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The Northwest Passage: From Greenland to the Bering Sea, Aug 18-Sep 9, 2018
Saturday, August 18: Arrive Montreal, Quebec
Today we arrived from the four corners of the world and met at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth hotel and recuperated for our flights. We spent the day at leisure, shopping for things that we forgot to bring even though our bags were bulging. Montreal is a beautiful city, as the ride in from the airport indicated and our walks in the neighborhood of the hotel confirmed.
In the evening we met for dinner. Julia Evanoff from the A&K office welcomed us to our first meeting as a group. She introduced the staff members who were with us and would be flying with us tomorrow. The meal gave us our first chance to get to know our fellow passengers. Afterwards we returned to our hotel rooms for a good night’s sleep.
Sunday, August 19: Dynamic French-English City
Many of us took the opportunity to sleep in a bit because we knew that once we got on the ship sleeping in will be rare.
Today, we had our choice of four tours of Montreal, some by bus others on foot. All proved interesting. Some of us watched the parade that was staged right in front of our hotel and ambled on our own around the neighborhood of the hotel.
The evening was shortened by the realization that we had to pack and get our luggage out to be collected before we turned in, and by the fact that we had a very early start for Greenland.
Monday, August 20: Edge of Indlandsis
It’s hard to believe we got up as early as we did but we did. For breakfast at the hotel we met other bleary-eyed voyagers and soon found our way to our bus that took us to the airport. Check-in to our charter flight was a breeze and we boarded our Boeing 767 for Kangerlussuaq. Three hours later we landed and were met on the tarmac by customs officers—easiest border crossing ever—and boarded the best available transport for the 15 kilometers ride to the port where ‘Le Boreal’ waited for us. For Kangerlussuaq we had first-class vehicles and the drivers told us about the environs.
At the port we were taken by tender to the ship. Aboard ship we had a late lunch, waited for our luggage which came by barge, but soon we were reunited with our gear.
We did the mandatory SOLAS briefing about safety at sea, and later Dennis Mense invited us into the theater to introduce his staff to everyone aboard. Our A&K staff numbers twenty-two experts, naturalists and zodiac drivers, so we should be well attended to by everyone on board.
After, we made our way to one of the dining rooms, enjoyed a fine meal and another opportunity to meet our fellow passengers. Following this, most of us ended our long day by going to bed.
Tuesday, August 21: Sisimuit, Greenland
We awoke in Sisimiut Greenland and we went on a guided walking tour of the town which is the second largest in Greenland. After that we were all able to wander around and find little gems in the shops and to explore the church and the museum.
In the afternoon, we had our introduction to Greenland by the lecture staff. We learned a good deal about the geology, the flora and fauna and the impact of global climate change. Later in the day we actually had a few minutes to relax. We then made our way to the theater for a mandatory film on our behavior in the Arctic.
We also had our Zodiac briefing on how to safely ride in Zodiacs, how to get in them, how to behave during cruises, and how wonderful they are in getting us close to the fauna and the scenery.
Then our Expedition Director Suzana Machado D’Oliveira told us about our exciting series of excursions planned for tomorrow.
Wednesday, August 22: Ilulissat, Greenland
The day began with beautiful weather that stayed with us the entire day.
The day was filled with a variety of activities. We left the ship and went into town by Zodiac, landing in the middle of a quaint but busy port.
One of our options for the day included transferring to a local boat that could take us near the icebergs from which the town takes its name. Perfect sunshine enhanced our views of the ice which was spectacular.
We also had a walking tour of the town which gave us an overview of the town. We also had the opportunity to take a nature walk on a boardwalk.
We returned to the ship and had a recap of our activities provided by the A&K staff and our Expedition Leader, Dennis, gave us a preview tomorrow which sounds exciting.
Thursday, August 23: Karrat Island
When we awoke we were cruising the Uummannaq fjord system. Without question we have had near-perfect weather; cruising today was fantastic. ‘Le Boreal’ sailed past an infinite number of castles of ice.
Back inside we had the opening lecture of the enrichment series. T.H. Baughman spoke on “Nansen: From Greenland to the world” which told us about this important scientist explorer.
After lunch our Expedition Leader Dennis Mense invited us to get in Zodiacs for a short ride to shore at Karrat Island. Here we found artifacts of past life on the island, including a turf house and signs of burial sites.
