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July 25 2005

Idlewild Log Entries

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July 28, 2005

The ice west of Herschel Island was possible to travel through.  You could see a line of ice that was grounded on the sea bottom at a depth of 50-60 feet.  A small percentage of an ice berg is above the water line and most hangs down.  It was quite beautiful going through the ice and we had one perhaps more shy seals checking us out as we went along.

There is a nautical flag for every letter in the alphabet, with ‘Q’ being solid yellow that translates to ‘quarantine’ which a boat flies once it enters a foreign country before it has been checked out and gone through customs.  We hoisted our ‘Q’ flag as we entered Alaska.  Once we go through customs in Barrow, Alaska we then put the flag of the USA on our starboard spreader line on the right side of the mast.  Our own country flag always flies on our stern and we fly our proud Alberta flag on the bow.

We have a lot of cloud cover and fog so far in the arctic. 

Brad has certainly missed the internet but not TV.  There are so many applications where we need weather or some other information or simply to stay in contact with everyone.  Our communication systems have not been as serviceable as we expected.

Still strong north winds July 23 but we decided to see if we could get west.  Ice was more favorable than expected for about 150 miles then deteriorated.  We got stuck for an hour trying to push our way though a solid part so decided to go back around and into an entrance behind some Islands.  Fog came, and to our consternation we almost were grounded when we found our charts are out about one half mile.  Fog stayed but ice was less for the next 40 miles.  We came very near an oil production platform but didn't see it until later when the fog lifted.  We should have noticed it on Radar but ice reflections are so poor and it was set too sensitive and a lot of extra stuff showing that we didn't pay much attention to.  We eventually found a nice bay at Cross Island on July 24 that provided good ice protection but out 0.6 miles on the chart.  Ice is solid outside this Island so we were worried that we may be here a while.  Took the dinghy ashore to look a whale skeletons and the old whaling station.  Ran across polar bear tracks 10 " across so we'll keep our eyes open.  A polar bear skeleton dead for a few months near the whale skeletons. 

A Canadian ice breaker coming though from the west was on the radio and they were slowed to 2 kts going through 11 miles north of where we are now.  That and previous ice information we had suggests that the ice will be slower than usual to melt this year in the western Arctic and that is what the long term forecast had said.  July 27 the fog lifted and we lifted anchor July 27 and got to Barrow at 17:30 mountain time.  We were behind schedule now at that point.  Hope to go south to Bearing Straight  yet before going east but may have to cut that short.  If all goes well should be in Tuk again Aug 8 and Cambridge Bay about Aug 13th.   

 

June 25, 2005

Fort Smith was nice.  They are famous for their American White Pelicans that nest on islands in the river, the only ones that do.  We guess that perhaps the fish get killed in the rapids and the pelicans stick around to eat them, apparently they can put 20L of water into their bill sack.  We see how important the river was in the past for transportation with the amount of boats and types that went through the area.  They even built steel ships in Fort Smith years ago.

 

There is 13 miles of rapids and 21 road miles of portage that has long been an important part of early fur trade and northern development.  We were anchored below the last set, we could see and hear “the rapids of the drowned”.  This the second portage went very well with the exception of the wheel and axle repairs midway along the road.  The sandy soil held up well even when it rained, and it rained a lot for 3 days.  This is the point where we removed the wheels as we launched.  It is nice to get freed from them but at the same time they worked well and did a good job of protecting the hull from damage.  For the most part we only suffered nicks to the propeller.

 

We left Fort Smith on the morning of June 19.  Nice cruise to Great Slave Lake.  Took the jet boat to the East Arm to explore and fish for a big one in the Simpson Islands.  The water was shallow in some spots and rocks that made it a good decision not to take Idlewild there.  Small craft warnings made towing Vidar difficult so we stayed anchored in the mouth of the river with beam seas until early June 23.  With beautiful weather we cruised to Hay River arriving at 5:30 PM.  We were met by the unofficial greeting committee of Bea in addition to some local commercial fisherman.  Bea was also generous enough to give us a ride into town.   www.hayriver.com

 

July 23, 2005

It took a little longer to get prepared, put away supplies, and see a couple more sites so we left Tuktoyaktuk early on the morning of July 16 and headed west across the delta, I believe it is the second largest fresh water delta in Canada.  We reached ice at noon and followed the edge of it towards Herschel Island where we passed an offshore drilling rig waiting to drill a hole in the winter.  The ice was north of us, then appeared ahead of us in the fog and it reached shore just before Demarcation Bay a few miles into Alaska and we were forced to turn back to the shelter of Herschel Island for refuge.  The wind was very strong and some concern of getting trapped against bergs as high as 20 feet.  We had to dodge big and small ice (ice bergs and bergy bits they call it) in the fog and rain with very poor visibility.  The radar isn't great at ‘seeing’ the ice.

At the island we stayed in Orca Cove for a couple days before moving to Pauline Cove where there is a settlement now inhabited only by the Parks people stationed here during the summer months and the occasional visitor.  There Lee John and Phillip Ross of Yukon Parks have been great hosts and we have been impressed at their dedication to the area and the hard work done on the island.  While on the island we finally hooked up with Jack Kruger and a crew that he brought along of Karla, Mike, and Ross of the RCMP and Canadian Coast Guard in the RCMP boat 'MacKenzie'.  They are part of a wide group throughout the north as a part of sovereignty, a vague way of spending money.  I have never heard of any other country trying to make claim to Yukon, NWT or Nunavut.  Also caught the visit of the Federal RCMP Commissioner, Guiliano Zachardelli’s visit to the island on July 20th.  They visited grave sites of two RNWMP officers that died in 1911 and 1918.  We even took advantage of their leftovers at the invitation of Jack, Lee, & Philip, a muskox burger and fresh vegetables for lunch.

There is evidence of inhabitants at Herschel Island for 9000 years.  During its peak there was a population greater than Edmonton, reaching near 2000 with the mostly US whalers.  The ships would arrive in the summer for the whales the next spring, and then leave in August.  At first they took bow head whales for the baleen then they also take the oil.  Instead of teeth the larger whales use baleen, which are large plates that hang from the upper jaw and filter the plankton and krill to eat.  There are 150 pieces of baleen in one whale, these flexible pieces which are similar to finger nail material were used for things like buggy whips and corsets for their elasticity.  The oil was of course used for many things including providing heat and light etc.

We were given some pamphlets of the area that list 161 types of plants and almost as many species of birds.  We have seen sand hill cranes, swans, several ducks including an eider duck nesting under the steps of one of buildings, seals, and some caribou nearby at Orca Cove.  There is a grizzly bear on the island and when the ice reaches land we can get muskox and polar bears roaming around also.  We still haven't seen a beluga whale yet but there are a lot around, we should now see bow head whales too.

A group of researchers arrived July 21 from the Yukon government.  The biologists, ornithologists, veterinarian, and perhaps others along with the park rangers are studying the island.

Currently we are waiting out the weather of fog, rain showers and wind up to 40 mph.  We need south winds to push the ice out off the coastline so that we can reach Point Barrow, Alaska.  Lately keeping the coolers cold hasn't been a problem, lower temperatures and snow and ice available have made one less issue.  The day before yesterday was too rough to row to shore (we could have blown to shore but not row back) but we got in a hike yesterday and today.  The weather seems to have changed this afternoon so we will probably check out the ice conditions west on the 23rd and continue on if possible.

Yukon Parks – Herschel Island

Wikipedia – Herschel Island

Virtual museum – Herschel Island