I sailed the Northwest Passage

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Devon Island

This summer was a dream come true – my mom and I took a ship through the Northwest Passage.  It was an amazing experience, with a depth that is hard to articulate. For so many reasons – seeing the land and sea of the high Arctic, the culture there, both ancient and current, being on a One Ocean Expedition, and being part of the staff as the expedition doctor, the wildlife we encountered, and the fabulous people we spent 2 weeks with on the ship.

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Our route.

We started in Greenland, where we boarded our ship, the Russian Akademik Sergei Vavilov, which is a modest ocean going vessel strengthened for ice travel.  On board were 85 passengers, mostly from Canada, 25 One Ocean Expedition staff members, and some 45 Russian crew, led by Captain Beluga.

Our ship, the Vavliov.

We sailed down the long fiord of Kangerlussuaq, and up the coast of Greenland, with 2 stops at towns there, although we could not reach shore at Ilulissat, due to the massive amount of icebergs in the harbour that day.  The community that we did spent time in, Sisimiut, seemed wonderful. Colorful well kept homes, friendly people, a thriving and bustling energy, a harbour full of boats, and thriving traditional culture.  For instance, we saw a kayak rolling demonstration by a man in a traditional Inuit model kayak, which is custom made for his body, and with a sealskin drytop.  We also saw a great deal of ice – mostly icebergs calved from the massive glaciers of Greenland. This is hard and sharp ice, particularly dangerous to ships.

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Sisimiut, Greenland

Some of the icebergs were massive. That small black dot is a zodiac full of people.

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The ice can be sculpted in the most beautiful shapes, and is a brilliant shade of green at times.

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Can you see the wee gull on the tip of the ice?

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Note the small hole letting the sun shine through. It was like being in an art gallery

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So close and yet so far – harbour choked with ice

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Hi mom!

I was sorry not to get to shore in Ilulissat, as the glacier there is enormous, and responsible for a most of the icebergs that are carried down past the Maritimes.  Apparently as the ice is calved off it can be caught up near the glacier, only to suddenly overflow into the bay, causing sudden and massive amounts of ice there.  The scale of all that ice is not visible in my photos, but it took us 1.5 hours to go about 8 km by boat, weaving our way around immense icebergs and through smaller floating bits.

From Greenland we spent 2 days crossing massive Baffin Bay, to northern Baffin Island.  We stopped in Pond Inlet, which was a return for me, as this was the place Martin and I started our kayak excursion from last year.  Pond Inlet is a stunning place on the water, full of scenic mountain and glacier views, and a friendly Inuit community.

Once we left Baffin Island, to head north into Lancaster Sound, we were in the high Arctic.  This is a place of utterly barren land, mainly rock and ice, and perhaps a bit of short grass.  It is not a place that people have historically been able to survive in over long periods of time, and in fact one of the most shocking and shameful examples of the Canadian government’s attitude to aboriginal culture in times past (don’t get me started on how they are doing now) was that they relocated several batches of Inuit families from further down south, to various small settlements in the high Arctic.  And then left them there to starve to death. This was probably an attempt at asserting Canadian sovereignty, in order to create a stronger presence in the Arctic.  There are several examples of such communities in the region, and we visited one on Devon Island.  Three policemen and a few Inuit families were dropped off at Dundas Harbour, and forgotten for 3 years, until the survivors were rescued.  One of the amazing things about the high Arctic is that buildings and artifacts from time immemorial are still abundant.  Things don’t rot or break down quickly, and without too many people around there is not much scavenging either. Along with the more recent artifacts from the last 100 years, we saw Dorset and Thule homes, and of course, the artifacts from the time of the exploration of the Northwest Passage by Franklin and by all those who came to find him.  (More on that later.)

RCMP outpost on Devon Island

Dundas Harbour – RCMP outpost, with graves up above.

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possibly my favorite photo of the trip - can you see the wee people? We saw red throated loons on this pond.

Possibly my favorite photo of the trip – can you see the wee people?

Walrus skull on Devon Island - likely left by an ancient hunter.

Walrus skull on Devon Island – likely left by an ancient hunter.

