North West Passage Expedition

Progress Reports



Wildlife Report by Mike Brogan

A day in the life of Northabout 4 by Frank Nugent

PROGRESS REPORT No. 10 Thursday August 23rd. PB

We got into Cambridge Bay on Thursday last, after a passage of 250 miles from Gjoa Haven.

After anchoring for shelter on the Tuesday night, the rest of that passage was uneventful; motoring in a flat sea, no ice, the barren south shore of Victoria Island beside us for mile after mile; although looking back at our log, I see that we did have a breezy enough time of it coming up south of Jenny Lind Island and were glad enough to alter our course to benefit from its shelter for 10 or 15 miles.

Cambridge Bay is definitely a town, not a village, not a hamlet. It is attitude that makes the difference. Busy, almost brash, people passing each other without much smiling, Cambridge Bay with its 1,500 population, is a government place. 80% of its people work in administration, education, supplies or government contracts. The 20% who hunt and fish do so in a serious way, for food and cash both, all with their Spilsbury Radios for contact and emergency both. Going 'to the land' is a constantly occurring phrase.

We had planned on a one-day stopover. The weather changed that. It blew and blew, from the west and then 40 knots from the northwest. We had to leave the jetty, we were banging too much alongside it, and go to anchor, 3 miles up the west bay, then lay out a second anchor, our brute of a 90 lb. Fisherman with another 60 metres of chain, as the wind blew some more. Getting all this ironmongery up from the bottom was a fair old job, before returning to the jetty.

It was eventually Sunday, before the wind fell to an acceptable 20 knots and we set off into it.

We had met some great people, individuals all, Pat who ran the Power Plant, Andy, an electrical contractor, Wilf, a general contractor. The town is a 'dry' one, but not with these lads at the weekend. The talk was of bear, the community can take 6 each year, bulldozers running ice-roads, a D8 went through 5 foot thick sea-ice last year, much to everyones surprise, particularly the drivers!, hunting ( and over-hunting ),the Beluga, the prospects for the new mine and what it would do for the area. With its 200 mile access road through caribou and musk-ox grounds, not everybody thinks that this is a good idea.

We played some music, in Andys mostly, and were royally treated, being driven around, and being loaned ATV's and jeeps.

The arctic char was running and catches were good. This gorgeous fish is a cross between trout and salmon. Helpings were high.

But the weather was brutal, dark with a wind that would cut you, the halcyon days of Greenland long gone. It didn't snow, but it could have. Houses here have insulation of 10 inches under the floor, 12 inches on the roof . Walls have 6 inches, and above the tree-line, which this definitely is, a further 2 inch cavity. Snow would be staying on the ground in September; it had left only 4 weeks earlier.

But the winters are getting less cold and the 'summers' longer, everyone agreed. Global warming in the arctic is real. It is changing animal migratory patterns, ice thickness, and the length of the hunting seasons.

Terry left. He had hoped to stay with us until Tuktoyuktuk, but a combination of our weather delay and opportunity changed that. The flight down to Edmonton was going to cost about

.$1,700. ( Yes, I kid you not, this is not one of your cheapy destinations-to wire a house down 'south' costs about $3,000, here it is $17,000 !)

Wilf, great doer and fixer, made a call to his travel man in Iqualuit, about two thousand miles away, a Eugene Magee of the North, who came up with a VERY affordable flightout. Terry left 'Donk', his much travelled mascot, to complete the NWP, with instructions to us to be nice to himl

There are several Christian denominations in town, including our own R.C. The Anglican is the only one with a full-time Minister, Cyrus Blankhet. His ministry is a tough enough old station. He does Services, not that greatly attended, and house visits. He would try to be seen as a sort of 'light-house' of Christian behaviour to the people, who don't pay that much attention.

On Sunday, now frustrated with weather and impatient to be off, we left, to shouts of

"May the water be deeper than your keel" and presents of frozen arctic char-and as is often the case, when you get out into it, the sea wasn't bad at all.

