Monday 24th September 2018 – WINTER IS ACUMEN IN …

… Lhude sing Rudolph.

I woke up this morning … "der der der der DER" – ed … to a heavy frost and a temperature of -2°C. Yes, we are going to be in for a belting winter and no mistake this year.

Frosts and freezing already. I’m not looking forward to it.

And due to some kind of confusion yesterday in the Great Satan, the phone seems to have gone on to New England time so it was an hour later when it went off, and by this time everyone had already left.

So I turned over and went back to sleep for a while, and had pleasant dreams of the High Arctic yet again.

But once I was awake again, I started work.

But not for long.

Darren and George came back. They had to go to Fredericton to pick up an engine, a big-bore Chevy 505 racing engine for a pulling truck. This meant uncoupling the big trailer so seeing as they were struggling I dressed and went to lend a hand.

Once we’d done that, I took the opportunity to leap aboard and we set off south-east, grabbing a coffee on the way past.

And as we were early, we stopped off for a meal. It was a good job that we were early too because it took half an hour for them to prepare our meal. “Something had gone wrong” with the order and I can guess what it was.

We were visiting a guy called George who is apparently the leading North American expert on gas-flowing cylinder heads and I would die to have a garage like his. He’d rebuilt this engine and we had come to pick it up to deliver it.

And if you think that I could talk, you aint heard nuffink yet. We were there for two hours – half an hour to load up and the remaining 90 minutes while he told us “a little story”.

We drove back via the yard where George (our George) picked up his truck, and then we came back here to find that in view of the weather we had run out of heating oil. What a fine time for that to happen.

And it took an age to locate a supplier who actually had a tanker on standby that had fuel in it ready for delivery.

Another thing that I did was to book my bus back to Montreal on Friday night, and a hotel for Saturday night.

And Brain of Britain has done it again, hasn’t he?

Sitting there wondering why hotels were so expensive and in the end booking a cat house even worse than the usual. And then suddenly realising, far too late of course, that the prices quoted are in Canadian Dollars not Euros and hence the difference!

Tea was potatoes, beans and vegan sausage for me and then I called it aday.

It comes to something when something even as simple is this is laying me out on my back.

Sunday 23rd September 2018 – REGULAR READERS …

… of this rubbish will recall that I have given endless amounts of grief to all kinds of Border Patrol, immigration and security services in the past, and on occasions too numerous to enumerate.

And so I take my hat off to Officer Allen of the US Immigration Service who saw me today at Bridgewater, Maine today. If every Immigration Officer were as friendly, courteous and helpful as he, travelling from one country to the next would be an absolute pleasure.

Yes, I’ve been out and about on my travels today. But it was touch and go at one point.

What didn’t help was that, despite it being Sunday, I forgot to switch off the alarm and so that’s guaranteed to get me off on the wrong foot.

I was in the middle of the High Arctic too, doing a guided tour in, of all things, Bill Badger, the old A60 van that I had in the 1970s. When the tour was over, two people – a couple – came over to offer me their services and while I took down their details I knew that I wouldn’t ever be using them, for the least of the reasons being that there are only two seats in the front of the van.

With it being early, I loitered around for a while and then when others started to move around I joined in, had my medication (I’ve found it now) and a coffee.

We all poured out of the house where Amber’s boyfriend was waiting for us, and we shot off down the road to the border. I need a Green Card to cross over, and so I had my pleasant encounter, and then off to Presque Ile in Maine.

It’s my custom when I’m here to treat everyone to Sunday lunch so the Oriental Pearl Chinese buffet was the place to visit. They all tucked into the buffet while the chef made me a vegetable stir-fry with rice.

Next stop was Marden’s.

That’s like Noz only bigger and with more stuff, and many of the tools in Strider have come from there in the past. But today, I bought nothing. Strider and I won’t be going far so I don’t need much.

Back here I hit the wall again and I was gone. Three hours this time, and isn’t this becoming ridiculous? I dunno where I’ll be going with all of this and if I don’t sort myself out soon I won’t make my bus back to Montreal on Friday night.

But later on I came round and surprisingly, had a new lease of life. I could even manage a sandwich. George was back from Winnipeg so he came round and we all had a chat.

But now I’m off to bed. I need to be on the road tomorrow and I have a lot of things to do.

But first I need a good night’s sleep.

Saturday 22nd September 2018 – OUCH!!!

That was what I call a bad day.

It started off reasonably enough with me being out of bed at 08:00. Unfortunately I hadn’t realised that Rachel was working the Saturday morning shift too these days, so the place was rather like the Marie Celeste.

That all took me back to bed, where the next thing that I remember was the hordes coming back at lunchtime. I had a little chat to Rachel but she said something about the leaves in the pool (yes, we have a swimming pool here now) and so I put on my coat to go outside and fish them out.

By that time Darren had returned and he was going at it, and he passed the baton over to Amber. So I came back inside.

Butties for lunch, seeing as we now have some bread, and then we discussed a few things about our plans for the afternoon.

It was at this point that I had a funny turn. To counter it, I went into my room to sit down in the armchair to let the feeling pass.

Next thing I knew was that Rachel was waking me up for supper. 19:15. I’d been out for about 5 hours. And a shame because I’d been up in the High Arctic again.

Totally unsteady on my feet I tottered off for supper and a chat, and then had that same old feeling so I came back in here.

I think that the three weeks away has finally caught up with me and I’ll be like this for a while.

I shall have to pull myself together.

And hats off to whoever sat down and read 72 pages of my blog today. You deserve a medal

Friday 21st September 2018 – I MADE IT …

… outside today.

Strider and I were reunited at long last and we went for a good blast up the road.

Mind you, I didn’t feel much like it. Another miserable night waking up several times and each time the nocturnal ramble in which I was travelling disappeared into the ether before I could grab the dictaphone.

I vaguely remember ships but that’s about all.

With Ellen now being supernumary it means that Rachel has to open up the office at 08:00. I didn’t realise that of course so when I finally drifted into the kitchen at 07:50 Rachel was on the point of drifting out.

And so I drifted back to bed again, but having first checked the availability of the shower. And Hannah told me that there were some new products to try.

10:30 is a much-more realistic time to raise myself from the dead and so coffee and toast brought me round somewhat. And then I went for my shower.

In the shower I find the coconut (because I love coconut) shampoo, the strawberry (in honour of my Recent Travelling Companion) shower gel and the vanilla (because it was nearest) soap for shaving.

I now smell like a rather bizarre dessert – something that brought a great deal of ribald comment from some (erstwhile) friends.

But I suppose that it’s better than smelling like a badger.

Hans suggested a topping of whipped cream. He would gladly do the whipping, and I replied that it would be OK as long as he found someone nice, young, friendly and female to lick it off me afterwards.

Rachel had ordered on-line the licence tags for Strider but they had never arrived. I bet my mortgage that they were in my mailbox up on Mars Hill Road so I took Strider off for a drive. And on a few occasions I forgot just how light his back end is.

And Strider has acquired not only a block heater but also a really good and new tow bar and attachments.

Arriving at the battery of mailboxes I had a nervous 5 minutes when I couldn’t remember which box was mine. I ended up having to empty out Strider until I found my mailbox contract.

The tags were in there, as was a letter telling me that I had been pre-approved for a life assurance policy, without a medical. If only they knew …

Back at the mill I had a chat with Rachel and Bob and then Strider and I headed off to Woodstock.

And by the time we got to Woodstock we were half a million strong so it was pretty crowded inside Strider, I can tell you.

First stop was Service New Brunswick. I pay my property taxes on Mars Hill by direct debit but I had received a bill. Turns out that there had been a revaluation and a subsequent refund, but they had refunded the wrong amount. So I needed to pay some back.

Subway for lunch and then Atlantic Superstore and Sobey’s for supplies. I’m running out of stuff in Strider. I remember emptying him out last year.

Tim Horton’s for a new coffee mug and a coffee, and a very bizarre conversation as I tried to explain to at least four people what it was that I wanted and somehow they didn’t understand.

Back here I had vegan hot dogs and beans for tea and then we all settled down to watch TV. First programme was one of these medical ones where they cut people open, so I bid a hasty retreat back to my room.

The air in here is rather gloomy today. It’s my father (Rachel’s grandfather)’s funeral today back in the UK and Rachel thinks that I should be upset by it. But Rachel didn’t have the childhood that we had.

All I ever wished for was that his end would be quick and he wouldn’t suffer – I wouldn’t wish suffering on my own worst enemy – and in that at least he was lucky.

Whatever else I was intending to write, I’ll keep it to myself.

No reason to inflict my problems on you lot.

Thursday 20th September 2018 – AND SO …

… after the vicissitudes of the last three weeks or so, I crashed out good and proper at some kind of unearthly hour yesterday evening in the busom of what remains of my family.

But not for long.

My guilty conscience was clearly pricking at me again because I was wide-awake at about 03:00 and again an hour or so later. And what was remarkable about all of this was that not only did I not remember any particular nocturnal ramble, on the latter occasion I was totally disorientated and had to recycle myself back through the last four or five weeks in order to work out where I was.

It was all rather short-lived though.

Next thing that I remember was that it was about 10:00. Everyone here had gone to school or to work except for Cujo the Killer Cat who still remembered me and came for a really good cuddle and stroke.

There’s a new cat too, called Oscar. Hannah adopted one at University and brought it back when she graduated. Cujo is definitely not impressed.

Four pieces of toast and three coffees later I was tempted to jump into Strider and go in search of food but I was in no condition to move. I had a go at starting to update the blog with the missing entries and managed one and a half.

This is going to be a very long job.

Amber came back from school and we had a chat, and then I went back to bed for another three hours.

When Darren came home I had a chat with him and then also with Rachel and Hannah. But I was pretty-much done and that was that.

I went back to bed where I shall sleep for the next 100 years. This has taken so much out of me

JUST A LITTLE NOTE

It’s 05:00 in the morning and I’ve just had a ‘phone call.

I need to move on from here as something has been arranged for me that I’ve been trying to do for 50 years.

I’ll be out of internet contact for at least three weeks so don’t think that this blog has died a death. It will be back in due course, updated daily page by page, and then you can find out where I’ve been.

Play nicely while I’m away, happy birthday to everyone whose birthdays I shall miss, and don’t so anything that I wouldn’t do.

Bye

Wednesday 12th September 2018 – WHAT A …

*************** THE IMAGES ***************

There are over 3,000 of them and due to the deficiencies of the equipment they all need a greater or lesser amount of post-work. And so you won’t get to see them for a while.

You’ll need to wait til I return home and get into my studio and start to go through them. And it will be a long wait. But I’ll keep you informed after I return.
***************

… horrible night!

About 00:45 when I finally settled down to sleep. And something awoke me at 03:30 – no idea what it was – and that was how I stayed, drifting in and out until the alarm went off at 06:00.

A beautiful morning with some lovely streaks of light. Several icebergs and a couple of islands away astern too. Have we reached Greenland already?

As a true measure of my popularity I took breakfast alone this morning. It seems that I’m the rattlesnake in the Lucky Dip again. I wonder who I’ve upset today. And more importantly, how?