The sun was bright and it was nearly warm which some of us noticed as we climbed to the top of a mountain inland from our landing place.
We had a good leg stretch and more incredible views of icebergs in the fjord. Our photos cannot capture the grandeur of the scenery but we will long remember this wonderful day.
The recap tonight was first rate and then Dennis told us about tomorrow. A pleasant dinner followed before we retired for the night.
Friday, August 24: Kullorsuaq, Greenland
Our good fortune with the weather continues and we were greeted in the morning with bright, sunny skies that set off the increasing amount of ice we were sailing through. This has been our best day for ice and many of us are as impressed with what we are viewing as Fridtjof Nansen was when he first saw Greenland ice in the 1880s.
As we sailed toward Kullorsuaq we were treated to two enrichment activities. First, Richard Harker gave a talk on how to improve the quality of our photography and general tips to make our photos stand out from the rest. We are fortunate to have a daily review of Richard’s photos of the day.
Later in the morning, Jason Hicks, one of our two geologists aboard, gave a stirring rendition of his lecture on the Greenland Time Machine. In the lecture, he also gave a review of plate tectonics and paleo-magnetism.
In the late afternoon, about fifty of the villagers came aboard and entertained us with their traditional performance arts. Several comments were heard among the passengers and staff about the resemblance of this performance compared with similar events elsewhere in the world, even as far away as Polynesia.
Recap followed at 19:15 in which Richard Harked gave a spirited workshop on using your iPhone for all your photographic needs. We all learned we could be doing more with our iPhones if we learned to use some of the most important features of it.
Dinner and sleep followed and our last view of the day was from our cabins as the ship made its way through the still-captivating ice.
Saturday, August 25: Western Greenland
We have been blessed with great weather throughout this voyage and today was a continuation of that good fortune. It was especially nice to have such fine weather on what may be for some us the best day of the voyage because Dennis took us on an ice cruise. Literally, scores of pieces were in view as our zodiacs skimmed the water and took us into an enchanted land of ice. We saw ice formations that presented in our minds animals, people, and seals of several types. The small remnants of once great glaciers mixed with ice the size of a large building. Unquestionably a day we will long remember.
Later in the day, we heard from Mike Stevens (“Harmonica Mike”) who introduced us to the instrument which in his hands provides virtuoso performances as well as camp time music. An incredibly gifted person, Mike has worked over the years in the Canadian Arctic helping juveniles who might have had less than ideal childhoods. We eagerly await his second lesson and a chance to see him perform in concert for us.
North Atlantic Seabirds was the subject of Brent Houston’s talk this afternoon. A charming man who is a fantastic field biologist and birder, Brent gave us a review of the birds we are likely to encounter.
The afternoon brought us a lecture from Henry Pollack of the University of Michigan. He explained how global climate change is altering the earth, especially in the Polar Regions but also in every village and town in the world. More people on the planet requires more energy and since the Industrial Revolution, we have seen how humans have affected the earth we all live on.
At recap, Leslie Qamminaq introduced us to tomorrow’s stop, Pond Inlet, Canada, including explaining her native outfit and its uses.
Late in the evening, we watched “A Walk in my Dream” which describes the work of Mike Stevens with disadvantaged children whose lives are changed by the gift of a harmonica.
We have had a full day and one that promises to be remembered for a long time to come.
Sunday, August 26: Pond Inlet, Canada
After breakfast and a turn on the deck, we went into the lecture hall where T. H. Baughman told us about the attempts to transit the Northwest Passage. His story was centered on the voyage of John Franklin and the subsequent attempts to rescue him. About three-fourths through the lecture, the word came down from the bridge that there was a polar bear. T.H. told us to get out there so we did. Later, he finished his lecture.
Next up, Leslie Qamminaq told us a heartwarming story about the place where she lives in Pond Inlet. What came across her remarks was the word she used over and over again, “community.”
When we went ashore there was a performance of dancing, singing, and Inuit sport. Several of us noted that having seen such performances elsewhere in the world these performances had much more appeal due to the obvious enthusiasm of the performers and athletes. Also, several of us noted the similarity with spectacles’ in other communities.
As usual, we had afternoon tea at 4 pm and in the early evening, we had a recap. In addition to the A&K staff speaking, the Ice captain who joined us today gave us some insights on how navigation in the ice is done. Just like the nineteenth centuries, we may have to battle the ice, but in our case, if we need help Canadian icebreakers are standing by to help us.
