North West Passage Expedition

Progress Reports




Wednesday August 8th.

Midnight.. light fog. No wind. Ice all round.

All is quiet now. A couple of hours ago we turned off the engine and anchored to an ice floe. We had been getting nowhere—banging into floes, breaking through some, bouncing off others. Now there’s ice all round us, calm and still, with an occasional crack from a floe as it splits. It’s cold outside, freezing fog, but within our boat it is cosy, the Dickenson stove warming the wheelhouse.

There is a slight easterly current, so we’re being set backwards. This is so different from only 12 hours ago, when we were going gallantly in bright sunshine, clear water, no ice and the mountains of Devon Island 20 miles to our north as we went happily westward in Lancaster Sound.

We had the ice-chart and we’d spoken on VHF to a Canadian Government vessel that we’d met coming eastward out of Resolute with some scientists aboard.—‘Louise S. St. Laurent’

Her ice pilot had been most helpful on the radio. They had broken through 7/10 pack to get out of Resolute, and again met a patch of 7/10 ahead of where we were headed. We would skirt that on it’s southern edge.

That plan didn’t work so well and we’re in it. However patience is what we need now, a commodity not in great supply, I suppose we’ll have to learn it.

We left Thule Air Base last Tuesday, July 31st, with no regrets and made a wet, foggy, lumpy100 mile passage northwards to Qaanoq settlement. This is where the local population were sent to in 1953 when they were displaced to make way for the air-base. It is on Inglefeld Fjord, the area where Peary set himself up in 1896 for his early forays to north Greenland.

Qaanoq is unique as far as settlements go in that it has no natural harbour, not even a rock shelf to tie up to. There is a rough stone half-tide breakwater, inside of which are moored the local boats. The entry is through a narrow entrance in the breakwater.

A cold wind blew off the icecap behind the settlement as we anchored outside the breakwater,10 a.m. by Greenwich Time ( UTC ), 6 a.m. local time. All slept ‘till late afternoon.

When we stirred ourselves, two vessels had anchored outside us. One was a cargo ship ‘Green Igloo’. She was discharging on to a barge which self-propelled itself on to the beach, where it unloaded its annual cargo delivery. The other was the Greenpeace vessel ‘Arctic Sunrise’.

The Politi ( police ) couldn’t have been more helpful. In their 4-wheel drive they drove us round, showing us the laundry-house and then bringing us for coffee in the local ‘hotel—a guest house. There we met a group of Danish geologists, waiting both for supplies and better weather for their field-work.

That evening we had showers in the community hall—and thus cleansed and inspired, sang and played a few tunes later for some of the locals. An old man did one of their story telling ‘drum- song’ stories. Here we found that the people had and used their Innuit first names, unlike elsewhere south where they all have Christian names. The fork-lifts worked all night on the beach, bringing the cargo up from the tidal area. A cold rain fell.

Next day we lay low on anchor and watched a second ship delivering its cargo onto the beach, with considerable difficulty as it rained and blew about force 6. On one pontoon a fire engine for the new airstrip nearly got a ducking as the pontoon was blown sideways at the breakwater entrance. They made a tactical withdrawal to their ship.

For the Greenpeace folks, campaigning against Thule being used as a Star-Wars base, it was an uphill battle—and they knew it. Greenpeace, 20 years previously, in campaigning against sealing had drawn no distinction between the wholesale repugnant slaughter in Labrador and the individual seal-hunting for the family pot as carried on in Greenland. Greenland memories are long. In addition, and more currently, most of the Qaanoq men benefited from work at the airbase.

Notwithstanding, the Greenlanders were friendly to the Greenpeace people, about 30 in all. Ten or so were ships crew, ten were general helpers and about ten were interpreters and journalists.

We were invited aboard that evening, just in time for dinner and a ‘limited bar’. .I’m not sure what the ‘limit’ was—perhaps we lubricated it upwards with the couple of bottles of Powers we brought as ‘appetisers’. They showed us round their vessel, told us of their campaign and listened to our songs. A particular ‘hit’ was the line in ‘ The Greenland Whale Fishery ‘ which goes “And we did not catch that whale brave boys, and we did not catch that whale!”.

Three hours after they left us back to our boat in their big inflatable; Thank you, ‘Arctic Sunrisers’ for a great night. Frank, Gearoid and myself trudged it up the village with our sat-phone, in a sleety snow for an interview with ‘The Pat Kenny Show’, 5 a.m. local time—we were not at our brightest.

We tried, oh we tried to see the Narwhal whale, for which Inglefjord is known, and we failed. We motored 20 miles to the head of the fjord for a ‘guaranteed’ sighting—nil. On returning, we were told of a better spot, across the fjord. We swung over in that direction when we were leaving. Result—nil.