At least I managed to have a chat with Jerry Kobalenko about Labrador. Apparently I can find out much more information by looking in his book, “obtainable in the gift shop”. I suppose that my explorations are pretty much small beer compared to the routes that he has travelled.

My morning caught up with me though, and pretty quickly too. By about 08:45 I was flat out on the bed and there I stayed until about 09:45. Dead to the world. The only trouble with this though is that I feel worse now then I did before I crashed out.

At least there was a nice view of Greenland through the fog and that might cheer me up a little. An iceberg went sailing past at one point, hard up against the Greenland coast and so I went out to take a photo or two.

There was a lecture on “the Vikings” – not “the Norse” – and Latonia started completely on the wrong foot, telling everyone that Lindisfarne was on the north-west coast of England.

Another discussion that we had was on the failed Adolphus Greely expedition of the 1880s. And what annoyed me about this was that we were just 30 miles or so from where they came to grief and there was no proposal whatever to take us there.

With all of the disturbances and failures that we have had with our voyage, I would have thought that they would have done what they could in order to make our journey more exciting and instead of this messing about in Lancaster Sound, we could have come up here instead.

I’m dismayed about all of this.

At lunch I sat with Natalie and Deanna and we chatted about last night’s entertainment. And good that it was too – the chat as well as the entertainment. I threw in a few tales from Carry On Matron too while I was at it.

By now we had arrived off the coast of Etah in Greenland. This is the last place on our list – the farthest north at 78°18′, 1300kms (750 miles) from the North Pole and I was half-expecting to be turned away from there too.

But we clambered aboard the zodiacs and off we went up the fjord. It’s long, narrow and also shallow so the ship couldn’t go too far up there. Instead we were treated to a 45-minute zodiac trip. And it’s just as well that we did because we went past three herds of musk-oxen.

We stopped to take photos of them. The best estimate is that there were about 20 of them in total.

Etah was the farthest-north permanent settlement in this part of the Arctic. The first Europeans to visit here were John Ross and William Parry in 1818 and in whose shoes we have been travelling.

Ross called them his “Arctic Highlanders” and attempted to signify his peaceful intentions towards them by holding aloft a drawing of an olive branch. Which considering that there were no trees in this part of Greenland, never mind an olive tree, was a rather strange thing to do.

After several minutes of bewilderment on both sides, the holding aloft of a basket of presents did the trick.

Etah really was right on the limit of what was possible in the way of permanent settlement and even in the late 19th Century the inhabitants were just clinging on in there, declining rapidly in numbers. Two separate expeditions of Isaac Hayes, in 1854 and 1861, noted the rapid decline in numbers of people living there, comparing the latter with the former.

There are the remains and mounds of a considerable number of huts here, and one that I inspected still had the furniture and the cast-iron stove in there. These were apparently from a failed attempt to resettle the area in comparatively modern times.

I found a considerable number of pottery shards scattered about and in the absence of a measure, I recorded the length using the camera zoom lens.

Another thing that we saw were bones. from the odd bone even down to several skeletons – mainly of musk-oxen but of other stuff too. More caribou horns than you could shake a stick at.

Once the beach area had been cleared, we could walk down to the glacier.

It’s called the Brother John Glacier, named by the celebrated and famous (or infamous) American explorer Elisha Kent Kane – he of the Margaret Fox and spirit-rapping fame – in honour of his brother

It looks quite close but it was actually not far short of three kilometres. And on the way down there on the path flanked by the polar bear guards we encountered an Arctic Hare watching us from the rocks.

Strawberry Moose had a really good time there. I took a few photos of him, and several other people insisted on photographing him. It does his ego a great deal of good to be the star in other people’s photographs.

Including aerial photography. There was someone filming the glacier with a drone and His Nibs features on some of the film.

I did some serious photography myself. There’s a couple on board who are making some kind of profile of themselves for some kind of modelling assignment, and I used their cameras to take a few pics of them

On the way back I went the long way around. A lap of the lake and it wasn’t as easy as it seems. Not only was it all “up and down” there were several piles of loose scree everywhere and I had to negotiate them clutching a moose. It wasn’t easy.

Another thing that I had to negotiate was a woman lying prone on the path. Apparently she was smelling the Arctic plants, so I was told.

And then we had the stepping stones over the river. That was exciting clutching His Nibs.

All in all, the walk back around the lake from the glacier was interesting and exhilarating. And probably the first time ever that Golden Earring has been played at Etah.

One thing that I did do – you might think is bizarre – is to take off my boots and socks and go for a paddle in the Arctic Ocean. Well, although I intended to, I went in quicker and deeper than I intended due to a wet slippery rock upon which I was standing.

Absolutely taters it was – far colder than in that river in Labrador this year. I must be out of my mind.

Hot tea was served and I was so busy talking that I almost missed my zodiac back to the ship. And they waited so long for me that it had grounded and it took a while and several people to refloat it.

But that wasn’t as bad as one of the other drivers. He had struck a submerged rock in his zodiac and broken his propellor.

There was a storm brewing in the distance and it was touch and go as to whether we would make it to the ship before we were caught in it. Of course, we were soundly beaten and arrived back at the ship freezing, soaking wet and covered in snow.

In my room I had a shower and a clothes-wash, and then after the resumé meeting I went for tea. With my American friends again. She’s a former gymnast and did in fact judge the gymnastics at the Olympic Games;

Tonight there was a Disco – a Viking-themed one and although I didn’t do all that much, I had spent some time getting His Nibs prepared for the show and he won a prize, which cheered me up greatly.

I had several chats, several dances and the like but, as expected, His Nibs had more success with the ladies than I ever do.

They are still dancing and Disco-ing in there. I’m writing up my notes and ready to go to bed. I’ll go for my midnight walk to check the compass and the twilight, even though we are now ahead one hour seeing as we are officially in Greenland.

There’s a pile of the younger ones in the hot tub where, apparently, they have been for some considerable time, enjoying the water and also the Arctic twilight which is magnificent tonight

Tonight’s binnacle heading is 144°, which is slightly south of south-east. So that’s it then.

We didn’t make 80°N or any of the farthest-north outposts of Arctic exploration, or even Annoatok (the farthest-northerly seasonal settlement which is only 20 miles further north than here and where Frederick Cook set out on his alleged attempt at the North Pole), but having hit John Ross’s farthest north we are on our way home. And I’m so disappointed that we have accomplished so little of what I wanted to do.

I set my foot on Ellesmere island and also at Etah, but the rest has been a big anti-climax.

You can’t win a coconut every time but just once every now and again would do fine for me.

I’m off to bed.

Tuesday 11th September 2018 – SOMEWHAT OPTIMISTICALLY, UNFORTUNATELY

*************** THE IMAGES ***************

There are over 3,000 of them and due to the deficiencies of the equipment they all need a greater or lesser amount of post-work. And so you won’t get to see them for a while.

You’ll need to wait til I return home and get into my studio and start to go through them. And it will be a long wait. But I’ll keep you informed after I return.
***************

That’s the verdict after last night’s sleep – if sleep is the correct word. It was about 00:30 when I went to bed and the first thing that I needed to do was to confront the demons because they were at it again last night. In fact it took ages for them to calm down and go to sleep.

Once I went off, it was just until about 04:30 or something. The ship was slowly changing position and the captain was using engine power to maintain station. As a result, the engine noise was constantly increasing and decreasing.

That film had affected me too in some degree because I was off on my travels with a couple of my fellow-voyagers would you believe, scrambling through deck rails and onto the shore.

Despite being awake early, it was somewhat later than normal that I arose from the dead and with an early start this morning (breakfast at 07:00 instead of 07:30) there wasn’t much time to do as much as I wanted.

Breakfast was taken in the company of Chris the expedition photographer and Natalie the yoga girl. She freely admitted that it wasn’t my company but the company of Strawberry Moose that she was seeking, which rather spoiled my morning somewhat … "as if …" – ed.

Just as we were about to dress for our landing, it was announced that it had been postponed until later. Firstly there was too much ice, and secondly, there was a polar bear guarding the entrance to the beach. We needed to wait until he moved.

So we waited. And waited. And waited. Eventually it was announced that the bear had managed to make a kill out on the ice and there it was staying until it had eaten it.

Not only that, by now the tide had turned and the ice that was lodged on the beach was floating and being tossed about in the wind and waves. It’s not the kind of weather for going off to the shore in a zodiac so our landing at Grise Fiord was yet another event cancelled.

I tried my best to encourage some kind of intrepid voyage to shore but they weren’t having any of it. And once more, Lieutenant Skead’s words about Collinson came right into the forefront of my mind – “An ordinary yachtsman might have taken his craft east, and his wife and daughters to boot. I’m afraid to think of what we shall do if we meet with difficulty“.

It’s quite true that safety should be a very important requirement but this is an expedition, not a cruise. And we’re in the High Arctic, not the Gulf of Mexico. If people are uncomfortable with the conditions then they shouldn’t be here. They should go back to Hicksville and let the rest of us get out on an adventure.

Abandoning yet another good rant for the moment, we did end up going on a zodiac cruise around the ice floes. No shipwrecks and nobody drownding, in fact nothing to laugh at at all.

I took a pile of photos, although nothing like what I was hoping for. There were a few spectacular ice formations but nothing that really floated my boat. All in all I was rather disappointed.

What disappointed me even more was that having decided to leave Strawberry Moose in the cabin, everyone was asking me where he was. As I said the other day, he’s much more popular than I am.

Not half as disappointed as I might have been though, because we collided with several ice-floes and that vould have been extremely exciting had one had sharp edges.

Back on board again, and I hope that we don’t go out anywhere else today because while I was showering I washed all of my expedition gear seeing as it was still early morning. It might take a while to dry so if we do travel out this afternoon i’ll freeze,

If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed then Mohammed must go to the mountain. The Inuit people from Grise Fiord whom we were going to see over there came over here (in zodiacs, not kayaks) to entertain us. And it was all rather too touristy for me.

One of the original settlers here gave us all a talk on the origins of the settlement, and it was just as depressing as every other story that I’ve heard about the relocations.

I buttonholed him after the event. A 22-litre can of petrol costs about $25 – a subsidised price. I’m not quite sure why fuel up here would be subsidised when they have just cut the budget for the fuel boat in Black Tickle.

(looking back at this later on, I can see that for some reason or another I’d descended into a really wicked, bad mood. The first time for quite a while, isn’t it?)

Lunch was taken in the company of Latonia and a guy called Peter. I’m afraid that I rather upset him because when we were discussing the failure of this expedition and he said that we could always come back next year, I replied that I couldn’t come back.
“Why?” he asked. “Are you dying?”
And I’m afraid that I rather shocked him with my answer. But this is what happens when you are feeling irritable and in a bad mood.

I reminded Latonia once more that I wanted to talk to her about Labrador, and she promised once more to make some time for me.

We said goodbye to our visitors after lunch and also said goodbye to Grise Fiord. The most northerly permanently-inhabited settlement in Canada. Then I retreated to my room for some peace and quiet. And so peaceful and quiet was it that it wasn’t until 70 minutes later that I awoke.

And did I feel any different after my little rest?

I certainly did. I felt much worse.

We seem to be flying a new flag at the rear of the ship. I can’t be sure of course, but I don’t remember this one at all. I shall have to make enquiries of the crew at an appropriate moment.

