Sunday, 14 September 2014

Arctic Canada - landscapes, seascapes, etc.

...starting with a skyscape! On 2nd September we were steaming along the east coast of Baffin Island. Just after dark we were treated to a great display of shimmering Aurora borealis above us (if anything, a little to the south of us at about 66 degrees north). My staff colleagues quickly fired up the hot tub on Deck 6: a perfect spot to enjoy the show and keep warm. The lights lasted about an hour. 

In mid-August much of the sea off Baffin Island still had a partial covering of ice. Near Pond Inlet we take to the zodiacs to enjoy and photograph the floes, seals, skuas, kittiwakes, etc. This has been the heaviest year for ice for some years, and prevented us sailing through the North-west Passage. 

Out on the zodiacs again - see the red jackets in front of the left side of the long berg (and click on the image to enlarge). Much of the Baffin Island scenery is on a vast scale. These are the Akpait Cliffs - 800 m high - from which the guillemot chicks were jumping (see the previous blog). Akpait is the Inuit name for guillemot. As we looked up from our tiny boats, the huge cliffs reminded us of the architecture of a Gothic cathedral. 

Gibbs Fjord is 50 miles long and navigable to the end - one of the many impressive features of East Baffin. The huge cliffs on both sides gave misleading ideas of scale: a Polar Bear swimming along the shore was barely visible even with binoculars. 

These lonely graves on Beechey Island belong to two sailors from Sir John Franklin's expedition in search of the North-west Passage in 1845. Three men from the two ships Erebus and Terror died during the first winter. They were recently exhumed and re-buried: lead poisoning was implicated in their deaths. As I arrived home last week, news arrived that one of Franklin's ships has been found at last, and photographed on the sea-bed off King William Island. 

On a community visit to Pangnirtung, we were warmly received and invited to a ceilidh! The local Inuit had learnt a number of complex dances from Scottish whalers who had exploited the Bowhead Whales in the 1920s. Now Bowheads are strictly conserved, with a quota of just one for the whole of Baffin Island each year. This summer our ship, the Akademik Ioffe, has visited Pangnirtung three times - the only ship to visit at all. The village is famous for its artwork: much of it was bought by our passengers! 

Back on board, we try out a blues jam in E minor in the bar. Passenger Steve (guitar) is joined by staff members Nate (ukelele), Simon (banjo-mandolin), Boris (harmonica) and Quinn (percussion), while former BBC film-maker Peter Bassett looks on. Thanks for the photo Rob. 

One of many memorable sunsets during my five weeks on board. Most of these photos are mine, but many thanks to the fellow-passenger who shared the Northern Lights image. 

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