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25 September 2017

The Arctic and the Baffin Sea

On board Le Soléal for a voyage to Ultima Thule - The Horizontal Everest:  
with Captain Etienne Garcia and expedition leader Nicolas Dubreuil (google him he is amazing!) and his team of 12 scientists and naturalists.  

This cruise had a completely different demographic than that of our previous voyages.   There were many more of the 40 - 65 age group than before and we were amongst the older people.  We had not quite registered that this was called an “expedition cruise” nor had we realised the consequences of that.  Basically to enjoy it fully, you needed to be very fit and in good health, as some of the outings and landings were physically challenging. 
I did not take part in the more challenging activities, but I still enjoyed it enormously.  Almost every day we had zodiac cruises and landings on fairly difficult terrain, which is where I found it hard.  Despite that, I went in the zodiac and landed for some of the time.  The people who took part – a very large number – hiked to the top of cliffs and mountains on difficult terrain and really enjoyed it. Depending on the circumstances I could walk along the edge of the water or climb up part of the hill if the terrain was reasonably easy.  John sometimes made it to the top, but often went half way.  We were often called on the intercom at strange hours and encouraged to go out on deck to see the Northern Lights, or a particularly magnificent iceberg travelling past, or whales or polar bears. 

The captain and Nicolas were a formidable team – they had run several expedition cruises together before, and encouraged each other to try some nice crazy surprises.  It was Nicolas’s ambition to go as far north as the ice would allow, travelling towards the Nares Passage until the sea ice stopped us.  Apparently, we have a strengthened hull for ice, but we are not an ice-breaker.

We took the train to Paris and stayed part of the night at an airport hotel.  A bus picked us up at 2am for the chartered flight leaving at 5am.  We arrived in Greenland at the only town with a large enough airstrip – Kangerlussuaq, at the same hour we left Paris after a flight of 5 hours. The airstrip was built by the Americans during the second world war.  It was too early to embark on the ship,  So they took us on a tour – in some very ancient and strange types of bus transport – there are few roads and very rough, and no infrastructure, basically they have very little here.
We looked at a rather barren landscape. Most of Greenland is covered by an ice cap, the rest with permafrost. We didn’t see any birds or any animals of any sort except for sledge dogs. We rocked and rolled along the rough roads and stopped at a place where the huskies were kept, ho-hum. Then a pleasant restaurant on the side of a lake for yet a third breakfast.  Start but beautiful scenery, we will always be learning about ice and melting ice.

Lovely to get on board at last.  We had a gorgeous lunch while waiting for our cabins to be ready.  I went straight to the spa and booked in for a haircut that afternoon.  Wonderful cut, so well done.

‘Welcome on board’ by the Captain and the expedition leaders in the theatre at 4pm and an introduction to some members of the crew.  A TV documentary will be made on this trip for French television.  We had not realised that it is a scientific expedition as well as a wonderful cruise experience for the passengers.  We met the journalist who is making the documentary – very interesting.

We were very happy to once again have a new thermal parka.  Our Muck boots are working out very well - they are specially designed for Arctic conditions as we often have to step into the icy water.

Tomorrow we sail north to Sissimuit for the ship to resupply. We will take on board fuel and food for the rest of the trip when we go out into the wild and out of reach of everything. We will be sailing north up by Baffin Island, then Ellesmere Island (both in Canada) if the ice movement allows.  Baffin Bay is a marginal sea of the North West Atlantic Ocean. Connected to the Atlantic via Davis Strait and the Labrador Sea.  The narrower Nares Strait connects Baffin Bay with the Arctic Ocean.  The bay is not navigable most of the year because of ice cover and high density of floating ice and icebergs in the open areas, it is blocked by Nares Arch.  However, a polynya - an area of sea water surrounded by ice -  of about 80,000 sq km known as the North Water opens in summer on the north near Smith Sound.  Most of the aquatic life of the bay is concentrated near that region. This is where we hope to go.

We keep meeting very interesting people.   Cardiac surgeon originally from Cambodia, Vuut and wife, Carine, a nurse, who live in Tahiti.  Everyone delightful and friendly.  There are quite a number of English speaking passengers on this trip, the crew are all bilingual.  Lovely food of course.  Fell into bed as we sailed north looking out at a stunning landscape.  Every cabin has a balcony and floor to ceiling windows, so good views from bed.

Modern Sissimuit with coloured houses -
Nicolas Dubreuil
Sissimuit walk
Stone and sod wall of an old house.
Everyone was encouraged to get up early and be ready to go ashore for a guided hike when the boat docks.  Nicolas led the walk around Sissimuit to an Inuit settlement now just a ruin.  A bit difficult climbing in places.  Also visited a gorgeous little museum and a group of buildings with historical displays.   All of the houses are painted in bright colours.  Traditionally the colours were designated for the purpose of the buildings.  i.e. yellow for a hospital, blue for the power centre, red for shops and general stores.  Now there are no special rules about colours, but they still use very bright colours.  Everything has to be above ground and heated (power, water pipes etc) otherwise it freezes. 
Fun to watch a clever Kayak demonstration by shy local people.

Saw boxes of snow crabs being delivered and loaded, TV crew were filming.  Another delicious lunch – lots of seafood and crab of course. 
restaurant window
Now out of Sissimuit we are tracking westward across the Davis Strait to Qikiqtarjuaq on Baffin Island in Canada.   We can feel the waves – only one and a half to 2 metres forecast, but it moves around a bit and you can unbalance very easily.  Tried to have a siesta but kept getting interrupted by announcements.  Nicolas and the Captain are very enthusiastic.

