With photography by

The CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent is the largest of Canada's icebreakers dedicated to Arctic service. Her mission is to aid shipping, perform search and rescue, support scientific research and resupply Northern communities and government sites. Perhaps most important, though, is her mission to fly the Maple Leaf and maintain a Canadian presence in the Northwest Passage at a time when changing ice conditions have people thinking it won't be long before Canada's claim to this fabled gateway from Atlantic to Pacific will be actively challenged — by nations whose commercial ships are eager to take the 7,000-kilometre shortcut from Europe to East Asia.

Canadian Geographic writer James Raffan and photographer Benoit Aquin spent two weeks aboard the Louis last July for their feature in the Jan/Feb 2007 issue, "Policing the passage," the first in a year-long series of stories in Canadian Geographic devoted to understanding the poles, in recognition of International Polar Year 2007-08.

Along the way, Raffan and Aquin became intimately familiar with the inner workings of the ship: how it is guided through ice, what research projects are conducted, how safety is assured and how Canadian sovereignty is asserted.

Here, through Raffan's daily on-board log, photo gallery and additional facts and links, you can trace their nautical journey and discover the sea-bound community that patrols our Arctic waters.

Day 1 — Off to Sea!

Location: 44°39.624'N 63°33.437'W

Day 1 - The Louis S. St. Laurent at her home wharf in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia prior to sailing. Smaller coast guard ships Edward Cornwallis and Sir William Alexander await departure as well for their duties in more southern latitiudes.

Day 1 - After clearing security at the gate, writer James Raffan gathers his things for a three-week assignment on The Louis.

Day 1 - "Gulliver" boards The Louis

Day 1 - Important information in the how-not-to-miss-the-ship category.

Day 1 - The Louis has a powerful "bubbler" system for easing friction when breaking ice that can also be used as a bow thruster for moving the ship away from a wharf on departure. It's a sound that draws writer James Raffan to the starboard side of the ship.

Day 1 - The Louis and sister ships Edward Cornwallis and Sir William Alexander, as seen from the Harbour Ferry Terminal in Dartmouth.

First impression? This ship didn't seem all that big on paper — 24.38 metres wide and 119.63 metres long — but she's got six decks, not including the engine room, and I managed to get lost within a few minutes of boarding. "Log" (Logistics) Officer, Rod Johnson, gave me a quick tour, showed me to my cabin and said, "If you need anything, just call." The only problem is that I don't know how to use the phone! Oh well. Tried to go to the crew's mess for a bite to eat but got all turned around and had to ask directions. Inside the ship all looks a bit the same. But I'm getting it . my cabin is on the Upper Deck, meaning I can walk out onto the open deck at the bow of the ship and look down over the side. Below me are the Main Deck, Lower Deck and Engine Room and above me are the decks of the ship's superstructure, starting with the Flight Deck and ending with the Bridge Deck with a couple of levels in between. We're set to sail about 1730 hours. Lots of last-minute loading going on. Louis won't be back in Dartmouth until late November.

Posted by James Raffan on Thursday, July 20, 2006

Day 2 — Learning the Routines

Location: 45°34.278'N 60°10.476'W

Day 2 - Photographer Benoit Aquin is helped into his dry immersion suit by Third Mate Catherine Lacombe. Mandatory safety training is hands-on as well as informational.

Day 2 - Inside the Upper Deck of the Louis, port side. Set against the clean sameness of the polished floors and white walls are red fire equipment and detailed safety drawings and instructions in frames along the wall. Quiet always in the corridors, because crew from the night watches will be sleeping.

Day 2 - Evidence of one of the Louis' crowning achievements, being the first North American ship to the North Pole in 1993 on a joint US/Canadian venture called the "Arctic Ocean Section."

Day 2 - The Louis was built in 1969 but was taken off sea trials early to escort the American private supertanker S. S.Manhattan through the NW Passage in the summers of 1969 and 1970.