The evening movie was “Songs in Stone,” a film shot on Baffin Island about the artists of the region.
Moday, August 27: Dundas and Croker
We made a delightful landing at Devon Island, Canada which is the largest uninhabited island in the world. On one level that is a shame because it was quite beautiful. We had a good leg stretch wandering around the island while our bear kept watching on the hills around us. The RCMP had a station there for a long time and sadly, we visited the northernmost cemetery, related to the RCMP outpost.
The afternoon was spectacular as Dennis took us on the Zodiacs to cruise in Croker Bay. Wonderful ice.
In the afternoon we had an incredible viewing of a five-year-old male polar bear. The ship’s bridge was able to slowly and carefully maneuver toward him without disturbing him at all. That gave us great pictures even with people with a point-and-shoot camera were getting fantastic images.
Late in the afternoon just before dinner, Dennis gave us an idea of what tomorrow might bring: more ice and maybe another bear.
Tuesday, August 28: At Sea
We had an interesting and informative day. Richard Harker started off our series of programs with tips on photographing the Northwest Passage and later Margaret Bertulli gave us insights into the earlier cultures of the Canadian Arctic. Mike did another harmonica lesson. We had a view of a bearded seal in the morning.
We were fortunate to see a female polar bear and cub in the early afternoon. Another great observation of these magnificent animals.
In the afternoon our naturalist, Matt presented tips for drawing and sketching while traveling. Then late in the day, Leslie hosted an open forum on life in the Canadian Arctic.
We sailed all day to connect with an icebreaker which will help us continue on our transit of the Northwest Passage.
In the evening Dennis explained to us our plans for tomorrow.
Wednesday, August 29: Maxwell Bay
Those of us who were up at 4 a.m. saw a wonderful display of fog but fortunately, it cleared later in the morning and we were treated to a very exciting morning and afternoon.
In the morning Brent Houston gave a passionate talk on the lives of polar bears, how they live, what and how they eat and why they are the top predator. Admittedly, we like to know about predators but we don’t like to see them eat. We had that experience today of a bear was feeding on a seal.
Later T.H. Baughman gave a fine talk on Roald Amundsen, the greatest polar explorer of his day.
We had more than our fair share of bear sightings today and again we were able to maneuver near them without disturbing them. We may be en route to the most bears seen on an A&K cruise ever.
At recap, Brent held forth on the common guillemot, its life cycle, habits, and habitats. Clearly, he was a hard act to follow.
Also at Recap our ice captain gave us an overview of what the ice had been doing for the past 24 hours, how that affected our progress, and what tomorrow might bring. In the Arctic, nature rules.
The day closed out with a concert given by Elena Koreneva.
Turning in tonight, we are all eager to see what the ice really does tomorrow.
Thursday, August 30: Fort Ross Bellot Strait
The first thing many of us saw this morning was the Canadian icebreaker clearing a path for us. The CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent looked magnificent as it cut a route, through ice our ship and the other one right behind us who had been similarly delayed, could not have budged.
Sadly we couldn’t thank the men and officers of the icebreaker but we did zodiac a small thank you to its officers and crew.
At 9:15 Henry Pollack of the University of Michigan talked with great insight about the various issues related to the Arctic in a period of global warming. He discussed issues like the melting of the permafrost and the impact of a shorter shipping time between China and Europe on commerce and geopolitics. While the Antarctic is interesting in many ways, at this point in time the Arctic is the “hot” topic.
Then Sabina Mense gave a delightful talk about the pinnipeds of the Arctic, illustrated, for the most part, by her own photographs, taken during her many trips to the North, back as far as 1988.
The BBQ lunch was a huge success.
In the afternoon we had a fantastic view of bowhead whales that were traveling off to the side of us. The bowhead was a principal victim of the great years of whaling in this part of the world. Whalers had to know a great deal about them in order to be effective hunters. One of the worst ways you could slur a person in those days was to say that “he doesn’t know a finner from a bowhead.” Later in the afternoon, we had bowheads and polar bears at the same time giving everyone good views of both.
At 7:10 p.m. we had our recap and briefing. Our ice captain has become quite a star as he explains the ins and outs, good from bad ice, and what he thinks we can do tomorrow.