A wonderful presentation this afternoon by Captain Garcia and Nicholas Dubreuil, Expedition Leader.  We met the 10 scientists who are our team leaders accompanying us for the expedition. This is a very special expedition cruise. Nature experts, polar bear expert, bird person, botanist, geologist, biologist, historians, geographers, archaeologists, rock and ice experts.  Old Ice, new Ice, Sea Ice, pack Ice, Icebergs all totally different.  Very interesting talk about navigation and the ice and where we may or may not be able to go.  They are all so passionate and love their work.  I never thought ice could be so interesting.  Also fascinating to hear the scientific approach to melting ice as against the nonsense published in the media.

The ship receives a daily update on the situation of the ice.  Ice can move very fast and solidify.  The ship has an ‘ice’ hull but is not an ice-breaker so the Captain has to make a lot of last minute decisions.  All the scientists are so enthusiastic, so passionate - we are going to places where some of them have not been before.  They will measure ice in certain places for a Canadian/American scientific centre. Nicolas told us he accompanied a guy who wanted to ski to the north pole – challenging – it takes a month and a half.   He said the guy just wanted to take ‘selfies’ and was a complete egotist.   Nicolas has been working for Ponant now for 9 years.  A convert to small boat cruising where the environment is respected. He has written two books about Greenland and made some movies.

We hope to see polar bears, walrus, seals, whales, perhaps caribou, arctic hares and arctic fox. 
Mandatory attendance at a lecture:  Rules and regulations about landing in the Arctic, and about respecting the environment.  How to get on and off a Zodiac safely and how to behave in a protected environment, a life jacket was given out at end of this. Surprised to see a passenger in a wheelchair included.  She must be very brave.  Be fascinating to see how she manages on a zodiac.  This evening there is a Gala dinner and Captain’s welcome cocktails.  Better get dressed up.
There are some waves so everyone has a slightly drunken roll, and we were rocked to sleep.  The waves were breaking against the restaurant windows on deck 2 as we ate our very super dinner.  All very entertaining with champagne, welcome talk, photos and food.

Marinated scallops with exotic carrot jelly, caviar.
Duck foie gras, dry fruits chutney, Parisian brioche.
Seared sea bass fish filet, green vegetables, truffle juice.
Averyon bio fed veal tenderloin, spinach and mushrooms, light cream.
Ponant sails, chocolate and pralin
Pistachio raspberry financier, Limoncello lemon marshmallow.

We are sailing amongst icebergs drifting from Greenland as we cross over to Baffin Island.  Getting closer and closer to the sea ice at Baffin, the ship had to change course during the night because of movement of ice. We hope to see some whales today, although we have been warned that they have probably already gone south.

maps and information on screens in our room every day

We moved our clocks back another hour last night, so 6 hours behind France.  
Today is a day mostly at sea with a presentation from a naturalist, and a talk about excursions.  John has booked in for a massage.      

The internet is very patchy, so you may not hear from us very much, but will do what we can. We cannot get access to Facebook to post any pictures.

View from our room
We are all sitting in the lounge on Deck 6 staring at the horizon as the icebergs float by. The film makers are interviewing people.   Navigation into Isabella Bay this afternoon.

Now a lecture on CETACEAS - Whales and dolphins in the Arctic and Subarctic.  Fascinating – I am always startled how much there is to learn.   We were called on to the deck to watch some bull nosed whales swimming and diving. A bit far away to see properly.

Some birds darting and swirling around us.  Probably northern fulmar, or glaucous gulls.  They are feeding on small crustacians that live in the ice – important food for these sea birds.

John has gone out on a zodiac expedition to explore the ice, gosh it’s cold out there, but it looks great.  I decided to wait for next time.   On the zodiac Florence the guide talked about ice, animals and the Inuit.
zodiac taking off
There is a commentary from time to time, explaining where we are going and what there is special to see.  Yesterday we were called unto the deck because a polar bear had been sighted on the sea ice.  Just a lone bear hunting as he walked along the ice, but he was a bit too far away to see well. Some people with powerful cameras got a great photo.  There are some very impressive cameras around.

Last night during dinner we were called to see some whales – most of the restaurant stood up and dashed to get their outdoor gear, before returning later to resume their meal.  The waiters just raised their eyebrows – they know this captain and anything can happen, but it does make it hard for the management of the restaurant.
Sam Fiord

As I write we are travelling up the Sam Fjord – an isolated elongated Arctic fiord.  Each side there are massive cliffs, such harsh beauty, with the tops in the clouds, and fresh snow on the lower tops.  A commentary by Dmitri who is the rock and glacier expert told us that these are ancient rocks formed billions of years ago.  What a wild place we are in, looking out the front windows the scenery is breathtaking. We are heading to Pond Inlet where the ship has to be registered as entering Canada. Impossible to describe the beauty of this place, and all the time we are learning so much.

The cliffs each side of us right now are up to 900 metres high and along the fiord between 500 and 1750 metres.  We have passed a magnificent glacier.

Sam Fiord
The captain made an announcement – “Don’t stay in your cabin, this is an order, go outside and see the beauty!”   Dmitri and Hans again. “We are turning into the Walker arm, a good example of a valley glacier, and we can see the morain.  U shaped valleys: 20,000 years ago these valleys were covered in ice which has retreated forming U shaped valleys where the water is about 900 metres in depth.

I have just taken a photo of a wonderful example of a hanging glacier.

2 morain on each side of this melting glacier on starboard, which is the last part of the life of a glacier.  Now we have reached the top of the glacier and are turning around to leave.  Glaciers everywhere.   This afternoon we will go further north into Clark and Gibbs Fiords.

Our expedition scientists are wonderful.  They are around all the time to talk to and answer questions. They switch from English to French to German according to whom they are talking to.

