fun and "games." In the Spring they went off after more whales and then returned home. At one time there was a population 2,000 and the whalers ran it as a US enclave. This alarmed the Canadians so they sent in two RCMP to take command.
This was our first dry landing. There is a small floating dock. We were greeted by three Yukon park rangers. They live in a nearby mainland village and work as rangers in the summer.
There are several buildings remaining from the past, including some log cabins that are still occupied. No one stays there over winter now. The rangers get their water by melting land snow and ice in the spring. They have a very large storage tank. Now that the land is ice free they pump fresh water off the top of large sea ice floes. (Sea ice is frozen salt water. The salt leaches out over the first year so it eventually becomes salt-free.)
There are several camping shelters (driftwood windbreaks) on the island. It is possible to fly out from Inuvik or to come out in a boat and camp, just like a real park. Apparently it is a Mecca for bird-watchers.
8/26 - Franklin Bay
We've spent the day cruising Franklin Bay, not especially by intent. Heavy sea ice blocks the direct path to Holman on Victoria Island. By clinging to the shore we have moved around the bay. One advantage to this path is that it took us close to the Smoking Hills, deposits of low grade coal that are smoldering. We have spent this day like previous ice days trying to guess which path the officer of the bridge will take through the ice maze. We are usually wrong.
Our fine weather continues with bright sun and relatively mild temperatures (41o).
As we approached Holmon, our fair weather was replaced by a light mist. This became intermittent as we visited the native settlement. The town is neat and well laid out. Most houses seem quite new. There is a very active native art co-op there. Silk screening seems to be the major activity although wood-block posters are also available.
Water is delivered to each residence every two days. It is stored in a tank within the house that is either in a heated crawlspace under the house or directly heated by a hot water pipe from the heating system. Sewage is stored in a similar tank and pumped out every two days. It is taken to a settling pond beyond the airport. One hopes the delivery man doesn’t get mixed up.
The wind has switched from southerly to northerly, moving the ice so that a retreat to the West is no longer possible. This direction is favorable for opening up the channels ahead of us.
8/27 - Ross Point
We are currently traversing Amundsen Gulf. It has been ice free but as a consequence the ship has been rolling quite a bit. It made for pleasant sleeping.
Dolphin and Union Strait was also ice-free. We spent an enjoyable couple of hours hiking across the tundra at Ross Point. Fall is well advanced here with few flowers still blooming. We found musk ox droppings, footprints, fur, however the only one we saw was in skeletal form, long dead. A pair of caribou trotted by us as we headed back toward the ship. The male had a magnificent rack.
After boarding, we slowly cruised the bay and found a herd of 8 musk ox, 2 males, 4 females, and 2 young. We also found some more caribou.
8/28 - Cambridge Bay
Coronation Gulf and Dease Strait are also ice-free. We have arrived at the thriving community of Cambridge Bay. This is, among other things, the site of one of the two main DEW-line stations! In looking at the map prior to the trip, I was expecting the shores to be closer. On the contrary, we are usually out of sight of land, except for the frequent islands. Since we have reached the more heavily traveled portion of the passage we are encountering more navigation lights and aids.
Cambridge Bay is, comparatively speaking, bustling. We were show the town by a high school girl named Roberta. We, of course, visited the Northern Store and the Co-op store. Of much more interest was our visits to the high school and grade school. Both are quite new, modern, and nicely appointed. Cambridge Bay has a population of approximately 1,300 people with 700 students. Long, cold, dark winters?
The style of houses seem to be the same in all the communities. In addition, water, sewage, and fuel oil are handled the same.
In the Co-op store I spotted something that is an obvious plot to keep the Inuit in ignorant subjugation: Windows 95 was for sale there.
8/29 - Gjöa Haven
We arose at 5:30 am to witness the difficult passage through the close waters of Simpson Strait. From the chart it appears quite narrow. It wasn't, however the waters are quite shallow and the officers seemed a bit tense on our passage. After many, many, many course changes we passed through and arrived in Göja Haven around 10:15 am.
