Northwest Passage

Northwest Passage Expedition: Embraced by Mother Nature

Embraced by Mother Nature. That’s the overall sense from this Expedition to date. There is no “Wow Factor” anywhere that can compete with this. Fewer than 300 ships have made this transit. First among them was a 1903-06 expedition by Roald Amundsen (who also was first to reach the South Pole) — this is The World’s second time through; appropriately, the special cocktail on our first day was named “Not our First Northwest Passage.” No wonder so few attempt this, as less than 1% of these seas are properly charted – and the moving sea ice, calving glaciers and quick-building gales make it a challenge even for ships like ours with a brilliant captain, an ice captain, full access to all available reports, a helicopter to scout the ice, and a special “fast boat” that takes soundings.

The weather, too, is a moving target. We started with stunning sunny days with glistening glaciers, monstrous mountains and satiny seas. However there also have been days of gale-force winds, 3-meter waves, and sleet/snow precipitation.

We began our voyage in Greenland where buildings are brightly colored for easy identification, especially for those who are illiterate.

Our last stop there was Ilulissat (which translates as “icebergs”) – what is termed the largest glacier in the world meets the sea there, and creates impressive icebergs, including this expressive one.

Our expedition team describes glaciers as “Rivers of Ice” – I could not help thinking about the similarities and differences to our own “River of Grass,” the Everglades.

Early in the journey, we were able to visit the tiny 3,000-year-old Inuit towns of Clyde River and Pond Inlet in the huge Canadian Nunavut territory, where what must be the heartiest people on earth follow their traditional culture with infrequent intervention from the extremely remote “civilized” areas.

However, it was the scenery and wildlife that trumped all. One of our expedition team remarked that in his 30-year career, he had never seen so many beluga whales (the round, white ones) at once. And our National Geographic photographer claimed one day to be his “best photo day ever.”
Just a few highlights:

A puffin with his catch. Notice the orange feet and beak…they are so un-aerodynamic that they have to sort of run across the water to take off. It’s actually quite comical.
One early morning, Captain Dag called a “rise and shine” because polar bears had been sighted. We raised our blind to find this mama and two babies strolling along the beach, quite undeterred by our enormous white metal beast in the bay.
There have been numerous whale sightings — belugas and greys as well a pod of orcas (the largest of the dolphins) including this mama and baby that swam and played all around our ship.
Perhaps the most elusive of all, narwhal were spotted by a sharp-eyed Resident from the helicopter – take note of the tooth that grows out into a tusk in the males.
And then there was this incredibly inquisitive young male polar bear who jumped in and swam the length of the Ship – twice! – to try to figure it out. It seems likely that he had never seen such a thing before. He was also fascinated by the kayakers (an expedition member in a zodiac distracted him). In this photo, he appears to be yawning – but this gesture actually comes with a fairly aggressive sound and indicates disapproval.
It’s not supposed to happen at this time of year, but a Resident who is a meteorological expert predicted that we would see an aurora borealis display, and indeed we did.

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