This morning we had a lecture on whales – this time in English – very interesting to compare the two, this was much more detailed.  A young German scientist who went into great detail.
And this afternoon a lecture on Sea Ice, and the differences in sea ice which is frozen salt water and icebergs which are made from frozen snow and therefore fresh water.  An excellent presentation about what is happening with the sea ice melting in the Arctic, as it is doing very fast.  The consequences it is already having and will continue to have on the food chain for animals, starting with the crustaceans who live under the ice and feed the seals, and in turn, the seals are food for the polar bears. All very alarming.  When we came out from the lecture we quickly put on our warm gear, grabbed the binoculars and rushed on deck to see a polar bear sitting on a shelf on the cliff.  Those who had powerful cameras were able to get good pictures.   A while later he/she climbed down and started swimming along the base of the cliffs.  Another bear appeared swimming a little further on, we could clearly see him by using binoculars.  The ship has stopped for a while so we can watch the bears, and the captain allows it to drift closer so we can get a better view without disturbing the animals.

Had a pleasant lunch with a French couple who it seems have booked on the same cruise as us in 2018 and 2019.  Lively and funny.

We are circumnavigating Smith’s Island where we can see an enormous glacier, very dramatic.  There are so many receding glaciers now.

A RECAP session is held each evening before dinner, to discuss what we have seen and the plans for the next day.  A Canadian archaeologist who had worked on a site at the Inuit settlement of Pond Inlet for several years told us about the town and its inhabitants Nunkavuts or Inuits.  They survive mostly on food they hunt themselves. The Caribou, Narwhal whales, seals and fish.  Food flown in is mostly too expensive for the local people.  It is now a modern progressive hamlet with primary and high schools, office buildings and hotels.  The people here traditionally live on the ice and in winter their village spreads out over the ice and becomes much bigger.  They put their fishing huts out on the ice and their dog teams.  The majority are young, something amazing like 60% under 25.   People over 60 (5%) would probably have been born in an igloo or some sort of hut. Women wear an amautiq – a hooded garment for carrying a baby snugly on the back and all carry an ulu knife with a semi circular blade.  The qamtig is a wooden sled pulled behind a dog team or a snow machine, carefully built to travel over different types of ice. With abundant wildlife and spectacular scenery it has become a popular tourist destination benefitting the economy of the community. (quote from our daily journal)

We will be arriving at Pond around midday for customs clearance and if successful will use zodiacs to land and go to the community hall to meet the local people. They will put on an exhibition of Arctic Sports, and we will be offered/expected to taste some of their local food. (hope not seal liver or blubber)  A group of elders will be invited on board to visit.
We watched the bears again for a while, before escaping to the warmth of the bar.  After a champagne for me and a Ricard for John, we had a very jolly dinner with a pleasant group.   We were joined by the Tahitans we met before – very pleasant.  The husband is originally Cambodian and is a cardiologist, his wife is French and is a nurse. A bit later the journalist making the documentary and her cameraman joined us.  A very lively and fun time.   Maigret de canard, roast pork and crackling, gorgeous.  Heaps of choice always, and accompanied by beautiful salads and vegetables.  Amazing deserts.   Seafood is always offered for starters and mains, and various vegetarian choices, I tend to eat seafood at lunchtime.

Friday: This morning Canadian archaeologist Tim Retz will lecture on Instruments of Change, Drums and Shamanism. Inuk-titut is the local language.

He talked about the Dorset People who lived on Bylot Island for many generations and disappeared completely 1,000 years ago.  Named Dorset People by archaeologists who first found traces of them at Cape Dorset. There are no genetic traces now, the nearest genetical match is with people from Siberia, but they are not the same.  Totally different to the Inuit.  About 800 years ago the Inuit crossed over from Alaska and settled here.  

The Dorset People on Bylot: information was obtained from an archaeological site, first collected by a priest, who unfortunately died at the age of 91 along with his precious notes and collection in a house fire on Bylot.   Tim had made a copy of a drum and showed us pics (Canadian museum) of face masks made from driftwood. Of course there are no trees so driftwood – a gift from the sea – was very precious.  The drum frames are very interesting with marks and chevrons, the Dorsets did not have any letters or numbers, they simply made marks in the wood, some like hatch marks. A lot of puzzling and guesswork, fascinating stuff.

exploring amongst the ice.
We should see some snow owls and snow geese in the next few days I hope. Apparently there are lots of birds around Bylot Island.   Lemmings, arctic foxes, caribou and of course sea creatures and bears. Arctic willows are just tiny trees.

The ivory gull often hangs around polar bears, it is snow white with black eyes and black feet.  We saw a flock of them yesterday.  Apparently a large group were found on a morain of a large iceberg, breeding and living on whatever they could find.   They follow polar bears and when the bears have a seal carcass and feed on the blubber, the birds have an aperitif of blood and snow, they even feed on the bear poo, before getting some of the carcass to eat.  We also saw glaucus gulls

        The sea is very calm this morning and the sun is shining strongly, sunglasses needed.

Nelly our guide
doesn't need a caption
We cleared customs at Pond Inlet and went ashore by zodiac.  An Inuit woman, Nellie, was our guide and we walked up the main street as she explained what each building was.  Eventually we reached the community hall where a group of locals put on a performance for us.  Examples of Arctic sports – kicking the bone at a height – and holding your body on one hand on the floor.  The women sang a kind of wailing dirge and there were some drum performances.   One woman carried a new baby in her amautiq. Very interesting to see how it worked, and another older child about 2 years old climbed into her mother’s amautiq, such a practical device.  Traditionally they were made out of seal skins. Today they are made from a material of some kind with embroidery.  They all wore seal skin boots laced up the sides and embroidered tunics.