We're on our way, headed toward the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Strait of Belle Isle. Meals are at 0630, 1130 and 1630. The fancy visitors cabins have toilets and showers. The rest of us use washrooms and laundry facilities located throughout the ship. Today is intensive safety training and ship familiarization. Last time I was on one of these ships, I got stuck in my immersion wetsuit and couldn't get out. This ship has dry suits which are still a bit claustrophobic for some. Had a good laugh with photographer Benoit Aquin, but this was serious training led by Third Officer Catherine Legault. When all was said and done (including written and on-line tests!) we had completed the "Ship Specific familiarization checklist referred to in FSM-6C1 section 3.3," we had done "Mandatory Occupational Safety and Health Training," including a computer-based training program called "WHMIS and You," as per Coast Guard regulations, and had signed certificates to attest to our success! Learned a bit about the Louis as well. Her whole history is written on plaques that are affixed to the walls near the forward and aft lounges. One of her first chores was to escort the Manhattan through the Northwest Passage in 1969. In 1994, she was the first Canadian ship to visit the North Pole. Every hour we travel about 18 knots (each equal to one minute of latitude) and the ship sucks up 4,026 litres of diesel fuel per 100 kilometres, which is about 14 gallons per nautical mile!

Posted by James Raffan on Friday, July 21, 2006

Day 3 — Aharrrr, Mateys!

Location: 50°46.056'N 57°40.561'W

Day 3 - Photographer Benoit Aquin taking photographs of the first ice the ship encounters in the Davis Strait.

Day 3 - Turning out of the Strait of Belle Isle and into "Iceberg Alley" search lights from the Louis poke into the darkness of open ocean to watch for icebergs drifting south on the Labrador Current.

Day 3 - Photographer Benoit Aquin soaks up the view from the Crow's Nest, 32 metres off the water.

Day 3 - While the Louis is still in at latitudes where darkness prevails, all instrument lights are kept low and, if possible, in the red part of the spectrum so as not to compromise the night vision of the watch officer (who sets the course) and the quartermaster (who actually steers the ship).

Day 3 - The Crow's Nest is accessed by climbing up a ladder inside the mast from the bridge.

Day 3 - Having handed his camera through the trap door in the Crow's Nest floor, Photographer Benoit Aquin climbs through for a night of high altitude observation.

Day 3 - Photographer Benoit Aquin: "If only we could clean the outside of these thick windows!"

Day 3 - The Crow's Nest was originally in place to extend the navigational eyesight of the ship. But now, with radar, radio direction, finding and all manner of satellite imagery and electronic navigational aids, it is more or less redundant for anything other than a superb view of the surrounding sea as the Louis makes its way through the NW Passage.

Day 3 - Extra flag halyards must be kept tied and separate from circling radar antennas on the mast in the vicinity of the Crow's Nest. A video camera on "Monkey's Island" above the Crow's Nest reports to a monitor below decks in the Engine Control Room where watch officers can zoom and manipulate the lens to see what's outside, above decks, and ahead.

Aquin and I have the run of the ship and we're having lots of fun. We've had a chance to check out all of the systems on this floating community — propulsion, electrical power generation, water desalination, sewage, communication, security, fire, waste, restaurant … we're on a totally self-contained world on the high seas. As we have sailed up through the Strait of Belle Isle into "Iceberg Alley," we have been spending quite a bit of time up in the crow's nest, the highest point on the ship. We get to it by going up five storeys of stairs to the bridge and then up a 20- to 30-metre ladder inside the main mast to a trap door. The view from there is unbelieveable, especially at night when the watch officer fires up big search search lights to watch for icebergs. Probably the most profound geography lesson I've had in a while happened when we turned the corner of Labrador, leaving the warm northeastward-flowing waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and entering the frigid southward-flowing waters of the Labrador Current that bring down all the icebergs. The temperature dropped from in the balmy 20s to near zero — on July 22! Since turning that corner, we're on a course of zero degrees — due North — for 700 nautical miles. It will take us up into Baffin Bay about halfway between Greenland and the mouth of Hudson Strait.