There was a presentation on the Predators of the Northwest Passage and I caught the end of it, and this was followed by a little photography session. We were sailing past what looked to me to be like the farthest northern end of Devon Island and a couple of beautiful glaciers presented themselves.

That was enough for me though. I had nothing much to do really so I sat in the lounge and did it. This Peter guy with whom I had lunch came to sit with me and we had a really good chat and a natter about nothing much in particular.

Just to liven up the voyage, they had a singles party where the aim was for all of the people travelling alone to meet up. About a week or so too late in my opinion – this is the kind of thing that should be done on or about the first full day of the voyage. By now, it’s more than likely that you will have met someone, if that is one of the aims of your voyage.

At the evening de-briefing session we had the usual gnashing and wailing from the Septics on board about how badly-treated they were on this day a few years ago. And I walked out in disgust. The Septics still don’t understand how much the rest of the world hates them and their arrogant, egocentric narcissic ways. Not a word about Iran Air Flight 655 that the US military shot down in Iranian airspace on 3 July 1988 – the event that started off all of this.

This led us on nicely to the evening meal. I shared a table with a woman whom I had met a few days ago at the special table to which I had been invited and we chatted about loads of things, such as maple syrup. It was all go.

To wind up the day there was a sing-along concert in the lounge with Sherman Downey. We started off with about 50 people but by the end of the evening there was a stalwart half-dozen or so. But amongst the entertainment, Strawberry Moose took the floor and entertained the crowds.

It’s late now but I’m still here, sitting down and writing my notes and listening to Colosseum Live again.

And who knows? I might even have an early night too. But not before my midnight walk.

There’s a faint glimmer of twilight on the horizon but not enough to activate the camera. And we’re heading on a direction of 69° – that’s in a vague east-north-east direction.

It looks as if 80°N is not going to be reached.

Monday 10th September 2018 – ELLESMERE ISLAND …

*************** THE IMAGES ***************

There are over 3,000 of them and due to the deficiencies of the equipment they all need a greater or lesser amount of post-work. And so you won’t get to see them for a while.

You’ll need to wait til I return home and get into my studio and start to go through them. And it will be a long wait. But I’ll keep you informed after I return.
***************

… at last. 76°07”N already and pushing on towards the 80°N mark. And who knows? With the progress that we’ve made overnight we might even make it too.

I took several photos of the midnight twilight too, but how do you take photos from a rolling ship into a fog with a zoom lens in the half-light? There’s no chance whatever of taking a really sharp photo that does justice to the view.

Just for a change, last night we had another Sleep Of The Dead. I wasn’t sure about this though for just after I had settled down my neighbour returned to his room, from somewhere I have absolutely no idea where, and decided to switch on the TV. That made more noise than I was wanting so it’s a mystery to me how I managed to drop off to sleep.

And also a mystery to me how I managed to stay out so long. A deep sleep too and my sleep patterns might be slowly starting to return because I was off on a nocturnal ramble last night.

And in something that will come as a surprise to regular readers of this rubbish, the first since I’ve been on board ship. However, I’ll spare you the gory details. After all, you’re all probably eating your breakfast right now.

While we are on the subject of breakfast … "well, one of us is" – ed … I had my breakfast in the company of an elderly woman. Now I know that I can talk … "surely not! Perish the thought!" – ed … but I’m afraid that I wasn’t any kind of match at all. It’s not very often that I have to admit defeat, but here I am today …

One thing though. Judging by the description of the arrangements that she has made in her room in order to accommodate her affairs, I can see that she is a kindred spirit.

And after the warning that we were given last night about the weather, I was half-expecting to find the dining room crockery scattered all over the floor and smashed into smithereens, but nothing of the sort. Something of a false alarm that was, I reckon.

Can’t have been more than a Storm Force 8

Somewhere over there in that vicinity is the settlement of Grise Fiord, Canada’s farthest-north civilian settlement. It’s an artificially-created settlement and it’s really a political thing. There’s this idea about the Arctic islands of “use it or lose it” and with the oil and mineral discoveries in the Arctic, possession of territory is of vital importance in order to give a country a right of claim.

And so the settlement here on Ellesmere Island, to confirm a claim to the territory.

We had a discussion about marine mammals in the Arctic, and I learn quite a lot, despite not really having a great deal of interest in animal life.

Chatting to the crew a little later, the question of the good sleep soon resolved itself. Apparently I’m lodged right over where the anchor is and when we are stationary during the night, they haul it up as first light, which is about 05:15 or so.

Last night though, we kept moving so there was no anchor-hauling at all – hence the silence.

We had a kind of multi-workshop thing going on this morning. about 7 or 8 different ones, and I wanted to go to about half-a-dozen. In the end, I settled for the one on the Inuit language and the one on photography.

And while the language one was interesting and I can now write my own name and those of my friends (both of them!) in Inuit, the photography one was in a sense a little disappointing because while the leader was teaching us how to organise and archive our images, I find that he uses the same technique as I do – albeit on a much higher level due to the nature and amount of his work.

Lunch was a mystery to me. I sat with Lois the Inuit guide and a guy who had been with me at the photography lecture. He gave me the names of a few freeware programs that are available that might help with my image-editing plans, and I’ll look those up when I return home, if I ever do.

But it wasn’t without its excitement because, having finished the lectures early, I went down to my room for a quick 5 minutes rest and awoke 20 minutes later. right out, I was. Definitely feeling the pain, I am.

This afternoon we had a quick briefing and then we were off.

We’re at South Cape Fiord and peninsula which is on Ellesmere Island. Although this is one of the most southerly points of the island, the farthest north point of this island itself is one of the farthest north masses of land in the world. So we are now really and properly in the High Arctic – nothing north of this island except the North Pole.

The ride out to the shore was much calmer than yesterday’s ride, and it was walmer too, so I brought His Nibs for a day out.

And he proved far more popular than I ever am – loads of people stopped to talk to him and have their photos taken with him, and I suppose that he enjoyed every moment of it.

The beach here is very interesting. With the land being heavily depressed by glaciers in the past and slowly liberating itself from the heavy weight, it’s rebounding. Our resident geologist reckons that he has counted as many as 10 raised beaches which were formerly washed by the tide at one point; And with global warming melting the glaciers even more, who knows how many are now submerged yet again?

There were still plenty of glaciers to see, and plenty of icebergs drifting into and out of the fjord. And while it didn’t quite have the same effect as yesterday’s leisurely stroll in the blizzard, I reckoned that it was one of the most beautiful places on earth.

One of the most wild too if you ask me.

We had our polar bear guards here again and I found myself in trouble … "yet again" – ed … for straying out beyond the bear cordon. If you disappear beyond the cordon, the guards can’t see you or what might be creeping up on you. There have been enough encounters, some of them rather terminal and not for the animal either, with people wandering carelessly out of sight of others in the High Arctic.

But I stood on a ridge overlooking the sea for quite a while admiring the icebergs, of which there were plenty, and taking photos of our ship silhouetted against the tidal glacier across the fiord. It was all rather spell-binding and somewhat emotional.

Not as emotional as it might have been for the passengers on one of the zodiacs. A fuel line burst and they were stranded in mid-fjord. A rescue party had to go out to recover them and tow them in.

Three hours was the time that had been allotted for our visit ashore. And in that time I had done about 108% of my daily activity scrambling over the rocks, and I was well-nigh exhausted after my exertions. I was warm too. All of my jackets were unzipped and I had rolled my hat back. I’d have divested myself of a few layers had it been practical.

There were some strange animal tracks that i encountered. Rather like a trident with a very long shaft. No-one could decide if they were lemming or bird. Bird was the general opinion but there were a lot of them and they walked for miles so I’lm not sure.

One of my fellow passengers is a Japanese guy. He doesn’t speak much English but he’s certainly adventurous. He started out on our series of walks by staying on the beach but as time has progressed he’s walking further and further along in order to enjoy the whole experience. I bumped into him up on the high ridge.

You won’t believe this either but as I neared the coast, with a beautiful view of the fjord and the icebergs, I disappeared into a fold in the ground. And when I emerged, one of the guards on the hill shouted to me “did you see it? Did you see it?”

Apparently in just that simple moment when I was out of the view of the sea one of the big icebergs had capsized. And I had missed it!

More tea was being served up on shore so I took advantage of it. And once again, it went cold in an instant.

Aaron the historian was in charge of our zodiac taking us back to the ship and he proposed a sightseeing visit to the capsized iceberg. Everyone voted in favour so off we shot.

Magnificent it was too, especially the bright blue bits which had until 20 minutes ago been under water. It’s hard to believe that all of this is rainwater or snow that fell to earth thousands of years ago long before there was any pollution.

And I can add that today is probably the first time ever that Fairport Convention and Liege And Lief has been played on Ellesmere Island.

I had a shower, a coffee and little relax for a few minutes and then came out to do some work. But ended up assisting in a promotional “arctic dip” sales pitch run by Michael and Breanna. That was quite fun, I’ll tell you.

For tea I was invited to sit with my American friends and a couple of others, and I ended up being involved in a silly argument. I’d noticed the other day that they had said on board ship that they need to bring the Inuit in more to benefit from the economic advantages of tourism, and yet the ship was crewed by Filipinos and Indonesians.

I commented on this fact this evening, and then was treated to a very long diatribe as to why this should not be allowed. Lots of colonial paternailsim in their argument (such as “it’s wrong to take them out of their environment” – which means that it’s right to leave them in despair and on welfare) but that wasn’t the point.

As they say, irony is not the strong suit of most North Americans, and this clearly was the case here,

There was a film later on – “Martha From The Cold” by Martha Flaherty, grand-daughter of Robert Flaherty, he of the Nanook of the North fame.

It concerns the resettlement of the Inuit from Northern Quebec to Grise Fiord and the injustices that surrounded it. Of course, it’s almost word-for-word the same story as that of the Inuit, Innu and Métis in Labrador, but I was interested just the same;

We had a round-table discussion afterwards and of course I interjected the story of Williams Harbour and Black Tickle to show that the policy is still going on, and much more insidiously too.

In the end there were just four of us left. John Houston the animator, Yours Truly, some Korean guy and a girl. The Korean had a large whisky in front of him and the further down the glass he went, the more animated he became;

In the end, there were just the girl and me remaining.
“He was sailing close to the wind” said the girl.
“Sailing?” I retorted. “He’s positively steaming!”

At midnight I went off for my evening walk. Outside we have another Midnight Arctic Twilight and 105° on the binnacle. However we are stationary so I might have some sleep tonight.

We can always live in hope, I suppose.

And I’ll sort out the photos tomorrow. I’m off to bed.

Sunday 9th September 2018 – LAST NIGHT …

*************** THE IMAGES ***************

There are over 3,000 of them and due to the deficiencies of the equipment they all need a greater or lesser amount of post-work. And so you won’t get to see them for a while.

You’ll need to wait til I return home and get into my studio and start to go through them. And it will be a long wait. But I’ll keep you informed after I return.
***************

… round about 00:35 I was just gathering up my things ready to go to bed when I caught out of the corner of my eye a strange reflection on one of the windows.