The first problem with Gjöa Haven is how to pronounce the name. It isn't GO JA, or GO HA. You must forget the G and your English pronunciation and pronounce it "UR A." Of course, Haven can be pronounced with a long or short H. The residents, of course, pronounce it GO JA Haven
At any rate, this is the place where Roald Amundsen spent two winters during his successful passage through the Northwest passage. In addition to making significant magnetic observations pinpointing the current location of the wandering Magnetic North Pole, he learned to live off, or with, the land from the Inuits who wintered here. These are the skills he used to win the race to the South Pole. I've often thought the English must have had a special dislike for him. First he was the first through their Northwest Passage then he beat the English hero Scott to the South Pole.
Gjöa Haven is a very small Inuit settlement. This is the first time this ship has been here and only the third cruise ship to visit. The Canadian Arctic native settlements seem to have been turned out with cookie cutters. All of the features we have observed elsewhere apply here. The residents seem especially friendly, however.
We are on our way back out Simpson Strait after which we will turn North up Victoria Strait and Larson Sound and ICE!
8/30 - STUCK!
The early explorers, and many contemporary ones, usually became stuck in ice. Since approximately 5:30 pm last night, the MS HANSEATIC has been stuck - in sand. We have firmly grounded on an unmarked sand bar in Simpson Strait. We have spent the entire night at about a 4o list to starboard, engines driving in full reverse, to no avail. Immediately after grounding the bow thruster was used to attempt to move to port. Nothing has affected our position. A Canadian Coast Guard cutter is bringing its 6,000 hp to our aid. At 8 am, it currently is anchored about a mile away, waiting for what? This should eat up some of the four days we are ahead of schedule.
We were cruising back down the strait at about 10 knots when we heard a grinding and a felt a shuddering as we stopped. There was no violent motion. Immediately the bow thruster came on as the engines went into full reverse.
The Canadian Coast Guard survey ship, the NAHIDIK made three unsuccessful attempts to remove us from Hanseatic Reef, 68:33.45o N, 97:32.58o W. The ship did not budge. One attempt at "jerking" the ship resulted in the wire rope parting. Almost all fresh water has been discharged to lighten the ship so water conservation measures are in affect.
There was a special meeting at 2 pm to apprise the passengers of the situation. The captain marched in in full survival regalia. I was reminded of the old cartoon of two airline pilots walking through a full airline cabin wearing parachutes. One comments to the other, "Try to look nonchalant."
According to the cap., we are hung-up on the bow on the port side, raising the question, why were we thrusting mightily toward port immediately after grounding? A tug with bunker barge has been chartered and is on its way, through ice, to our aid. It will off-load the fuel and then help pull. In addition, the Canadian ice breaker, the HENRY LARSEN will stand by 6 miles away to help after we get out if we go through ice. It can't get any closer due to its draft. It carries oil barriers and clean-up equipment if we should discharge oil.
After we get off the ship hull must be inspected to determine our next course of action. We may proceed as our initial plan. We could be taken to Gjoa Haven by helicopter and thence by plane to our homes, or we could go somewhere else. We have no idea when the tug may arrive.
8/31 - "A NORMAL GROUNDING"
I completely forgot one of the captain's comments from yesterday. "This is a normal grounding." One wonders how often he grounds a ship. (It turns out that he later put the ship aground two more times and was fired.)
The NAHIDIK has left us. Actually she was gone when we woke up this morning. It has gone off to the HENRY LARSEN to pick up the oil boom and suction equipment. The chartered tug and barge will not arrive until tomorrow night or the next morning. We have been left pretty much alone today with the exception of a fly-over by the HENRY LARSEN's helicopter. It buzzed around the ship, taking pictures. It also landed on the beach of King William island and sat there for awhile. I believe that all officialdom is preparing their case for the eventual hearing. The lawyers were probably consulted before any effort was made to get us out of here.