The ice-reports for Lancaster Sound were getting better, with a colour fax from new friends Philip Walsh and Will Steger on the Motor Yacht ‘Turmoil’, now in, showing mostly clear water in its southern side. Time to go. We went south-westward in sunlight towards Ellesmere, Canada, then met fog. We cancelled our intended landing at Cape Paddy Hennessy, not much point if you can’t see anything, dodged icebergs and in thick fog, using Radar and Sounder got to anchor in 3 metres of water in a bay on the south of Coburg Island .We had it to ourselves—definitely. We raised the Canadian and Nunavut ( the new Innuit Province ) flags, drank Canadian Club Whisky and slept happily, 180 miles out from Qaanoq.

A shore party, Mike, Terry, John and Frank, found a hut in good shape with paraffin, stove, an old snowmobile and some books and papers in French. “Quelle Histoire?”

An Arctic fox trotted along, yards away only, paying them no heed.

On our way in, Terry had commented that the place must be full of fish—“look at the ducks, they’re so fat that they can hardly lift themselves out of the water”.

At 13.00 hours on Monday we left, had a grand sail down outside Jones Sound, then through fog and occasional light ice to the eastward of Devon Island to Cape Sherard, the entrance to Lancaster Sound. We rounded it at 04.00 hours yesterday, Tuesday in high elation; here we were at last, in the best of shape, good visibility, no ice, the sun on the mountaintops. All was well in our small world. And so it continued as we spun westward, the names of famous places and explorers pinned to headlands and bays. There was even a ‘Cape Joy’, an unusual sentiment in Arctic annals.

Jarlath was reading one of the Arctic manuals we have on board and treated us to the gem—

“Your luck usually runs out when you need it most”

The e-mails are a big event in our day. Gearoid opens up the laptop, plugs in wires to power, Pactor modem and SSB radio, performs some magic keyboard ritual--- and we’re in touch with the world. It’s great. Our continuing appreciation goes to the Ham Radio Operators maintaining the Winlink and Airmail systems, and of course to Brendan.

Mike is our gourmet chef, not only good as he needs to be, we’re on pasta and smash, but quite proprietorial. A couple of days ago, Frank and Terry were doing ‘pull-ups’ from the roof by way of passing the time . Mike complained of --- “turning my kitchen into a Gym!”

The charts here say that “The Compass is useless in this Area” –It sure is, one of the results being that our Auto-Pilot doesn’t work. That’s no harm as we have to keep a sharp lookout for ice anyway. We will attempt to link it directly to the GPS.

Kevin is nonchalant as ever, his camera clicking in a satisfying way. His policy of self-improvement continues, his emphasis currently being on ‘bread-making’.

John, with his camera, is everywhere, night and day, happily unobtrusive. He has got so many shots of this, that and everything ‘can’ at this stage that we’re afraid of losing him. Hope not.

At our stern a remnant of our steak and kidney dinner hangs as bait on a fishing line. Gearoid is not sure of what it might attract, fish, seal --or bear.

Now we’re waiting—as it is sagely said “ To travel in the Arctic is to wait”

Or more optimistically put in the old Irish Polar Saying:----“May the leads open before you”



We wonder why you never see the Greenlanders taking the dog for a stroll down the promenade of a fine evening! We have seen only one class of dog up here, that’s the Greenland Dog, with a very large strain of wolf in him. There is no room for sentiment in relation to these animals and in spite of training of successive generations they remain quite savage. Their reputation for snarling and bad temper generally has to be taken seriously.

Our arrival into a settlement by sea is usually heralded bt the constant eerie howling of dogs, which at times reaches fever pitch. Within the settlement the smell of dog-shit, seal blubber, entrails, etc. pervades the air, the only distraction is the constant nuisance of the local mosquito population, but that for another day.

Apart from the work of dragging cargo or hunting sledges around in the winter, the Greenland Dog has little to look forward to. He is likely to end up as a meal for his colleagues and fur trousers for his Master!.


Lancaster Sound

On the 31st of August 1818, Sir John Ross in Isabella with sister Ship Alexander entered Baffin,s Lancaster Sound and sailed westward into the much sought Northwest Passage. During the afternoon the bottom of the Bay was sighted. Ross was called to deck, and he said he distinctly saw land, round the bottom of the Bay, (roughly where we are stuck at present) forming a connecting chain of mountains with those which extended along the north and south sides. He ordered bearings to be taken and inserted in the log. He observed ice stretching across the bay and named the mountains after the first secretary Croker of the Admiralty, and the southwest corner after the second secretary, the legendary John Barrow. His officers were not consulted and disagreed with his claim.

William Parry with Hecla and Griper, sailed into Lancaster Sound and through Ross’s “Croker” mountains in September 1819 and wintered at Melville Island. Edward Sabine of Dublin was the scientific officer with Parry.

Needless to say, Sir John Ross’s reputation was badly damaged with the Admiralty (John Barrow) with dire consequences for his naval career. FN


Pictures from expedition

Map relating to this report

Progress Reports


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