Turning dramatically round, I could see lights really close by on the starboard beam (said he, coming over all nautical-like)

Grabbing the camera I dashed outside and sure enough another ship, very likely a cruise ship, was sailing past not 500 metres from us in the opposite direction.

Forgetting that the camera was on a low-light setting, I blazed way and ended up with a horribly over-exposed shot of it as it sailed past. But by the time I had corrected my settings, it was already some way astern so that came out rather under-exposed. It’s clearly not my night for anything, is it?

But very strangely, I was asleep quite quickly once I finally managed to heave myself into my stinking pit, and that was exactly how I remained until the early-morning cacophony.

We had the usual morning ritual, and then up on deck where I hoped that a hot coffee would bring me round sufficiently to do more than grunt at people.

A thin sliver of land on the horizon away over to our left tells me that we aren’t quite in a sea as open as I would like to be, but nevertheless we are still going north. 74° 58’N on the AIS plot – rapidly approaching the magical 80°N, which is farther north than almost every explorer had reached 200 years ago before Ross and Parry, but it’s almost certain that whalers such as William Scoresby and countless others had pushed on well beyond this.

Their reports of “seas open one year, closed the next” which were dismissed by the Admiralty as total fiction but which proved to be absolutely correct cannot have been mere guesswork.

We had breakfast and this was followed by a series of presentations. And can you imagine how disappointed I was when I discovered that the “10:00 – Dog-Sledding in the Nautilus Lounge” was just a discussion.

But I really wasn’t paying too much attention. We’d run into an ice belt at one time during the morning and there were loads of stuff drifting by.

At one moment there was a beautiful iceberg off the starboard bow so I took up a really good position to take a photo of it. And then the captain altered course and it slid off in the distance to port.

But that wasn’t the best of it either.

There was a discussion on the health and welfare of the Inuit population. The speaker was talking about mental health and how something was “the tip of the iceberg”. And just as she said that, right on cue, a really large iceberg went sailing past. You couldn’t have had the timing any better than that.

I dashed out and took a photo of it, and then dashed back in again.

And this talk was quite interesting too for another reason.

They were talking about Inuit people being encouraged to keep their ethnic identity when they move out of the community and “go south”. That’s the kind of thing that contrasts sharply with the situation where people coming into Canada are expected to integrate into their new environment and leave their ethnic identity behind.

And if that isn’t enough to be going on with, they were discussing the new opportunities that tourism was bringing into the region and how this might help go some way towards resolving the chronic unemployment and poverty issues amongst the Inuit people. And here we are on a cruise ship visiting the High Arctic and being manned … "personned" – ed … by a mainly Filipino and Indonesian crew.

What might help the Inuit community would be if the Canadian Government, these cruise companies and tourists on board stopped treating the local people as nothing but tourist attractions but as people and actually engaged them in the economic regeneration of the region.

Lunch was the usual salad for me and I sat with Dylan, the pianist from last night. I complimented him on the event and we ended up having a good chat about music. He also plays the bass too but hadn’t brought his axe with him.

This afternoon we went off on another excursion. There’s an island in the Davis Strait off the coast of Devon Island called Philpot’s Island and our ship had never visited there.

It’s known to be a haunt of polar bear and, more importantly, musk-oxen, so we decided that we would all go ashore for an exploration. We tried to get into one bay but the wind conspired against us and heaped up the ice across the entrance so we had to find another bay.

The bay that we chose was apparently un-named on any of the charts that we could find, and so Tennyson’s “There is nothing worth living for but to have one’s name inscribed on the Arctic chart ” came straight into my head. Who do I see?

Cold comes in three categories – cold, freezing and Jesus! And this was Jesus! cold. We were wrapped up in all that we could fit on underneath our windproof and rainproof clothes and scrambled for the Zodiacs.

The sea was rough and churning too with a 15-20 knot wind, so we were told. And there was fog and a snowstorm too. But then again, if you can’t cope with any of that, you shouldn’t really be in the High Arctic.

By the time we reached the shore we were totally wet and bedraggled, and that was just the start of things.

We were divided into four groups, Expert, Advanced, Intermediate and Leisurely, with a few people who just stayed for a walk on the beach. The days when I could go off on an Expert hike and then go back and do it again are, unfortunately, long-gone, as regular readers of this rubbish might recall.

Instead I chose the Intermediate walk.

Off into the wilderness we went, in several long crocodiles as each group went its separate way, accompanied by our armed polar bear guards. Our way took us in a crescent-shaped circuit around the south-western quarter of the island.

And while we’re on the subject of crocodiles, I remembered the leader of our expedition telling us at one stage that he wasn’t going to tell us what animals he might see because that would be the Kiss of Death and we would never ever see them. And so the idea that was running around my head was that he should say that we would see crocodiles, lions, camels and the Loch Ness Monster.

And as for the polar bear guards, their guns are loaded with rubber bullets. But they do have live ammunition in their pockets in case the rubber bullets don’t stop the animals.

We picked our way through the snow, through the snowdrifts and the howling wind that blasted along our trail, stopping frequently to pause for breath along the way. I was going to say “and to see the sights” but you couldn’t really see a thing in this weather.

At one point we stopped and did some deep breathing exercises; And then our leader proposed that we lie down in the snow to meditate. Most people immediately refused, but I decided to give it a go. And so I lay there in a snowdrift and let all of the thoughts drift out of my mind – not that there are so many thoughts in there these days that it takes too long.

It was harder than I imagined but after a couple of minutes I could feel myself sliding off somewhere. There was an eerie wind and the patter of snow on my jacket but apart from that I don’t think that I’ve ever felt so peaceful. In fact I was so disappointed when he called us to order again.

We carried on, coming across some lemming tracks on our way but even though the tracks were fairly recent there was no sign of the critters who had made them.

At a certain point the sun looked as if it might start to come out and I took a photo of it. But all that I picked up was a pale yellow disk and a flurry of snow on the lens.

Eventually we arrived at our destination and the more athletic amongst us scrambled up the rocks to the top of the headland that overlooks the sea. And the ship was out there somewhere – we could vaguely make it out in the distance through the fog and driving snow.

Up there in the wind we scanned the horizon for any sign of wildlife but that was something of a failure. There was nothing to be seen. We loitered around for half an hour or so to see what was going on, but in the end we gave it up as a bad job and started back.

Pretty much the same routine on the way back, stopping regularly for breath. And our “long pause” was animated by Lois, an Inuit woman who was accompanying us who told us tales of life on the trail and how easy it is to become disorientated and lose one’s way in weather like this.

Back at the beach, we learned that at least one group had encountered musk-oxen. A shame that it wasn’t ours. We’d seen some musk-ox droppings, and fresh ones too, but no actual beast. Still, you can’t win a coconut every time, as I have said before … "and on many occasions too" – ed.

There was a long queue to go back on the zodiacs, so I went off and had another meditation session, lying almost buried in a snowdrift. And this time, as well as the feelings that I had had before, I managed to go off. I could see blue sky and smell something completely different, something that I couldn’t name. It was the most extraordinary feeling that I have had for many years, just lying there flat out on my back in a snowdrift in the middle of an Arctic snowstorm.

Hot tea was available before we boarded a zodiac. And you’ve no idea how quickly hot tea goes stone-cold in this kind of environment. These explorers who go off into temperatures of -40°C and try to make tea and other hot food must really be on a hiding to nothing. I don’t envy them for a moment.

I was last on the zodiac and so was put at the front on the side into the wind. And we hadn’t gone far before we were treated to an astonishing spectacle. An ice-floe calved off with a most enormous splash right in front of us.

We did a U-turn to go to look at it but we were far too late to take a photo of anything spectacular. But just then, I heard another “crack” from another ice-floe nearby. I swivelled round and clicked the shutter just as another calving took place and a huge lump of ice cascaded into the sea.

By now the storm had increased and we were in for a really rough ride. There was quite a swell running with waves of a considerable height. And being on the side into the wind, I got the lot. I don’t think that I have ever been so wet in all my life by the time that I was back on board the ship.

I shudder to think what it might have been like had I not been dressed in rain and wind gear, and I was thinking … "which doesn’t happen all that often" – ed … that it was a good job that I hadn’t taken Strawberry Moose for a stroll ashore.

Mind you, several passengers had enquired about his whereabouts. He’s more popular than I am, which is not really a surprise given recent events. In certain quarters I’m about as popular as a rattlesnake in the Lucky Dip right now and I have only myself to blame.

Strangely enough, as I was writing this, I was listening to some Wishbone Ash and we had the “One Hundred Years In The Sunshine Hasn’t Taught Me All I Need To Know”. I’ll “try again to fight another day”, so God help you all.

Back in my cabin I had a surprise. Strawberry Moose has found a friend – an Arctic Hare. One of the cabin staff clearly has the right kind of sense of humour and I appreciate that very much.

So a really nice hot shower and washed some clothes, and then came back upstairs to the lounge.

Now, I’m fed up of saying that it’s a small world and getting smaller all the time. There’s a couple on this boat – and elderly woman and her son – who speak French and I’ve been having the odd chat with the woman.

Today, it ended up as being quite a lengthy chat and much to my surprise, I discovered that she is actually French and comes from near Gueret – which is only an hour or so from where my farm is in the Auvergne.

And if that’s not enough, her son lives in St-Lô, which is just about 45 minutes from Granville.

With this astonishing news, we had an extremely lengthy and involved chat, which came to a sudden halt as two rather large icebergs came drifting past. I dashed out into the fog and mist with the camera.

Back inside, I tried to start work but my heart wasn’t in it and I was constantly drifting off to sleep. In the end I gave it up as a bad job and went and crashed out in my room for half an hour. I can’t get away from this, can I?

We had a briefing about tomorrow’s events, and I just about caught the tail-end of it too. It looks as if we are in for a storm at some time through the night and tomorrow but it’s not the kind of thing that we can do rush to shelter and heave to, because we have icebergs to contend with. We’ll have to ride it out in the open sea and keep going, which is bound to upset some passengers, and upset them in more ways than one.

For tea, I was one of the first in so I sat at an empty table. I was quickly joined by two of the elderly men with whom I sat the other evening. It looks as if we have become a regular feature, something like the Naughty Corner at Lierse SK where I always seemed to end up.

This evening there’s a film but with having crashed out this afternoon I have too much work to do so I need to push on and do it. I’m in one of the comfortable chairs in the posh lounge as the film is taking place in the room where I sit.

When I’ve finished, I’ll go for my half-naked evening walk and see how the storm is developing. I hope that it’s an interesting one.

And it certainly was. It was snowing fairly heavily and the sea was rather wild. But I’ve known it colder than it was too. Upon the bridge I stayed and watched the storms, and then checked the binnacle. 357° – or in other words, ever so slightly west of North.

I walked round to the back of the ship, and found a little group of people huddled there. That’s the smoking quarter and there was Sherman Downey !:the musician, Michael the young go’fer and a couple of girls. I joined them and we had a good chat for half an hour or so, and then everyone slowly drifted away.

I drifted away too eventually. It’s way past my bedtime.

On a totally different note, I’ve just heard that Burt Reynolds has died.

Saturday 8th September 2018 – IT REALLY DOES COME TO SOMETHING …

*************** THE IMAGES ***************

There are over 3,000 of them and due to the deficiencies of the equipment they all need a greater or lesser amount of post-work. And so you won’t get to see them for a while.

