Fine Tolerance and the North West Passage. Newsletter No 5
Fine Tolerance and the North West Passage.
Newsletter No 5.
20.00 Zulu Tuesday 03rd August
We have been offered the use of a computer with internet access by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police personal stationed in Tuktoyaktuk and have taken the opportunity to send some pictures of the trip so far. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so I hope these pictures give you some idea of what we are experiencing up here. >From the sheer size of a bowhead whales jaws, to the beauty of the Arctic midnight, to the survival suit which would not sink.
After being in relatively benign conditions for so long it was a shock to have to battle so hard to make the passage from Herschel Island to Tuktoyaktuk. The distance we had to cover was only 145 miles but soon after leaving the safety of Pauline Cove on the North East end of Herschel Island the wind blue up directly from where we wanted to go. Normally we would expect to cover this distance in a little over 1 day. It took us over two days as we tacked out to sea and then back into the shore. What made it so hard was the fact that the water here is so shallow and this makes the waves very steep and very close together. Added to this, the fact that the whole area is littered with little man made islands of a few acres each that have been left over and abandoned from the oil seeking frenzy which affected this area in the late seventies and early eighties, meant we had extra navigation to do and little sleep. Thank goodness there was no ice about to complicate things. After nearly two days of hard slogging to windward the wind died when we were still over thirty miles from Tuktoyaktuk. It then did a 180 degree turnabout and in a matter of moments was blowing about 40 knots from directly behind us. Off we scampered at seven to eight knots, heading directly where we wanted to go for the first time in two days. It was great to tie up alongside a large barge inside the sheltered harbour.
Tuktoyakyuk (which means ‘resembling a caribou’ in the native Inuvialuit language) is a town of just under one thousand people. While it boomed during the oil exploration days it has now settled back to being the transport hub for all the small communities in the Canadian Arctic. Goods are railed and road freighted to Hay River, 1000 miles away, loaded onto barges and then bought down the Mackenzie River by specially made shallow drafted tug boats. Some of the communities up here have had no bulk supplies delivered to them since last August. Most communities do have small airstrips for emergency supplies and the nearby ones even have ice roads made to them across the sea when the sea all freezes over enough to support heavy machinery in early winter. None of the communities have paved roads or footpaths as the winters are so cold that they simply destroy every such thing. There is modern housing which is all built above ground and well heated by wood or diesel heaters. We have found the Eskimos to be a quiet, gentle people, most of whom live a semi subsistence lifestyle. The one store in town, which while it sells a large range of goods. Is very expensive and most families exist on hunting the caribou, reindeer, geese and seals, all of which are there tradition foods. The town also has a whale quota, as do all the towns along the Arctic. Here they hunt the white beluga whale. In Barrow, the town’s quota was thirty four Bowhead whales which they still go out and hunt in there traditional seal covered umiaks. The local newspapers are full of pictures of whale and seal hunting, pictures which would be unpublishable in southern newspapers but in these small hunting/survival communities they are as normal as a football game picture in newspapers back home.
Tomorrow we leave for the longer trip to Cambridge Bay, approximately 750nm away. There is still a lot of ice between here and there but we are informed that it is rapidly melting. We need to keep pushing it's edge if we are to get through so off we go. Sure hope to give you a thumbs up report on our progress in Newsletter No 6.
Yours Phil and Liz