Word of our situation has reached the outside world. Someone received a phone call today from Frisco. It was in the Frisco papers. Some of the crew have called home in Germany and found that the full but quite inaccurate story is out there. The German media realized that we are near Starvation Cove, where most of the Franklin Expedition died, put 2 and 2 together and came up with 13. They have decided that we are without water, heat, and food and are, in fact, starving.
For excitement we did a tundra walk today. The Canadian authorities apparently don't want us off the ship however they are gone so we went over to King William Island. It is quite close. The weather is clear and with little wind. Our walk was uneventful other than seeing a snowy owl, however, the tundra is always pleasant. Those ashore built a large stone cairn. Inside is a bottle of rum and a note explaining the circumstances of our being here. The cruise director, Werner, intends to come back in a year or two to reclaim it. I don't think he will be here on this ship, "...the largest ship to navigate Simpson Strait."
As mentioned above we are very close to the point where the major numbers of the Franklin expedition died, one by one, as they tried to reach a Hudson's Bay Company post on the mainland. They were dragging one of the ship's long boats along loaded with the ship's silver and linen, China, and a chest of drawers, but apparently little of any use for survival. Current thinking is that they were afflicted with lead poisoning from improperly prepared canned food. This is a barren and unforgiving environment for someone not prepared to live in it.
Now that we have stopped riling up the waters, the gravel bar upon which we sit is quite visible through the water. It is a large blob of solid gravel and we are firmly astride it. The S-shaped path traced by the bulb under the bow is clearly visible in its surface. The bow has passed over and seems free. About one-third of the ship is hung-up. We rode around the ship in a zodiac and found that the entire ship is raised out of the water, with the bow much higher. The bow bulb is quite visible. If we had been 50' either side we would have missed this reef. Daylight also reveals that we are not on the line dictated by the range markers. If we had been we would have missed the rock. However, we weren't and we didn't.
9/1 - HAPPY SEPTEMBER FOOLS' DAY
We have received no significant information as to what is going on since the 2 pm meeting with the captain two days ago. The German attitude must be "Ignorance is bliss."
The attitude among the English-speaking passengers has gone from patience and understanding to accusations of poor navigation and disgust with the lack of information. All announcements start in German and seem to contain at least three time the verbiage as the later English announcements.
Status report: Around 11:30 this morning the Nahidik approached the bow to pick up our starboard anchor with the intent of carrying it out to a "nice angle" and drop it. It was then to go back to the stern and pull whilst the ship attempted to pull the bow off with the anchor, called, I believe, kedging.
While the anchor dangled down, the Nahidik approached and bumped its little fore mast into our hull. In the process, the foremast failed and the whole attempt was aborted.
The Henry Larsen's helicopter arrived about 2:30 and deposited three visitors on the Nahidik, with suitcases and briefcases. These must be the insurer's representatives, lawyers, I assume. Ralf Zander, the first officer, is conversing with them on the stern of the Nahidik and will bring them over in a zodiac shortly.
The visitors are two from the Canadian DOT and a German ship surveyor. He will determine if the ship is insurable once it is again floating. One of the Canadians is to assure that we don't damage anything Canadian and the other is to determine the cause of the accident. That must be why the Coast Guard was photographing and surveying so zealously.
In the absence of any meaningful information for the past few days I decided to write my own status:
STATUS REPORT, SUNDAY 9/1/96, 11:00 AM
The tug and barge are in Cambridge Bay where the crew is recovering from their Saturday night celebration and will not be moving soon, besides, Monday is a national holiday.
The barometer is currently steady but a precipitous drop is expected accompanied by a gale and hard freeze. The gale, however, may drive pack ice down the strait which could carry us off the rock.
When the Hanseatic struck the rock, the impact shattered the bulb under the bow. A family of exceedingly rare and endangered northern tufted penguins have moved in. Parks Canada has declared the ship a critical habitat which cannot be moved.
In addition, the ship and its passengers are being held hostage by the Canadian government until they receive payment for the effort so far expended, including the breaking of the Nahidik mast.
Meanwhile, the Henry Larsen is proceeding at flank speed to Halifax to pick up a 6-mile cable to assist in pulling us off of the rock.