Then, in case we were lonely, more whales came close enough for us to commune with them.
Friday, August 31: Prince Regent Inlet – Fort Ross
This morning we awoke to more clear skies and calm seas, eager for more adventure. After breakfast the Zodiacs were launched, and we spent our morning cruising the edge of the sea ice that had gathered at the southern end of Prince Regent Inlet. Our naturalists informed us that much of this ice was ‘multi-year’, meaning that it had formed more than two years ago, and survived several summers of freezing and thawing. We had the opportunity to see old pressure ridges where floes of ice had stacked up one on top of another, and other areas where large sections of the floes had rotted out due to salt accumulation. Some of us had the privilege of spotting two small shorebirds, identified as red phalarope, who cruised amongst the ice hunting their minuscule prey. These birds, the size of a fist, undertake a spectacular migration every year. After breeding in the high Arctic kettle ponds, they will fly down the American continents before reaching their wintering grounds in Patagonia.
In the early afternoon, the ship repositions us closer to the abandoned settlement of Fort Ross, and we reboard the Zodiacs for another short trip to shore to explore this old outpost of the RCMP and Hudson’s Bay Company. We have the chance to hike for the first time on the tundra of the Canadian Arctic, rippling with small ponds and verdant beds of moss. Of particular interest at this site are the old buildings where men once spent their time. The Station Manager’s house, though in woeful disrepair, still sports signs of a lively history — elegant wallpaper and a wood stove. Another building acts as a camp for modern-day visitors to this region, and is covered with entertaining graffiti left by other travelers attempting their own Northwest Passages.
Tonight, we received word that the Canadian icebreaker Louis St-Laurence had entered the Bellot Strait and scouted out ice conditions further to the South. The jam was thicker than anticipated, but the icebreaker was going to attempt to transit a nearby container ship before returning — hopefully — for us.
Saturday, September 1: Prince Regent Inlet/Expedition Day
Today ‘Le Boreal’ sat at anchor as we waited for word from the icebreaker Louis St-Laurence. Our educational program continued in the morning, as archaeologist Margaret Bertulli gave a riveting account of Sir John Franklin’s expedition. Almost everything we know about the fate of Franklin and his men has come from careful archaeological analysis — and a fair bit of luck. Margaret explained the way scientists have recreated the story of Franklin and what we still hope to discover. After her lecture, we gathered once more in the theater to hear another medley-style program by our Expedition Team, the first of our first ‘Quirks and Quarks’ talks, inspired by the hit Canadian science radio show. Matt Messina spoke about the long-lived Greenland Shark, which may be an opportunistic predator of swimming polar bears. Adam Walleyn told the story of the snow goose, and how their population has benefitted from deforestation in the birds’ wintering grounds of the American Midwest. Margaret Bertulli discussed the mysterious Inuit cairns called ‘inuksuk’, and Sabina Leader Mense and Henry Pollack offered their own talks on bowhead whale research and climate change, respectively.
In the afternoon, Mike Stevens continued our program with another harmonica lesson, and we had an opportunity to hear this Canadian legend play a few tunes and instruct us on how to gather inspiration from the places we visit. Matt Messina hosted another open art session, where we had the chance to break into watercolors and paint from some of the photo books in the ship’s library. Finally, Leslie Qammaniq gathered guests in the Grand Salon to discuss Inuktitut writing and show us how to construct our names and other small phrases in this foreign alphabet.
Just before dinner, an announcement was made that more bowhead whales had been spotted up ahead. These whales are, along with the polar bear and the elusive narwhal, the face of the Arctic, and most animals spend their entire lives above the Arctic Circle. We could see these mammalian behemoths surfacing for air and then diving down again, lifting their gargantuan tails as they descended to feed on dense schools of copepods and other tiny ocean organisms. The mouth of the bowhead whale is the largest in the animal kingdom, taking up a full third of the animal’s body length. Bowhead baleen is the largest of any whale, and a single plate from this filter-like rack can reach lengths of up to 14 feet! It was another thrilling wildlife encounter, as some of these whales approached our slow-moving vessel within a few hundred feet. It was a magnificent encounter with these incredibly rare creatures!
