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Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.

Journal Entry:

Friday, September 23, 2016 17:19:21

Arctic NW passage 2016: 2 - Ottawa, Canada to Anchorage, USA

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Yesterday when we returned to the hotel we checked to see if a meeting room had been booked by Quark Expeditions, the company organizing our voyage on the Kapitan Khlebnikov, as information sent to me said there would be a briefing at 6 PM. The hotel know nothing, so I emailed Raakhe in their Toronto office and she responded promptly to say there was no meeting, but there would be someone in the lobby with information. We found a small table where we were given a schedule for the morning.

When we went for breakfast at 6AM as per the schedule we were asked for breakfast vouchers. It turned out that some people had a voucher, and the rest did not. Fortunately the restaurant allowed us in without them.

We boarded a bus to the airport at 7 AM. The crew on the Canadian North Airlines Boeing 737-200 kept requesting more time for preparations, but eventually the bus let us off right at the plane without entering the airport. The flight to Iauluit, Baffin Island, Nunavut Territory was 2 1/2 hours during which a meal was served.

It was great to see that Luciano and Sandy, who were with Marilynn and I on Explorer when we circumnavigated Svalbard, and Max and Henna, who we met on the Greenland cruise that ended in Resolute Bay, were on the flight. There were also others I recognized from previous trips.

Once refuelled it was another 2 1/2 hours to Resolute Bay. A hot meal was served along with a choice of beverages including beer & wine. Resolute was minus 2 degrees, foggy, windy and buried in snow that was still falling, so we dug out sweaters and gloves before getting off the plane. With the one hour time change we arrived at 2:30 PM. Outgoing passengers from the ship were in the terminal, so I had a chance to talk to long time friend Bob Headland, the historian and lecturer on the previous voyage.

Things went badly for getting to the ship. Buses has slid off the icy road when trying to get outgoing passengers to the terminal, and then ice blew in to the zodiac landing area making loading impossible. Limited visibility and high winds were a problem for the helicopters. Parkas and gum boots were passed out in terminal.

Eventually it cleared a little and the wind dropped, so two helicopters from the ship began to transport the 93 passengers. There are two large Russian helicopters on board, but the Canadian government would not permit them to be used, so arrangements had to be made for two smaller Canadian helicopters, one with 6 seats and another with 4. The pilots did a great job with quick loading and discharging passengers, so we were last to reach the Kapitan Khlebnikov at 6:30 PM.

In our small but adequate cabin a small sofa makes into a bed which Jens agreed to take, as it was too short for me. The location is excellent - on the same deck as the bar, dining area and library. The main dining rooms are on the floor below as is the departure point for zodiacs and helicopters. The lecture theatre is two decks up, designed like a regular theatre with each row of seats higher than the one in front, but the rows are too close together for me to sit in. The ship has 10 decks, with the bridge on 10 and an elevator as far as the 8th deck.

An interesting group congregated in the bar prior to a required briefing on ship's rules and services. I took a beer along with me to the lecture theatre. Beer, wine and many spirits are included in the price. The dinner menu was not impressive, so I had the salad bar and desert, but the wine service at the table was excellent.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

After breakfast there was another compulsory lecture about conduct on shore, and life boat drill. The zodiacs took most people to Beechey Island to visit the graves of 3 men who died when the Franklin expedition wintered here in 1845-46. I didn't go ashore as Marilynn and I were here for half a day on a previous expedition when there was no snow. Today everyone was cautioned not to go near historic sites, as historic remnants are invisible under the snow and could be crushed by walking on them.

In the afternoon there was another zodiac expedition to Radstock Bay where one of the best Thule sites in the Arctic is located, however I chose not to go as it would require a 900 meter (1/2 mile) hike through snow each way. The captain's reception was in the evening. Champagne was handed out and the ship's officers including the captain huddled in the bar and talked to each other. Dinner was a big step up to rack of lamb.