Posted by James Raffan on Saturday, July 22, 2006

Day 4 — The Captain's Table

Location: 55°25.694'N 54°58.014'W

To mark the passing of time, once a week — on Sundays — the officers put on their dress uniforms, with black trousers and white shirts instead of navy trousers and light blue shirts. Work is the same as it is for them on any other day, except that they look a bit spiffier. And, in accordance with Coast Guard tradition, the captain invites a few members of the ship's company to dine with him in the his dining room, which is closed the rest of the week. Aquin and I were among the 10 or so invitees today, and were treated to wine with a lovely dinner with linen and silver service. Before dinner, Captain Potts spoke about each of the previous captains of the Louis, whose portraits are hung around the dining room. Although this meal was special, I have to say that regular meals in the officer's mess are nothing to be sneezed at either. There is linen service there as well and stewards in crisp white shirts take orders and serve the meals — you have to get your own beverages, salads and desserts at stations along the side of that dining room. Or, if you're not wanting that level of formality, "supernumeraries" like Aquin and me can opt to dine in the crew's mess instead, which is more like a cafeteria one deck down. It's all self-serve there amid a much more boisterous atmosphere and the stories told around the table by mealmates tend to be much better than they are in the more stilted ambience of the officer's mess. In any case, there's no chance we're going to starve on this assignment. The food is good, hot, and plentiful! I should probably think about spending some time in the gym.

Posted by James Raffan on Sunday, July 23, 2006

Day 5 — Science of Sovereignty

Location: 60°41.319'N 55°00.448'W

Day 5 - Seaman Jean Marc Cormier holds a hand launching device for an expendable probe that measures conductivity and temperature of the water. A gossamer thread of copper wire transmits data back to a computer on the ship as the probe falls thousands of metres through the water column. When the "cast" is finished the baseball-sized probe and the nest of wire settle into bottom sediments with no expectation of return.

Day 5 - Looking through the aft cargo hold door to the quarter deck of the Louis where Borden Chapman's seismic "sled" rests on metal stantions.

Day 5 - The quarter deck of the Louis was specially renovated over the spring, before the Louis left Dartmouth, to accommodate the UNCLOS seismic data collection project. If this device makes good on its promise, its information, along with seismic data gathered with other arrays in other places, could potentially enlarge Canada's undersea territory by 1.75 million square kilometres (equivalent to the area of the prairie provinces).

Day 5 - Department of Fisheries Oceanographer Jane Eert makes her way to the aft rail of the Louis' quarter deckk to deploy an expendable CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) probe amongst icebergs in Baffin Bay. Behind her is the crane that lifts the seismic "sled" and its 100m array of hydrophones over the stern of the ship.

Day 5 - Bedford Institute of Oceanography Electronic Research Technologist, Borden Chapman (L) and his assistant, Ryan Pike, concentrate on getting the computer end of the seismic "sled" apparatus operational, before a test deployment in Arctic waters.

As we're getting into more northern waters, scientists aboard the Louis are preparing equipment to begin collecting various types of information. Oceanographer Jane Eert has a gun-like instrument at the ready that looks for all the world like some kind of ghost-busting blunderbuss. This launches expendable probes off the stern of the ship that will fall through the water column measuring the water's conductivity (saltiness), temperature and density. Attached to each of these baseball-sized probes are thousands of metres of thread-like copper wire through which the data is transmitted back to Eert's computer. When the wire runs out, the data gathering is done and the probe cannot be retrieved. This is just part of years of science done from the Louis and on other northern ships that has allowed incredible maps of the currents flowing under the arctic ice to be generated and conclusions about climate change to be drawn. Also aboard is another technologist, Borden Chapman, who is preparing instruments to conduct another type of information gathering. He is assembling a great big compressed air gun that will hang under the Louis when she's breaking ice in the Western Arctic. Using an array of sensitive hydrophones that will be towed behind the ship, Chapman will gather seismic data about the depth of sediments on the ocean floor around the 2,500-metre depth contour. This information will become part of a submission to a judicial committee under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (unclos) that may see Canada's undersea territory being expanded by as much as 1.75 million square kilometres!