Sunday, September 2: Prince Regent Inlet/Expedition Day
This morning began with an announcement that we had long been anticipating, and were told would likely never come — narwhal! Before our assistant expedition leader Adam had even finished making the announcement, many of us had clambered to the outer decks to watch through binoculars and spotting scopes as these distant animals surfaced in a nearby bay. A dedicated few managed to spot the long tusks as a couple of male animals rose to the surface, and our naturalists, Matt and Adam, speculated as to how (and if) it would be possible to approach the whales by Zodiac — such a feat had, to our knowledge, never been successfully achieved by an expedition ship, and we thus decided we had to try. Luckily, a low sandbar separating us from the narwhal masked the ships’ acoustic signature, allowing us to quietly launch our Zodiacs and load passengers. As a single unit, our skillful drivers took us slowly towards and over the shallow sandbar, and we silently maneuvered closer to where we had seen the animals, hoping they might take our boats for drifting ice floes. We shut down and waited. After a few minutes of patiently sitting, our naturalists pointed out the low backs of these incredibly rare whales a few hundred feet away. The skin of the narwhal is mottled grey and white, and though the tusk is seldom seen when the animals come to the surface, it was possible to make out the forms of several whales before we returned to the ship. Other lucky boats had encounters with some different Arctic species. A pair of uncommon yellow-billed loon was observed at one point drifting in the glacial bay, and both harp and bearded seals occasionally surfaced to inspect our Zodiacs. The foggy conditions brought out some of the most intense blues that we had ever seen in the nearby icebergs.
Our afternoon continued on leisurely. Matt Messina hosted another art session, which was a refreshing chance to slow down and get back into some painting. Our climate change lecturer, Henry Pollack, offered his lecture; ‘Confronting Climate Change, What Are The Challenges?’ Henry discussed the problems of communicating science in a world rife with misinformation and hidden agendas, and provided those of us who remain skeptical about climate change the chance to engage with a real expert who shared his personal research — and findings in his field — in an unbiased and easy-to-understand way.
Tonight, we received another message from the icebreaker Louis St-Laurence. Ice conditions had worsened, and it would not be able to take us through the Bellot Strait. It became clear this evening that we would not be able to make it to Nome on time for our planned disembarkation, and we would have to find a new route. Our Expedition Leader Dennis reminded us that despite this unexpected challenge, we are equipped with a talented and experienced team to chart a new course. We have been blessed so far with good weather, unparalleled wildlife encounters, and many comforts on-board. Tonight, our journey turns into a real expedition!
Monday, September 3: Somerset Island – Cresswell Bay
This morning, we cruised along the east coast of Somerset Island as 30kt winds blew hard against our heeling ship. Despite the wind, ‘Le Boreal’ steamed steadily north, searching for wildlife and a suitable place to make a landing in the afternoon. Our Expedition Team continued the enrichment lectures, beginning with a talk by Margaret Bertulli, on the history of archaeology in the Canadian Arctic, and the important role it plays in discovering how ancient peoples lived and how they relate to modern Inuit cultures. Sabina Leader Mense, our marine mammal biologist, followed with a lecture of her own on some of the ice-adapted whales that live year-round in the Arctic. We have so far had excellent encounters with two of the rare marine mammals of the far north: the elusive narwhal and the impressive bowhead whale. We learned about how these animals find food in the murky reaches of the Arctic Oceans, and how important sea ice is as habitat for these grand creatures.
In the afternoon, ‘Le Boreal’ approached the entrance to Cresswell Bay, and before long we had made landfall on a rocky spit near our anchorage. As we explored this new terrain, we discovered something remarkable; we were not the first visitors upon this seemingly barren landscape. The remains of over a dozen Thule structures, hundreds of years old, became obvious as we adjusted our eyes to this alien scene. Depressions in the boggy ground marked places where sod houses once stood, and a particularly impressive structure was ringed by the crania of fourteen young bowhead whales! We kept a generous distance between ourselves and these archaeological remains as Margaret suggested what some of the structures may have once been. All in all, today was a resounding success in a week of rewarding cultural and natural encounters, and we look forward to more opportunities to get ashore and explore the seldom-visited reaches of the remote Arctic.
After continued discussion with the ship’s owner, Ponant, as well as Canadian authorities, the decision was finally made that ‘Le Boreal’ would return to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland.
