Fine Tolerance and the North West Passage. Newsletter No 8
Fine Tolerance and the North West Passage.
Newsletter No 8.
17.00 Zulu Tuesday 31st August
Position : 68 deg 38 mins North. 95 deg 53 mins West
We are now anchored at Gjoa Haven, the harbour that Roald Amundsen called "the finest little harbour in the world". He, his crew and his boat 'Gjoa' spent the winters of 1904 and 1905 iced into this small harbour. Unfortunately it is increasingly looking like, 100 years later, we will be doing the same thing.
The trip from Cambridge Bay to here was relatively uneventful. The 'Dagmar Aaen' had left two days before us and we had been in radio contact via our High Frequency radio with them. They had come up against heavy ice and had had to turn back to an island where there had once been a D.E.W. Line station and on which there was a small landing strip so that one of the TV camera crew aboard could be evacuated due to other commitments. We planned to take a route further south then they had in an attempt to avoid this patch of ice but when we reached the general area the ice was covering a much larger area than we had anticipated. We had worked our way well into the pack before we once again contacted Dagmar Aaen' who informed us that they were through and although there was only another 10 nm's of ice to pass through it had become so thick that they had detoured even further south, passing over 10 miles of uncharted territory before getting around the thickest part of it. Following their directions, we to detoured following a similar route and 4 hours later popped out into relatively ice free waters. This was our first experience of navigating in ice in the semi-darkness as the sun now sinks well below the horizon and we have approximately six hours of night time. It was also our first experience of navigating in waters that have never been charted. We hope all such experiences work out as easily and as well as this one did. The next day had brilliant sunshine and we arrived in Gjoa Haven just before dusk the following day having travelled the 220 nm in just under 60 hours. 'Minke 1' was already anchored in the harbour with 'Dagmar Aaen' arriving shortly after us after having taken a detour to a small island to search for remains of some of Franklins men.
Gjoa Haven is more Eskimo than the other hamlets that we have visited. Hides of animals hang outside every house and many of the inhabitants only know there native tongue. The predominate form of transport at present is the four wheeled motor bike although in another four to six weeks time this will again revert back to the snowmobile. These snowmobile's are all over the hills and all around town, looking like they have just been left in the same position they were in before the snow and ice all melted away from this area only 3 weeks ago. There is a school in town and two stores, one a local Co-operative, the other the 'Northern' which is the modern name of the venerable Hudson Bay Trading Company Store. The Northern Store still trades in carving and pelts, both of which they send down to markets in the southern states.
Yesterday the Canadian Coast Guard Ice Breaker, which over five weeks ago helped us clear our prop, anchored out from the harbour and sent their tender in with the current ice reports and a five day weather forecast. They were on there way back to Victoria, British Columbia, performing the remainder of their 2004 Arctic mission on the way. They have gone out of their way to help us all in our quests to transit the North West Passage. It is impossible to repay their thoughtfulness towards us and we can only hope that our respective Governments also extend to all mariners the same thoughtfulness.
The chance's of achieving a one season transit are looking grimmer. The ice the other side of the island is still covering 9/10's of the water surface which is too much for us to navigate. A lot of this is multi year ice, ice which didn't melt last year, and thus is harder and last's longer than newer ice. Although there is only 200 nm of this thick area of ice, after which the ice thins out considerably, with only a little over two weeks of the navigatable season left our only chance is for strong Easterly winds to open a small gap along the Boothia Peninsula shore line for us to get through. A vast area of fresh ice formed just off shore here a few days ago indicating that the summer is almost over. Wish us luck. We are still optimistic but are also at present seriously looking at all our other options. But today it's Liz's birthday so no thought of failure is to be entertained.
The attached photos are of the harbour and hamlet of Gjoa Haven to give you all an idea of what living is like in the high Arctic.
Yours Phil and Liz