You’ll need to wait til I return home and get into my studio and start to go through them. And it will be a long wait. But I’ll keep you informed after I return.
***************

… when a person living in an isolated Arctic community on a remote Island in the Far North tells you, without any prompting at all, that the British are totally out of their minds about Brexit.

But never mind that for a moment. I’m wondering what would have happened had I not had a severe attack of cramp round about 05:30 or so – the first that I’ve had for a few days. Whether I would have slept on until 06:00

However I did stay in bed until the alarm went off. No polar bears to entice us out this morning. And after the medication I went for a walk. Not without an element of some panic because I appear to have lost my woolly hat – the one that goes on my woolly head.

Not that that’s too much to worry about because I’ve lost count of the amount of things that I’ve lost already and then subsequently recovered in my room. Nevertheless it won’t be long before something goes missing completely. You can bank on that.

I took my evening walk to the bridge last night. Imagine me – in short sleeves at midnight in the High Arctic in September. Binnacle pointing to 180° – in other words, due south.

But no midnight sun last night. And that’s hardly surprising because for the morning we are swathed in fog again. This weather is really getting me down but then again what did I expect up here in the High Arctic? Some explorers have been stranded for four or five years by the capricious ice and, as we know, hundreds have failed to return.

If it were a cake-walk to come here, it wouldn’t be half the adventure that it is now, would it?

I had breakfast this morning with a couple of members of staff – Christopher the geologist and young Michael the ship’s “go’fer”. He’s excited because Pond Inlet is his home village and the captain has invited his family on board for lunch.

As for our plans today, I’ve no idea what they might be. This morning, anyway.

This afternoon we’re visiting an Inuit community – the one at Pond Inlet and that seems to be a waste of time in my opinion because not only is it not a traditional Inuit community but more of a modern resettlement town, but we arrived there on a plane the other day so we’ve been here. And there are still plenty of other places to visit.

The cynic inside me is once more wide-awake and telling me that maybe someone on board the ship has an aunt who runs the local gift shop or something like that.

But on the other hand, for the last week or so Chris Farlowe has been singing to me “Don’t Start Chasing Happiness – Let It Take You By Surprise. Don’t Go Casting Shadows …”. I suppose that I ought to be adopting a more positive outlook, even if I don’t feel much like it right now.

One positive outlook is the fact that we have seen yet another candidate for Ship Of The Day. It’s useful having an AIS beacon reader on board, so I was able to discover that she is the MV Golden Brilliant.

She’s a bulk carrier of 41500 tonnes, built in 2013 and registered in Hong Kong. She left Gijon in Spain on 26th August and is en route for Rotterdam, and taking a major deviation to a stop called “Camni” in the fleet database – clearly some port that doesn’t have an AIS logger.

Its AIS track puts it up here anyway, so it’s the correct ship, and someone in the crew tells me that there’s a mine out here – the Mary River Iron Ore Mine.

This would seem to place Camni at Milne Port Inlet, 71°53’N 80°55’W, so that seems to fit the bill.

Although I didn’t take too much interest in many of the proceedings today, there was a brief class giving some kind of outline of the Inuit language, so I wandered in for a lesson. It’s really quite simple and some kind of, I suppose, shorthand symbols for the syllables, of which there are probably in the region of 60 – 20 consonants each with three vowel sounds, ee, ah and ooh. And every word is made up of one or more symbols, with various accents to emphasise or detract the sound.

That took us nicely up to our arrival in Pond Inlet. We had a discussion about the town and were given a slide show of the town with the various buildings that might be important.

Pond Inlet is situated at 72’42” north. It loses the sun in mid-November, and you have to wait until February until it comes back.

It was named by John Ross in 1818 for John Pond, the Astronomer Royal of the period.

And good-oh! It’s the village brocante this afternoon. How exciting! Mind you, the cynic inside me won’t be at all surprised if this has been arranged because one of the locals has heard that a cruise ship is coming in with a pile of gullible tourists and the rest of the villagers have a load of rubbish that’s awaiting disposal.

What was this about adopting a more-positive outlook?

The most important, certainly for Strawberry Moose, is the fact that Pond Inlet is the home of the most Northerly Tim Horton’s in the whole world.

If that’s not a good destination for him to make a public appearance then I don’t know what is.

Lunch was taken with the couple who seem to be quite interested in me, the fools. It was nice of them to ask me over to sit with them. I don’t understand my popularity these days.

But only with certain people. I am definitely persona non grata elsewhere, something that is entirely my own fault. It’s a desperate shame, but it’s no use crying over spilt milk.

We all piled aboard the zodiacs and headed out to the town. There was some kind of ad-hoc immigration control in place on the beach but of course none of that prevented His Nibs from gaining a foothold ashore.

An Inuit lady called Joanna was there to give us a guided tour of the town, not that there was an awful lot to see.

The first thing that caught my eye was all of the shipping containers all over the place. In that respect it’s very much like South-Western Newfoundland where the bodies off the old Newfoundland Railway wagons were auctioned off and now litter the countryside just about everywhere.

True garden-shed engineering.

And I had quite a laugh at the bus stop too. As if you really need a bus around a community of about 1600 people. Especially when there are so many cars all around the place. That was also something that astonished me.

It is however the time that Arctic cotton is in flower and that’s a useful commodity out here. It’s really a bunch of flowery seeds rather similar to how a dandelion works, and they are used here to make wicks for qulliqs – the soapstone oil lamps – and similar things.

The Catholic Church was quite interesting, if not tragic. It’s apparently the northernmost Catholic church in the world and a comparatively recent construction too. It will come as no surprise to any regular reader of this rubbish who will recall the almost-inevitable fate of most buildings out here in Canada.

What is the tragic part is that when it went up, it took with it the Catholic priest, Father Guy-Mary Rousselière who was probably the greatest of all of the anthropological and archaeological amateurs in this region, along with almost every single item of his work. All that remains was whatever he had managed to publish during his lifetime.

We were shown a sled that was built up on another larger one and which was built up on a third even larger. It was even covered in. The idea is that in the winter the father of the family would tow it behind his skidoo and if he kept on going at full tilt he could leap over small crevasses in the ice and the sled with all of the kids inside wouldn’t ground out.

There’s an RCMP post here too and it has at one time held as many as 21 detainees at one time. This must be a record for a small town like this.

Another asset of the community, now long-closed and replaced, is the Hudson’s Bay outlet. It’s now being used for mechanical repairs and is guarded by a couple of large dogs who have clearly seen better days.

All of the stuff littered around in the wooden crates is the stuff that has come up in the recent sea-lift.

The biggest employer in the town is the Canadian Government and they have some offices here. These ones here are the offices of the Canadian National Parks Service for the Sirmilk region, which is where we are right now.

There are several traditional habits that are still carried on here. The mothers still carry their babies with them in the hoods of their parkhas and it was quite amusing to see the tourists surrounding one of the aforementioned in an attempt to persuade her to allow them to photograph mummy and offspring.

I’m not sure where the quad fitted in with the traditional habits though.

One of the attractions of the town is the half-built sod house that is used to explain to visitors how the original inhabitants of the area lived. Today, they use 4×2 wood to build the frame for the sealskin roof, but in the past they used whalebone.

Lying around were some bones from a bow-head whale, the type of bones that would have been used in the olden days before wood became available.

They were brewing up too and making bannock. The latter isn’t for me, seeing as they use lard in the peparation, and a new kettle of water hadn’t boiled yet. But I was discussing Labrador Tea with Joanna and she, ferreting around in the box, came up with a teabag of Labrador Tea. And I shall be trying that tomorrow.

Of course, Strawberry Moose had to have a photo opportunity at the sod house, didn’t he?

There’s an Anglican Church in the community too and Joanna was regaling us with tales of the religious wars that used to go on here as each church tried to pinch the other church’s congregation.

One of the guys with her told us a story about how the boats have “evolved” over the years. Up until almost maybe 50 or 60 years ago, the Inuit umiak, made by a company in Trois-Rivières, would be quite common. But people slowly moved over to more modern “European” boats made of industrial materials.

And now the race was on as everyone tried to out-do his neighbour with e bigger, better, more powerful boat.

But the problem was that the smaller and lighter the boat, the easier it is to haul it out of the water in the freeze when the Inuit were on their travels. But with the bigger, heavier boats, they can’t and they are losing countless modern, heavy and expensive boats being crushed in the ice.

There’s quite a big school here in the settlement, and it flies the Nunavut flag. There’s a red inukshuk on it that divides the flag into two – one half white and the other half yellow. I was unable to discover if the colours have any significance.

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall me complaining about the price of goods in Labrador but it has nothing on the price of goods here.

When you start to see a pack of toilet rolls, €2:49 in your average LIDL, on sale here at $36:99 you’ll understand the difficulty of supplying a remote community out here in the Arctic with just one sea-lift per year and the rest of the time flying it in by air from Ottawa or wherever. And this is just one example of countless similar prices.

But some other people don’t have the same issues. Pond Inlet is home to the world’s most northerly Tim Horton’s, and I unveiled His Nibs in here for a photo session. In no time at all we were surrounded by other locals who wished for a photo opportunity with himself. And I can’t say that I blame them.

What was depressing about all of this was the ship’s kitchen staff all congregating in a corner eating a bought pizza. What does that tell you about the cooking on-board?

I was told that there’s a scenic viewpoint here too and so I wandered that way to see. The North Pole is a mere 1932 kms from here and this may well be the closest that I shall ever be to it, unless things change dramatically.

It might also be the closest that His Nibs gets to it too, so he needs to have yet another photo opportunity too.

My reverie up here was broken by the sound of an aeroplane. Another Air Tindi plane has come in to land and presumably unload whatever it is that it’s bringing.

From here I went for a walk around the town (I decided to miss out on the brocante) and had a few chats with the very friendly locals. The number of times that someone stopped me to offer me a lift was incredible.

And it was here that I met my very vocal local yokel. He was renovating the old ice-hockey arena and had indeed been responsible for building the new one.

We discussed all kinds of things here and there, including the effects of a temperature of -50°C on engine and hydraulic oil and the monstrous folly of Brexit. I did also express my dismay that a cruise ship on a regular route around the High Arctic was manned … "PERSONNED" – ed … by Filipinos and Indonesians and the like, and not Inuit.

His opinion, which I simply relate without making any comment at all, was that the Inuit wouldn’t do the work, and he cited several examples from his own experience.

I carried on with my walk, found the health centre and the school (again) and ended up at the new arena so I nipped inside for a look. In the Community Centre there was an exhibition of Arctic sports so I stopped for a while to watch, but I was roasting in there so I went out for a walk.

At the Library and Information Centre a little girl fell in love with Strawberry Moose so her mother agreed that she could be photographed with him – provided that she could join in the fun too.

And why not?

A few other locals took photos of him too, and someone produced the Centre’s own mascot, a seal, who also wanted to join in the fun.

By now it was time to return to the ship so down we went, passed through Immigration which was now Emigration and sped back to the ship, having to do a U-turn as two of the passengers had forgotten their lifebelts.

