Cruising the Arctic

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    Rodger and Ali

    At the fall rendezvous, a few people asked us about our sojourn in the Canadian Arctic and Greenland over the last few years, so we’ve summarized the trip for anyone interested.

    Back in 2010/11 when we were in Kodiak Alaska, we considered heading up to the northwest passage in Betty Mc. We decided not to for a couple of reasons – with her wet well, she would be badly damaged if we chose, or were forced to winter over, but most importantly, we like to travel slowly and really explore places (friends who had been through, all complained of the need to “keep going” with little time for exploring). This is because the ice at the “choke point” generally opens fairly late in the season, so there is always pressure to get out of either the Bering Sea or Davis Strait before the weather switches to winter patterns (generally sometime in September). Boats heading through tend to move as fast as they can.

    Hiking around Arctic Bay
    Hiking around Arctic Bay

    Still the area held a great attraction for us so we began thinking of other ways to do the trip that would enable us to take our time. A small boat that we could leave over winters seemed the answer. To cut a long story short, we saw an “Argo launch” in the Silva Bay shipyard, that had originally been a hydrographic survey vessel in the Arctic. While following up with the Canadian Coast Guard about these vessels, we learnt that two were converted to lifeboats/workboats and recently decommissioned. These were due to be sold via “GCSurplus”. Thus we managed to buy Wave in late 2012.

    Baby beluga, Cresswell Bay
    Baby beluga, Cresswell Bay

    Early in 2013 we prepared the boat, installing a diesel stove, some basic fitout, extra fuel storage, dinghy storage, good ground tackle and a myriad of little changes.Wave was built to survey in the Arctic so was a perfect platform – strong, lots of insulation (in fact so much foam that she cannot sink), plenty of power (she was built to plane with a 300hp GM 6V53), shallow draft and high quality equipment all around.

    In Spring 2013, we contacted WWBA stalwart John Jenkins to get Wave trucked up to Hay River on Great Slave Lake. His son Rick drove the rig, with us tagging along in our truck full of food and gear for what was to be 2-3 seasons up north……that was 5 seasons ago!.

    We spent the first season travelling the 1000+nm down the Mackenzie River (and our first crossing of the Arctic circle), then out west to Herschel island and the AK border, returning back into the Mackenzie delta for winter. We were able to get Wave hauled out in a yard in Inuvik by pushing an old low-loader trailer down the river bank and hauling it out with a ‘dozer.

    The next season, 2014, we zigzagged between the mainland, Banks and Victoria islands, coasting as much as possible, visiting the communities and anchoring in many and varied nooks and crannies. The focus was to see the wildlife and hike some spectacular scenery as well as explore historical places – ancient Thule, Dorset and Inuit camps, overwintering sites of the whalers and Hudson Bay Company posts. We went down the far southern end of Bathurst Inlet (recrossing the arctic circle) and finally stopped for Winter in Cambridge Bay. Here we were lucky to be part of the excitement surrounding the discovery of Franklin’s Erebus, meeting up with Messenger III’s Bill Noon – his day job being the skipper of CCGS Sir Wilfred Laurier from which the Erebus was discovered. In Cambridge Bay we were pulled out by a crane and sat on the edge of the ice just out of town.

    Polar bear near Port Leopold
    Polar bear near Port Leopold

    In 2015, after a month or so in Cambridge Bay watching Spring arrive and birds hatch and fledge, we headed to Perry River, Sherman Inlet, up past Gjoa Haven and Bellot Strait, Beechey Is, to the Resolute area ending up in Admiralty Inlet at Arctic Bay. This year was a highlight for wildlife with Beluga, Narwhal, Polar Bears, Walrus, Caribou, Wolf, and loads of birds – snow geese, eider, gyrfalcon, peregrine…… In Arctic Bay we found an old trailer on which, after a bit of help from the local Community workshop, we were able to be dragged out.

    In 2016 we explored the fjords west of Pond Inlet, the area around Bylot Island and then up Ellesmere Island to near Nares Strait, where we crossed to Greenland via the Carey Islands . We then dodged the icebergs of Melville Bay and cruised slowly down to Sisimiut via the many incredibly spectacular fjord systems and fascinating, isolated communities.

    Letty Hbr and HBC post
    Letty Hbr and HBC post

    Last year we continued down the south coast(crossing the Arctic circle again) and around Cape Farewell, exploring some of the East coast before retracing our route back to Sisimiut. This year we did not return to Greenland due to other commitments, but we’ll be back in 2019.

    Wave has performed wonderfully. She’s been reliable, tough, warm and cosy. We cruise at around 7kn which is a little fast for a water line length of 25’ so we burn around 1.7-2L/nm, compared to 1.2-1.4 for Betty Mc at similar speeds. We could slow down if we had to save fuel, but with close to 2000L aboard, our range is ample for anywhere we’ve been so far.

    Arctic Canada and Greenland are fabulous cruising destinations, especially in a small shallow-draft boat. We have anchored at well over 100 places in Arctic Canada alone and feel incredibly privileged to have experienced places that very few have the opportunity to visit. By taking our time we have come to know many locals who have pointed us in the direction of things to see and do and helped us better understand life in the north.

    We’re not sure what the future holds for Wave, but next year there is a chance we will be involved in some research work in northern Greenland – after that is anyone’s guess!