Posted by James Raffan on Monday, July 24, 2006

Day 6 — In the Belly of the Whale

Location: 65°12.797'N 56°59.114' W

Day 6 - Boatswain Bob Taylor (aka King Neptune) prepares for the infamous Coast Guard initiation for crossing the Arctic Circle.

Day 6 - Arctic Circle Initiands are instructed to look after an egg for a couple of days, as part of the initiation. To avoid substitution the eggs are marked with the ship's stamp and the captain's initials. This egg fell victim to the tomfoolery of a crew member, who was testing the initand's resolve to look after it, and had to be repaired with two bandaids.

Day 6 - Steward Mark Lewis, part of the initiation planning team, models initiation pranks of years gone by.

Day 6 - Writer James Raffan accounts to King and Queen Neptune for having his egg stolen mere hours after he promised to look after it.

Day 6 - Ship's barber (and stores keeper), Jack Metcalfe gives writer James Raffan his initiatory treatment with the clippers.

Day 6 - Steward Brenda Kennedy makes her way through "the belly of the whale" as part of her Arctic Circle initiation.

Day 6 - King and Queen Neptune (Boatswain Bob Taylor and Third Engineer Nicole Robitaille) relax after presiding over the Arctic Circle initiation.

Day 6 - Electronic Technologist Peter Ellis can fix anything but he can't convince King and Queen Neptune to be kind to him during the initiation.

Day 6 - But King Neptune was interested in the devious tactics and ingenious devices he had used to protect his egg.

Day 6 - Official proof that writer James Raffan survived initiation and successfully crossed the Arctic Circle on a Coast Guard Ship. This certificate was awarded in wall-size as well as wallet-size, to ensure that its bearer will be able to keep his hair and avoid going through 'the belly of the whale' and Neptune's Court a second time!

A couple of days ago, Captain Potts gathered all 14 newbies on the ship — new crew members, scientists and the Canadian Geographic team — to solemnly explain that it is a great priviledge to cross the Arctic Circle on ship, particularly a Coast Guard ship. It would be Neptune, King of the Sea, and his Queen (whose name he didn't mention) who would ultimately decide if we were fit for such a crossing but, in the meantime, the captain said that we would all have to undergo a series of tests to determine our readiness. First among these was to take a raw egg (which had been stamped with the ship's stamp and signed by the captain to avoid illegal substitution in the event of breakage) which we would have to look after until such time as we were told not to. Knowing the rest of the crew was out to test our resolve to look after our eggs, we all made little protectors. Mine fit perfectly in a little waterproof camera case. I laughed when one of the others had his egg cracked by a malicious crewmate (this was fixed with two Band-Aids). But he laughed when mine was stolen while I was in the gym this morning, meaning that when we were "piped" (called on the ship's intercom) to report to Monkey's Island (an open air balcony above the bridge), I had to admit that I'd lost my egg. "Neptune will not be amused," was all Third Officer, Catherine Lacombe, would say. I can't tell you exactly what happened — we were sworn to secrecy — except that the tests got quite extreme and, for some, involved the loss of a substantial amount of hair. Eventually, we were all dragged before King and Queen Neptune, and sentenced to various punishments which included crawling through "the belly of the whale." Yuck! The good news is that we all passed and, at a special reception after crossing the Circle (66.6°N) received certificates (wall size and wallet size) to show next time we cross the Arctic Circle on a Coast Guard ship to avoid having to go through this initiation a second time!

Posted by James Raffan on Thursday, July 25, 2006

Day 7 — Iceberg!

Location: 69°12.797'N 65°59.114'W

Day 7 - The Louis circles a giant iceberg in Baffin Bay.

