Northwest Passage Voyage Begins Among Icebergs in Greenland

So we’re less than one week away from sailing Into the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada. Are we excited yet? We’re reversing the voyage I described below, starting among the icebergs of Greenland and wending to Kugluktuk . . . with history all the way! We head north into Smith Sound, and who knows? May yet discover that archaeological site on Butler Island!



by Ken McGoogan

None of us expected our
voyage to make history, not when we boarded the Clipper Adventurer in Kugluktuk
(Coppermine), near the west end of the Northwest Passage. True, our cruise was
billed as an expeditionary adventure. But we numbered roughly one hundred and
twenty, most of us were over sixty, and we were sailing in comfort if not
luxury: white linen tablecloths in the dining room, a well-stocked bar in the
forward lounge, and a staff of expert presenters that included scientists,
Inuit culturalists, and authors Graeme Gibson and Margaret Atwood.

Hundreds of ships had
plied these northern waters since the early 180s, when the British Admiralty
began to chart the Arctic archipelago while seeking a trade route across the
top of North America. So nobody even dreamed of achieving a first of any kind. We
forgot that climate change has made a difference. We did not anticipate that
this year, the Arctic would have the second lowest extent of sea ice in
recorded history. We did not expect that, according to the American National
Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the pack ice would reach its least
extent just as we arrived in northwest Greenland.

But on September 10, one day after it did so, we sailed into
Rensselaer Bay, where in the mid-1850s, explorer Elisha Kent Kane spent two
terrible winters trapped in the ice. And three days after that, as on Day
Thirteen of our voyage we approached the island town of Upernavik, I went to
the bridge. As the staff historian, I needed to announce the surprising news.

By now, everybody on board
knew that we had reached a latitude above 79 degrees. We had achieved a
“farthest north” for Adventure Canada, which regularly runs voyages like this
one into the Arctic. Everybody knew that, although a number of explorers had
travelled by dogsled in this region, very few ships (if any) had entered
Rensselaer Bay since 1853, when Kane got trapped there in the Advance. And
everybody knew that in 1855 — decades before Ernest Shackleton made his name
with a spectacular, small-boat voyage in the Antarctic — Kane led sixteen men
in an extraordinary, 980-kilometre escape along the Greenland coast.

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