I had a shower and washed some clothes, and then waited for the call for tomorrow’s briefing. But in the meantime crashed out and so I missed the first 10 minutes, of presumably all of the important stuff.

Tea was a riot though. The waiters were horribly confused and I’m still not totally convinced that I received what I ordered. And my table companions for today were extremely garrulous, which was very pleasant.

Later tonight, there was an impromptu concert. There’s a folk singer-musician, Sherman Downey, on board and one night he’d overheard another passenger playing the piano. A girl could also sing reasonably well so they had been rehearsing informally and decided to give a concert. I’d been asked but obviously with no bass on board it was rather difficult.

The surprise of the night was that we found another girl vocalist – Natalie who does the yoga. And while it was rather hit-and-miss, she had all of the emotion and it looked and sounded quite good. One photo that I took of her came out really well and really captured the emotion of the moment.

And if that wasn’t enough, we discovered a mouth-organ player in the crowd so by the end of the night we were all rocking away, and quite right too.

We have an elderly blind lady on board, and she had asked for a special request. So when they played it, I went over to her and invited her to dance. We did a kind of jazzed-up waltz which fitted the music, which is just as well because it’s the only dance that I know.

At one point we must have hit the open sea in the Davis Straight because we were swaying around quite considerably. It certainly added a certain something to the dancing.

My midnight ramble was once more taken in a tee-shirt (much to the astonishment of Tiffany wrapped up on the deck as if in a cocoon) and we are heading out at 4° on the binnacle. That’s definitely north, so if all goes according to plan we might be pushing on.

I hope so, because these continual delays are really getting on my nerves.

Friday 7th September 2018 – AND THERE I WAS …

*************** THE IMAGES ***************

There are over 3,000 of them and due to the deficiencies of the equipment they all need a greater or lesser amount of post-work. And so you won’t get to see them for a while.

You’ll need to wait til I return home and get into my studio and start to go through them. And it will be a long wait. But I’ll keep you informed after I return.
***************

… lying on my palliasse wondering whether I ought to heave myself out of my stinking pit.

I’d had a really bad night. For some reason I was very sensitive to the engine noise. It was constantly changing pitch and consequently constantly keeping me awake all through the night and I can’t recall if I ever managed to drop off to sleep.

And as the 06:00 alarm suddenly started to sound, a voice shouted down the loudspeaker system “Polar Bears at 3 o’clock”.

In my half-awakened state I thought to myself that he’s a good few hours late with this announcement, but then it clicked and I grabbed the camera, dashed out of my room, bumped into a lady, she screamed so I dashed back into my room and put on my clothes and then dashed back onto the starboard beam.

At first I thought that it was two polar bears on the ice floe but as events unfolded, I noticed that there were three. A mother and two cubs.

Mum was in position by a seal hole awaiting breakfast, and the two cubs were in their snow-bank den waiting for mum to come back with the grub.

She was totally unperturbed by the passing of the vessel even though it would keep away the seals, but the thing about living in the Arctic is patience. Never mind the “Ohh God, give me patience. And hurry!” – I once heard a delightful story about a group of Inuit who went to the Arctic meadows on Ungava for some hay, found that the grass hadn’t grown enough, so they pitched their tents there and waited.

And this was exactly what mummy was doing, perched by the seal hole. Not pitching her tent waiting for the hay to grow of course, but you know what I mean.

The photos are unfortunately rubbish but then it’s with the Nikon 1’s light-hungry zoom lens in the half-light from a moving ship when I’m not even half-awake. What did you expect? David Bailey?

After taking a score or so of photos, I went back to my room for my medication and other stuff.

And while I was sorting out my laptop, it reminded me of last night’s later events. The bearing on the binnacle was 121°, so we are going in the opposite direction. 0° is North, 90° is East, and so we are heading more-or-less south-east right now, back down Lancaster Sound.

Breakfast was in company of a couple of travellers who seem to have taken a shine to me, and I’ve no idea why because I’m not usually the kind of person whom others like, and we had a really good chat about this and that.

Not about the other though. That’s a rather sore point right now the way that things are. I think that Strawberry Moose is having more luck than me in that respect.

Later I was up on the bridge admiring the pack ice away in the distance to the south, and looking at the beautiful scenery of this corner of Devon Island. I’ve no idea where we are going next, and I’m not convinced that the crew and the captain know either.

Mind you I did manage to speak to a member of the crew about the ship that I keep on seeing. Apparently there’s another ship – the Fram – that’s loitering around the ice edge waiting for a gap to miraculously appear;

We’ve seen several icebergs go drifting past, some of them extremely impressive but none more so than this one with a hole in the middle, like a floating polo mint.It’s apparently called a keyhole iceberg. The hole is caused by some kind of subterranean river in the glacier

And while I was photographing that iceberg I noticed out of the corner of my eye a ship away in the distance. This time, it was no problem in the light to photograph it at distance and to crop it down to see what it was.

It’s indeed a Canadian icebreaker of the kind that would be on stand-by duty around here to watch out for icebergs and also for ships that might risk running headlong into the pack-ice. There are several ships in the channel and also several communities that have not yet received their winter provisions, so with the seas icing up so quickly already, they will be in for a tough time if the icebreakers can’t open up a channel.

We had a couple of discussion session, several of which didn’t interest me very much so I didn’t take part in them, and the one on the story of Franklin’s expeditions and the Erebus and Terror stories, but I didn’t really learn all that much that I didn’t already know.

I did however manage to buttonhole the camera guy and we discussed the camera, the images and my technique.

He had a good look at everything and had a few things to say about it.

Firstly, there’s nothing wrong with my technique except that with it being a lightweight camera, I’m pressing too hard on the switch and making the camera shake at the crucial moment.

Secondly, the images come out the same on his laptop so it’s not a fault of my laptop,

As for the quality of the images, that’s as good it can be. So the fault lies in the camera itself. Not that it’s a bad camera, but simply that it’s not designed to do what I want to do with it and I’m pushing it to the limit of its technical capabilities and even beyond.

It was then lunchtime so I nipped off and had a salad. And to be quite honest I spent more time talking than eating. The yoga assistant is a big fan of 70s rock music so I’ve invited her to come and listen to some of the stuff that I have on my laptop.

It sure beats etchings, doesn’t it?

On a totally different tack, does anyone still remember our trip to Red Bay in Labrador
and the Bernier?

There’s a girl on board ship – one of the staff – called Bernier so I asked her what she knew about the ship. Nothing whatever, she told me, but she did know that there was a very famous Canadian sea captain called Bernier and one of the pages on the Canadian passport depicts him.

Another member of staff told me that Bernier (the captain, not the ship) worked in the High Arctic and it was he who actually claimed Bylot Island – which we will be passing – for Canada in 1906 and he had his crew carve something emblematic on a cliff face.

I’m writing this now because everyone else is outside looking at a bird colony. But as regular readers of this rubbish will recall, the only birds in which I have any interest won’t be found clinging to a rock in the High Arctic.

And this is a fine time for the battery in the camera to start to go flat, and we’re off out in an hour or so. I’ve had to bung it on charge and of course, it’s now that we’re starting to sail through the ice. Good job that I have the phone handy, although what the quality might be like is anyone’s guess.

But it actually worked out, because the sea was so rough at this point that the water in the heated pool was going everywhere except where it was supposed to go, and I was able to take a few videos of it.

The phone didn’t last too long though. There was a huge iceberg away in the distance – more like a large sheet of float actually – and the phone camera will never do justice to that, so I’ve had to go down and fetch the Nikon.

They are still trying to do their best to entertain us seeing as everything that is planned is falling apart. And so we had afternoon tea while we played a kind of game where we had to find out bits and pieces about each other. I sort-of took part in it in a half-hearted way because I’m not really in to being sociable as regular readers of this rubbish will recall.

There’s a National Park at Tay Bay on Bylot Island which is on our route and it’s been decided that we will go for an evening ramble around there.

We needed a briefing from Parks Canada (done vitually) before we could go and, much to my surprise, we were first to leave the boat. I had to get a wiggle on to get changed into my winter gear, and then there was an almighty panic as I couldn’t find my badge.

Nevertheless I did manage to find it and we struggled ashore onto our beach where the perimeter of our walk was guarded by Polar Bear watchers.

Strawberry Moose enjoyed his ride in a zodiac and he made many new friends. Plenty of photo opportunities for him too.

Introducing new species onto an island here is definitely not allowed and there are no moose here. But I shall be wondering what scientists will be thinking when in 1000 years time they are analysing polar bears with antlers or moose in white coats with claws and teeth.

And for me. I had a good walk around to kill the time, which the cynic inside me tells me is the reason for this stop. There were some exciting views of all kinds of things – nothing that I found really interesting though.

There’s a tent ring on the shore but that’s believed to be contemporary and not historical.

As an aside, anything over 50 years old is classed as historical and so that includes a great many of the passengers on board the ship. Me especially. I’m feeling like 150 years old right now with the weight of the world resting on my shoulders.

And there were several icebergs of some beauty. I even saw the sun, such as it was, disappear down behind the mountains and that was fairly spectacular too.

But I do have to say that, much as I enjoyed the pleasant walk, I’ve come here to do much more than this and it’s leaving me somewhat disappointed.

One thing though really stuck in my mind. There’s a young Inuit boy – probably aged about 20 but then again what would I know – on board the ship and I’ve had many a chat with him. He comes from the area and he was pointing out some of the glaciers to me. he was saying that even in his short life the glaciers have receded dramatically and how he was fearing for his grandchildren.

He told me a story about how, even today, he will come over for a large lump of glacier to take home to melt down as water. This ice fell as rain thousands of years ago when there was no pollution in the air and so is as fresh and pure as anything that you might find. It makes the tea taste magnificent, so he said.

It was a wet ride back to the ship, with His Nibs safely inside his plastic bag. And then there was an enormous queue at the boot-washing station as someone apparently decided to do a week’s washing.

A hot shower and a wash of the undies was called for, and then I came down to tea. In a change to my usual habits, I have decided to mingle with different people at mealtimes and chat about different themes seeing as I seem to be stuck in a big rut right now.

And a good chat I had too. We talked about exchanges as students, Switzerland, the Northern Lights and primitive aircraft. All in all, quite an agreeable time and I shall have to do more of this.

It’s quite late now. We didn’t return to the ship from the shore until late and tea was thus even later. I’ll loiter around for a while and then wander off. I doubt that I’ll be around until midnight or later this evening. I need to bring at least some kind of semblance of order into my life.

One thing that has tired me out though is that I had a very emotional, disagreeable and stressful task to do, one which needs to be done and done quickly too before things take a turn in escalating out of hand.

Rather like MacBeth and his “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly”.

This afternoon the opportunity presented itself so I bit the bullet and did it. The sooner I do it, the sooner it’s over.

It didn’t work out how I hoped that it would, but that would have really been clutching at straws. And in any case, it’s all my own fault for not listening to myself and all of my best councils in the first place.

It’s not the first time that I’ve ended up in a mess like this. Far from it. Anyone would think that I would be used to it, but not at all. I fall into the trap on every occasion and it never turns out well. I always start off with the best of intentions, it all somehow goes wrong, I always end up saying or doing the wrong thing at the wrong moment and it never ever comes out as I intend it to. In fact, usually exactly the opposite.