Day 7 - Closeup, it's easy to see how the massive Greenland icicebergs, 8/10s of which are below the water, could damage a ship!

Day 7 - Another berg dwarfs the ship's twin-engined chopper.

This is a bit like sailing into a dream. Crossing the Arctic Circle, we encountered the first ice of the trip, which added immeasureably to the look of the northern seascape. All around was broken pack ice, which the ship pushed through with ease (though not without dramatic bashing and crashing along the sides of the five-centimetre-thick ice-belt along her hull). Sailors of the 18th and 19th centuries believed that beyond a cordon of ice at these latitudes was an open polar sea surrounding the North Pole. Indeed, we have come through that ice and back into open ocean. However, in this open water are icebergs, lots of massive icebergs like the one that sank the Titanic. Calved off the glaciers of Greenland, they first made their way first north, then curved west on ocean currents, and are now sailing, like great ships carrying the climatic history of the world in their multitudinous layers, south to Newfoundland and beyond. There are at least two Titanic connections on the Louis.

One is that director of the Titanic film, James Cameron, used the Louis in her home port of Dartmouth, N.S. to shoot the opening scene of the movie, where the old lady lands aboard ship (the Louis was done up to look like a deep-sea research vessel) to see images of the Titanic on the bottom of the ocean. A second one is that all of the engineering officers aboard the Louis wear purple bands between the rank stripes on their epaulettes. I asked about these and learned that in honour of the engineers on the Titanic, all of whom died keeping the fires going as long as possible while the ship went down, King George decreed that they would be remembered by those who stoked the "fires" of later ships with royal purple with their gold braid.

Posted by James Raffan on Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Day 8 — Enter, The Passage

Location: 73°51.976'N 73°58.111'W

We've sailed out of darkness and the world unfolding before us in 24-hour daylight is getting more spectacular by the minute. We're in Lancaster Sound now, the gateway of the Northwest Passage. To the north is the rugged coast of Devon Island with its many glaciers winding to the sea. To the south is Bylot Island and the north coast of Baffin Island. You can't be here without thinking about the historic hunt for this fabled passage. Back in the 16th century, Spanish captains talked about the Strait of Anian, which was supposed to be a temperate connection through North America that would allow them to sail from Atlantic to Pacific. That waterway turned out not to exist.

Interestingly, for a time during the 19th century, this entrance to the Northwest Passage was thought not to exist as well. When Captain James Ross came to this point in 1818, the mouth of Lancaster Sound was blocked by ice, but he looked west and thought he saw a range of high hills he called the "Croaker Mountains" blocking passage. These turned out to be a mirage, which made Ross the butt of Admiralty jokes for the rest of his life. But his second in command, William Parry (who prudently did not disagree with the boss until he got back to London) returned and became one of the most celebrated and successful contributors of all time to the search for the Northwest Passage. Today, though, there are no mountains in sight, at least on the western horizon. The sun is shining, the water is ice free, and the waves and three or four of the Louis' throbbing diesel engines are pushing us farther and farther into the passage.

Posted by James Raffan on Thursday, July 27, 2006

Day 9 — Beechey Island

Location: 74°27.247'N 92°10.111'W

Day 9 - Graves on Beechey Island.

Day 9 - Approaching Beechey Island by air from the southwest

Day 9 - The lonely cairn of stones atop Beechey Island

Day 9 - Approaching Beechey Island, near the location where the 500 ton supply ship, Breadabane, sank in minutes when it was crushed by ice in 1853.

Day 9 - Beechey Island Drawn by J. Hamilton after a sketch by Elisha Kane.

Day 9 - Navigating to Beechey Island aboard a Coast Guard helicopter.

