PROGRESS REPORT NO. 8
IN THE LANCASTER SOUND PACK-ICE
Wednesday August 8th.
Midnight.. light fog. No wind. Ice all round.
All is quiet now. A couple of hours ago we turned off the engine and
anchored to an ice floe. We had been getting nowherebanging into
floes, breaking through some, bouncing off others. Now there's ice all
round us, calm and still, with an occasional crack from a floe as it
splits. It's cold outside, freezing fog, but within our boat it is cosy,
the Dickenson stove warming the wheelhouse.
There is a slight easterly current, so we're being set backwards. This
is so different from only 12 hours ago, when we were going gallantly
in bright sunshine, clear water, no ice and the mountains of Devon Island
20 miles to our north as we went happily westward in Lancaster Sound.
We had the ice-chart and we'd spoken on VHF to a Canadian Government
vessel that we'd met coming eastward out of Resolute with some scientists
aboard.‘Louise S. St. Laurent'
Her ice pilot had been most helpful on the radio. They had broken through
7/10 pack to get out of Resolute, and again met a patch of 7/10 ahead
of where we were headed. We would skirt that on it's southern edge.
That plan didn't work so well and we're in it. However patience is
what we need now, a commodity not in great supply, I suppose we'll have
to learn it.
We left Thule Air Base last Tuesday, July 31st, with no regrets and
made a wet, foggy, lumpy100 mile passage northwards to Qaanoq settlement.
This is where the local population were sent to in 1953 when they were
displaced to make way for the air-base. It is on Inglefeld Fjord, the
area where Peary set himself up in 1896 for his early forays to north
Qaanoq is unique as far as settlements go in that it
has no natural harbour, not even a rock shelf to tie up to. There is
a rough stone half-tide breakwater, inside of which are moored the local
boats. The entry is through a narrow entrance in the breakwater.
A cold wind blew off the icecap behind the settlement as we anchored
outside the breakwater,10 a.m. by Greenwich Time ( UTC ), 6 a.m. local
time. All slept ‘till late afternoon.
When we stirred ourselves, two vessels had anchored outside us. One
was a cargo ship ‘Green Igloo’. She was discharging
on to a barge which self-propelled itself on to the beach, where it
unloaded its annual cargo delivery. The other was the Greenpeace vessel
The Politi ( police ) couldn't have been more helpful. In their 4-wheel
drive they drove us round, showing us the laundry-house and then bringing
us for coffee in the local ‘hotela guest house. There
we met a group of Danish geologists, waiting both for supplies and better
weather for their field-work.
That evening we had showers in the community halland thus cleansed
and inspired, sang and played a few tunes later for some of the locals.
An old man did one of their story telling ‘drum- song’
stories. Here we found that the people had and used their Innuit first
names, unlike elsewhere south where they all have Christian names. The
fork-lifts worked all night on the beach, bringing the cargo up from
the tidal area. A cold rain fell.
Next day we lay low on anchor and watched a second ship delivering
its cargo onto the beach, with considerable difficulty as it rained
and blew about force 6. On one pontoon a fire engine for the new airstrip
nearly got a ducking as the pontoon was blown sideways at the breakwater
entrance. They made a tactical withdrawal to their ship.
For the Greenpeace folks, campaigning against Thule
being used as a Star-Wars base, it was an uphill battleand they
knew it. Greenpeace, 20 years previously, in campaigning against sealing
had drawn no distinction between the wholesale repugnant slaughter in
Labrador and the individual seal-hunting for the family pot as carried
on in Greenland. Greenland memories are long. In addition, and more
currently, most of the Qaanoq men benefited from work at the airbase.
Notwithstanding, the Greenlanders were friendly to the Greenpeace people,
about 30 in all. Ten or so were ships crew, ten were general helpers
and about ten were interpreters and journalists.
We were invited aboard that evening, just in time for dinner and a
‘limited bar’. .I’m not sure what the
‘limit’ wasperhaps we lubricated it upwards
with the couple of bottles of Powers we brought as ‘appetisers’.
They showed us round their vessel, told us of their campaign and listened
to our songs. A particular ‘hit’ was the line
in ‘ The Greenland Whale Fishery ‘ which goes
“And we did not catch that whale brave boys, and we did not
catch that whale!”.
Three hours after they left us back to our boat in their big inflatable;
Thank you, ‘Arctic Sunrisers’ for a great night.
Frank, Gearoid and myself trudged it up the village with our sat-phone,
in a sleety snow for an interview with ‘The Pat Kenny Show’,
5 a.m. local timewe were not at our brightest.
We tried, oh we tried to see the Narwhal whale, for which Inglefjord
is known, and we failed. We motored 20 miles to the head of the fjord
for a ‘guaranteed’ sightingnil. On returning,
we were told of a better spot, across the fjord. We swung over in that
direction when we were leaving. Resultnil.
