Baffin Island Explorer

Day 1: Saturday, 22 July 2006

Location:
Iqaluit, Nunavut


Fact:

Time: 1800 hrs
Position: 63*42’ N 68*28’ W
Barometric Pressure: 1007.8 mb
Air Temperature: +14
Water Temperature: +3
Wind speed and Direction: 4.0 m/s from 290*


The staff welcomed everyone aboard the Akademik Ioffe and the trip of a lifetime. The charter flight of some three and a half hours from Ottawa landed us in Iqaluit in perfect weather conditions. As the flight descended, several tantalizing views of partly snow-covered tundra came into view through the scattered clouds and in the fjords our first icebergs were spotted as the aircraft neared the runway. We were soon transported to town and to the museum, passing carpets of purple dwarf arctic fireweed and moist meadows of cotton grass along the way. After a long but very pleasant zodiac ride under clear, warm conditions, we all settled into our cabins as the last of the luggage and food was lifted on board. We were soon under sail and heading out on our adventure. After dinner, a stunning sunset of fiery orange and red reflected off of the glassy sea as photographers made good on the occasion, attempting to capture the changing colours. This made for a fitting end to the first day of our expedition.

Day 2: Sunday, 23 July 2006

Location:
Monumental Island


Fact:

Time: 0600
Position: 62*18’ N 65*35’ W
Barometric Pressure: 1008.0 mb
Air Temperature: +3
Water Temperature: +3
Wind speed and Direction: 10 m/s from199*


Soon after breakfast we attended our mandatory zodiac safety briefings and conducted an abandon ship drill, all timed nicely to be ready for action. Soon after this we approached Monumental Island for our first zodiac cruse of the trip, and there on the rocks Aaron pointed out our first and then our second polar bear! The two male polar bears looked regal on their turf, and especially so when we were able to approach them from the water on our small craft. The smaller of the two bears appeared to be about four years of age, and looked very healthy and white indeed. He sat high up on the rock slope, looking down at his curious and excited onlookers, mildly curious but otherwise unperturbed. The other bear, a larger and very fat individual, was more on the move. At one point he entered the water and swam as we slowly followed at a good distance. When he emerged, we were all given a good view of his immense bulk, the results no doubt of a great winter of feeding on the rich blubber of seals. This energy bank account looked in good shape, and should easily see him through the lean summer months.

In addition to the polar bears we also got to see two of the Arctic’s well-loved bird species, the Black Guillemot and the Glaucous Gull. The former bird was robed in its black and white breeding plumage, and those that were quick with their binoculars were rewarded with views of its blood red legs and feet as the small flocks took flight.

Soon after we were back on board we headed towards Greenland on calm seas, high from our polar bear encounter.

Day 3: Monday, 24 July 2006

Location:
Davis Straight


Fact:

Time: 0600
Position: 64*15’ N 61*06’ W
Barometric Pressure: 1007.8 mb
Air Temperature: +4
Water Temperature: +4
Wind speed and Direction: 10 m/s from 187*


Awakening this morning, we found a grey fog shrouding the seas and adding mystery to what lay beyond our view. Throughout the morning, the ship cruised toward a rendezvous with the ice shelf. This mass of sea ice represents the remainder of the pack which freezes to cover most of the Davis Strait during the winter months. At this time of year, as it slowly melts, the remains form a vast “tongue” that stretches from the east coast of Baffin Island northeast into the strait. On its undersurface, algae bloom, and phytoplankton thrive to form the vital base of a chain of support for other marine life. Seabirds, seals and polar bear range its vastness, but particularly at the edge where ice meets sea.

As the ship cruised throughout the morning towards the floe edge, Brian introduced us to the incredible world of sea mammals with his talk entitled “Slippery Seals and Feisty Lions”. In addition to introducing us to what we might see, he explained some of the adaptations that enable the survival of sea mammals for life in these frigid waters. On the top deck, Martin shared tips for observing birds and mammals at sea.

As noon approached, the skies begin to glow, and suddenly the mist lifted to reveal the astounding white landscape of the ice pack: we are at the floe edge. Ice stretches to the horizon. Its subtle shades and textures soon inspire paint brushes and cameras to capture the stark beauty. The ship follows the floe edge for most of the afternoon providing sightings of Ringed Seal, Bearded Seal and birds feeding along its margin. Notable among the birds are the diminutive and active groups of Red Phalarope, which spin and dance among the floes, picking plankton and phytoplankton from the water’s surface. No Polar Bear appeared. A tour of the ship and a wonderful workshop by Martin on whale identification rounded out a unique and memorable day of sailing on these fabled Arctic waters. As we headed to bed on this evening, the ship began its crossing of the Davis Strait to Greenland.