Walked back down the hill and climbed into the zodiac – back to the boat for a shower and drinks before dinner.  We had dinner with a Swiss couple from near Zurich, Dirk is a banker and Irene works in a power company. Charming pair.

Saturday at Croker Bay and 2 degrees centigrade.
Croker Bay is an Arctic waterway in Qikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut, northeast Canada.  It lies off the southern coast of Devon Island in the eastern high arctic.  Like Maxwell Bay to the west, it is an arm of Lancaster Sound and Barrow Strait.  The abandoned Dundas harbour is to the east.  The bay was named by William Edward Parry in honour of John Wilson Croker.
massive glacier
We were awakened this morning to hear that there is a bear with 2 cubs swimming along the coast near the ship.  Very good sighting with binoculars.  They swam to the shore and started walking along the edge.   Another two lone bears sighted nearby.  This was where Nicolas had planned to go ashore this morning, but that had to be cancelled because it was too dangerous with 5 bears around.   So we sailed around Devon Island, the largest uninhabited island here. It has a huge ice cap and some tundra, we anchored here just offshore beside a glacier. 

Saw a flock of snow geese feeding on the low tundra at the bottom of the cliffs.

We set off for a zodiac trip to look at the marvellous glacier – 4 km long, also to see its calves which are now icebergs.  Beautiful colours and depth.    We had Louise, the botanist with us as our guide.  The sea looks normal with some floating ice, but there is a lot of ice below the surface and we could hear the blades of the motor sometimes crunching the ice.

Louise told us that we should keep a couple of hundred metres away from the glacier as it can calve very quickly.  We would hear a crack like thunder, and a huge wave would be caused as it dropped into the sea.  It is important for the front of the zodiac to turn quickly into the wave.  If it hits you side on, it’s dangerous.  No calving while we were around I am glad to say!

So many polar bears around.  We went out in the Zodiacs to watch a bear who was walking along the edge of the water.  We were able to get close and take some good photos. Very exciting.

Later John went out on the third expedition in zodiacs – they explored a small river and looked at the glacier and talked about it.  Very foggy.  After the recap, we went to the bar and then dinner.  Once again we met some interesting people. They come to Cluny occasionally for horse competitions.
Rocked to sleep by the waves.  This morning the weather isn’t so good and the ice forecast difficult.  There is a huge flow of ice coming south and blocking our access to the coast and Craig Island.  We don’t know what is going to happen this afternoon.  Perhaps we will go across to Greenland for shelter until the captain can find a way to manoeuvre through the ice to the coast again. However, if we land in Greenland, we will lose our landing permit for Canada and have to reapply.

This morning we are still moving, and looking for a solution to the ice flows. Heading for Coburg Island and Craig Harbour.  It is a real pea-souper.

Spent half an hour in the gym on a bicycle looking out at the occasional bird, the horizon and passing icebergs.  John was on the walking machine.  Now the fog has cleared.

A fascinating lecture on polar bears at 11.30am. 
The polar bear is a large mammal native of the Arctic regions. It is the largest land carnivore and it is at the top of its food pyramid.
Perfectly adapted to its habitat, it has a thick layer of fat and a fur that insulate him from the cold.  The white colour of his coat gives him a perfect camouflage on the ice and his black skin allows him to better conserve his body heat.  Equipped with a short tail and small ears, the bear has a relatively small head and a long body: he has adapted to swimming. The Ursus Maritimus is a semi-aquatic marine mammal, whose survival depends primarily on the ice and marine productivity.  It hunts both on land and in the water.   He is so well insulated that he sometimes suffers from the heat, and lounges on the ice to cool down. On land he will dig in search of the colder permafrost layer below the surface. (quote from our daily journal)

A male can be up to 750 kg, and a female around 350 kg, they can survive 15 – 18 years in the wild.   The female will start mating at 6 years old.  They mate in April, but the egg will not implant until autumn.  Then the female makes a den in the snow and stays there without feeding at all, until the young are born around Christmas time.  They are tiny, around 500 grams, the size of a human fist, the mother will feed them until emerging with them in March.  She will have about 5 litters in her lifetime.  The young stay with their mother for about 2 years. 

The polar bear statistics are alarming.  But there is great difficulty in gathering statistics and most of the numbers are not up to date.   Canada allows trophy hunting of polar bears, and each year they allow 700/800 to be killed for the amusement of the trophy hunters.  The Inuit are allowed to sell their permits for a lot of money to visiting hunters.   Norway has banned totally the hunting of bears.  Russia says it has, but no one knows if they keep to it.  There are 5 countries involved which circle the Arctic ocean – Alaska, USA, Canada, Greenland, Norway and Russia.   The difference between the Arctic and AntArctic is that in the north it is an ocean surrounded by the land of 5 countries, and in the south, it is a continent surrounded by the ocean.

The other huge concern is pollution from chemicals which travels on waste through currents and ends up affecting the whole food chain.  For example, a polar bear breastfeeding sadly and unwittingly passes on a lot of toxins to her cub.  A male bear will kill the young of a female if he wants to mate with her.

Narwhals which are whales with long spikes, are often hunted by the Inuit.  A few years ago they were trapped in ice – they need breathing holes – and as a result, 600 were farmed by the Inuit at Pond Inlet.  They would have died when the holes all froze over.

The cliffs are full of nesting birds
In the afternoon we had a great zodiac cruise to look at the bird colonies.  Spectacular!

