Cruising the Northwest Passage

In September 2012, my friend Sue Langevin and I joined the tour group Adventure Canada, for a voyage called Out of the Northwest Passage.

We began our tour at Kugluktuk (the Inuit name for Coppermine) in the Northwest Territories and cruised through a labyrinth of channels that form a byway across the top of the continent. We continued up Smith Sound to latitude 80°05″ N, breaking a record for the tour ship that cruised the farthest North.

Finally, we sailed down the coast of Greenland stopping at numerous communities before reaching our destination: Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. It is a vast, breathtaking land of islands, mountains, tundra, drifting icepacks, Pre-Cambrian and Cambrian rock, glaciers and waterways.

The 118-passenger ship, called the Clipper Adventurer, is registered in the Bahamas and has been refurbished in Scandinavia with an ice-strengthened hull and stabilizers. The captain and rear admiral were from Sweden, and the crew was multi-national.

There were four Inuit culturists on board who gave talks on life in the North and held panel discussions on cultural protection in a modern world.

Almost every day during the seventeen-day tour from Kugluktuk to Kangerlussuaq, we boarded Zodiacs and cruised the waterways, landing at islands and communities or just moving among glaciers.

It was exciting to stop in at communities in northern Canada and down the west coast of Greenland where we met the indigenous people who have their roots in the very early Pre-Dorset, Dorset and Thule cultures that spread across the North long ago. According to the Avataq Cultural Institute, the Pre-Dorset people lived in the North from approximately 2000 BC to 500 BC; the Dorset lived from approximately 500 BC to 1200 AD; and following them were the Thule, an archaeological culture linked to the direct ancestors of present-day Inuit. These early people had superb fishing and hunting cultures that included elaborate northern technology. We were fortunate to visit sites of those early Dorset and Thule cultures as well as modern Inuit communities.

Even now, I can still “see” the enormous variety of birdlife, the beauty of the northern lights and the breathlessly colourful dawns and dusks.

I remember the enormous polar bear in Coningham Bay, the walruses on the rocks, the narwhals near the steep cliffs and Beechey Island with its lonely graves from the Franklin expedition.

I can recall the first trek on the tundra, the cruising in Zodiacs among the gigantic icebergs of Disco Bay, Kane Basin and Karat Fjord and the colourful and steep-roofed buildings of Greenland villages.

The otherworldly beauty of Skraeling and Bylot Islands still lingers with me, as does the drumming on the tundra of Devon Island, and the 168-kilometre Sondre Stromfjord, on the west coat of Greenland, with its deep green waters and snowcapped mountains.

Throughout the voyage my appreciation grew for the region’s loveliness, its grandeur, its harshness and the dignity and capability of its people—all of which filled me with a sense of timelessness.

Believe me my young friends

there is nothing — absolutely — half so much

worth doing as messing about in boats.

– The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame

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