If there is a holy place in the Northwest Passage, it would have to be Beechey Island, the place where Sir John Franklin overwintered in 1845-46 before disappearing into the wild blue. Three of Franklin's crew died that winter and were buried here. Although the original grave markers are gone (one of them is in the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife), replacement markers are here on the pebble beach and those, with memories of photographs taken by Canadian researcher, Dr. Owen Beattie, of Petty Officer John Torrington when he was exhumed in 1984, make this a place where history seems, ironically, to come alive. It is as if Franklin and his men left here yesterday, because their remains and the remains of those who came later to look for him — including the incredible cairn on the top of the island — are relatively undisturbed by time. Although no one else was visiting Beechey when a shore party from the Louis stopped in this sunny July day, another little cairn, not far from the grave site, holds a brass tube in which are the names of literally thousands of northphiles who have come to this site aboard the commerical tour ships that ply the passage in summer. There's no doubt that this is an important and popular spot.

Posted by James Raffan on Friday, July 28, 2006

Day 10 — Flight Quarters in Peel Sound

Location: 71°58.466'N 95°36.660'W

Day 10 - The Louis S. St. Laurent cutting through rotten ice in Peel Sound, west of Somerset Island.

Day 10 - The Louis S. St. Laurent cutting through rotten ice in Peel Sound, west of Somerset Island.

Day 10 - The Louis S. St. Laurent cutting through rotten ice in Peel Sound, west of Somerset Island.

Day 10 - Coast Guard helicopter Pilot Nelson Cornell

Day 10 - Writer James Raffan with Pilot Nelson Cornell on reconnaisance flight over the Louis in Peel Sound

Day 10 - Pilot Nelson Cornell with icebergs reflecting in his glasses.

Day 10 - Ice chart on the ship's navigational computer.

Day 10 - Canice 3 A Dash 7 aircraft operated by the Canadian Ice Service that is dedicated to ice observation and surveillance of Canada's remote waterways.

Day 10 - Ice observer or "icepick" Eric Vaillant making observations from the ship's chopper over Peel Sound.

Day 10 - Eric Vaillant communicates with the crew of Canice 3 as they make observations over Peel Sound.

Day 10 - Approaching the Louis by air. "Coming home" after an ice reconnaisance flight.

Day 10 - Refueling the helicopter before another flight.

Day 10 - Benoit Aquin photographing the Louis from the air. To avoid distortion, he shoots through an open door but must be carefully tied into his seat on a tether before the door is opened.

Now that we're into the ice, we're seeing seals and polar bears. Today, we were treated to a mother and two cubs wandering ahead of the ship and then, later on, we came across a big male bear with a ringed seal that he had just killed. Scared, he was not. As the ship bore down on him, he just picked up the seal, like a raggedy ann doll, and trotted ahead of the ship with a proprietary kind of purpose to his steps. It didn't matter how big, or how red, or smelly, or noisy was this approaching beast … it wasn't going to get his lunch!

The word from the scientists aboard about the possible fate of these magnificent creatures due to global warming is disturbing. Less ice means there will be less time for bears to fatten up for the summer season, when hunting is a much more energy-intensive proposition. Chief scientist Eddy Carmack says they have three choices: they can move, they can adapt, or they can die … more or less because of us.

Posted by James Raffan on Sunday, July 30, 2006

Day 11 — Bears!

Location: 71°58.466'N 95°36.660'W

Day 11 - The Louis encounters a lone polar bear who has just caught a ringed seal.

Day 11 - The crew clamours for a good look at the bear.

Now that we're into the ice, we're seeing seals and polar bears. Today, we were treated to a mother and two cubs wandering ahead of the ship and then, later on, we came across a big male bear with a ringed seal that he had just killed. Scared, he was not. As the ship bore down on him, he just picked up the seal, like a raggedy ann doll, and trotted ahead of the ship with a proprietary kind of purpose to his steps. It didn't matter how big, or how red, or smelly, or noisy was this approaching beast … it wasn't going to get his lunch!

The word from the scientists aboard about the possible fate of these magnificent creatures due to global warming is disturbing. Less ice means there will be less time for bears to fatten up for the summer season, when hunting is a much more energy-intensive proposition. Chief scientist Eddy Carmack says they have three choices: they can move, they can adapt, or they can die … more or less because of us.