Friday, September 9, 2016

The wake up call was at 7 AM in anticipation of a zodiac trip to Prince Leopold Island in Lancaster Sound. It was named by Parry on an 1817 expedition and is now a bird sanctuary with an estimated 375,000 birds. The island has vertical cliffs 244 meters (800 ft) high straight up from the ocean. The first group spotted a polar bear laying on the small beach below the cliff, and it was still there when we arrived - we must have looked like a smorgasbord cruising by just out of reach. The weather was bright and sunny.

Shortly afterwards we came quite close to a huge, old walrus basking on floating ice. He had only one tusk, and was well battle scarred. He growled and grumbled and posed with his head up as we got close. It made for a successful day and great photos! Back at the ship lectures and a recap in the theatre were held for the first time.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Today was at sea with fog, howling wind and snow blowing horizontally. We had been warned that due to heavy ice it would be unlikely that we could use the advertised route through McLure Strait, between Banks Island & Melville Island. It was decided to try the narrow Prince of Wales Straight between Banks Island and Victoria Island, as it has a spot where the ice is thinner.

The first ship through Prince of Wales Straight was the RCMP schooner St Roch in 1944, also the first Northwest Passage crossing in one season - 7,300 miles in 86 days. The captain, Henry Larson, received several awards for this feat. It is not a high traffic area, we are apparently the 17th ship to pass this way ever.

By afternoon there were light clouds and the wind had dropped. We were plowing through ice a couple of meters (6.56 ft) thick, so they called out the helicopters to watch from above. Once again I was lucky enough to get the front seat in the bubble beside pilot David - only 3 passengers were taken so everyone had a window. It was a chance to get great shots of the ship breaking through the ice from every angle, including just off the bow. David is a superb pilot, handling the helicopter like it was part of him.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

We woke up to clear water and overcast skies with ice in the distance. Zodiac landings were arranged for a three hour hike, dividing groups into different ability categories with the last category to just hang out on the beach. I opted not to go, but Jens went the the fast group.

In the afternoon we were going through new ice, then big chunky old ice, so they got the helicopters going. All we did was a 10 minute ride to have a look down on Banks Island. I was in the other helicopter with pilot Patrick, who is also excellent. Jens was in the front seat but there wasn't much to photograph, mostly bare rock. It was discovered by Parry in 1819 who named it after a famous British biologist.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Immediately after breakfast it was announced that the zodiacs would be shuttling people ashore on Banks Island. I had decided to go this morning. Passengers were divided in to groups - chargers, who would hike at a relatively brisk pace (my fit roommate's choice), less difficult, not difficult and contemplative. Unfortunately for arctic exploration, I chose to contemplate before going ashore. I looked at the choppy sea, which the zodiacs were splashing through, and weighed my options. I could climb into all my rubberized, warm gear and life jacket, then get soaked bouncing through freezing ocean on the way to wade ashore on a snowy, frozen, barren island to contemplate, or I could to lay in my warm cabin with a hot cup of tea and a good book. The latter won out. I suppose once common sense trumps my urge for the discomfort of polar exploration my visits to frozen climes may be coming to an end.

In the afternoon there was another landing at Jesse Bay on Banks Island - this time I went. An area along the beach and a little inland was marked out so those coming ashore could wander around. There little worth seeing. Tonight there was a lively group at the bar, so I joined them until the 1 AM closing time.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

We came upon civilization at Sachs Harbour on Banks Island after lunch. This community of 65 working people plus children was established by three Inuit families in 1929. The RCMP post was established in 1953. We left the ship in snow flurries on a flat calm sea. Due to shallow water it was a long zodiac ride, but once ashore we had sunshine and a balmy zero degrees C. A local Eskimo called Norman was assigned to our group, and walked us around town. In the museum a woman flown in by Parks Canada fielded questions, and in the recreation centre there was pemmican, tea and tables set up with local crafts.

People here either work for the government or are hunters and trappers. They hunt polar bear, caribou, musk ox, fox and wolves, and use every part of the animal right down to the bones.