I am reminded of Sidney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon and “In the heat of the action men are apt to forget where their best interests lie and let their emotions carry them away” and it happens to me all too often.

I really shouldn’t be let out without a keeper. But then, who would want to be responsible for keeping me?

Thursday 6th September 2018 – DESPITE MY …

*************** THE IMAGES ***************

There are over 3,000 of them and due to the deficiencies of the equipment they all need a greater or lesser amount of post-work. And so you won’t get to see them for a while.

You’ll need to wait til I return home and get into my studio and start to go through them. And it will be a long wait. But I’ll keep you informed after I return.
***************

… rather late night last night looking at the midnight sun, I was still awake before the alarm went off. And much to my surprise, I find that I’m starting to rely on this and include it in my timetable, and that’s something that will never do because in the long run it’s all going to end in tears.

However, I did stay in bed until the alarm went off, and then I was straight out and on deck with the crowds who were also up there early. Our captain had managed to find the pack-ice. My fellow-voyagers were all trying to see the wildlife but as for me, it’s not my thing at all, unless it’s a polar bear of course.

I’m much more interested in the landscape and the historical aspect of it all. But the land was rather far away and swathed in fog, and we’ve yet to touch on the historical aspect, at least from my own point of view.

It was at this point that I realised that I hadn’t had my medication and so I went back down to my cabin.

Breakfast was the usual. Bran flakes with raisins and fruit, with toast, coffee and orange juice. And then I made an appointment to see the Cruise Director about an issue that has suddenly developed.

I was going to add “unexpectedly” but regular readers of this rubbish that I write will recall the fact that the only thing unexpected about all of this is that it’s taken so long for me to get myself into trouble.

After this, I’ve been keeping a low profile. After all, it’s not like me to court controversy, is it? After all, Henry Hudson was cast adrift by his colleagues and subsequently lost on an Arctic voyage after one such confrontation.

Back on the ice and watching the wildlife. At least – they were. And later we were all given a lecture on bird-watching. I had plenty of those from Nerina when I was married, as you can imagine. But again, I wasn’t all that interested. The only birds that I am likely to be interested in watching aren’t likely to be found in the Lancaster Sound.

Later, there was a talk on navigating the North-West Passage. I was really looking forward to this but once again, I was confounded. Rather than a discussion on McClure and Franklin, with maybe Amundsen thrown in for good measure, we had someone else from the staff going on an ego-trip about how he once sailed around the passage in a catamaran.

I really don’t know where they find these people. But the ordinary punters quite like it. So I suppose that we have to cater for them. After all, they are in the majority.

But I’m not here to listen to that, as you know. I’m all out to hear how the ancient explorers did it, and then to go out and do it with them.

We took a diversion up Burnett Inlet to have a look at what wildlife we might see up there.

Someone saw a few walruses, and, well, I suppose that they were once I magnified the image.

Someone else saw a dozen or so musk-oxen on the slope leading up to the glacier. And all that I can say is that I’ll have to take their word for that.

I managed to see the seal though. So at least that’s something. It would have been nice to see a polar bear stalking him but I suppose that that’s a luxury I’ll have to do without.

We settled down for lunch but we weren’t there long. The cry went up “beluga whales on the port bow” so we had another “Gold Strike at Bear Creek” moment as everyone dashed outside.

Quite frankly, I wouldn’t recognise a beluga whale if I were to trip over one on my doorstep, so I didn’t really know what I was shooting at. But later on and the end of the evening, several things that I had photographed that I thought were ice – floes are in fact the aforementioned. So how about that?

Of course, Vera Lynn would have no such difficulty. As everyone knows, she was once a cook on a whaler up her, and the legendary cry from the crew of her boat of “Whale Meat Again!” still echoes out across the icebergs… "are you sure about this?" – ed.

As we exited the Inlet, I was convinced that I saw something black on the horizon that I was convinced was a ship. No-one else could see it, even with binoculars, and were of the opinion that I was hallucinating.

But anyway I took a photo of it and with a little judicial “crop and enlarge” I could certainly see something.

And when I enlarged it even more, I’m even more convinced that it’s another ship.

Back to lunch, and I suddenly came over all peculiar. I’d noticed yesterday evening that I was having a shaking fit which I put down to something that I must have eaten, but it certainly erupted while I was trying to finish my lunch. It’s not very often that I have to walk out on a meal but I did today.

Later on we went into Stratton Inlet, and the cry went up “walruses on the starboard bow” so yet another “Gold Strike At Bear Creek” moment as everyone dashed upstairs.

This time I was lucky and actually managed to see them. And I’m glad that I did too, because there were a couple of dozen of them – dominant males, females, and loads of pups splashing around in the water.

There were several workshops going on later in the afternoon. I was torn between the Geography of the North West Passage or the Camera demonstration and lecture, and chose the latter.

To be honest I didn’t really learn much, except that my equipment is total garbage and my technique is even worse. Seeing other people’s gear and the output that they can obtain makes me want to delete all of mine and send them to the recycle bin?

I’m totally demoralised.

The day’s ice report hadn’t come in and so we all went for a sail in the zodiacs. I had the camera and the zoom lens with me and took a few pics, a couple of which came out okay, but still not good enough for what I want.

When we arrived, we were told the bad news. The channel ahead is blocked and we need to retreat to go around another way.

And this is really bad news for me because the four places that I had wanted to see had now all been by-passed. We aren’t going to reach a single one. I’m now totally inconsolable. I may as well get off at the next stop and fly back home for all the good that this trip has done me.

I was reminded of a quote from a certain Lieutenant Skead who accompanied Collinson on his leisurely stroll around the fringes of the ice back in the 1850s. He said An ordinary yachtsman might have taken his craft (there) and his wife and daughters to boot. I’m afraid to think of what we shall do if we meet with difficulty

However, a little bit of research did tell me that in November 2015 our captain had almost sunk the ship in the Antarctic after a rather injudicious encounter with an ice-floe and this had cost the company a considerable amount of money and prestige.

It’s quite apparent therefore that he’s going to be even more cautious whenever he encounters any ice, and that can only be a disastrous thing from our point of view.

All afternoon, I’d been trying to have a crash out as this illness slowly takes hold again. But each time I’ve gone to lie down, and there were dozens of such moments, something else has come up to disturb me. And so it was this evening as I was invited to sit at the top table.

Everyone is supposed to be dressed to impress but badger that for a game of soldiers. I’m here with three tee-shirts, two fleeces, two pairs of trousers and several undies – washing them in the shower as I go along.

Talking of washing clothes, I’d had another bad attack out there on the way back to the ship in the zodiac. Still quite shaky, I went back to my cabin and had a nice hot shower and a clothes-washing session.

They say that you aren’t allowed to wash your clothes yourself, but the small print says quite clearly “with detergent”. I’m using the soap provided in the dispenser. That will keep my clothes going for quite a while.

After tea I came back and started to work on my photos and to write up my notes – constantly being distracted by thing happening outside, like a glorious sunset, a rising crescent moon as thin as a rake and, despite what everyone has been saying, another ship on the far shore.

Not to mention a wonderful Arctic daylight at midnight
“A wonderful Arctic daylight at midnight?”
“I told you not to mention that!”

And there’s already a record that has been chosen that sums up my currently manic-depressive mood. For the last few days I’ve had Colosseum Live going round and round in an endless loop, especially “Skellington” and “Lost Angeles” which somehow seem to be quite appropriate right now.

There’s one bit in “Skellington” about “Make damn sure your reflection can look you in the eye”. Hmmmmm.Quite!

And I’m going to check the binnacle in a moment because there’s something bizarre going on with the way that the ship has been manoeuvring in the last half-hour or so.

Wednesday 5th September 2018 – THUS ENDS THE WEB

*************** THE IMAGES ***************

There are over 3,000 of them and due to the deficiencies of the equipment they all need a greater or lesser amount of post-work. And so you won’t get to see them for a while.

You’ll need to wait til I return home and get into my studio and start to go through them. And it will be a long wait. But I’ll keep you informed after I return.
***************

Despite it being 00:15 when I finally toddled off to bed, it was yet another miserable night. Not that I didn’t sleep of course – far from it in fact – but I was wide awake again at 04:30.

At 05:30 I gave up the struggle and after the medication routine, came upstairs. Too dark as yet to take any real photographs which is a shame, but I did the best that I could;

It’s also really foggy outside yet again. I hope that this means that our trip ashore isn’t cancelled yet again.

Anyway, in the comfort of the ship’s lounge, with no-one else about at all, I did some more work, catching up on where I’d left off a while back, as well as organising a few photos for His Nibs.

Breakfast as usual and then we had to organise ourselves for our day out.

We’re just off the coast of Devon Island, the world’s largest uninhabited island at 59,000 km². It wasn’t always uninhabited. The Thule people had various settlements here and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had an outpost here and it was these that we had come to see.

Mind you, it might not be possible to see anything in this kind of weather because not only do we have a fog we have a blinding snowstorm and it’s going to be quite uncomfortable out there today.

We’ve been divided up into three groups – the advanced hikers who are going off to visit the two sites and climb the mountain pass in between, the intermediate group who are going to walk to the two sites but have a boat ride in between, and the easy people who are just going to be dropped off on the beach for a wander around.

Had there been any archaeological ruins up on top or had there been any chance of having a good view, I might possibly have forced my way up to the top. But in this weather I’m not going to even consider it.

Instead, seeing as I want to visit the two sites, I’m going to go the intermediate way.

So we changed into our wet-weather and winter clothing (and I still think that telephone boxes would be appropriate for this kind of thing) and boarded the boat.

I took Strawberry Moose with me so that he could have a good photo opportunity. One of the cleaners very kindly found me a large bin liner in which to carry him out of the rain.

Having organised ourselves on shore eventually at Morrin Point (whoever Morrin was when he was at home if he ever was), we set off. The experts on this trip were scattered around the various sites of interest and we started off by being given a lecture on lichens. Not the kind of thing that would be of much interest to me but nevertheless it’s all included in the deal.

The experts weren’t the only people to be scattered around. Our group perimeter was constantly guarded by trained polar bear observers. We had to stay within the perimeter and not move out. And the bear observers had to keep the bears outside.

Not that we saw any, but that’s a situation that won’t last over the next couple of weeks.

Next stop was much more exciting.

There’s a Thule village with several houses dating from the 14th or 15th Century here on the headland and this is what we had come to see.

Thule people had several criteria that decided where they were going to build their houses. A piece of flat land, some shelter from the winds and a view of the sea were things that were so important to them.

And this is exactly what we have here. All three criteria come in to play.

There’s a walrus haul-out here on an island in the bay, and there were several meat-stores that were clearly (according to the archaeologists) for the storage of walrus meat.

They kept it in here until they needed it, and it was probably well-putrefied by the time that it came to being used, but to disguise the smell the Thule stuffed the cracks of the walrus cache with aromatic herbs.

As for the houses, they were stone and sod, with some kind of support structure such as whale bones that would support a covering made of walrus hide. That’s very thick and, of course, weather-proof.

All visible trace of that is now long-gone but no archaeological excavation has taken place at this site as yet to give any definite opinion of what went on here.

