*************** 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.