Heart of the Arctic – Day 4

Monday, July 20, 2015
Digges Island, 62˚34′ N  51˚6′ W
Sunny,  11˚C   

1-IMG_4598An exceptional day… We were supposed to arrive at Digges Island this afternoon– if we could even get in through the 3/10s  and 7/10s ice  on the east side of the island. The program was set for a couple of talks this morning with a landing in the afternoon.

But when I went out on deck at 06:30 before our staff meeting, there was Digges Island in full sunlight. No ice. The wind had blown it away. So we  reversed  the order and planned to land on the island in the morning.  1-IMG_4612We took the staff zodiac around a rocky outcrop to where there was a gorgeous little harbour surrounded by hills, some with snow still in sticking in the crags. As soon as the zodiac entered the bay, we were welcomed with a mild breeze, so warm that most people took their coats off once we were ashore. The breeze also kept the mosquitoes to a minimum.

We were in a bit of a valley and landed on bare rock that sloped up from the water. Snow lay on the shore and hills  beside and across the bay from us. We were scheduled to have four hours on Digges. Some people thought it would be too long. But it wasn’t. It went too fast.2-IMG_4613 The rugged hills surrounding

3-IMG_46181-IMG_4643us offered much to explore.  The slope up from the beach had rings of rocks – Thule tent rings, which we had to respectfully skirt in order to not intrude on them, and evidence of ancient fox traps and food caches built of rocks. The scenery was stunning  and there were so many beautiful little flowers: tiny purple saxifrage, wee yellow poppies, and little lichens that grew in rings and millimetre high mounds on the bare rock.

Over the ridge from where we landed the zodiacs was another bay.  Polar bears were known to frequent the area, and so our gun bearers did a through scout, but thankfully none were spotted.

The passengers were invited to hear about the locale from our staff. Several of us were positioned at points along the hill top – Cathie, who I’m sure was in heaven with all the incredible rock formations,  talked about the geology of the island. Lee talked about how to photograph it. And Latonia talked about the rich archaeological sites on the island. Latonia, as always,  was mobbed.  Folks had lots of questions about these, and Latonia had almost lost her voice by the time we had to return to the ship.1-IMG_4668

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Passenger, Joan, found a comfy rock to sit and paint the scenery from.

I told the guests who came to my post about  the researchers who lived on Digges the observation post in 1884 and 1885 to study the environment of Hudson Strait.  Being in that place really hit home how incredible it was that these southerners lived there for a year. I had brought a couple of photos of the Digges and Nottingham islands’ posts (shacks really) to illustrate how rough it must’ve been. It made it even harsher to imagine these guys living in wooden cabins on this rugged, rocky, isolated place.

Digges Island was named after English noblemen Sir Dudley Digges, one of Henry Hudson’s expedition backers.  Henry Hudson’s men  landed on Digges Island before heading into Hudson Bay in 1610. They found lots of fowl to eat there. Apparently, much of it was looted from an Inuit food cache. An act that came back to haunt them. After mutinying and casting poor Henry and his pals into a boat, six of the men landed on Digges again on their way home to England in order to stock up on food. They were attacked by the Inuit. Five of them died. Perhaps, they got their just desserts, though.

Todd Korol of the Toronto Star was very interested in the history of Digges Island, and was one of the folks who came and listened to my talk.  There are seven journalists on the cruise from various media outlets and they’ll go back with great stories about the trip and the North.2-IMG_4678

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A walrus carcuss lay decomposing on the beach- massive animal. It was minus its tusks, so likely some earlier visitor removed them.

People wandered around the area looking at flowers and rocks and the view hearing about the ringed Thule camp sites. A walrus carcass on the beach not far from the  zodiacs, created a lot of interest and was a great photo opp. It had been there awhile and was reduced mainly to a big brown hide with ribs sticking out of its stomach  cavity.

Ree Brennin, gun bearer, spotted a live walrus on a piece of ice, just as the last of us were loading the zodiacs, so only a few saw it. When the zodiacs started to head back, the first few made a side tour through some of the ice in the bay. But the wind came up, and word came from the captain that we had to return to the ship pronto. So we did. The waves were much bigger and the ride back was quite rough.

Water was off for an hour on the ship when we arrived, but seemed to come back quickly. After lunch, Lee gave her talk on how to take a better photograph. Then I followed with my presentation on expeditions through Hudson Strait to about 75 people in the Nautilus Lounge. At the same time, John Houston gave a talk outside his exhibit of Inuit art in the glass case in the lobby. He still had an ardent crowd around him at 5:00 when I went by.  The Japanese film crew were waiting to interview him. The film crew are working on a program about Arctic cruises. They produce travel documentaries, specifically on the cruise industry. Riyuji, one of the camera men,  says they have done 230 episodes on cruise ships.

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C.W. Nicholl (Nic) took passage on the Heart of the ARctic to celebrate his 75th birthday and visit his old stomping grounds. He first worked in the Arctic when he was 17. He now calls Japan his home.

After talking about the Srait, I wanted to get out and see it. I went on deck with my camera and binoculars.  No one was out at the bow. The wind was strong and straightened the Adventure Canada flag, so that the polar bear was totally visible. I walked around to the sunnier port side and met C.W. Nicholl (Nic). He was just coming down the stairs in his gorgeous seal skin parka. He said, “If I was a horse, I would’ve been shot by now with my bad knee.” I asked him why he had a bad knee and we stood talking by the railing for ages. He told me about how he came to the Arctic (Fort Chimo) when he was 17. His parents were against it, but he left them a long note about how he was going camping. He came home eight months later.

When he was 23 he went to Japan to learn martial arts. He is a seventh Dan black belt in karate, and has called Japan home for decades now. He has a nature preserve there, 43 hectares bordering on protected national parkland, which  has 52 species of endangered species on it. It was a lovely chat and we parted agreeing to buy each other’s book.

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At the 6:45 Recap, expedition leader, Stefan Kindberg said something that I think captured our visit to Digges Island, At such places,”You find a  rock to sit on and wait for your soul to catch up to you.”

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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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