22.09.14 - Nunavut News Version imprimable Adresse Email


Like the name implies, the Northwest Passage is about passing from one side to another, from Baffin Bay to the Bering Strait.

The English gave it that name based on the European dream of finding an alternate shipping route to  the one that took commercial ships around the tip of South America.

It's a dream that continues to prove elusive – at least if you want to get it done quickly – in one season.

The Canadian Ice Service watches the waterways of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago closely.

"We monitor the ice in the summer in the Arctic, through the Northwest Passage, or wherever  shipping takes place," said Doug Leonard, senior ice forecaster with the service, which is a branch of Environment Canada.

"Where the ice is either forming or melting, that's where we look, because that's where it can have an impact on ships."

The summer ice season in the Central Arctic proved this year that, even though the melt is on and ships occasionally have the allclear, conditions remain unpredictable.

"The area we're seeing more ice (this year) is really in the centre of the Arctic," said Leonard.

This translates into more ice than hoped for in Victoria Strait, which Leonard notes, is "what's been in the news."

"The passage is not always clear. There have been a few years when it has been completely ice-free."

This year, Cambridge Bay experienced one outcome.

"We only received one of the four (cruise) ships that were planned to come," said Vicki Aitaok, who handles cruise ship visits in the community.

"The first one arrived on Aug. 24 instead of Aug. 21. The others were unable due to ice."

"As far as Mother Nature goes, one learns patience and tolerance for this in the Arctic. You used the  word 'cavalier' but it is more than being casual about Mother Nature. We simply accept and move on," she added.

Charles Hedrich attempted to navigate these waters on a solo rowing trip, but had to curtail his plan  to complete his intended two-year trip through the passage.

"The Victoria Strait was impossible in my little rowing boat," he said.

"It was the same for the Peel Sound – it was completely full of ice. The only option I was expecting to  be possible for me was to pass through the Bellot Strait."

But he had to tuck his boat away for overwintering in Taloyoak. Unlike adventurers and explorers of yesteryear, Hedrich flew home to France.

Hedrich was in touch, throughout his journey with the Canadian Ice Service.

"The forecast was not good at all," said Hedrich.

"That's part of the adventure. That's part of the game.

Echoing the tenacity of past European explorers, Hedrich said, "for me, the most important point is to finish the job."

He intends to finish his epic one-man voyage next year, after completing a 1,000 kilometre trek  through a South American desert.

Leonard stresses the ice conditions seen this summer are normal.

"We're not seeing seaice influx that we don't regularly see. As for fractured ice shelves or fractured  glaciers, we're not seeing anything that would impact on sea ice," he said.

"There wasn't any big fracture or any ice plugs or that kind of stuff which would allow more ice than  usual to come in. That didn't happen."

He calls it business as usual, from an ice perspective.

"But the ice has more impact because there's more interest in certain locations," said Leonard.

In other words, the dream of the Northwest Passage thrives. So much so that a luxury liner, Crystal Cruise Ship's Serenity, has a onemonth sold-out trip booked for mid-August to mid-September 2016.

The company plans to take 1,000 passengers, paying anywhere between $20,755 and $241,990, from Anchorage, Alaska to New York City through the Northwest Passage, with stops in Ulukhaktok, Cambridge Bay and Pond Inlet.

And, no worries, the company will have a second vessel handy, complete with a helicopter pad and towing ability to break through any particularly difficult ice, or help with evacuation.



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