Students on Ice Arctic Expedition 2013, Iqaluit, Nunavut
On a cloudless morning, blue sky over the ship, the first zodiac is lowered into the water. Ripples radiate across the still surface and vanish into the fog. Blue above and below, and all around a brilliant, almost white horizon into which melt both sea and sky.
We have anchored in Frobisher Bay outside Iqaluit. The plan is to take luggage, staff and students off in that order and land them at the jetty that runs nearly a half kilometre out from the shore. We need to arrive as the tide is coming in, otherwise it will be impossible to get ourselves and our gear across the long mud flat that will separate us from the shore.
The ship has entryways on the port and starboard sides of the second deck about 10 metres about the water line. It is through these openings that we have been boarding zodiacs for trips to communities, hikes on shore and exploration on the water. Today they are piled with luggage and expedition equipment -- everything from art supplies for painting workshops, to microscopes for examining plankton and other tiny sea creatures, to empty beer bottles.
The last item was used for a multi-year experiment to chart sea currents. A message is placed in the bottle asking the finder to report the recovery location. Students add a message and email addresses and the bottles are sealed and thrown, usually with great gusto, over the side. About four per cent of the bottles have been recovered over the last few years as far away as Iceland and Scotland. Data gathered has helped scientists get a better understanding of North Atlantic ocean currents.
(Note: The bottles eventually break down in the environment and all came aboard empty.)
We head out into the fog, GPS in hand, as the ship’s crew begins loading luggage into other zodiacs. A small cargo ship appears, its radar visible above the fog, a barge at its side piled with shipping containers. Nearly all of Iqaluit’s supplies are relayed to shore in this way. The capital of Nunavut, the country’s newest territory, still lacks a proper port.
There are eight staff members in our boat. We stop as another zodiac comes up and four of us transfer by (carefully) stepping from one rubber pontoon to another. We are ballast to help the craft plane over the flat water. As our new zodiac picks up speed the floor suddenly starts bucking and lurching.
The keel is shot. Our driver radios ahead and the zodiac we just left slows down to let us limp up and carry out the passenger transfer in reverse.
The tide is about five metres below the jetty when we arrive. Scrambling up a slope of large, mossy rocks, we get ready to receive the boats carrying the luggage. Two five-tonne trucks arrive and careful position themselves to receive the baggage. We have to move quickly. The tide is rising as the first zodiacs arrive piled high with bags. We separate them into piles -- one for those of us heading south and the other for the 30 or so students and staff who are going to homes all across the Canadian North.
Iqaluit’s tide is 11 metres, the second highest in the world after the Bay of Fundy on the Canadian east coast. By the time it reaches this point, we will have to have all the students and staff off the ship. The water continues to rise as the zodiacs come in (it’s about three kilometres out to the ship). As the last one arrives, the water is well above the lower landing area we’ve been using. But everyone makes the shore with dry feet and heads off into Iqaluit for a few hours before our flight departs for Ottawa.
A discussion group on the foredeck © John Crump.