Posted by James Raffan on Sunday, July 30, 2006

Day 12 — The National Goes North

Location: 71°58.466'N 95°36.660'W

Day 12 - Captain Potts (blue shirt) discusses placement of the ship to make the satellite linkup to broadcast The National from the ship. With him are CBC über techs Yvan Petitclerc (blue jacket) and Etienne Dufour.

Day 12 - First news in nearly two weeks is a feed of the program that is being broadcast live into the forward lounge elsewhere from the ship.

Day 12 - The crew is asked by The National to bring signs and accoutrements for a group shot on the foredeck. Long time Louis Engine Room Technologist Burt Smith decides on a somewhat gothic message for sharp-eyed children watching the program.

Day 12 - Captain Potts making sure he's fully aware of what the satellite tech's need to make the broadcast happen before going to air.

Day 12 - The Louis provides a dramatic backdrop for anchor Peter Mansbridge, who discusses the mild weather encountered by The National's crew and how it impacted the broadcasts.

Day 12 - "Road Stories" from the Arctic is quite a production!

Day 12 - Another night, another location for the anchor aboard ship. This time just outside the bridge looking north over the ice of Peel Sound.

The Louis took on a few new supernumeraries at Resolute, and among them were Peter Mansbridge and a crew from CBC's The National. Big doings that. The food, which was great, has gotten even better — two hot entrées instead of one and fish chowder to die for! The bar in the forward lounge, which was normally open for just two hours a night, at the captain's discretion was suddenly open until it closed. And the chopper has been flying around the clock, with the camera crew gathering stories and images that will be part of a four-day news package broadcast "live from the Louis."

Today was the first of those broadcasts. We haven't seen or heard news since leaving Dartmouth nearly two weeks ago, so it was something of a treat when The National was piped onto the jumbo TVs in the ship's various lounges. We learned from Etienne and Yvon, the two CBC satellite technicians, that they nearly lost the broadcast when the ship moved in the ice. They tracked the satellite (they have only a couple of degrees leeway) by hand for a while but before they reached a point where the portable antenna could not be turned any more without falling into the shadow of the ship, an attentive Captain Potts rushed up to the bridge to make a slight correction in our position that saved the day. Exciting stuff!

Posted by James Raffan on Monday, July 31, 2006

Day 13 — Citizen Science

Location: 71°58.466'N 95°36.660'W

Day 13 - Drift bottles prepared for launching in Bellot Strait

Day 13 - Word was the bottles came aboard empty. But you could get a drink on board, from 8-10 p.m. in the forward lounge — and those empties were to be recycled on return to Dartmouth!

Day 13 - A drift bottle afloat in Bellot Strait. They are known to travel 5-10 km/day and have demonstrated that waters in the Arctic travel — literally — all over the world, eventually.

Day 13 - The message in the drift bottle experiment.

Day 13 - An ordinary long-necked beer bottle with an extraordinary scientific task.

The Coast Guard is in the Arctic to wave the flag, to aid shipping, to maintain navigational aids, to support communities and to exhibit a Canadian presence in a place where citizens are few and far between. But one of the main objectives of the Louis, and a task for which she's very well outfitted, is science. At the moment there are a few scientists aboard conducting various experiments. Later, however, when Aquin and I get off in Kugluktuk, more than a dozen other researchers from Canada, the United States and Japan will board to continue a whole series of climate, ice and ocean-related experiments.

That's all pretty serious business, but Carmack, who is a very serious scientist himself, has been doing a little experiment with beer bottles over the past few years that is quite intriguing and absolutely accessible to non-scientists. The idea is simple. You put notes in dozens of beer bottles saying, "When you find this, let me know when and where." You seal the bottles and drop them into various places in the ocean and, when they're found, you'll have a portrait of how ocean currents move around the world. Carmack got Peter Mansbridge and the crew to toss a few bottles into Bellot Strait today and they loved it. Carmack's website shows the results.