Day 4: Tuesday, 25 July 2006

Location:
Davis Straight


Fact:

Time: 0600
Position: 66*52 ’N 57*08’ W
Barometric Pressure: 1012.1 mb
Air Temperature: +3
Water Temperature: +2
Wind speed and Direction: 3 m/s from 210*


After two days of sailing across the open sea and being versed on Arctic sea creatures and land features, we have at last arrived in Aasiaat, the township formerly known as Egedesminde. Some of the animals that we learned about in our talks have been spotted along the way: the Minke and Humpback whale, harp seals, as well as an array of seabirds. Today we venture onto Greenland for a visit to the community, as well as a naturalist tour on foot or a zodiac cruise on the water.

Day 5: Wednesday, 26 July 2006

Location:
Aasiaat


Fact:

Time: 0600
Position: 68*42’ N 53*27’ W
Barometric Pressure: 1006.7 mb
Air Temperature: +5
Water Temperature: +3
Wind speed and Direction: 9 m/s from 314*


We had a beautiful day visiting the lovely community of Aasiaat, filled as it was with its brightly coloured houses and happy faces. Our morning tour of the town was followed by three speeds of hiking with our interpreters. We barely had time to get changed for the late-afternoon Zodiac ride out into the bay, where we not only saw and heard the elegant Arctic Tern, but also rode out to get a close-up view of a most spectacular iceberg. As we cruised around this majestic sculpture we captured the glistening of its prow in the light of the sun, and had no doubt that we had experienced a perfect day in the Arctic.

Day 7: Friday, 28 July 2006

Location:
Uummannaq


Fact:

Time: 0600
Position: 70*41’ N 54*48’ W
Barometric Pressure: 1012.7 mb
Air Temperature: +5
Water Temperature: +3
Wind speed and Direction: 5 m/s from 35o*


We now have proof that the perfect Arctic day can be topped. The captain took the ship into the bay in front of Uummannaq, dropping anchor near a huge iceberg under clear blue skies and calm conditions. The town looked like a Leggoland toy town, with the colourful homes of yellow, red, blue and even fuchsia. We were soon in the zodiacs, with some heading right into town, others off kayaking with Graham, and the rest joining Brian and Peter on a hike. The kayakers began their adventure by first heading out through perhaps a thousand or more Fulmers, the tube-nosed sea bird that is often found near towns like this that have a fish processing factory. The pitter-patter of the feet of so many birds tread-milling across the water as they took flight was an incredible visual and auditory experience for the kayakers.

The hikers, who used the zodiacs to access their remote beach where they began their hike, enjoyed filming the dramatic avian/kayaker flight experience from their small water craft. Once dropped off at their beach, they had a quick visit into Santa’s House, proof that he does indeed exist. From there they ascended on rough terrain to the lake some 130 meters above the beach landing site. From there, half the hikers elected to head up higher, topping out just under 400 meters above sea level, presenting the group with a stunning view of the entire fjord, the tiny ship and the huge icebergs scattered throughout. They also reported seeing a small clump of bladder campion.

The town of Uummannaq was superbly clean, welcoming, and interesting. The calving icebergs in the bay gave everyone a show, whether they were paddling in kayak, hiking on the mountain or relaxing on the restaurant deck enjoying a coffee or a beer along with the view. The sun shone and illuminated the facets of the bergs, showing off their best angles like glistening diamonds. One especially dramatic calving was witnessed at close proximity by two zodiacs, presenting them with an extra dynamic view of the potential of these floating ice behemoths.

As for those who enjoyed the town, the various storybook-like sights enchanted painter and photographer alike, as well as those just strolling the winding roads and taking in the sights. This is one of the quaintest, most colourful and scenic villages in the world, and many suggested that they would like to spend a week here and perhaps the entire summer. As dinner was being served, and under perfect conditions, we upped anchor and began our sailing trip towards the open ocean to begin our 500 mile sail across the open ocean back to Canada.