Tuesday, September 4: Jackson Inlet
This morning, we had the opportunity to hear more from our Expedition Team as our educational program continued. We gathered in the theatre to attend our second ‘Quirks and Quarks’ session, where our Arctic experiences were rounded out by talks from our expert naturalists. Geologist Jason Hicks talked about the geologic timescale, highlighting some of the major extinction events and discussing how humans came to thrive on the planet against all odds. One of our naturalists, Adam, gave a summary of phalarope life history and behavior. These incredible small birds, weighing in at only a single ounce, perform one of the world’s most impressive migrations, making round-the-world trips between the Canadian Arctic and Patagonia every year. We also heard from another naturalist, Megan, who discussed the complexities of the Arctic Ocean’s web of life and summarized the data collection techniques utilized by the US and Canadian Arctic programs.
This afternoon found us in Jackson Inlet, a small fjord on the western coast of the Brodeur Peninsula on Baffin Island. This fjord (carved away nearly ten thousand years ago by the Laurentide Ice Sheet) offered us the perfect afternoon leg-stretch, and we had the chance to hike up an alluvial fan to take panoramic photos of the sprawling canyon. Beautiful limestone rocks covered the beach, and a lucky few were able to point out some fossils dating back to the Silurian period of geologic history. Brant geese, purple sandpiper and a few bearded seals made an appearance in the fjord during our visit, proof that even in the furthest flung reaches of the Canadian Arctic, life still has a solid foothold.
This evening, we gathered in the theatre once more for our now-daily updates from both our Captain and Expedition Director. With ice conditions favorable, in the morning we have the chance to make the crossing out of Prince Regent Inlet and back towards Lancaster Sound. Our plan is to skirt the edges of the shifting ice pack and make our way to the Greenlandic settlement of Kangerlussuaq.
Wednesday, September 5: Prince Regent Inlet
Today Le Boreal steamed steadily northward in an attempt to bypass the pack ice surrounding Prince Regent Inlet. Our Captain and Ice Pilot navigated through open leads of water along the edges of ice floes and between thick rafts of multi-year ice. Steadily but slowly we made our way through to Lancaster Sound.
Throughout the day, our Expedition Staff continued with our enrichment program. Our naturalist and bear guard Brent Houston returned to the stage to continue his talk on Polar Bears. Brent discussed the biology and behavior of these Arctic icons, and afforded us a small glimpse into the mind of the ice bear we have had the opportunity observe so closely. Brent punctuated his talk with his own tales from over thirty years working in the Arctic, which have included some close encounters with bears and first-hand observations of their lives.
Later in the morning, our geologist Jason Hicks offered a fascinating talk on the origins of the modern Arctic. It came as a shock to many of us to learn that millions of years ago, the Arctic was far warmer than it is today and supported dense redwood forests, cypress swamps, and a vast inland sea teeming with aquatic life. Jason described how the Earth appears to have cycled between warm and cool cycles in recent history, and what environmental factors contribute to the natural cycles of global climate. The last major Ice Age began during the Pleistocene epoch, roughly one million years ago. This glacial period reshaped the Arctic, scouring the land of vegetation and reducing it to the frozen tundra, mountains and icy oceans that we see today.
This afternoon we had no shortage of activities onboard. Naturalist Matt Messina hosted another open-ended art session, and we had the opportunity to further break into the art supplies we’ve enjoyed using throughout the trip. Leslie Qammaniq followed up with her much-anticipated tasting of maqtaq, an Inuit delicacy consisting of the skin and blubber layer of the narwhal.
Soon after, our naturalists hosted another ‘Quirks & Quarks’ session, and we got to hear from our Expedition Team about some topics relating to their areas of expertise. Our naturalist Adam gave a rousing talk on the snowy owl, an elusive Arctic bird that some of us have been lucky enough to see. Matt spoke a bit about some of the whale and seal bones that we’d found on beaches throughout our trip. JJ discussed icebergs, and brought their immensity down to the ‘human scale’ by proclaiming that some of the largest icebergs could hold over a trillion pints of beer! Finally, Leslie and Mike held a brief introduction to throat-singing, a traditional Inuit past-time, and even a few bold guests were willing to try.
After dinner, Cruise Director Paul Carter finished up the evening with a second trivia night in the Grand Salon. We enjoyed a chance to switch gears and be quizzed about a range of topics in lighthearted competition before turning in for the night. We anticipate more adventure and wildlife to come!