The cliffs were covered with Brünich guillemots nesting, and also large rafts (groups) on the water.  They are seabirds and only go to land to breed and nest. The smell of the birds and their droppings from the cliffs was very strong.
Guillemots - some of the babies learning to swim and feed

Christophe Gouraud later presented a lecture on the guillemots and other arctic birds.  Apparently, the colony we saw has about 160,000 breeding pairs and is an important colony.  Hatching synchrony starts in early spring:  the birds breed at the same time around March, lay their single egg at the same time, then the parents share the incubation period of 32 days.  Amazing narrow ledges they lay their egg on, and protect it, taking it in turns to fetch one fish each day to feed the baby when it hatches.  They need to feed the baby until it can grow its feathers and at least the beginning of its wings.   When it is the right time, the father will fly down to the water and call the baby to jump in.  Then he will care for it until it can feed itself and has grown its wings.  When the baby jumps some of the other fathers who lost their chicks try to take over the adoption of another chick, but that doesn’t work.  The glaucos gulls are waiting for the weaker babies and dart in fast to take them. We watched some of the babies struggling in the water, their first year is critical.

We also saw black-footed kittiwakes and glaucous gulls.  The glaucous gull is a predator to the guillemots. Also the arctic fox and the polar bear who will climb down steep cliff faces to try to get to the breeding birds.  They are starting to migrate southward now with their chicks, but don’t go very far. They need open water to feed and have to go south of the ice.  They spend about 8 months of every year at sea and start breeding after about 5 years. The first year is critical for survival.  The northern fulmar glides and dives around the boat continually.

Avian salt gland:  Seabirds feed on sea creatures and drink sea water and as a result, have to deal with the excess of salt in their bodies.  The salt is filtered through cells and is excreted through a gland each side of their beak.  They look as if they have runny noses all the time.  Sea turtles excrete through their eyes.

between 2 continents
Cryosphere: In the afternoon an excellent lecture on glaciers, so much to learn about snow and ice, melting glaciers and how this can affect the planet!!   A glacier is formed in a location where the accumulation of snow and sleet exceeds the amount of snow that melts.  Two of the largest glaciers on earth are in this area, Greenland’s ice cap and Nunavut in Canada.  Glaciers can transport rocks and debris, resulting in landforms and moraines.   99% of glacial ice is contained within vast ice sheets in the polar regions, some can be found in mountain ranges on every continent except Australia.

It seems we are almost on top of the world, so near to the magnetic north and the ice is preventing us travelling further today.   In the past information was not shared between the Arctic countries – in fact, there was competition.  1882-3 was the first International Polar Year and Lieutenant A W Greely led a group of 21 men, including 2 Inuit to help as dog mushers, it was called the Lady Franklin Bay expedition.  They managed to get as far north as Fort Conger and set up a base there to measure astrological, geographical and meteorological conditions,  and record flora and fauna. In 1883 unfortunately the resupply ship was blocked by ice and could not reach them, however they managed to set up an emergency cache further south at Camp Clay on Pim Island of 40 days supplies.  They were running out of food and 2 more ships tried to reacht them, but failed, another one had to turn back and one sank.   In 1884, 4 rescue vessels were sent to try to find them and found them at Camp Clay, of the 21 explorers only 6 survived.  There is some suspicion that there was some cannibalism.

Our archaeologist would like us to be able to visit Camp Clay as he has a Permit 1 for our visit.  This means we can look and not touch.  He is obliged of course to photo and record anything he finds.   All artefacts are sitting on the surface as soil forms very slowly here and we were warned not to walk inside the rock circles that were made for tents by the Inuit. They cannot use tent pegs because of the permafrost. There may also be some hearths, and kayak stands built of rocks to keep the kayaks high above the dogs who might chew them as they are made from sealskin.

In the afternoon a knock came on our cabin door and a steward arrived with a large silver tray, with a plate in the middle with a small chocolate cake topped with a strawberry, and piped in chocolate icing on the plate ‘happy wedding anniversary’. Wonder who it was meant for.  How strange, we were a bit embarrassed as John had told them about my birthday next week and stressed that I don’t eat chocolate.  Anyway, the steward came again and took the tray away…. And we had a good laugh about it. We have booked a helicopter trip for my birthday.

floes of sea ice crash into each other
The recap and forward planning:  The captain and Nicolas explained what they hoped we would be able to do tomorrow, and how we would try to get through the ice to land at Pym Island.  The captain explaining that of course if we find a way in, we must be sure we can get out again.  This caused great laughter and Nicolas said – “You will love the ice, the first 3 months will be the worst.  Make sure you don’t eat too much and save your food in case we get stuck!”

We woke up to strong sunshine this morning and a greeting from the Captain at 7am encouraging everyone to get up and go out on deck to look at the spectacular view.
78 degrees north and travelling slowly between two continents – Ellesmere Island, Canada on our left and Greenland on our right.  We are winding our way through the ice, the floats are about a metre thick and the ship is curving its way around it.  Amazing landscape with icebergs, glaciers and cliffs/mountains covered in snow.  We are heading to Pym Island where we hope to disembark and visit an archaeological site.   Only the weather and the ice can decide if this is possible.

Ice and snow, shadows and colours.  The cliffs a contrast with a variety of colours from strata of iron ore, basalt and other metals.

Breakfast today we sat with French, German (Swiss Deutsch) and English – great fun.  The German speakers were together at dinner last night having fun and laughing loudly when a snobby French woman at the next table turned to them and told them the noise was “infernal!”

An obligatory briefing at 11am to explain how we must behave on land at the archaeological site, and hopefully a landing this afternoon.  The weather is changing all the time, very fast, so hopefully the right conditions will happen when we reach Pim.

We are almost at the magnetic north, apparently, we are the first cruise ship to come this far north in this area and only 5 expedition ships have tried. Very exciting to be part of this trip.

We are now 78 degrees and 28 minutes north, it seems this is as far north as we can go today.  Maybe try again tomorrow.  However, we will try to make a landing this afternoon.