Day 8: Saturday, 29 July 2006

Location:
Baffin Bay Crossing


Fact:

Time: 0600
Position: 72*02’ N 59*04’ W
Barometric Pressure: 1014.0 mb
Air Temperature: +7
Water Temperature: +6
Wind speed and Direction: 3 m/s from 340*


We started the day with an attention-getting announcement from Aaron: “Killer whale pod on the port side right beside the ship!”!!!

Half-shaved, wet, and scantily dresses passengers were seen immediately after, scrambling for position. The whales streaked under the ship after a fantastic close-up appearance on the port side, reappearing on the starboard side in the distance. The captain turned the ship, guessing where the whales might go, and it worked with perfect precision. The whale pod of some half dozen animals headed directly for the ship, approaching within a few dozen meters, swimming alongside showing us their pattern of black and white colouring. They were so close that we could hear their exhalations. There was one big male in the pod, easily identified with his huge two-meter tail dorsal fin slightly bent to the one side.

The day was perfect for wildlife watching, as many passengers joined Martin and Brian between presentations on the 6th deck all morning. Excellent ice was encountered, and amongst the ice the bobbing heads of seals were frequently seen. At least a dozen groups of harp seals were spotted, with many of these gatherings consisting of at least some 15 to 20 animals. Ringed seals were seen now and again too. Their swimming behaviour is the species give-away: they just skim under the surface of the water with the resulting bow wave betraying their position until their small domed head appears for a breath and a look around. Martin also confirmed a hooded seal basking on an ice flow, and numerous dovekies (also called little auks) were spotted on small ice life rafts, looking like pepper sprinkled on top of the whiteness. Of special excitement was a flock of some 15 ivory gulls flying in a tight formation behind the ship. This striking gull is very rare in these parts, and the keen birders on deck were richly rewarded with close looks as the birds did a bow fly-by showing off their snow-white plumage.

The Captain took us past a huge castellated ice berg of gargantuan proportions, sailing the ship within meters of the ice wall that at times towered above the ship! The berg had never rolled, judging by its serrac-riddled top, presenting us with a stunning photographic opportunity. And from the ice valleys high up on the berg, small waterfalls poured into the green waters lapping at its base. Two presentations were done in the morning, with Aaron presenting a trip re-cap, reminding us where we came from and where we are going to, and one by Peter on Arctic plant adaptations. After lunch, the presentations featured Margo and her incredible wilderness and climbing epics, and Martin, who talked of oceanic pollution and the sad state of affairs of Canadian garbage washing up on his beach in the Orkneys on the other side of the Atlantic. After dinner, Brian recounted his funniest travel story.

Day 10: Monday, 31 July 2006

Location:
Lancaster Sound


Fact:

Time: 0600
Position: 74*27’ N 82*24’W
Barometric Pressure: 1014.2 mb
Air Temperature: +7
Water Temperature: +4
Wind speed and Direction: 3 m/s from 290*


Our tropical cruise continued today as Aaron woke us with the call of warm temperatures and zero wind – and Walrus onshore at Dundas Harbour! We ate breakfast in anticipation and prepared for hiking, painting and kayaking but we were all going to see the Walrus first. Commander Martin stormed the island with the Ioffe camera brigade and halted them in perfect line a long way back from the nervous beasts. The following 30 minute halt/march was an exercise in patience and respect and everybody did a wonderful job. Except for the slow motion swish of Goretex and cameras clicking like cicadas, we were silent. Martin waited after each advance until these magnificent creatures were comfortable with our presence. About 200 tetrabytes of electronic information were plucked from the ether and the cosmic electron fabric suffered quite a shock as cameras resembled smoking guns at the OK corral. By the time we finally stopped the walrus seemed quite comfortable and possibly even a little curious about us.

A lone bull walrus was exceptionally curious, and approached those of us who were close to the cliff edge. He slowly swam in, allowing us a clear view of him swimming just below the surface. When he clambered up on some shallow rocks, he peered up at us, looking just as curious about us as we were of him. Cameras whirred. Soon he was joined by another. They both sat, looking, sometimes interacting, often scratching, and occasionally rolling over. The grand finale occurred when an additional four came to join the ‘people-watch’. Those dedicated walrus watchers who stayed until last call were rewarded with the rare opportunity to slowly move into position at the waters edge, presenting some exceptional and rare low level photographic and viewing opportunities. We were certainly under their spell and secure in the knowledge that this was a very rare experience and one to be treasured. To be this close to walrus on land is an absolute treat. People relaxed and enjoyed the spectacle under a glorious Arctic sun. We returned to the ship for lunch and continued with the hiking program in the afternoon. Folks hiked all over the peninsula, painted it and kayaked deep into the bay and finally returned to the ship quite replete and aglow in what had been a fabulous experience we will never forget. Another unbelievable dinner and Margo showed an inspirational movie for those still awake.

