North West Passage Expedition

Progress Reports




 PROGRESS REPORT 7. PB Tuesday July 31st.

Thule Air Force Base. On Anchor

It was with mixed feelings that we came in here in the first place. On the one hand we had a reluctance to have anything to do with this technology and all that goes with it; on the other, a desire for showers and tumble-driers.

Maybe we came in at a bad time, which we did ( Greenpeace were due an uninvited visit )-but our feeling is that the welcome would have been 'cold' in any event.

Going back to where we left off: on Monday of last week we were on passage to Upernivic, eatin' porridge, breaking ice and as the log has it " Mike has just cleared the blocked toilet-what a man!"

The compass needle was now swinging in a lazy 'manner as the Magnetic Pole grew closer.

Upernivic, like all Greenland towns, has seen substantial infrastructural add-ons in the last 8 years since 'Saint Patrick' was here. 'Northabout' tied alongside on Tuesday morning,

the new airport runway, built on the hill behind the town, overlooking all. The howling of the dogs was still the same.

The hotel-with-no-name, a construction hostel really, produced 'coffee-with-reluctance' and later a music ensamble, recycling itself every half hour.

Socially the main event was meeting up with Scotsman Bob Shepton and the crew of his 'Dodo's Delight'. They are sailor/ climbers who have spent the last few Summers in this area and have climbed a fair few crags and hills. Bob presides and participates with competent charm. Their main objective this season is to get to Bylot Island on the Canadian side of Baffin Bay, and do a north to south traverse of the island, in the steps of Tilman-whose footprints are many.

The ice charts that came in over the fax were good and bad. Good in that Baffin Bay was clearing quickly, The Melville crossing of its northern route looked easy. The ice charts were bad insofar as Lancaster Sound, the next sea area for us, normally clear of ice by mid-July, was still locked solid with 9/10 cover. The Canadian Ice Service gave no forecast for the timing of its break up.

A Danish Naval vessel, berthed beside us, was preparing to venture north of Thule to

Hans Oya, ( 80 degrees 49N ). Apparently the ownership of this rock is of interest to the Canadians and the Danish both. The Danish chart 3000 covers this area, the Canadian charts do so in more detail.This is replicated in the Ice-Service, where the Canadians provide more detail, at greater frequency.

With Lancaster Sound blocked , we decided to make a virtue of it and detour to the Thule area, north of Baffin Bay.

Twenty miles to the north of Upernivic, a small boat approached. We beckoned, and

glory-be, it was our old friend the hunter Peter Aronson, he who had spent two weeks with us in 1993, trying to cross Melville. Racing ahead to his island, Tusaq, he alerted his brother

by the time we tied to the small jetty, his primus at the house was roaring, melting ice for the tea.

Much sign-language, exchanging of photographs, taking of photographs followed and we were off again.

Eighty miles we then went, inside islands and eventually to the bird-cliffs of Agparssuit. The turnout of Agpas ( guillemots ) was disappointing.

The headland of this island is called Kap Shackleton, but interestingly it's not called after our man, because reading McClintocks account ,written about 1860, this headland was then so called.

On Friday we pulled into the bay at Kraulshaven and at 04.30 tied alongside the 8-foot long jetty. Dogs howled, kids played on swings, we slept.

Kuvlordsuaq settlement now has 85 children in the new primary school, a new water supply system and indescribable filth. Sven, the Danish school principal, who has been there for 26 years opened the school to all the kids, their grannies and us, giving a 'concert' for them. An old man watched, he borrowed Mikes fiddle and the crowd livened and danced-a quadrille with hornpipe-like step-a direct link with the Scottish Whalers, uncanny it was.

Frank and I climbed the Devils Thumb, in ideal conditions, warm rock, windless and unlimited daylight. This 600 metre mountain is sharp for its top 200 metres. To the whalers crossing Melville Bay it was their navigational take-off mark, distinct and visible from afar.

From a hill across the valley below, Kevin, Mike and Terry watched us, they later told us, as Frank led the rope on exposed rock, generally grade 4B, with moves of 4C, no big deal ( he said! ) Four such pitches on our 50 metre rope and a couple of easy ones and we were on top.

The air was clear, the icecap stretching to the interior, 'bergs to seaward. We exchanged shouts with the lads on the hill across.

After all the horror stories of Melville Bay, boats being crushed and crews stranded, we really didn't expect it to be so easy, despite our ice-chart information. Dodging occasional 'bergs, sometimes in fog, sometimes not, we passed Sabine Island 30 miles to starboard, Cape York and Peary's Monument, we never saw it ,thanks be to God!. The arrogance of him, thieving the meteors, the only source of metal to the Innuit he 'befriended'.

The ice-bear was wonderful. Terry saw him on a 'berg, asleep at first, then he stood up, walked around and disappeared over a hummock on the berg. We motored 'round and saw him swimming, head up, inquisitive, so natural in his own wild place -a far cry from his poor demented relation in Dublin Zoo.

Thule Air Base. What a crowd!

We had a repair to make to the centre-board strop, a matter of some importance to us, needing 'berg free sheltered water. And showers and clothes washing would have been nice. Well, we got the shelter-and feck-all else. It surely should not be beond the wit of man to combine security with civilised behaviour-but it is around there.

We can't wait to finish our repair and get on to Qaanoq, a settlement about 75 miles north.

Gearoid continues his sterling work , particularly in the communications end of things.At all times of the day and night, it's all the same here, he is at the laptop, talking to Brendan, pulling down information on weather ,ice , e-mail and keeping us in touch-to Brendan Minish we owe a continueing debt for his mighty work

Kevin continues:

Lovely memory of a stream of giggling children and laughing adults following the Pied Piper, Mike Brogan, and his fiddle into the school for an impromptu concert.

Our 'weapons' were impounded for the duration of our stay at Thule Air Force Base. The Americans were very sceptical of the usefulness of our shotguns should we need to defend ourselves against a polar bear .

The land here is generally very barren, but in walking around we found some lovely alpine-looking flowers. We also met a family of Ptarmigan ( grouse like birds ), mother, father and five chicks scurrying over the rocks.

We saw a polar ( ice ) bear! They are rare and we may not see one again so we all feel very fortunate.


Crew of Northabout

A day in the life of Northabout by Frank Nugent

Map relating to this report

Pictures from expedition

Progress Reports


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