Posted by James Raffan on Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Day 14 — An American Adventurer on Sovereignty

Location: 69°01.952'N 105°12.580'W

Day 14 - Winchman Peter King aboard a landing craft heading into the town of Cambridge Bay.

Day 14 - Another load of crew members headed in for a visit to Cambridge Bay.

Day 14 - American Adventurer Gary Ramos at the helm of Arctic Wanderer at the wharf in Cambridge Bay.

Day 14 - Gary Ramos awaits engine parts in Cambridge Bay. He has been here one winter and is now in the middle of his second, in an attempt to sail single-handed around the North Pole.

Day 14 - Sculpin for supper! after a round of fishing for a Cambridge Bay lad at the town wharf.

It's been a funny day today. Stopped about 12 kilometres offshore from the hamlet of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. The National crew flew in to mount the news from there and some of the rest of us headed in by boat to have a look around town. At one point, one of the shore party boats ran out of gas and drifted for a while before help came. Chief mate Ken Brown, who was at the helm of the disabled landing craft, was encouraged by his fellow strandees to "call the Coast Guard" to describe his dilemma. He was not amused.

Tied up at the wharf in Cambridge Bay is a boat called Arctic Wanderer. I stopped in for a chat with captain Gary Ramos, an American who is intent on sailing "around the North Pole." He had run into trouble (his exhaust system had failed and sucked sea water into his engine and fuel system) and had spent the winter on his little sail boat in Cambridge. Brrrrrrr! When he crossed into Canadian waters, having sailed around Alaska, he stopped in at Tuktoyaktuk and phoned Canada Customs to let them know he was planning to sail through our waters, in keeping with Canada's voluntary registration for ships heading through the Northwest Passage. Apparently the customs officer said, "You're calling from where?" And, when he explained the location of Tuk, he laughed and said, "Have a nice trip." Good thing he's not a terrorist or at the helm of a big rusty oil tanker!

Posted by James Raffan on Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Day 15 — Kugluktuk, End of the Line

Location: 68°26,472'N 110°42.139'W

Day 15 - Calm waters on the Coronation Gulf. The Louis is designed in such a way that its wake will break a wider swath in ice than that broken by the hull. This allows it to escort wider ships through ice. The unique curves in the hull that produce this effect also produce a unique wake that is visible in calm water.

Day 15 - Ice breaker and ice runner. A komatiq on the shoreat Kugluktuk awaits the winter while Louis awaits her new crew to arrive by air.

Day 15 - The Louis off the Hamlet of Kugluktuk at the mouth of the Coppermine River.

Day 15 - Photographer Benoit Aquin shows some of his photos of the journey to Kugluktuk residents Frank and Margaret Ipakohak.

Beautiful weather here this morning as we drop anchor. It's warmer in Kugluktuk than in Halifax, according to CBC Radio (which we're getting from a transmitter in the hamlet). Aquin and I were among the first off to head into town to do some interviews. Spoke to my old friends Frank and Margaret Ipakohak, who were intrigued to hear about our trip and to see some of Aquin's fine photos. It interested me to hear that Frank is not all that exercised about sovereignty. Kuglukuk is his home. A lot has changed in his life. The alluvial island on which he was born has washed away in the changing flow patterns of the Coppermine River estuary. Ships and people will come and go. The Inuit, he says, have always adapted to change. Right now, he's getting ready to take some elders in for a tour of a proposed mine site southeast of town. That's what's on for the next couple of days.

Meanwhile a chartered First Air Boeing 737 arrives from Halifax with a whole new crew. In a matter of a couple of hours, while the two captains confer on the ship, our entire crew and gear are ferried off in the chopper and, with a new pilot at the controls, the new crew and all the new scientists are ferried out to the ship. It will be their job to people the Louis for the next six weeks of her Arctic peregrinations. Quite a journey this has been.

Posted by James Raffan on Thursday, August 3, 2006