Ship's plans - expecting or waiting for or praying for a tsunami.
Passengers' plans - invite the entire crew of the Nahidik over for dinner, ply them with booze and after they pass out steal the Nahidik and get the heck out of here.
9/2 - HANSEATIC ON THE ROCKS
I believe that yesterday's abortive attempt to kedge us off of here was prompted by news that the tug and barge are held up by 30 k head winds below Victoria Island. We didn't learn of this until around 6:30 pm. No one will admit to having any idea when it may arrive.
The hotel division of the ship seems to be attempting to take up the slack left by the tour director, with eating. We had a big brunch yesterday which included a galley tour and FREE BEER! At the Italian dinner the previous night we each received, again free, 0.2 l of wine.
We were called to a sudden meeting around 10:30 am to discuss our "options." The insurance folks have decided that the ship will not be suitable for passengers after it gets off the rocks. A Russian ice breaker, the KAPITAN DRANYTSIN has just completed a trip at Resolute. It will head back this way and anchor some 70 miles away since its draft is much to great for this area, especially the spot we currently occupy. Those who want will transfer to it Thursday, by some unknown means, and continue on to Sondrestromfjord. In addition, there will be a 20% discount offered on any 1997 Hanseatic Tours two week cruise. If we choose to not accept this offer, we will be taken to Cambridge Bay on Thursday and then flown home, somehow. For this option, there will be a 10 day refund of the cruise fare.
There are 143 passengers on the ship. The KAPITAN DRANYTSIN apparently has a capacity of 112 in 50 state rooms. In addition, that ship requires tipping, unlike this one. It is also not known if they provide parkas and boots.
After that the ship's navigation and safety officer presented a talk on navigation which actually became a Q&A session. This rock upon which we rest is on the charts, contrary to what the captain said in his dramatic presentation last Friday. No one seems to know what has happened to the rescue tug. "Ah Pierre, the Far North, she is like a mysterious woman with her secrets."
Today's big (only) activity was a visit to the Nahidik. By-the-way, Nahidik means Pathfinder in one of the native dialects. Its three sister ships are also named Pathfinder in other dialects.
I believe we have made the news again, or will. During dinner this evening, a Learjet made two passes and then flew away. It did not proceed on to Gjoa Haven so I assume that it was some news media.
9/3 - Still On Hanseatic Reef
Ate breakfast next to two Canadian DOT people who came on board the other day with the German ship surveyor. One is responsible for assessing blame. The other controls people and environmental safety. We definitely will not be on board when the next attempt is made to move the ship. After it is off the reef, divers and/or a submersible ROV will inspect the ship to determine if the crew will be allowed to remain on board while it goes to the repair facility.
Found out from the DOT folks that there are actually two tugs and barges coming to aid the ship, one small and one large.
Although this is a "casual, adventure ship" most German passengers dress for dinner. By "dress" I mean men in suits or sport coats, dress shirts and ties; women in dresses or nice pants suits. The English speaking passengers, especially me, wear the same clothes they have worn throughout the day.
9/4 - Day 6
Last night the kitchen crew loaded 15 tons of food onto the deck of the Nahidik. At 6 am, the Nahidik plus 3 zodiacs and some of our crew departed for the DEW-line airstrip at Gladman Point, some 10 miles away. When they got there they loaded the food into the zodiacs and shuttled it to the beach. Then they lugged it 600 feet to the airstrip. A Twin Otter and a Dash 7 airplane were waiting there to haul it to Cambridge Bay where it will be loaded onto the Kapitan Dranitsyn.
Our departure tomorrow will follow a similar path. Three groups will be taken to the airstrip by ship launches. Our luggage will go on the n. All will go ashore by zodiac and thence to Cambridge Bay. Those who are going home will fly on to Yellowknife for the night. They will then fly on the Edmandton and then home.
Apparently the German press is having a feeding frenzy over this. According to them we are without water, heat, and food. They are drawing parallels between this and the Franklin Expedition. They have attempted to directly contact passengers by telephone. Supposedly, CNN will be waiting to interview us in Cambridge Bay. Since we will be in the second group the press will be gone by the time we arrive.