The scouting party of the expedition team went ashore on Ellesmere in 3 zodiacs.  Unfortunately, they think it is too dangerous.   The captain said he cannot put down an anchor, the ice is dangerous and the wind is too strong.  We have to cross over to Greenland without landing on Ellesmere as the wind is now 50 knots and a lot of ice is moving towards us very quickly. Everyone is very disappointed as the advance party found three tent rings of rocks which basically proves some Inuit hunters have been here.   John is dying to set his foot on this wild land and is so disappointed.  It looks so alien out there with its wild beauty, we are surrounded by sea ice in floes about 1 and a half metres deep, moving fastsometimesss they crash together forming ridges that look like icebergs.  I don’t know whether to be disappointed or slightly relieved.  It does look savage and perilous and at the same time beautiful.

We had dinner on “Deck 2” this evening, looking out the window at the waves rushing by.  Suddenly something dropped from above – something like an iPad, or notepad and disappeared into the waves.   Long conversation with a French couple beside us.  It seems most Ponant customers are loyal and travel again and again.  Once you get caught, you are seduced for good. All of the people we have met who have travelled with other companies say there is no doubt that Ponant is different and better.  Something to do with the enthusiasm of the captain and the crew and of course the scientific teams which other companies don’t have.  I guess the zodiac trips can be risky and there is no point if you don’t get specialist information.

Well, we are back north again having sheltered from the ice and wind overnight. The team have gone out in the zodiacs to explore whether it is possible to do a landing or not.  It is a beautiful day, the sun is shining, it is very cold with a strong wind.   To our delight they decided to allow us to have a trip ashore, so that was quite an adventure.  Not easy to get on and off the zodiacs, a bit wet from the waves and the wind, but well worth the trip.  We wound our way through large formations of sea ice, the blade crunched a few times, but it was ok.  
Crustaceous Lichen
There were several rock tent circles, showing signs that Inuit had been here, but we don’t know when. I had a long talk with the botanist Louise. She pointed out arctic willows, saxifrage, lichen of many sorts, particularly crustaceous lichen, and a black lichen.  The saxifrage was quite colourful and very pretty.  Amazing that these plants survive in such a harsh environment.
A tent ring
The explorer

Energetic climbers
What an exciting trip.   The only problem is that I have to take off my glove to take photos – my right-hand freezes!  One woman has fingerless mittens – I must make some for the next trip, as she says they work extremely well and they allow her to take photos easily.

Champagne on ice
In the afternoon they announced a surprise outing on zodiacs.  There is a very large ice floe beside us, and we can land and have a walk on the ice!   We did a little tour of the smaller ice floes then landed on the banquise (ice floe), and lo and behold there was a table with a tablecloth and bottles of champagne ready for us all.  Truly champagne on ice!  What fun and just about unreal.  John described it as being in something like a weird Italian movie.
Of course, we all took lots of photos. Apparently, the ice flow travelled 5 kms while we were enjoying ourselves on top of it, our ship chugged along beside it. There were pad marks of a very recent visit by a polar bear. The teams always carry rifles in case of danger from bears.  I am very relieved to say that it never was necessary.

We had a good re-cap and briefing for tomorrow when we hope to go to Etah fiord in Greenland.  Some of the keen walkers will set off at 7am for a hike and the rest of us will land around 10am.

In the evening we had dinner on desk 2 with a French couple, Irene and Gerard, and a Swiss Italian/Swiss Deutsch couple, the conversation was in French.

Arctic poppy
Musk Ox faeces

sea ice

This morning when we anchored they announced that the wind in Etah fiord was too strong, and we would change our landing place.  So they tootled around and found an unknown spot where we all safely landed.  The hikers went ahead and climbed to the top of Sunrise point, 311 metres, too difficult for us. The rest of us enjoyed exploring lower tundra and seeing and hearing about the flowers and fauna.

Lots of different types of saxifrage, arctic poppy, moss and grasses.  Lots of Musk Ox poo around. Three musk ox were grazing when the advance party first landed, but they disappeared when the rest of us arrived.  I found some of the under hair, very fine and soft on the grass and found it quite easy to twist in my fingers, it would be good for spinning.
Also examined walrus carcasses killed by Inuit hunters, a raven and a very large gull (Glaucos?) were feeding on them. Found a penis bone, possibly from walrus or seal. Lovely wander, some of it over difficult rocks, but also grass and moss and sand.  They keep us so busy, it is quite tiring.   This afternoon we will be navigating around Greenland fiords starting our journey south again.

The contrast between the two continents which are so close is enormous, quite strange.  Canada side there is practically nothing growing, on the Greenland side here there is grass, moss and many plants enabling the musk ox and other animals to survive. The musk ox grazes on grass and tree lichens. Purple mountain heather, saxifrage, blueberries, arctic poppies – they turn with the sun to attract insects and pollinators, mountain sorrel, cotton grass, the whitlow grass species is very clever, seeds will disperse at the first snowfall. Polar willow and arctic lupine.

Etah and Cape Alexander:   Cap Alexander is the most westerly point of Europe.
We are in a sedimentary basin. The cliffs here are limestone and sandstone with basalt showing up in dark layers.  Sedimentary rocks and volcanic rocks on top of each other.

At the recap we had a presentation from Barbara about walrus, and from Louise about plants: some reminders and details about what we had seen during the day.
Walrus head
Penis Bone
Walrus tusks are elongated canines, only used for male dominance.  Their spiky whiskers are used for finding food and to detect prey.  They feed on shellfish and birds, they have the extraordinary ability to suck out the insides of birds and leave the feathery coat floating, the same with shellfish, they can suck out the insides.   A male can be 2.9 metres long and weigh up to 908 kg, a female 2.4 metres, up to 794 kg.

