September 1st

Day 5: Fjord-dging ahead – Croker Bay, Devon Island

Imagine you finish your RCMP training where you learn to ride horses and write official reports, then you arrive at your first posting at Dundas Harbour. You and one or two other mounties are stationed at this remote detachment. One hut is for your living quarters, another for an Inuit family that will act as guides. During the first two, even 3 years of your posting you may not have any contact from the outside world. Each year there will be 4-5 months of darkness when the sun does not break the horizon. This was the life of the RCMP and Inuit guides at Dundas detachment in the 1920s and 1930s.

The Inuktitut name for the area is Talluruti, meaning “a woman’s chin with tattoos on it”. The varied geological formations and striations on Devon Island resemble traditional Inuit t attoos, lending the location its name.

Unfortunately rough water prevented a safe landing at Dundas Harbour so the Iöffe was taken into Croker bay for wildlife sighting and an exploration of a fjord. The lack of a shore excursion dampened some spirits but that was quickly forgotten when we saw the first of what would be many Arctic animals today. Shortly after breakfast, two white dots were seen moving along the slopes of Devon Island in the bay, and on closer inspection it became evident that this was a pair of Arctic wolves. Pushing further into the bay, a herd of approximately 10 muskoxen were seen grazing on a low ridge. At the same time as passengers gathered on the bridge and observation decks to see the muskox a large pod of harp seals was spotted off the starboard bow. In the shelter of the bay the seals’ feeding frenzy caused a massive disturbance in the water as they breached the surface of the water.  Naturalists onboard the ship conservative ly estimated the number of seals at 400.

This afternoon we anchored in Croker Bay to take a zodiac cruise to the north end of the bay where a huge glacier could be found. Distances and heights are very difficult to judge in the Arctic due to the lack of trees, buildings, and very sparse wildlife but the glacier looked to be approximately 150 feet high. We could not get too close as there is always the danger that part of the face will calve off creating large waves. We are only 5 days into our Northwest Passage journey so there is always the chance (however remote) that we will be blown horribly off course and end up somewhere near Ellsemere Island, but that is very unlikely. As it stands our excursion to Croker Bay is our most northern point on the journey and today in the zodiac we measured our position as 74˚ 49’ 472”N.

As our zodiac made its way along the face of the glacier, yet more animals presented themselves to us. First another harp seal was seen swimming on its back 30 feet from us. Many birds flew overhead throughout the duration of the zodiac cruise, and though I was not aware of it at the time, I learned later that one of these was the relatively rare Ivory Gull. The final sightings from the zodiac were 3 jellyfish, the third being the diameter of a basketball. Before making our way back to the ship, we plucked out of the water a large piece of glassy glacier ice to take back to the bar. I later enjoyed a small piece of 10,000 year old ice with some of Scotland’s 14 year old finest.

The scheduled events for the day had come to a close, but the excitement was not yet over. As we left Croker Bay and began our transit of Lancaster Sound, we experienced our strongest winds and waves yet. Waves continue to crash against the side of the ship as I am writing this, sending spray to the upper decks of the ship. I am thankful for the fact that I am not affected by this mot ion as are others onboard, but I do not envy in the slightest the early Arctic explorers of the 19th century who passed through Lancaster Sound on their quest for the Northwest Passage.

Tomorrow we hope for calmer waters.

 Words and photographs by Duncan MacLeod – Curator, Vancouver Maritime Museum