Saturday, January 23, 2016

Cruising the Northwest Passage

There are billions of places out there that we know nothing about.
This fact excites me...and I want to go out and find out about them.
And that's what science is! (Brian Cox)

Recall history when John Frobisher, in the 1800's, commanded expeditions to locate and cross Arctic's Northwest Passage. Both his ships: the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus became icebound and were abandoned by all crew. It wasn't until 2008 that Parks Canada researched for six weeks to locate these ships...without success. In 2014, the wreckage of one ship was discovered.
Today...70 years later, an Arctic cruise operator “Adventure Canada”
out of Toronto, Ontario, offers journeys through the Northwest Passage.

In the Travel section of November 7's Hamilton Spectator, is a majestic photo
of The 'Ocean Endeavour' in Karrat Fjord on the west coast of Greenland.

John and Sandra Nowlan, veteran cruisers, based in Halifax, having recently cruised the dramatic Arctic beauty of the Passage, write their impressions about this journey.
Venture Where Few People Have Ever Been
to See Spectacular Icebergs and Plenty of Polar Bears

It's the first cruise we've taken where the majority of guests were Canadian. Our fellow passengers from almost every province were interested in seeing a massive section of our country that is stark, stunning and spectacularly beautiful. Only recently has climate allowed cruise ships to successfully navigate the historic Northwest Passage in the late summer and early fall.
Adventure Canada specializing in expedition cruises to remote locations,
quickly realized that following the Arctic trail of Sir John Franklin
would be very appealing for people with a sense of adventure and history.

In the western Nunavut community of Kugluktuk (formerly Coppermine) we boarded the 200 passenger, ice-strengthened 'Ocean Endeavour' for a leisurely two-week cruise among the many islands of Canada's north...and then on to the iceberg-laden west coast of Greenland. It's not a cruise for everyone, since the Arctic is remote...cold...and often windy with unpredictable ice patterns.
But the pleasures far outweigh the risks
and every one of our fellow passengers loved the chance
to explore an area, few get to see.

Built in 1981, the 'Ocean Endeavour' has had extensive refits and now boasts a spa, swimming pool and hot tub, a mud room for changing boots and clothes, an extensive library and three lounges for lectures and entertainment. It carries twenty 'Zodiacs' which are used for exploring and landings. The ship's dining room is large and bright with a surprisingly good menu selection (including, on some nights, fresh Caribou, Arctic Char and Halibut).

Adventure Canada is well known for the quality of its naturalists and we were very impressed by the large staff of Arctic specialists who gave lectures and guided us at the various stops. On board, we had a top Canadian geologist, a veteran archaeologist with two dozen Arctic trips to her credit and specialists in birds, plants and marine mammals.
Perhaps the most emotional stop on the whole cruise
was at remote 'Beechey Island' where Franklin was known
to have wintered and where the graves of three of his men were found.

Every day we were on the lookout for wildlife and were rewarded with seeing about a dozen polar bears. By 'Zodiak' we explored centuries-old-ruins of the pre-Inuit culture and visited abandoned Hudson's Bay Company stores or former depots used by the RCMP.

Two small Inuit communities, Gjos Haven (named for the small boat Roald Amundsen used in 1906 to complete the Northwest Passage for the first time) and iceberg-lined Grise Fiord (the northernmost community in Canada) welcomed us with town tours and lively displays of drumming, dancing, throat singing and unique Arctic athletic competitions. It was wonderful to mingle with friendly and generous people who have adapted so well to the harsh climate of the north.

In addition to polar bears, we saw seals, muskoxen, Arctic hares, Arctic foxes plus bowhead whales and beluga whales. In late summer there was still plenty of bird life, particularly on the tall cliffs of Prince Leopold Island. Colourful Arctic plants still clung to the rocks and tundra in late September, laid out in a pattern that one of our photography lecturers said reminded him of a well-attended Japanese garden.

The most striking icebergs were seen after we crossed to western Greenland. “Karrat Fjord', jotted with bergs from nearby glaciers and surrounded by snow-capped mountains, was literally breathtaking. One woman from California said it was the most beautiful sight she'd ever seen.

Even more amazing were the icebergs further south at the
UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Ilulissat Icefjord.
(Her photo dramatically shows icy waters and rugged snow-capped mountains)
The fastest (up to 40 metres a day) and most productive glacier in the Arctic, it calves huge icebergs into the fiord...most larger than apartment buildings or even city blocks. Many of them end up in the North Atlantic off Newfoundland. Experts believe the Titanic berg started its infamous journey here.

On the final night of the cruise, the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights)
put on a spectacular display of colourful formations that seemed to dance in the sky.
It was a perfect ending to one of our best-ever cruise adventures.
Adventure Canada website:

Of Interest: 'Adventure Canada' which offers journeys throughout the Northwest Passage is among the winners of the Canadian Museum of Nature's 2015 Nature Inspiration Awards promoting environmental sustainability through educational voyages that include hikes, lectures and workshops. The 2016 summer offerings include visits to fiords in Greenland, a bowhead whale sanctuary in Nunavut, Torngat Mountains National Park in Labrador, Hudson's Bay Company ruins on Devon Island and Canada's most northern community Grise Fjord on Ellesmere Island.
The annual awards honour individuals and organizations
that 'Connect Canadians with the Natural World'.

Arctic Wisdom
We need to save the Arctic, not because of the polar bears...
and not because it's the most beautifully dramatic place in the world,
but because our very survival depends on it.
(Lewis Gordon Pugh)

Scripted by Merle Baird-Kerr...November 7, 2015
Comments are welcome: email or

No comments:

Post a Comment