Thursday, September 11, 2014

Latitude: 71˚50′ N      Longitude: 95˚57′ W
Wind: 31 knots           Speed: 6.1 knots
Temperature: 2˚C (35˚F)

Our 05:15 wakeup call announces we should roll over and go back to sleep. The wind is 30 knots and too strong for our 06:00 zodiac trip into Coningham Bay on southeast Prince of Wales Island. Disappointed as people are about not seeing the wildlife, they are not disappointed to get two more hours sleep.

1-IMG_0245.cropThe wind whipped up some waves, though, which disagreed with some passengers’ tummies.

We spent the morning sailing in ice between Prince Patrick Island and Boothia Peninsula towards Bellot Strait. David gave a presentation on “Polar Bears.” It was interrupted by a call to come on deck to view the magnificent entrance to Bellot Strait. The presentation room emptied in less than a minute.

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Bellot Strait runs between the tip of the Boothia Peninsula and Somerset Island, and marks the end of the North American continent. However, Cathie says that is false, as the continent stretches through the Arctic Archipelago as part of the polar continental shelf. So Bellot Strait therefore marks the end of the mainland.

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The strait is where the Pacific and Atlantic waters meet, and is known for its strong tides and swirling currents.

The first European to sight the two-kilometre wide strait was Capt. William Kennedy (actually a Canadian, commanding a British expedition) on his 1852 Franklin search. Kennedy named the strait for his second-in-command, Joseph-René Bellot (a flamboyant Frenchman). However, because the strait was often clogged with ice, no passage was made of it until 1937 when the Hudson’s Bay Company Ship Aklavik managed passage.  Capt. Henry Larsen aboard the RCMP vessel St. Roch went through Bellot Strait on his 1940-42 Northwest Passage journey, which was the first west-east transit of the NWP.

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Everyone is on deck with cameras and binoculars as we cruise slowly between the high rugged hills that flank the strait. Ahead the sky is a dark purple blue. It looks to be snowing, and we are heading into it. 015-IMG_0314

All passengers are on deck with cameras and binoculars, taking in the sea ice and scenery.

Ron one of the passengers is awarded Star of the day for spotting muskox on a distant hillside. They are so far away they look like round boulders. However, for those with good zoom camera lenses, it was another great animal photo opp.

At the eastern end of Bellot Strait, on Somerset Island, is Fort Ross; the last post the Hudson’s Bay Company established.

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It operated from 1937 to 1948, but closed because ice made it too difficult to get into. This is our second shore landing and what a spot. There doesn’t seem to be a flat spot anywhere it is a terrain of jumbled rock. Up the hill from the red rocky shore is an abandoned storehouse with a path leading to the main house still about 50 metres away. 1-IMG_0441John, gun in hand, investigates the storehouse and removes the slats that bar the door. Inside a stove, table, chairs and bunk beds make the building a cozy stopping spot for travellers. The house is less habitable with its broken windows, mouldy peeling wallpaper, and springs extruding from once stuffed armchairs. It must’ve been a fancy residence once is now beyond decrepit.

To the west of the storehouse, overlooking the water, are three graves, obvious by their long piles of stones.  Archaeologist Latonia Hartery talked about the graves of the four Inuit who had worked and lived near the post.

I head up with other passengers over the rocky slope to the extremely windy hilltop behind the buildings to see the pile of rocks known as McClintock’s cairn.

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Leopold McClintock spent the winter here in 1858-59. There is a plaque near the beach erected by his descendants in honour of what McClintock accomplished in his search for Franklin. He and his right hand man, Lt. William Hobson, found the bodies of Franklin’s men on King William Island, and the boat the men had tried to pull full of a strange collection of curtain rods and books, cutlery and silver plates. Hobson also found the only note that detailed that Franklin had died in June 1847, and 102 men were heading south to the Great Fish (Back) River to find help. McClintock was knighted for revealing the fate of the Franklin expedition.

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The zodiac trips to and fro the ship were chilly with plenty of waves and freezing spray. The passengers were all troopers, though the temperature was colder than some had anticipated.

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Tonight we had the option to dress for dinner as our favourite explorer. A variety of famous explorers showed up to dine, including John Cabot, Alice Wilson, two Dora the Explorers, Charlotte Small, Alexander Mackenzie, John Rae, a very hirsute voyageur, and Captain Bernier. (Guess who I was? –I wore a moustache, captains cap, and a pillow under my jacket gave me a pot belly.)

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About Season Osborne

I am a writer with a passion for Arctic history. After finding a photo of Capt. Joseph-Elzéar Bernier, who claimed the Arctic for Canada in 1909, I was inspired to write my master’s thesis on Bernier’s contribution to Arctic sovereignty. This ultimately led to extensive research into Canadian and ‘foreign’ expeditions to the North, which morphed into my recent book, In the Shadow of the Pole: An Early History of Arctic Expeditions, 1871-1912.
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