Thursday, September 6: Lancaster Sound
Today we awoke to some good news — an icebreaker escort was en route to take us through the dense pack ice that lay off our bow. Shortly after noon, Le Boreal began her transit Northeast through Lancaster Sound and towards the clear waters of Baffin Bay. Many of us gathered on the decks to watch our convoy of three ships, led by the CCGS Pierre Radisson. Throughout the day, we were treated to a variety of wildlife sightings. Ringed seals appeared as little black dots on the horizon as they rested on distant ice floes, always close to their breathing holes for a quick escape. A curious polar bear approached our vessel as we sailed through a narrow open lead, providing us with some good looks as he scampered quickly towards Le Boreal. Later in the afternoon, another pair of polar bears was noted in the distance as a mother and cub wandered the vast expanses of the sea ice.
On-board, we continued with a full program from our Expedition Staff throughout the day. Our archaeologist Margaret Bertulli began the morning with a lecture entitled ‘Arctic Wanderings’, where she discussed her many years of experience traveling throughout the Canadian Arctic. Margaret’s stories of being on field sites in this remote region captured the isolation and the other-worldliness we experienced on some of our landings. Mike Stevens followed up with another of his harmonica lessons, an ever-popular spectacle. We enjoyed the chance to break into our musical side and take on the new challenges of playing this amazingly versatile instrument, closely instructed by the Canadian music legend.
This afternoon, we heard from Henry Pollack, who offered a lecture comparing the Arctic to the Antarctic, where many of us have also traveled. We learned from Henry that although the polar regions may often be treated as similar, they are in fact quite distinct when it comes to climate, wildlife, and human history. The Arctic is comprised of an ocean surrounded by land, while Antarctica is a vast icy continent surrounded by ocean — this causes fundamental differences in the way that ice caps form, the way heat is distributed, and of course, how they will be affected in a changing climate.
Matt Messina hosted another art session in the restaurant on Deck 6. We’ve seen some keen artists emerge throughout the trip, and we are excited to wrap up our final pieces and share our work with others before we head home. Finally, just before dinner, Photo Coach Richard Harker gave a brilliant talk on photographic post-processing in the footsteps of Ansel Adams. We learned about the history of photo manipulation, and how to tone our photos using modern-day software in a way that enhanced the image we had already captured in-stead of distorting it. Richard shared with us some great tips to turn our snapshots into photographic souvenirs.
Tonight, golden light from the setting sun bid us an astonishing farewell to the Canadian Arctic. The nearby coast of Devon Island, wreathed in new snowfall, appeared to be on fire as bright white and cadmium hues glistened off snow and ice, while deep purple shadows glowed from distant valleys. This was one of the most impressive light displays we had seen on our trip, made only more impressive by the near-constant sheets of ice that lay in every direction on this mirror sea. Shortly after dinner, we shed our icebreaker escort, and Le Boreal picked up full speed towards Greenland.
Friday, September 7: Baffin Bay
Today, Le Boreal steamed at top speed across Baffin Bay, pushing 17 knots as we made our way towards Greenland. We continued with our educational program on board, spending time also in the lounges to review our photographs and socialize with the friends we’d made along the way.
Naturalist Sabina Leader-Mense began the morning with an excellent talk on marine mammal evolution. Many of us were surprised to learn that the whales and seals we’d enjoyed looking for throughout the trip actually originated from land animals! Whales began a transition to aquatic life over 50 million years ago, and have gradually moved from wholly terrestrial creatures (their closest relatives are ruminants such as cows and hippos) to some of the most specialized marine hunters on the planet. Seals are far younger as a group, evolving from a group of bear-like carnivores to feed on an abundance of marine life in the shallow oceans of the world.
Jason continued with a stellar geology lecture, offering a morning talk on glacial landforms. We’ve had the opportunity to be in a glacially-carved landscape throughout our entire trip, and Jason’s talk allowed us to put some of what we’d seen into perspective. We learned the basics: the creation of fjords and how to identify post-glacial and periglacial landscapes. Jason also spoke about some of the more exotic glacial landforms such as ice-polygons, and the formation of strange, hill-like ‘pingos’.
This afternoon our polar guide and history buff Russ Manning gave a on the treacherous and ill-fated Canadian Arctic Expedition. Departing from Victoria, British Columbia, the goal of this expedition was to explore the waters of the western Canadian Arctic in search of land. It ran into trouble when particularly rough ice conditions and even worse leadership caused the ship to fail in its mission. The expedition leader Vilhjalmur Stefansson eventually abandoned his position when conditions became grim, and the crew onboard the doomed ship Karluk struggled for survival on remote Wrangell Island.