A lovely young pianist played for us each evening

In the evening we passed some huge icebergs, like enormous sculptures, incredibly beautiful.
This one reminded me of a church or a lighthouse
lovely lichens and moss

Thursday:  We have now arrived in Ultima Thule and will visit the small most northerly natural settlement of Siorapaluk this afternoon.  There is a landing party this morning, but apparently the terrain is difficult so I decided not to go.

At Siorapaluk there are just 80 Inuit inhabitants, and its residents survive on fishing for halibut and hunting seals, narwhal, walruses, birds and polar bears. The town has a church, school, general store and skin workshop.  It has electricity but no running water. 

Just south at Dundas, the Americans built an airstrip which the locals loved to use for dog sledge races.  However, the Americans didn’t like that and built a new town Qaanaaq, a short distance from the airstrip in another bay, to keep the airstrip clear.

We landed at Siorapaluk and had a pleasant walk around.  Very friendly people, who welcomed us and were very happy to show us how they live.  Some hunters returned with a seal they had harpooned and showed us how they cut it up.  At the end of our visit, the village people were invited on board and we all went to the theatre to listen to one of the men singing, accompanied by his traditional drum.  All the family came including the children, and they dressed up in their traditional clothes – polar bear skin trousers or long boots, shorts in sealskin and lots of colourful decoration with beads.  They had some carved ornaments made from walrus teeth.  The singer, encouraged by the applause, kept on with his long singing, and Nicolas eventually said to us all, you had better go otherwise he will continue forever… so after some loud applause we got up and left, and did a lot of smiling and photo taking with the family members. 

Snowing on the way back to the boat.

Friday, 1st:  We have just passed Cape York and today we are on the way to Savissivik.  The place where there is iron and where they make knives.  There is rather a sad story here:  an American explorer Robert Peary heard that a meteorite landed nearby and asked the local people to take him there.  He then stole the meteorite and sold it for lots of money to the Museum of Natural History in New York where it is still on display.  He took members of a local family  - Minik and 5 others to New York, promising to bring them back, but later he abandoned them, and just one of the family members survived, Minik.   Later Minik was adopted, he became Minik Wallace.  Ken Harper wrote a book about the meteorite and the family of Inuits involved.  The meteorite could be thousands of years old, nobody knows.

There are still some pieces of the meteorite remaining and the local people make harpoon heads and knives from the small pieces of iron everywhere.

Massive iceberg behind Yann
Today is an iceberg day – the water is quite shallow about 40-50metres, and we are right beside the ice cap which covers Greenland.  Icebergs break off the ice cap and get stuck in the shallow water, so it is called the cemetery of icebergs: very dramatic.   This afternoon we will take a zodiac cruise around the iceberg graveyard, followed by a landing where we can climb up a hill to see all the icebergs from above.  

black lichen - like mushrooms
Iceberg graveyard from distance
beautiful lichen
This was a very pleasant outing.  We floated around and between huge icebergs, some really weird shapes and colours, with stripes and arches.  Silent except for the occasional crunch as they bumped into each other, mysterious and ghostly, this graveyard of icebergs. Afterwards a lovely hike along the beach, up to the headland amongst wonderful lichens and mosses.  Fantastic view of iceberg graveyard. 
Old fishing boat

Dinner with Natasha and Daniel.   (Russian and Austrian)

Saturday, September 2
We have arrived at Kullorsuaq where Nicolas has a house.  It is a settlement in the Qaasuitsup municipality in northwestern Greenland, at the southern end of Melville Bay.   The settlement was founded in 1928 and became a trading station when some of the people from smaller settlements moved here.  It is a traditional hunting and fishing village and has a stable population.

This morning there is a nature walk of ‘medium’ difficulty so I will stay on board, go to the gym and do some writing.  I am afraid ‘medium’ difficulty means too hard for me.   I will go ashore this afternoon to visit the town.   I had an enjoyable peaceful morning with a good gym session and some editing work.
walking around the town
great scene from high up

local children with Yann
The whole town came to meet us
The town from the boat
A kayak demonstration
In the afternoon we went over to the town – the whole town came out to meet us, with lots of children laughing with excitement.   They wanted to hug us and take us walking around the place.  The houses here are coloured wooden houses and very small, sitting over a basement set into the hill.  Then there was a kayak demonstration, and eventually, we went back to the boat.  In the evening a large number of villagers came over to the boat and put on a concert – singing, guitar playing, dancing and a display of national costumes.  Their songs were happier than the one from the last village who performed.  They told us what the songs were about: when they first hear water running after so many long months of the completely dark winter, it heralds the arrival of spring and summer which of course makes them very happy and good to sing about it.  
Traditional costumes

All so happy and lively – Nicolas our expedition leader is part of this village, he owns a house here.   They have visits from ships about 4 times a year, and they look forward to it so much.  It is a great excuse for a celebration.   It was a crazy day, and we were made to feel so welcome – they had such a great party when they came on board.  Then we were all invited to go back to their beach for an aperitif (put on by Ponant) and to share eating some seal meat and liver, they started singing and dancing the conga, it was crazy and really great.  Such wonderful sense of humour.  Even though very few of them speak English, we all managed to understand their jokes, very clever.   After the beach party, they came on board again and continued to dance the conga while their young children were falling asleep around the place. At last, they left! A late night, we will need a rest after this trip!  In the end, Nicolas had to ask them to go home.