Some of us made our way to the Co-Op store, which plays a very important role as supply ships get here only a couple of times a year. No alcohol is sold here, but it can be flown in for personal consumption. When we walked back to the landing another Eskimo fellow with a great sense of humour had built a fire and had two pots of hot tea available for those waiting. The recap meeting tonight was particularly entertaining.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

One helicopter was out of action first thing this morning, but fortunately Jens and I were close to ready to go when our group was called first. Our cabin is only one flight of external stairs from the helicopter pad. Pilot David headed for smoking hills, found by John Franklin in 1826. They are in Franklin Bay at the east end of the Beaufort Sea. Oil shale plus vast deposits of lignite ignite through spontaneous combustion when erosion exposes the minerals. No one knows how many hundreds or thousands of years they have been burning.

We were the second helicopter load to arrive. It was a short walk to the edge hill from where we could look down on the smouldering, smoking hillside and a blackened areas that had burned out. By the time we got back to the landing site the second helicopter was in action and people were arriving frequently. David took us on a helicopter tour of inland hills and frozen lakes, where Jens spotted some caribou.

Lunch today was a BBQ on the deck. It was very well done, but uncomfortably cold in spite of clear weather. From the deck we could see various places where the hills were smoking. It is certainly an interesting place. On one stretch of coast there were 5 or 6 places pouring smoke, obscuring much of the shoreline.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

We passed the mouth of the Mackenzie River today well out at sea to avoid shallows created river silt. It is the second largest river system in North America, after the Mississippi. We stopped to helicopter to Kay Point, not far past the river delta, where half a dozen caribou were spotted in the distance. The three helicopter pilots will now fly to Inuvik for the night, then cross the country to Quebec, making 19 fuel stops.

We have been living on 25 hour days. Each night for the last few nights the clock has been set back one hour, something that will continue until Russia.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Yesterday we entered the Chukchi Sea in rough seas. Shipboard routine consists of lectures, the odd video, eating and drinking. Whale spouts are spotted at times, but not close enough to see a whale. I've skipped most of the lectures due to insufficient leg room which make them a painful experience, but am reading a lot.

Today we continued across the Chukchi Sea, named after the indigenous people living around the Chukota Peninsula. We were running parallel to large waves, and the ship was rolling severely making it difficult and dangerous to move around. Looking at the window from my bunk I could see only sky, then as the ship rolled only water. The ship changed course to lessen the movement so dinner could be served.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

We were awakened at a little after 6 AM in calmer seas to notify us that there was a nice sunrise and it was possible to see both Russia and Alaska. We are now in the Bering Strait, named after Vitrus Bering, born 1681 and died on Bering Island near the Kamchatka Peninsula in 1741. The strait varies between 30 & 50 meters deep and at its narrowest it is 53 miles (85 km) across. We sailed between Big Diomede Island, Russia, and Little Diomede Island, USA, along the international date line, which runs in the centre of the 2 mile wide gap. Both islands had buildings on them.

The thousands of birds and pods of whales kept most people busy with cameras and binoculars. The staff identified 4 species of whales today. We were able to get closer to whales than previously when the ship changed course to follow them. An enormous disappointment was not stopping or slowing for a better look at a huge colony of walrus, numbered in the dozens, crowding the beaches and filling the ocean near shore.

In the evening the results of a limerick contest were released, along with some good limericks. It turned into a long night that took a lot of beer to get through.

Monday, September 19, 2016

We awoke this morning anchored in the inlet where the semi abandoned City of Provideniya, Russia, is located. Due to crossing the date line it is Tuesday, Sept 20 here, but as we are here for a short time I'll keep the dates from the North America side of the line.

Provideniya was discovered in 1660, but was named Providence when a British Captain, Thomas Moore, stumbled upon the protected bay when his ship was in trouble in a storm. The town was founded in 1938 as a deep water port, becoming a military port in Soviet times with a population up to ten thousand housed in Soviet style apartment blocks. In 1991 the military left along with half the population. Provideniya went from over 500 ships per year to very few. The brewery, bakery, tannery and cement plant closed down.