Day 11: Tuesday, 01 August 2006

Location:
Beechey Island


Fact:

Time: 0600
Position: 74*25’ N 87*45’W
Barometric Pressure: 1009.8
Air Temperature: +6
Water Temperature: +3
Wind speed and Direction: 4 m/s from 230*


We awoke to overcast skies and calm seas as we traversed Lancaster Sound heading towards Beechey Island. Harp seals were in enthusiastic abundance, swimming alongside the ship in small groups of between 10 to 20 animals. The seals were often popping high out of the water, showing off their black faces. Occasionally, they rose high enough to display part of their ‘harp-like’ patterning on their backs. Peter noticed that many of the thick-billed murres were flying with fish in their beaks, an obvious sign that they were indeed feeding chicks back on the nest. So even though we didn’t see any murre chicks on the cliffs at Cape Hay the other night (they all appeared to be sitting on eggs), there must have been chicks there. Or perhaps Peters sighting proved the chicks have just hatched!

At 10 a.m. the Arctic Quest 2006 art group presented what turned out to be one of the trip’s highlights, laying on a wonderful comprehensive art display in the dining room. It felt like a Sunday fair, as people milled around viewing, discussing and purchasing the various pieces of art, all created during this expedition. The variety of talent was incredible and people were buzzing with excitement. Their web site is www.nwp100.com where you can learn more about the artists, but a full list of the artists and their contacts will be provided with this journal. After lunch (which concluded with the ever-popular ice cream bar dessert), we set anchor in Erebus & Terror Bay on Beechey Island just off the historic site of Northumberland House and the graves from the failed Franklin Expedition of 1845. Northumberland House was built by Captain Pullen in 1852 as a place for the searching parties to re-supply and meet. It was also built as a refuge for Franklin and his men to utilize should they happen to find themselves back at this site. In other words, the searching expeditions that followed built and supplied the house with food and blankets as an insurance policy if and when Franklin was to re-appear.

The Franklin party did initially over-winter here in anticipation of seeing success with their NW Passage quest that was in the planning for the following spring. Of course it all ended with tragedy, but his disappearance began a 15 year period of searching, with many of these historical expedition parties coming here to this spot to begin their search. Now all that remains is an eerie wreckage of tin cans, old barrel parts, a portion of the house structure, and the graves of his men that died during the over wintering time period. These graves are where we started our visit and walk. Located on the far end of the beach, the site is a very lonely and stark place indeed. It was mentioned by one passenger that this landing was a sobering way to conclude our own expedition, an expedition that was done in such comfort with such perfect weather, in a ship capable of such high performance. But remember, an expedition “ain’t over ‘til it’s over”, as Aaron indicated at dinner. It appears we are in for an adventure over the next few days!

Margo finished off the evening with her amazing ice climbing video, and Martin closed the bar with his talk on “the strangest questions ever asked”.

Day 12: Wednesday, 02 August 2006

Location:
Prince Leopold Island/ Resolute


Fact:

Time:
Position: 74*06’ N 89*57’ W
Barometric Pressure: 1010.8
Air Temperature: +5
Water Temperature: +3
Wind speed and Direction: 8.4 m/s from 276*


Yesterday we woke parked outside Prince Leopold Island. Once again the Captain made the zodiacs redundant by taking us on a wonderful cruise along the migratory bird colony. We had to leave to make a date with the coast guard ice breaker Des-Grosseilliers, due to take us through the ice to Resolute. Some of us were keen to sabotage the support ship so we could stay on board another week or so. We played a fun game of follow the leader through the ice, the coastguard helicopter did a very low fly by and was shot down by 100 cameras strafing it from the 6th deck. The ice continued through the day and we finally dropped anchor at Resolute Bay during the Captain’s dinner. Toasts were made, backs were patted, bouquets were thrown, nary was a dry eye left in the room as we shared our final dinner together. Reality hit home as we had to head to cabins to pack and clear customs and say farewell to new friends. Today we will be departing for one last (we hope) zodiac ride to shore - possibly dry, possibly not – who can tell? Certainly not Aaron. We will have a look around Resolute before heading to the airport to leave this wonderful part of the world.

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