The ice-reports for Lancaster Sound were getting better,
with a colour fax from new friends Philip Walsh and Will Steger on the
Motor Yacht ‘Turmoil’, now in, showing mostly
clear water in its southern side. Time to go. We went south-westward
in sunlight towards Ellesmere, Canada, then met fog. We cancelled our
intended landing at Cape Paddy Hennessy, not much point if you can’t
see anything, dodged icebergs and in thick fog, using Radar and Sounder
got to anchor in 3 metres of water in a bay on the south of Coburg Island
.We had it to ourselvesdefinitely. We raised the Canadian and
Nunavut ( the new Innuit Province ) flags, drank Canadian Club Whisky
and slept happily, 180 miles out from Qaanoq.
A shore party, Mike, Terry, John and Frank, found a hut in good shape
with paraffin, stove, an old snowmobile and some books and papers in
French. “Quelle Histoire?”
An Arctic fox trotted along, yards away only, paying them no heed.
On our way in, Terry had commented that the place must be full of fish“look
at the ducks, they’re so fat that they can hardly lift themselves
out of the water”.
At 13.00 hours on Monday we left, had a grand sail down outside Jones
Sound, then through fog and occasional light ice to the eastward of
Devon Island to Cape Sherard, the entrance to Lancaster Sound. We rounded
it at 04.00 hours yesterday, Tuesday in high elation; here we were at
last, in the best of shape, good visibility, no ice, the sun on the
mountaintops. All was well in our small world. And so it continued as
we spun westward, the names of famous places and explorers pinned to
headlands and bays. There was even a ‘Cape Joy’,
an unusual sentiment in Arctic annals.
Jarlath was reading one of the Arctic manuals we have on board and
treated us to the gem
“Your luck usually runs out when you need it most”
The e-mails are a big event in our day. Gearoid opens
up the laptop, plugs in wires to power, Pactor modem and SSB radio,
performs some magic keyboard ritual--- and we’re in touch
with the world. It’s great. Our continuing appreciation goes
to the Ham Radio Operators maintaining the Winlink and Airmail systems,
and of course to Brendan.
Mike is our gourmet chef, not only good as he needs to be, we’re
on pasta and smash, but quite proprietorial. A couple of days ago, Frank
and Terry were doing ‘pull-ups’ from the roof
by way of passing the time . Mike complained of --- “turning
my kitchen into a Gym!”
The charts here say that “The Compass is useless in this
Area” It sure is, one of the results being that our
Auto-Pilot doesn’t work. That’s no harm as we
have to keep a sharp lookout for ice anyway. We will attempt to link
it directly to the GPS.
Kevin is nonchalant as ever, his camera clicking in a satisfying way.
His policy of self-improvement continues, his emphasis currently being
John, with his camera, is everywhere, night and day, happily unobtrusive.
He has got so many shots of this, that and everything ‘can’
at this stage that we’re afraid of losing him. Hope not.
At our stern a remnant of our steak and kidney dinner hangs as bait
on a fishing line. Gearoid is not sure of what it might attract, fish,
seal --or bear.
Now we’re waitingas it is sagely said “
To travel in the Arctic is to wait”
Or more optimistically put in the old Irish Polar Saying:----“May
the leads open before you”
MIKE and KEVIN write of GREENLAND DOGS
We wonder why you never see the Greenlanders taking the dog for a stroll
down the promenade of a fine evening! We have seen only one class of
dog up here, that’s the Greenland Dog, with a very large
strain of wolf in him. There is no room for sentiment in relation to
these animals and in spite of training of successive generations they
remain quite savage. Their reputation for snarling and bad temper generally
has to be taken seriously.
Our arrival into a settlement by sea is usually heralded bt the constant
eerie howling of dogs, which at times reaches fever pitch. Within the
settlement the smell of dog-shit, seal blubber, entrails, etc. pervades
the air, the only distraction is the constant nuisance of the local
mosquito population, but that for another day.
Apart from the work of dragging cargo or hunting sledges around in the
winter, the Greenland Dog has little to look forward to. He is likely
to end up as a meal for his colleagues and fur trousers for his Master!.
FRANK --- ON POLAR HISTORY
On the 31st of August 1818, Sir John Ross in Isabella with sister Ship
Alexander entered Baffin,s Lancaster Sound and sailed westward into
the much sought Northwest Passage. During the afternoon the bottom of
the Bay was sighted. Ross was called to deck, and he said he distinctly
saw land, round the bottom of the Bay, (roughly where we are stuck at
present) forming a connecting chain of mountains with those which extended
along the north and south sides. He ordered bearings to be taken and
inserted in the log. He observed ice stretching across the bay and named
the mountains after the first secretary Croker of the Admiralty, and
the southwest corner after the second secretary, the legendary John
Barrow. His officers were not consulted and disagreed with his claim.
William Parry with Hecla and Griper, sailed into Lancaster Sound and
through Ross’s “Croker” mountains in
September 1819 and wintered at Melville Island. Edward Sabine of Dublin
was the scientific officer with Parry.
Needless to say, Sir John Ross’s reputation was badly damaged
with the Admiralty (John Barrow) with dire consequences for his naval