Currently there are about 2,000 people, all employed by one branch of the government or another. The bay freezes in winter, making resupply difficult, however people are paid 3 times the wages as elsewhere, plus housing. A 1957 heating plant keeps all buildings warm in winter. Every two years the government pays for flights to other parts of Russia for vacation, and after 15 years they can relocated and receive an apartment and a pension. The population is young, as older people usually take the option to relocate. There is an airport, but flights are often cancelled due to weather. Some supplies are brought in from Alaska.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

This morning we were still anchored in Provideniya. The passengers were cleared to go ashore a little after noon yesterday, however apparently Quark or their agent did not do the proper paperwork to import the Russian helicopters back into Russia, which were exported when leaving for the Arctic circumnavigation. According to tour leader Chelli, we were refused permission to dock and no customs inspection can be done until the helicopters are cleared. Zodiacs are not cleared to take anyone to shore. There are some pretty unhappy people on board - a petition requesting a 50% refund from Quark because various promised activities didn't happen.

In the afternoon the zodiacs were finally permitted to take us to shore. There is not much here, about 5 shops and a bar, however after asking many locals where it was in my few words of Russian, I finally was informed it closed at 3 PM, before we had even left the ship. The town has one broken concrete street, not repaired since the cement factory closed, the rest are mud. Many buildings, both residential and commercial, are boarded up - it gives a strange feeling when walking down streets lined with 4 story abandoned buildings.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Overnight the ship relocated to Penkingngey Bay, a 20 km deep inlet in Beringia National Park. I went ashore, but didn't last long as it was cold and raining. There were tents and a couple of vehicles where reindeer herders were staying. They had tea going over a wood fire for everyone. Their herd was in the hills above the bay, so I opted for a return trip to the ship, having had various close encounters with reindeer and their herders.

The next stop was the Eskimo town of Yandrakynnot, located on the coast in the Chukchi Autonomous Region. The town was formed by 59 Eskimos in 1782 according to legend, but not recognized by Russia until 1959. Reindeer herders joined the town, so the population of about 350 exist on reindeer herding, fishing and hunting sea mammals. It has a population of about 350. There is no central heating here, each house has a supply of coal. There is a fairly new school and town hall donated by Canada, and old wooden houses are gradually being given new roofs or replaced by the Russians. One of the elders and a translator gave us a tour of town.

Some brave people on board went for swim in the freezing water before we boarded the ship - I was able to resist the temptation. We then set sail for Anadyr. At night was the captain's farewell party and our bar group met for the last time for late night drinking.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

We were lucky to be in the last group to leave the ship, as we could sleep or sit in the library where hot drinks and snacks were available instead of spending hours in the small, crowded Anadyr airport.

In spite of having two helicopters and pilots on board, we had to take zodiacs to shore, then be flown to the airport by 22 passenger Russian helicopters. The sea was rough, so luggage wet with salt water can be expected. Our zodiac driver did good job of keeping most of the waves out of the boat, but one fellow got soaked.

Half way to shore I realized that while I left the ship with my shoes around my neck the first time, when I realized I forgot my life jacket I put the shoes down to fight my way into the jacket, and left them there. The driver radioed the expedition leader to bring them along, but when she arrive she had forgotten them. She tried to talk me into leaving them and wearing the gum boots, but that would have been somewhat impractical as we are staying at a 5 star resort, complements of Jens. Also, shoe stores do not have my side, they were a special order. She finally sent one of the zodiac drivers back to the ship to get them. They arrived well wrapped in plastic for waterproofing, and I happily traded the gum boots for them. Meanwhile everyone was waiting for me in the helicopter.

The helicopter was an old workhorse, certainly not build for comfort. The noise was deafening and it was slow. There was an altimeter above the door to the cockpit so I saw that our altitude was 350 feet. We could see the City of Anadyr before descending the airport where we flew at about one foot off the ground along the taxiway before landing. Customs was easy, but slow as their scanners for the passports were not working well. Our flight out was on a Miami Air 737-800, where a welcome hot lunch was served. We are not used to missing meals! No more free beer, either. It is available for $6 per can.

My entry through customs and immigration was very fast as they have Global Entry at the airport. Buses were waiting to take us to the Hilton Executive Suites where everything was ready for each person with no check in formalities. Boxes of sandwiches and snacks were also ready. Now we'll be in Alaska for three days.