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Northwest Passage voyage dazzles even old hands




This past autumn, we sailed Out of the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada. Our Hero wrote the logbook (see pic), a full-color version of which goes automatically to passengers. Next August, we'll sail the other way: Into the Passage. What's it like? Coming your way: a few excerpts.

This voyage left even old hands awestruck and reeling. Sixteen days in the Northwest Passage. We got every kind of weather, from dead calm in one of the most beautiful fjords in the world to reeling and rocking along an infamous stretch of Greenland coast. We sailed in the Ocean Endeavour, a ship new to Adventure Canada, easily the biggest and best yet. Would you believe eighteen zodiacs? A functioning hot tub? Yoga sessions and massage therapy?
We had a captain, Peter Gluscke, who loves expedition travel and would happily probe a shallow bay, hug a cliff face, or sail between massive icebergs. Above all, perhaps, we had the farewell voyage of Stefan Kindberg, a veteran expedition leader who has played a key role in shaping Adventure Canada. Towards the end of this sailing, at a special recap, one staff member after another paid tribute to Kindberg -- a process that culminated in a heartfelt thank you from Matthew James (M.J.) Swan, who hailed the retiring Swedish-American as a role model.
During the Variety Show, Kindberg introduced his favorite poem, claiming straight-faced that he had translated it from the original Sami language into Swedish, and from there into English. He then launched into an unforgettable poetry reading: “You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life. / See that girl, watch that scene, digging the Dancing Queen.” On he went, in his Swedish accented English, reciting the lyrics of Abba’s most famous song.
The 169 passengers included seven or eight medical doctors and any number of PhDs. These were educated professionals keenly interested in exploration history and, while they embraced the voyage’s many dimensions, they were not about to put the explorers behind them. As it happened, we had history covered: besides myself and archaelogist Latonia Hartery, we had staffers Natalie Swain, Aaron Spitzer, and James Raffan well qualified to talk history.
Margaret Atwood scored by tracing her extraordinary writing career in a self-effacing presentation that featured an entrancing song. Another popular speaker was American astronaut Charlie Duke, who travelled with his wife, Dorothy, and talked about visiting the moon. And Marc St. Onge, Canada’s most charismatic geologist, enticed dozens of passengers into his world of tectonic plates and ancient rocks. Lois Suluk-Locke taught throat-singing, and with Susie Evyagotailak, introduced us Inuit languages. And that was not the half of it . . . .



DAY ONE 
Saturday, Sept. 5   
Late in the afternoon, having settled into the Ocean Endeavour at Kugluktuk (Coppermine), we started sailing east. We were following the route John Franklin took during his “overland” expedition of 1819-1822 – an outing that ended in disaster.  Our own voyage began without a hitch.  Early in the morning, we boarded two charter flights in Leduc, Alberta, not far from the Edmonton International Airport.  One plane refueled in Yellowknife, while the other flew direct.
On arrival, both groups boarded buses and travelled the short distance to the floating dock that provides entrance into Coronation Gulf. It was near here that, in 1772, Samuel Hearne of the Hudson’s Bay Company became the first European explorer to reach the Arctic coast of North America. Hearne had travelled here over a period of several months with a group of Chipewyan Dene led by the legendary Matonabbee. One of our passengers, Allan Derbyshire, had retraced part of that route, paddling down the Coppermine River to join us.
Now, on the Ocean Endeavour, we settled into our cabins: 169 passengers and 38 staff members, among them ornithologists, mammal experts, Inuit culturalists, historians. Early in the afternoon, a few Inuit based in Kugluktuk boarded the ship, welcomed us to Nunavut, and then entertained with a presentation that constituted a snapshot of one of the fastest changing cultures in the world.
As for Franklin, having made his way to the mouth of the Coppermine, near the contemporary settlement of 1,500 people, he and his men paddled east, mapping the coast. His native guides warned repeatedly that the expedition would soon run out of food, that no Inuit hunters would be rousted in this region, and that all potential game had gone south for the winter.
 Obstinately, Franklin persisted, mapping the coast as far as a hill on the Kent Peninsula he called Turnagain Point. The guides proved correct. Running short of food while retracing his path, Franklin made a desperate, overland dash inland for Fort Enterprise, where he had started. Eleven of his twenty men died, most from starvation. Franklin was rescued by some Yellowknife Dene. Back in England, after publishing a journal about the expedition, Franklin was lionized as “the man who ate his boots.”
Ken McGoogan
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1 comment:

Denis A. St-Onge said...

An absolutely fascinating account Ken, so sorry we never had a chance to travel together.

Before turning mainly to books about arctic exploration and Canadian history, Ken McGoogan worked for two decades as a journalist at major dailies in Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal. He teaches creative nonfiction writing through the University of Toronto and in the MFA program at King’s College in Halifax. Ken served as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission, has written recently for Canada’s History, Canadian Geographic, and Maclean’s, and sails with Adventure Canada as a resource historian. Based in Toronto, he has given talks and presentations across Canada, from Dawson City to Dartmouth, and in places as different as Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Hobart.