9/5 - Exodus
This has been an incredible day!
This is the day we left the stricken Hanseatic and transfer to the Kapitan Dranitsyn in Cambridge Bay. All was placid in the morning. We breakfasted as usual and eventually drifted to the Observation Lounge when Werner announced that the bar was free. Around 11:30 he announced that it was time for our group to leave.
We boarded one of the ship tenders and traveled the 10 miles to Gladman Point where we tied up in the lee of the Nahidik. We were greeted with a sign on the side of the n, "Welcome to the Departure Lounge for Gladman Point International Airport."
We transferred from the tender to a zodiac which ferried us to shore. We stepped out onto a board walk to shore and hiked up the gravel to the Dash 7 waiting for us with one of its four engines running. After the long boarding process the remaining engines fired up and we left. One of the two stewardess suspended her honeymoon for this emergency evacuation. They passed out box lunches prepared by the ship and we chowed-down during the 50 minute flight to Cambridge bay.
What a surprise awaited us there! The press had missed the first plane. We exited the plane and found several photographers and TV camera men taking our pictures from the terminal building. In a hilarious scene, the passengers all stopped and took pictures of the photographers taking pictures of the passengers. It reminded me of a mirror.
We entered the terminal and immediately were giving interviews to several people. One crew was from German Television; one was from either CNN or Canadian Television. Jodie was interviewed by the latter. It was an incredible scene. The interviewers kept fishing for responses of fear or terror. After the frenzy died down I was chatting with one of the crews about the strangeness of the whole thing and what a surprise it was. The interviewer asked me if I minded being interviewed for German Television. So Jodie and I were interviewed for the Germans.
One more surprise awaited us. We were transported to the Kapitan Dranitsyn by helicopter. The Kapitan Dranitsyn travels with two. We were whisked to the ship in 7 minutes. I was expecting another long, wet zodiac ride.
The Kapitan Dranitsyn is like a floating sky-scraper. There are 9 decks above the hull line. The bridge, like the rest of the ship, is immense. There is generous room for passengers to supervise the operation.
This has been our first day on the Dranitsyn. Prior to our boarding it was on a three-day charter by Molson Beer. They had some sort of contest. The winners rode the ship for three days, winding up at Resolute where they attended a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert. In the course of the trip they consumed 3000 cans of beer. Maybe that is why our cabin smells strongly like a sewer. The ship was within two hours of departing for home in Mermansk when it was chartered for us. It will also fill-in for the Hanseatic on its next two-week cruise.
The Kapitan Dranitsyn is quite a come-down luxury-wise from the Hanseatic. Our room is quite a bit smaller, there is no marble in the bathroom, there is much less storage, and, as previously mentioned, it smells quite badly. The dining room is too small for the size of our group so you may have to wait for some place to sit. The only public gathering place is the bar which is smoke-filled.
But on the other hand, it goes through pack ice as if it doesn't exist. There is no hunting about for leads. She just goes where she wants. The bridge is huge and open to the passengers. Since almost all the wording is in Russian it is sometimes difficult to know what the various instruments and controls are doing. The radars are in English as is the ever-present GPS. The charts, however, are in Russian. The bridge is about 1 1/2 decks above the 8th deck. Our cabin is on the 7th deck. The dining room is on the 5th deck. The zodiacs are accessed from the 4th deck. The stairs are steep and the treads rather narrow, especially the stair to the bridge. We should get our exercise climbing stairs.
Today was to be our introduction to really tough pack ice. Along with pack ice, of course, comes the chance of POLAR BEARS! We hit the really tough, solid ice around 3:30 am. The noise is difficult to sleep through. I gave up around 4, dressed and went to the bridge. Lots of ice all day but no bears.
The Hanseatic went through ice like a doe goes through a forest, delicately stepping around trees and shrubs, moving cautiously. On the other hand, the Kapitan Dranitsyn goes through ice the way a rhino goes through the brush, straight ahead and get out of my way.