We continued the afternoon with more harmonica lessons and open-art sessions hosted by our Expedition Team, and after dinner we had the opportunity to listen to Mike Stevens — harmonica extraordinaire — in concert! Mike invited members of the Expedition Team and Le Boreal crew to perform with him in a series of incredibly talented performances, and by the end of the concert, our newfound expedition band received a standing ovation! Naturalists Blackjack, Agustin, JJ, Jen and Leslie all got up on stage to showcase their unique talents — ukelele, singing, dancing and throat-singing all included. It was an unforgettable night and the energy in the room was unmatched! Those of us eager for more of this excitement finished the evening with dancing in the Grand Salon.
Saturday, September 8: Baffin Bay
This morning, Le Boreal smoothly crossed the choppy waters of Baffin Bay as we sped towards Kangerlussuaq. We enjoyed breakfast watching the deep blue ocean churn underneath us and observing the occasional fulmar riding along in our slipstream. In the theater, our lecture series continued, and we had the privilege of hearing once more from our archaeology and culture lecturer Margaret Bertulli. This time, Margaret spoke about the famous historic site at Fort Conger, Ellesmere Island. Established in the late 1800s, Fort Conger served a variety of roles throughout history, most notably as a base camp for Adolphus Greely’s pioneer polar expedition and later visited twice by Robert Peary, the first man to reach the North Pole. Margaret spoke about her time at Fort Conger and how important a site it remains in Arctic Canada’s rich history.
Later on historian T.H. Baughman held a lecture entitled “The Original Iditarod”, captivat-ing the audience with the heroic story of the 1925 “Great Race of Mercy” to deliver a diphtheria serum by sled dog from Nenana, Alaska, to Nome. Although this story is most famous for its ending (wherein Norwegian musher Gunnar Kaasen and Balto arrive successfully in Nome), T.H. also emphasized the role of musher Leonhard Seppala and his dog Togo, who covered the most ground and crossed the deadly sea ice of Norton Sound — twice — to bring this much-needed serum to the people of Nome. A good portion of the audience was in tears as T.H. wrapped up his incredible retelling of this powerful story.
This afternoon, Matt Messina hosted his final art session, and a gallery of artist works were displayed outside the theater before dinner. Works ranged from beautiful watercolor paintings of the landscapes and wildlife that we had seen to detailed pencil sketches of bones, rocks and plants found on our landing sites. We had the chance to admire these works as we filed into the theater once more, this time for the Captain’s Farewell cocktail party. We all cheered and applauded for the tireless officers and crew who had made this journey, despite all its challenges, a success in so many ways. We recalled the fantastic weather, the beautiful scenery, and the thrilling encounters we had with bowhead whales, polar bear, narwhal and other Arctic wildlife.
Sunday, September 9: Kangerlussuaq
Our last day aboard Le Boreal began as we reentered Kangerlussuaq Fjord and steamed north to our destination. Throughout the day, the towering cliffs and sloping hills of southern Greenland captivated us with the red and gold hues of the Arctic’s fall foliage. Diminutive arctic willow covered the burnished rocks with a bright yellow tinge, and large groups of cormorant sailed by overheard on their southbound migration.
We gathered in the theatre this morning for our final “Quirks and Quarks” session. We had the chance to hear from our geologists, historians and naturalists who finished off our lecture series with a myriad of interesting notes. Naturalist Brent Houston gave a rousing summary of the polar bears we’d seen throughout the trip — a count rising to over thirty individuals (some at a greater distance than others)! In the afternoon, we received a disembarkation briefing from our Expedition Director Suzana, who described the logistics for our trip home.
Monday, September 10: Kangerlussuaq
This morning our luggage was loaded onto the ship’s tenders and sent ashore before sunrise, and after our final brunch aboard we were accompanied to the airport by our Expedition Staff, bidding goodbye to the Captain and crew. After some time spent perusing the local craft shops, we boarded our charter flight and settled into our seats. As the jets roared and our plane climbed over the scenic mountains and fjords, we enjoyed some final moments staring out at the spellbinding glaciers and tundra of Greenland before ascending into the clouds.
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