From here back to the zodiacs to go on the next stage of the journey, watching the advanced hikers disappearing off into the distance.

Just down the bay there was another beach and there we alighted and had to trek up a hill. And in the boggy terrain, the wind and the rain, I was feeling the strain I can promise you that. I was glad that I didn’t go on the advanced hike.

From the top there was a good view of the old abandoned Royal Canadian Mounted Police post.

The story behind this post is all to do with the question of Sovereignty in the High Arctic.

Much of this area was explored and claimed by the British until about 1880 and then given to Canada, who chose not to continue the explorations.

As a result, we had other nations such as the Americans and Danes exploring the High Arctic in this region and there was a risk that they would claim the Arctic islands for themselves. As a result, it was necessary to establish some permanent settlements

As part of this process, here at Dundas Harbour in the 1920s the Royal Canadian Mounted Police established a Post here and it remained active until the funding crisis of the Great Depression brought about its closure.

The Mounties were supported by a few Inuit Special constables and their families and hence a small settlement sprang up. Some Inuit were resettled here from Cape Dorset but they didn’t stay long.

The job of the Mounties was to set up cairns on the outlying islands to claim them for Canada and to generally keep an eye out for interlopers.

But it was a lonely life and hard on the inhabitants. One Mountie committed suicide and another one, who had gone off hunting walrus, was later discovered dying with a gunshot wound, although no-one was able to work out what had happened.

They are buried in a small cemetery up on the hillside at the back of the post. This is claimed by some to be one of the most northerly Christian cemeteries in the world

After the end of World War II the Cold War caused the post to be reactivated, but it only lasted a couple of years. By 1951 the post had closed down again, this time for good.

Strawberry Moose arranged to have himself photographed here a couple of times for the record. And quite right too.

After that, we all headed back to the zodiacs and retraced our steps to the ship. And not before time either because in the three hours that we had been ashore, the bay was starting to ice up.

Once I’d divested myself of my wet-weather and winter gear, I came up to my room and had a nice hot shower and washed my undies. They’ll be dry pretty quickly because the cabins are quite hot when they switch on the heating.

Lunch came along too after this. And today they managed to find me some chick peas to go with my salad. That was very nice.

And I had to laugh (even though I know that I shouldn’t) at The Vanilla Queen. She went up there for her food and some woman came up to talk to her. Even as The Vanilla Queen was collecting her food, this woman insisted on continuing the conversation. The Vanilla Queen then started to eat her food with her fingers but the woman went on and on (and on).

Eventually she said “well, I suppose that I’d better let you eat your meal” and then carried on the chat for another 5 minutes. By this time The Vanilla Queen was totally frustrated and I was almost in tears of laughter – which I know that I shouldn’t have been, but there you are.

This afternoon we started a series of lectures but the first one was interrupted when a cry went up from the Bridge “Polar Bear at 11 o’clock”. The lecture room deserted itself in the same fashion as the cry of “Gold Strike at Bear Creek” did in Carry On Cowboy.

Some people, including The Vanilla Queen, saw the bear but Yours Truly didn’t. So it’s one each right now, for those of us keeping the score.

The lectures eventually carried on, with everything running late of course, and with a freezing audience too, because it was cold out there watching the pack ice and the ice floes drift past.

I missed some of it as, overwhelmed by sleep, I went to crash out. Only to find that the feeling had passed by the time that I got onto the bed.

For tea tonight they rustled up some tofu and vegetables, and we had an interesting chat with the team’s historian about all kinds of things.

There’s mixed news about our future plans. The wind is shifting round, which means that the weather will clear a little. Some of the places that we want to visit will be clear of ice, but the changing winds will have blown the ice across Lancaster Sound into the harbours of other places in which we want to visit.

It is, apparently, the worst year for ice for many years and will continue to confound all of our plans.

Later that night we went out on the upper deck in the snowstorm to watch the midnight sun and the ice floes, as we are now back in the ice again. She’s convinced that she saw a seal but it’s no use asking me. I could hardly see a thing out there.

But one thing is for sure. Following the appearance of His Nibs on shore today, his cover as a stowaway has been well and truly blown.

But he’s been accepted as a bona-fide traveller. He’s been given his own name badge and allowed to share my cabin officially. He was even invited to take control of the ship for a while.

Furthermore, it’s been proposed that the official Expedition photographer will take some official photos of him.

And that can’t be bad.

But there’s also been a dramatic change in situation here on board the Ocean Endeavour

I have rather foolishly … "he means “recklessly”" – ed … allowed a certain situation to develop completely out of hand and my emotions have run away with themselves, like they all-too-often have a tendency to do.

if I allow it to escalate any further it will be to my own detriment, as has been the case on many occasions.

I’m not very good at forcing decisions, as regular readers of this rubbish will recall. My usual practice is to roll with the road and follow my star wherever it leads me, but this is neither the time nor the place for vacillation.

As Marillion once famously wrote –
“The time has come to make decisions
The changes have to be made”

And so I need to know precisely where I stand in this particular circumstance.

This evening there was the ideal opportunity – presenting itself in a moment of high tension. And so I grasped the nettle.

The result was not what I had optimistically hoped but it was what I had realistically expected, and it killed the situation stone-dead. Which is not really a bad thing, I suppose, because in all honesty I don’t really have the time for distractions. I have much more important things to be doing.

“Thus Ends The Web”

Tuesday 4th September 2018 – SO THERE I WAS …

*************** THE IMAGES ***************

There are over 3,000 of them and due to the deficiencies of the equipment they all need a greater or lesser amount of post-work. And so you won’t get to see them for a while.

You’ll need to wait til I return home and get into my studio and start to go through them. And it will be a long wait. But I’ll keep you informed after I return.
***************

… leaping out of bed at the first alarm (well, almost) at 06:00, performing the morning ritual with the medication, and then diving upstairs for the sightseeing in the Lancaster Sound – straight into that curse of all Arctic mariners – a rolling fog.

I couldn’t see my hands in front of my face.

Not only that, we had a snowfall too and some members of crew were busily sweeping the decks.

So much for an exploration today, then.

The morning was spent editing all of the photos and I have a feeling that I’m going to be setting a new record on this trip. Day one of our voyage and I’m on 132 photos already. This is going to be a long trip.

Breakfast was acceptable – cereal and fruit salad with water (no soya milk of course) with toast and jam. Orange juice and as much coffee as I could drink and then more.

We had the usual welcome meeting to give us the day’s itinerary, but it was all interrupted as far as I was concerned because we found ourselves in the ice stream. And that was me, and a German lady, lost to the public as we went outside to take a few photographs.

And it was just as well that we did because by the time that the speech was over we had passed through the ice and gone.

Mind you, it wouldn’t have been much to miss because we will be encountering ice much more formidable than this. Or, at least, we better had because otherwise there is little point in coming on a trip like this in my opinion.

One of the things that has surprised me more than anything was that when they handed out the waterproof boots, mine fitted me perfectly. Usually, it’s a kind of Army thing where they bung you a pair of boots and you either have to cut off your toes or else stuff a few sheets of newspaper inside.

The next thing was a discussion given by different Inuit from different regions of the High Arctic, to make us aware of the different cultures through which we will be passing.

One of the speakers taught us a couple of works in Inuit, but it’s not going to help much because there are so many different words and so many different dialects that I am bound to use the wrong word at the wrong time in the wrong place.

And another one had a soapstone oil lamp -a houlik – with an arctic cotton wick – the same kind of thing that you hear so many times in the stories of Arctic exploration.

I was really glad that I actually managed to see one

Lunch was a running buffet and much to my surprise there were things there that I could eat.

There was bad news afterwards. There had been a plan to go to visit the long-abandoned RCMP post on Devon Island, but one look at the fog and snow outside was enough to convince us otherwise.

You wouldn’t be able to spot a polar bear until it was about 50 feet away in this fog, by which time it would be far too late to do anything about it. That kind of thing can’t be helped of course, but it’s just so disappointing that all of our plans are just melting away into nothing.

Instead, Latonia gave us a talk on the people of the High Arctic which was quite interesting.

However, the fog slowly started to lift. And by this time it was too late to go back to the RCMP post. However, just a stone’s throw away there is a glacier that calves into the sea and they proposed a procession of Zodiacs up the bay to see it.

And so we donned our winter gear and waterproofs because there was a wind and it was still snowing.

The Vanilla Queen is in a different team to me so she was off in one of the first boats and I was in one of the last so by the time we went out she was back. And how she had cause to regret it too.

All of the broken ice at the head of the bay told us that an iceberg had not long calved and fragmented, so we weaved our way in and out of the icebergs and growlers, looking at all of the spectacular shapes and forms, as well as the seals that were swimming about fishing, all of them very out-of-focus because you have no idea just how difficult it is to take a photograph of a small moving object from a moving boat riding the swell in a wind..

I have never been this close to an iceberg and so I was absolutely thrilled to see them. It was totally magnificent and I was so impressed. So impressed that I was prepared to say that this was one of the highlights of the journey – and we have only just started too!

But what happened next was unbelievable.

Someone was scanning the rock face with the binoculars and was convinced that she had seen something moving about. One of the other boats had spotted it too and so we headed down that way.

And sure enough, there WAS something moving. It was very difficult to see anything clearly so I took a long-range photograph of it (a good job that I had fitted the zoom lens to the camera before we started) and enlarged it.

And it was as well that I did because I HAVE SEEN A POLAR BEAR. And not just a polar bear too, but a polar bear with a cub in tow!

I suppose that it’s something of a cheat to say that I saw it, because I really didn’t know exactly what it was that I was seeing until I enlarged the photo, but it’s a polar bear nevertheless.

And I’m really hoping that I’ll see a polar bear much closer than this (although not too close of course) in due course but nevertheless it’s a good start.

Back on board ship I had a quick shower, change of clothes and a clothes-wash and then showed The Vanilla Queen my photo of the bears. She was so depressed by it that I invited her to supper and negotiated a glass of wine for her to cheer her up.

Later in the evening we all had to dress up again in our winter and waterproof gear. And I did make the suggestion that they should equip the boats with telephone boxes so we could all dash in, spin around, and come out fully-changed like Superman … "superPERSON" – ed … but for some reason that didn’t go down too well.

And then we all went for a moonlight (or what passes for moonlight here so high up in the Arctic) ride in the zodiacs up the the glacier once more.

No wildlife to speak of – just a few birds (but not of the kind that I’m ever likely to be interested in watching) but we did have a pirate zodiac manned … "PERSONNED" – ed …by buccaneers handing out hot toddies and hot tea to warm us up.

And you’ve no idea just how quickly hot tea goes cold in the High Arctic.

Most of the ice that we had seen earlier had been swept out of the bay. But the face of the glacier was really impressive this evening with a couple of enormous bergs almost ready to break off and float away

There were a couple of largish ones over in the far corner creaking ominously as they were on the point of breaking up even further and so we listened for a while.

On the way back we discovered that our ship had had to move position as another ship was about to enter the bay. It’s like the M6 up here in the High Arctic right now.

But right now I’m writing up my notes and editing the photos. His Nibs and I will gofor a short walk around later when everyone else has gone to bed.

And then I’ll be off. It’s another long day tomorrow, with an early start.