I will leave you here for now, here on Devon Island on a warm summer’s day, shortly after the northwest passage has opened for the first time this year.  You can imagine Franklin’s ships sailing by, and perhaps on such a day as this, fine and calm.  Although they were not the first humans in the area, they were the first Europeans, and most probably the first humans to attempt to find the passage, and so they would have no doubt felt like they were sailing into the unknown, to the very ends of the earth.

Stay tuned for many more stories and photos to come from this remarkable part of the world.

About Tandi

I love my morning coffee, reading, the wilderness, paddling, poetry, my Spanish husband, and being a doctor. I also love writing my blog, and reading yours.
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10 Responses to I sailed the Northwest Passage

  1. This delightful music was a surprise! What a trip you and your mom had. And you told it so beautifully. I felt swept along with you. I look forward to more more more!

    • Tandi says:

      Kayti, thank you for your faithful comments and your enthusiasm. I so much appreciate them! I love to hear that you were swept along. I have one more post to come – the best photos for the last!

  2. shoreacres says:

    Oh, my gosh. Didn’t I laugh at Captain Beluga. Was he a whale of a man? And here’s a coincidence: there’s a Baffin Bay here in Texas, too — although it’s a wee bit more tropical than where you were.

    The photos are fabulous, and the thought of the voyage has led directly to the sin of envy. 🙂
    I especially liked the music. It reminded me of an old favorite, “Farewell to Tarwathie.” Long before Judy Collins sang it, it was recorded on an LP of whaling songs — Ewan Maccoll, I think.

    Like Kayti, I’m looking forward to more!

    • Tandi says:

      I know – Captain Beluga! He is a serious man, and a bit shy I think. He took great pride is his ability to navigate our ship through the vast quantities of ice we encountered. Just the sort of fellow you would like to be captain of the ship. Although I confess, I was sort of imagining a rather dashing, jolly fellow in a tuxedo. 🙂

      The music is by Stan Rogers. Apparently he wrote that song, a Canadian classic, at a song writers workshop in about 20 minutes.

  3. thorsaurus says:

    Transporting pics. Thank you for the trip.

  4. Blathering says:

    Hi Tandi, I enjoyed this post, the photos, and your thoughts on Greenland, but I wonder if you knew that the music file you embedded in this post, automatically plays in the WordPress Reader -ie, I spent a while on the weekend, trying to work out why this strange Irish music was coming from my computer. I had a few different things open at the time, and couldn’t see a sound file open anywhere, then finally narrowed it down to the fact that I had the WordPress Reader open and when I closed it the music went off, but whenever I opened it, the music started to play. I actually contacted WordPress to ask what to do about it. Only today I happened to be catching up on reading blogs – via email notifications as I was avoiding the Reader! – and discovered that the music is coming from your post. (It also automatically plays as soon as your blog is opened.) Nothing against Irish music in general, (although I prefer the Clancy Brothers!! ;-)) it was just that it was annoying when I didn’t know where it was coming from and couldn’t use the WordPress Reader to browse through all the blogs I follow, without it playing through my speakers – I guess we all like to feel we have some control over what we are listening to!

    Thank you for the beautiful photos, and for sharing that beautiful experience!

    • Tandi says:

      Gosh,thanks so much for letting me know. I did embed it in the post, but I have no idea how it got into the reader as well. I will delete it promptly.

      • Blathering says:

        Oh, dear, now I feel bad – I only mentioned it in case it caused people to unfollow your blog if they had the same thing happening in their Reader & got annoyed – as it is quite annoying when you don’t know where it’s coming from & can’t stop it. But it’s a shame if you have to delete it from your post, as obviously some of your readers really liked it. When I discovered it was your post playing the music, & saw the connection, I appreciated it too, but would have preferred to be able to select to play it, rather than have it auto-play. Unfortunately I am not clever enough to know how you embed it & make sure it doesn’t auto-play as soon as anyone opens their Reader, but there should be a way – surely!

      • Tandi says:

        Not to worry. I was really glad you told me. As much as I love the song, no one wants to hear it continuously. I think my mistake was clicking auto play…

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