This morning John went to the stretch session and I took it slowly.  We went to a lecture on Glaciers by Yann at 9am – fascinating if a little frightening.  He spoke especially about 3 glaciers in Greenland that are shifting, reducing and calving massive icebergs - melting from thermal heat underneath.  Humboldt, Petermann and Jakobshavn.  Also, they are getting darker – they think this might be caused by burning forests in other parts of the world, the darkness of ash causes them to melt faster.  The interesting thing was when he talked about sea levels, the increased levels are different around the world. Particularly increased levels in the Pacific and north of Australia.   A lot of talk on climate change and the resulting disasters.

There is a fashion show on at the moment, will dash down to 3 and have a look.  It is a peaceful and restful day at sea as we travel south again, I think everyone is catching up on sleep.  Tomorrow the helicopter ride.

Ilulissat: Monday 4th:  This town has been developed for tourists, the only touristic place in Greenland.  It has 4,500 inhabitants, and 6,000 working dogs for tourism sledge riding. I wakened up to be greeted by happy birthday, I don’t want to remember my birthdays anymore. But on the other hand, it’s a great place to spend a birthday.
On top of the moraine
Our helicopter

It was a beautiful sunny day with no wind, perfect for the helicopter flight.   We went ashore by zodiac and were taken by a small modern bus to the airport. The helicopter was a Bell type and carried 10 passengers, but we were quite cramped.  We flew quite low up the Jakovshavn glacier to the top – great views.  We landed on the moraine where we were able to spend half an hour walking around in the cold sharp air.  When we stepped off the helicopter I immediately thought about the first landing on the moon – it looked just like that and felt as if we were on top of the world!  Stones, and rocks, everything grey to the edge of the moraine – then tons and tons of snow forming the massive glacier.  Very impressive – a memory to be enjoyed.  Flying low again we travelled over the glacier back to the coast and circled the town before returning to the airport.  Great trip. 
Dinner while looking over at the town.
Some amazing icebergs here, massive, all would have been calved from the glacier.  Sailing amongst them was very impressive - we passed heaps – lots of people out on deck taking pictures.   After a pleasant dinner of lamb fillet, we joined several others in the very crowded 6th deck lounge.  Eventually to bed.

2am a wake-up call to tell us that we should get up out of bed and see the northern lights.  I didn’t, but John did.  Apparently, lots of people were out on the deck in their dressing gowns making the effort to take photos.

Tuesday: Now we are sailing south towards Kangerlussuaq where we will enter the Evighedsfiord fiord and have a zodiac outing and a landing for those who want to walk this afternoon.
Glacier starting to calve
We were mesmerised
loving the colours

It was a wonderful outing – we were in a small fiord, it felt as if we were completely enclosed and we moved around a bit in the zodiacs watching the huge glacier.  We knew it had calved recently as there was a bright blue section – very old ice – showing.  Well as we sat watching and talking, a loud thunderclap sounded and a huge part of the glacier started to crack and separate.  Our zodiacs zipped away to a safe distance and watched with great interest as the large section of ice broke off and tipped into the sea, resulting in waves and broken ice everywhere.
Mesmerising!   We then landed and walked up a steep part of the moraine – lovely mosses and plants, including arctic orchards, fireweed and saxifrage.  It was a beautiful sunny day and everyone was ditching their parkas and lifebelts as they climbed.  Back to ship late afternoon.

Arctic orchard
hard work scrambling up the rocky hill
courageous plants and flowers
seed about to spread
We had a presentation by several of the expedition team this morning – some funny, but interesting as always. (Ross: flying penguins, talking bearded seal Jean Pierre)

In the evening there will be the captain’s farewell cocktail party, followed by the gala dinner.  We will be eating with Natasha and Daniel.   We managed to see a small show of the northern lights in the sky when the moon was hidden by the cliffs each side of the fiord.

Had a very pleasant evening, all dressed up.  The Captain decided to have the cocktails and presentation of the staff on the back deck, he told us all to put on our parkas over our fancy clothes – it was very cold, but lots of fun, nice and informal compared to how it would have been in the theatre.
Daniel and John
contemplating the menu

In preparation for disembarkation tomorrow, we will sail into the long fiord at Kangerlussuaq tonight.  Packing up is ahead of us, what a horrible thought. Tomorrow is going to be a long day, and an even longer night with probably an uncomfortable flight before we return to Paris.  We then have to take the navette to Gare de Lyon to catch the TGV home to Château.  Hopefully we will be able to catch up with some sleep, as well as eat and drink less before leaving France at the end of the month. 

Ponant looks after us so well.  The ship had approximately 200 passengers, 139 staff, including Executive chef, 3 pastry chefs, a baker and many other chefs – a total of 23 in the kitchen. Wow, they were impressive.  The restaurant staff, bar staff and the room staff were mostly Phillipino, delightful, friendly and hard working. They seem to all love their work and are anxious to gain another contract.  There are 4 decks with passenger cabins, all have balconies. On the 6th deck, there are some larger cabins. Two restaurants, one on the 6th floor with an impressive choice of hot and cold food and deserts for self-service The other on the second floor, a much more upmarket restaurant with a set menu.
The senior executives, administrative team, beauty salon and boutique, were French and all bilingual.  Everything is presented in French and in English, the announcements, the lectures and the entertainment.  

The lounge on the 6th floor had a classical pianist who played twice a day, and the main lounge on the 3rd floor had various kinds of entertainment, singers, dancers and a pianist.  In the theatre there were shows sometimes at night, or a movie.

The very lively captain allowed passengers access to the bridge which was always interesting.

The expedition scientific team took it in turns to be always around to answer questions.  A wonderful group of people.  They were 4 French, 1 Dutch, 1 German, 1 Austrian, 2 Canadian, 1 English and 1 New Zealander.  A very enthusiastic, knowledgeable and happy team.

This is rather long, but if you get this far you may like to see some further photos:
My real birthday cake

they came to visit by kayak