Travel

Ocean First in the Arctic 2019

By OceanFirst on 9/22/19

A trip report by Kathy Gagliardo:

Our Northwest Passage trip to the Canadian Arctic and Greenland was one for the ages! 171 years ago, Sir John Franklin's expedition to discover a path through the Northwest Passage for Britain failed and the HMS Terror and Erebus were lost in ice flows. This September, five ladies from Ocean First set off to travel the ill-fated path and make discoveries of our own. Our trip was one of two crossings that followed the path this year, as the channels are traditionally blocked by ice most of the year. In fact, our's was the only one to make it through some of the passages that were choked with giant icebergs only a week prior.  

After a short overnight in Edmonton, we were whisked off to Cambridge Bay north of the Arctic Circle, marking the end of tree sightings - there are none above the Arctic Circle! After sampling local delicacies like arctic char, arctic cranberries, and caribou, we had our first briefing on how to handle it if you fall out of a zodiac into freezing cold water...lets just say you don't want to be in it for long! Our vessel, the HCGS Resolute, was named after one of the failed expedition boats that searched for the Terror and Erebus.  Eventually, the US found the Resolute and restored it for Britain - a part of the original ship was made into a desk for the Oval Office. Very cool history.

After mustering our life vests, we were off to the races to see everything possible the Arctic had to offer. Our 12 days were spent either on zodiac tours or land tours with our expert guides. The deal with the land tours is that if a polar bear is present, they have to be called off. The BAIT team was sent out to check if the coast was clear; unfortunately, three land tours had to be canceled due to bears in the area, but the captain always had plans B-Z in mind, so we didn't miss a beat. During our voyage, we were lucky enough to have multiple sightings of polar bears swimming in the water and walking on land - it's hard to be too upset about missing out on hikes! We were also fortunate enough to see musk ox, beluga whales, arctic fox and arctic hares, snowy owls, gyr falcons, fin whales, humpback whales, pilot whales, and the very elusive unicorn of the sea...the narwhal! 

Aboard the Resolute, we were in absolute luxury. 8 floors in total with room for 146 passengers plus a workout room, sauna, hot tub, outdoor pool, movie theater, bar/lounge, and two restaurants. We were treated to three wonderful meals a day, happy hour, and multiple daily presentations by experts in their fields (history, volcanology, geology, ornithology...you name it!). This was the most amazing boat I had ever been on, and big enough to get in your steps in for the day.

It was hard to imagine that while we were enjoying such luxury,  countless ships were lost trying to discover the Northwest passage on the very route that we traveled. What solidified it all was visiting the Franklin expedition memorial on a deserted island covered in rubble from glacier ice, while a jumbo jet flew overhead. The challenges they faced vs. the comforts we experienced were night and day.

In addition to incredible wildlife sightings, the landscape continued to wow us. Icebergs bigger than our ship, advancing and retreating glaciers, huge ice flows, delicate arctic flora... all in a scene that was impossible to adequately capture in photos. Beyond the earthly scenery, we were treated to two nights of northern lights sightings! 

Although we only had a small group of five, we quickly adopted three more ladies into our fold and met many others along the way. Everyone on the ship had their own stories to tell, and we got to share the joy of a great birthday celebration for one of our group members with new friends. By the end, we had met incredible people, seen creatures that few ever dream of, and came away with great memories!

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