When the captain appeared on the bridge I said, "Good morning, Captain."
When he responded I said, "Your ship is most impressive."
Another passenger signaled a thumbs-up and said, "Good!"
The captain responded with a vigorous gesture toward the bow and said, "Good is forward!"
This ship has six diesel engines each driving an a-c generator. Each pair is coupled to an d-c electric motor driving a propeller; three motors, three propellers. In the normal cruising mode in open water two generators drive the central motor and propeller resulting in a cruising speed of around 13 knots. The unused motors and propellers just windmill at around half the rpm of the driving motor. When she encounters fairly thick pack ice the configuration is changed to a diesel generator driving each of the three motors. In heavy ice the ship sometimes slows to 9 knots. Around noon they fired up all six generators and blasted through 2 m pack ice at 15 knots. A brutish display of power.
First-year pack cuts like butter. Second-year and older resents our passage. I wonder at the mass of a seemingly small floe that causes the Kapitan Dranitsyn with its 12,288 tons displacement to jump violently to one side before shoving it rudely aside.
Around this time they sent one of the helicopters off on a scouting mission. When it returned it landed on the ice directly ahead of the ship and then hovered around the bridge for several photo opportunities.
We reached Resolute in early afternoon. Access to the shore was thoroughly blocked by ice that had blown in during the day. Eventually the attempted landing was cancelled. Instead, the Kapitan Dranitsyn moved slowly into a thick table of pack ice and lowered the gang plank. We were allowed down onto the floe and served hot spiced wine or beer. We could take all sorts of pictures and approach the hull which by this time was frozen into the ice again. We took many pictures, had our hot wine, and retreated into the warmth of the ship.
After dinner we made our usual visit to the bridge. The sea was a magical sight in the half light. Winter is here. Grease and pancake ice is forming. The heavy, blowing snow covered everything, even the still-fluid sea since its temperature was below the freezing point of fresh water. There were curious windrows of snow floating upon the sea.
9/8 - Beechy Island
Today we reached Beechy Island - in a driving snow storm and high winds. This is where the Franklin Expedition spent their first winter and buried two of the crew who apparently died of TB. Their graves, and the grave of someone who died in the search, are marked with monuments. There is also a building ruin. This was a supply depot constructed by one of the rescue missions for Franklin in case he somehow made his way back. They also left a ship. I have to assume that all of this is there since the place was covered with several feet of snow.
Our first attempt to land from the presumed harbor used by Franklin was thwarted by ice against the shore plus a heavy swell caused by the wind. We moved to the other side and found it better. The scout Zodiac found a patch of shore free of ice so the landing was on. I didn't go but Jodie did.
There were approximately 30 hearty souls who braved the elements. After wading through heavy snow and experiencing a white-out and small avalanche, they gave up and returned to the ship.
Now we are off to Greenland across Baffin Bay.
When we awakened this morning we were at anchor, a surprise since we had expected to spend the entire day at sea. We soon heard over the PA system that we were in Dundes Harbor on Devon Island and that we were going ashore.
After a hurried breakfast we dressed and climbed down the gangway to the waiting Zodiac. There were bits of ice floating in the bay and it was snowing lightly. Since there is always a danger from polar bears, we had to stay in a group and a guard with a shotgun watch over us from a nearby ridge.
We hiked over to an abandoned RCMP post. It was on a bay across a ridge from where we anchored. On the way we spotted some musk ox grazing on the side of the mountain above the post. Two were immediately visible and four more were hidden in a valley below them. The post itself consists of four or five trashed wooden buildings. The interiors are littered with cans and trash from Inuit hunters and other transients. Hard to imagine living there any length of time. These posts were scattered throughout the Canadian Archapelligo to exercise sovereignty over the area. Greenland isn't too far away and Denmark coveted the area.
Now that we have passed Devon Island we have officially completed the Northwest Passage!
Today we visited Qaanaaq, formerly known as Thule. This is where the village was relocated to allow construction of the US air field now known as Thule. This was our fartherest north, 77:28o N, 69:12o W. The name of the town is pronounced "Karnak."