Our next destination, 650 miles on, was Tuktoyuktuk, ( or Tuk if you like, or are short of consonants. ) The first two days went grand, through Coronation Gulf, Dolphin and Union Straight, passing all the names from the pages of exploration history. Then in Amundson Gulf we met the ice, more or less where the current ice-charts had predicted. Progress slowed as we banged and shimmied through it. We can now get through about 5/10, depending on the ice type. Ice comes in various forms, old hard hummocked multi-year or softish(ish ) 1 year , small floes easily broken or pushed, or big immovable ones. 5/10 ice would give the impression that there is 50% water showing and 50% ice-and there is-on average. But it's not evenly spread. In the 5/10 or even 4/10 there can be denser bands, and these are the problem. Frank stands on the mast spreaders spotting leads, Kevin and Mike wield our long ice-pole, the off-watch try to sleep ( fat chance with the banging and changing engine-revs ). As I write we have just detoured from the direct route, to go about 60 miles south into Franklin Bay to get round some 6/10 to 9/10 ice. The Coastguard icebreaker 'Henry Larsen' had passed the direct route only about 16 hours earlier and told us on the radio that they met only 1/10 . Ice, like every thing in the Arctic, does not stand still.

Anyway, we're round that now and have a clear run ( we think ) to Tuk, 150 miles on. There we'll take on diesel and water and be on our way through the Beaufort Sea to the north coast of Alaska. The ice-forecast says

"Below normal temperatures are forecast for the Beaufort Sea for the second half of August-Northeasterly to easterly winds are forecast to develop the fourth week of August along the Beaufort Sea from west of Herschel Island to Point Barrow. A narrow open drift route may form for only a few days, but is expected to close shortly afterwards."

That's the one we want!


Some wildlife observations - Michael Brogan
Cambridge Bay, Victoria Island.NWP  23 08 2001
One of the more interesting people I met on our journey so far has to be one Pat Lewis, now working in Cambridge Bay for the Electrical Company. Pat has lived full time in different habitations within The Canadian Arctic for the past 27 years, from Pond Inlet to Resolute in the Baffin area and now Cambridge Bay.

He is well recognised among the natives as an expert hunter and would often travel 1000 miles with a dog sled team in winter to hunt different areas. Now in his 50s pat still loves to hunt but only to eat, and is very concerned about the future viability of wildlife in the Canadian Arctic due to over /and commercial hunting esp. such animals as Narwhal, Beluga, Polar Bear etc. Ivory jewellery and sculpture is still widely available and Narwhal Tusks are getting smaller???

Pat took us on a three-hour drive to see if we could spot some wildlife while we were weathered in at Cambridge Bay. As we drove along the dirt track we came on a herd of 30 or so Musk oxen [Ovibus  muskatos] with their long shaggy coats hanging to the ground. These animals can weigh up to 450 kg with enormous low-slung head and two flat horns sweeping across the forehead. The large bulls stood their ground as John Murray, our filmmaker went to work. The cows with their calves kept a safe distance from us [they are hunted for their meat]. Pat advised us to run in circles if they charged, as they can't turn well at speed. Luckily his theory wasn't put to the test, as they seemed more interested in their cows and stomachs than us. As we drove on we spotted a movement beside the pickup. It was a Short Eared Owl [Asio flammeus] beautifully camouflaged against the background of stone and lichen. Almost immediately a family of Snowy Owls [Nyceta scandiaca] appeared in front of us, flying ahead  but allowing us close enough to get hopefully a good photograph. One of the young landed in the water using its wings to swim ashore.

Another movement behind a stone; an Arctic Fox [Alopex Lagopus] popping its head its head up occasionally, but again wonderfully camouflaged grey as it was changing to its winter white. He is smaller than our fox with short legs and ears and a blunt face and nose to lessen the risk of frostbite. He peaked his grey white tail and disappeared off into his tundra.

We also saw Arctic Hare, Loons Willow Ptarmigan [Ornithorinchus anatinus!], Eider and Other Ducks, Marsh Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, and Snow and Canada Geese preparing for winter migration south [some no doubt to Ireland.] Many other birds we have yet to identify with the help of a book loaned by Gordon Darcy. There were Wolves and Grisly bear that didn't show on the day.All in three hours; long last the wilderness. M Brogan.  

A day in the life of Northabout 4 by Frank Nugent

Pictures from expedition

Map relating to this report

Second Map relating to this report

Progress Reports


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