Prince Regent Inlet, one of the several choices now available for transiting the Northwest Passage, is packed with historical locations some of which date back almost two millenia. It is also brimming with potential for wildlife sightings. However, we were also experiencing some heavy weather with strong winds and choppy seas, so the plans for a landing at Fury Beach to observe the 191st anniversary of the scuttling of the HMS Fury had to be—well, scuttled. (Those interested in further details about the Fury and Edward Parry’s search for the Northwest Passage can find more here.)
Polar Bear, Unimpressed by our Little Armada
But Plan B turned out pretty well. A sheltered bay was located that included a polar bear walking along the beach. Zodiacs were launched and the bear cooperated by staying put, relatively close to the shore. It was working on a carcass of an unidentified animal and as long as we didn’t get too close, it seemed uninterested in us.
(Tight Crop, Nikon D810 with 70-200mm f/2.8 and 1.7x tele-extender, handheld, 1/200th sec. @ f/4.8, ISO 800)
That evening, our ship hosted the crew of the s/v Vagabond, a 47-foot sailboat especially fitted for overwintering in the Arctic.
We had passed them a few days earlier and our captain arranged for them to come aboard for a presentation on their research work and what life is like living on a small boat in the Arctic winters. It was an unusual crew, Eric Brossier, his wife France, and their two charming daughters aged 6 and 8 years old. Their main activity is data gathering for a variety of research institutions on a wide range of topics. They also derive income from providing logistical support for filmmakers, photographers, and others. More on the Brossier family can be found here.
Later that day, another Zodiac run took us to Fort Ross, the site of an abandoned outpost of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
This outpost was built in 1937, abandoned 11 years later
The organization has a long history in North America, dating back to 1670. The original land grant was equivalent to 40% of the total land area of modern Canada. Known first as the dominant fur trader in North America, it is now a major international retailer, owning such subsidiaries as Saks Fifth Avenue. More about the company’s history can be found here.
HDR image of interior of living area
Approaching the southern tip of Somerset Island the next day, another Zodiac excursion took us into Hazard Inlet.
Overlooking Hazard Inlet
Here we had our first chance to walk on tundra, something akin to stumbling across an enormous sponge with hidden crevices and random sogginess. Over a thousand years ago, small populations of both the Dorset and subsequently the Thule cultures lived here long ago. The Dorset people arrived in the Arctic as early as 500 BC and were displaced by the Thule (arriving between 900-1100 AD). The Thule are the ancestors of the modern Inuit inhabitants of the Arctic. Scattered archaeological remains of the settlements could still be seen, including gravesites with skeletal remains forced to the surface by cycles of freezing and thawing over the eons. We were starting to notice a theme of the difficulties humans have had surviving in this harsh environment.
The tundra seems hospitable to the small flowering plants scattered about. They were already fading in anticipation of the approaching winter, but aging boulders were festooned with colorful displays of lichen.
Lichen on Boulder
Next up: Bellot Strait, named after a charismatic French explorer who searched in vain for the lost Franklin Expedition