The village, as a result of the relocation, is composed of fairly new buildings ascending the side of a steep hill. Many aluminum fishing boats are anchored close to shore. Many more, along with the more traditional kayaks are stored on shore. Several large ice bergs also grace the anchorage.
The houses are brightly colored, lending a pleasant contrast to the overall monochrome of the area, now muddy white. Most of the houses are quite box-like but that follows the practical Inuit philosophy of not using excess space. There are sled dogs staked out around the town. The pups are allowed to run free. This will continue until they are around six months old. The "yards" of most houses are enclosed with a chain-link fence, not high enough to keep a polar bar out but probably to keep the dogs out.
We visited the craft shop and the hotel shop. Both places had a few greatly overpriced things. The craft shop had many things that couldn't be taken back to the US. The soapstone carvings were fairly poor.
There is a fairly nice little museum in Knud Rasmussin's old house. We could have spent our time better there than at the two shops. the two shops were the only places that accepted US money. Money could be changed at the post office however they seemed to charge a $17 fee.
We wandered through the grocery store. It had a pretty good stock of mostly Danish products. In the frozen food bin we found frozen mucktuck and frozen musk ox steaks, among more conventional fare. I was thwarted in my desire for some Danish cookies since the store accepted only Danish money.
A light snow started during our visit and became fairly heavy during the zodiac ride back to the ship. The weather cleared on the way out and we were blessed with incomparable views of the glaciers, ice bergs, and mountains with patches of sun light and clouds.
Tonight we celebrate the completion of the Northwest Passage with a cook-out on the helicopter deck.
Latest word on the Hanseatic; she is on her way, unescorted, up Peel Sound. The damage to the hull must not have been very great.
9/11 - Cape York
Cape York is just a bit south of Qanaaq and is the site of the Parry memorial. This is a giant stone obelisk perched on top of the cape along with a remote weather station. The ship parked into a large floe while the helicopters took passengers on a visit to the memorial and a tour of some ice bergs. The charge was $75 for perhaps 30 minutes if you were lucky.
The best thing is that we have finally seen a polar bear! We were attending a cocktail party in the captain's suite when the bear was spotted. It was a dirty giant, shambling across the ice floes as we approached. We stayed close to it for several minutes.
9/12 - at sea
We are spending the day traveling to Disco Bay. Since the trip is nearing an end, we have to deal with the flight from Greenland to Iceland today. We reported to the dinning room at the appropriate time and received our boarding passes for the charter flight. We also received the inevitable colored tags to identify which destination our bags go to.
Ice bergs dot the ocean. The ones on the horizon make it appear we are approaching some futuristic city across a barren plain. Ice berg terms: brash ice, growlers, bergie bits, and ice bergs. A bergie bit becomes an ice berg if it is larger than a cottage.
The Northern Lights put in an appearance just after dusk. As the ship crawled out from under a cloud cover they appeared off of the bow. They were faint blobs of glow in the sky, coming and going completely at random. The best appearance was almost directly overhead and suffused with color, as if some giants were playing with colored flashlights. Finally they faded away.
Just as I crept into bed after 11 there was another announcement on the ship PA system that they had resumed on the starboard side of the ship. Jodie was still dressed so she went out on deck. I just opened the window and marveled. At first there was a giant spiral all the way from the western horizon to the zenith. It faded or metamorphosed into a short-lived curtain. There were no spectacular colors in this display. It went on for as long as we cared to watch. Whenever I awoke during the night they were still there.
9/13 - Jacobshaven
This is a bustling town with traffic in the streets. We went ashore right after breakfast and wandered around. There are modern buildings and shops and the typical Greenland houses. Dogs are staked out everywhere. There are also fish and seal meat drying racks everywhere. After finally finding a nice piece of soapstone we strolled out to the ice field that is the source of all the giant bergs in the area. I think the glacier is also called Jacobshaven. We hiked a few miles out to view the ice field.
Very few people speak English, only in tourist shops. Only tourist shops accept foreign money. Several places accept plastic, however. There is a lovely all gravel soccer field.
Many of the fishing boats in the busy harbor mount whale guns on their bows. There is frequently whale meat for sale at the co-op fresh fish market in the center of town. All we saw was fresh seal and several kinds of fish.
There is a large fish processing plant at the harbor. We walked through their loading area when searching for the zodiac boarding location. It had been moved while we were in town. We eventually found it by watching where the incoming zodiac went.
We have 300 miles to go to Sondre Stromfjord, the northern hemisphere's longest fjord. We will enter the fjord around 5 pm tomorrow afternoon. Tomorrow is packing day.
We actually entered the fjord much earlier. For the first time we were banned from the bridge. The entrance is quite narrow and tricky, especially with the deep draft of the Dranitsyn. Jodie suspended packing to watch and photograph the entrance. We wound around a small island and entered. The sheer rock wall aren't very high at the entrance but as we progressed up the fjord they became quite huge.
The walls were pierced in places by glaciers or the remains of glaciers. Large moraines were the sole evidence of some. We had to interrupt our packing frequently to photograph.
There was a Captain's farewell cocktail party in the bar and library tonight. It was quite crowded since these are tiny rooms. The usual champagne was served. I guess it is cheaper than real booze.
9/15 - Disembarkation at Sondre Stormfjord
Luggage out by 6 am, people out starting around 8:30 am.
The lucky luggage traveled by helicopter directly to the former US airbase. We traveled by zodiac to a pier and then by old bus several miles to the field. The Islandic Air 737 was waiting to take us to Rekyvac. After a last frantic visit to the shops we boarded. Since this was a charter flight it was treated as an all business class flight, entitling us to champagne before lunch, a very good lunch, and free booze, in great moderation.
Unfortunately the flight from Rekyvac to JFK was on a 767 and was tourist. The cocktails were $3; the meal was lousy but did include one free bottle of wine; the service was poor and the aircraft basically cramped and uncomfortable.
Passage through Customs and Immigration at JFK was a breeze! There was no wait at Immigration. When our bags eventually showed up they were sopping wet. There had been a heavy rain in Rekyvac and they had apparently sat in it for some time. We checked then back in and began our 5-hour wait for the next flight.
The departure time of 10:30 pm finally arrived. Curses, another 767. If Hell is a 5-hour flight in a 767, what are two, back-to-back 5-hour flights? Delta demonstrated that Islandic Air has no lock on poor cabin service. If I had to choose between the two I would be hard pressed to pick one. Both are quite poor. I can't complain about Delta's meal service. There was none. The cabin people quickly served juice or soft drinks, turned off the cabin lights and disappeared for the remainder of the flight into the first class area, presumably to party.
We did survive the flight, five hours of misery and walked into our front door at 3 am, 25 hours after rising on the Kapitan Dranitsyn in Greenland.
Northwest Passage Solo
David Scott Cowper
Seafarer Books - Sheridan House
Northwest by Sea
Ernest S. Dodge
Oxford University Press
Library of Congress 61-5477
The Search for the Northwest Passage
George Malcom Thompson
Quest for Franklin
Search for Franklin
Leslie H. Neatby
Willy de Roos (Williwaw)
book on tape
St. Roch or Rock, Sgt Larson, Walker Bay, Paisley Bay on Franklin St., Belark St., Ft. Ross
NOTES: Four passenger ships have made it: Lindblad Explorer (now just Explorer), World Discoverer (now sadly rusting away on a reef in the South Pacific), Frontier Spirit (now Bremen) in 1992, and the Hanseatic in 1994.
Das Schif has a draft of 15.5'. The Simpson strait we passed thru going into and out of Gjoa Haven has a depth of 18'. The ice center is in Ottawa. 65 ships have made the passage in 90 years. There were approx 45 expeditions in 90 years. If the Greenland ice cap melted, the ocean would rise 22'. Amundsen's ship’s name is pronounced "gearia."
Another fact, a cable is 0.1 nm or 600'.