Friday, July 26, 2013

Monday July 22nd, 2013 – crossing the Davis Strait from Greenland to Canada

Well, that didn’t go so well.

All my fears about seasickness as we crossed the large body of water known as the Davis Strait from Greenland to Baffin Island came true. We hit probably the roughest seas that I’ve ever experienced in my five expeditions with Students On Ice. It started out fine yesterday, calm waves that barely caused a hiccup amongst most of the group.

And so we carried on with the day. Sunday was designated as Faith Day. No, it had nothing to do with religion or beliefs, it was named after one of our students, Faith (FeFe) Malton. FeFe is from Houston, Texas, has been on one SOI Antarctic expedition, and is a passionate and engaging young woman. In all respects, she’s equal to all her fellow students on this expedition. Except that FeFe was born with only one arm.

As you might expect from someone with the strength and courage of FeFe, she hasn’t let her challenges define her, or prevent her from accomplishing her goals and dreams. She truly is a remarkable person.

But back to Faith Day. Her challenge to all of us was to try and spend the entire day using only one arm. And what a challenge it was. It’s incredible to discover how many small hurdles one has to overcome. Opening a sugar packet, putting a watch on, and even writing. Not to mention the obvious difficulties like showering, eating, and holding on to things while the ship lists back and forth. It was sometimes exhausting, but really eye-opening for most of the students and staff.

A day at sea also means lots of talks, workshops and other activities happening throughout the ship. There was a lesson on Inuktitut (the language of the Inuit peoples), song-writing, sewing and crafts, making snow goggles, bird-watching (yes, even in the open water!) and much more. Students were allowed to choose what they wanted, and all in all, things were going great.

And then the swells hit.

We started to get a bit of a wind behind us. This, naturally, helps to push us along at a good rate of speed. But it also creates a lot of wave action. Last night, as we began our evening programs, you could tell that some of us were getting seasick. The symptoms are all there. The staring off into the distance, the pale glassy look in the eyes, and the mad rush to a bathroom or the open deck of the ship. As curfew came along, many of the students and staff had already collapsed into their beds.

And I wasn’t far behind. A quick bed-check and off I went to dreamland. The motion sickness patch did its job, but it certainly didn’t remove all of the symptoms for me. But the night went well, and I managed to get a full 7 hours sleep.

This morning, things hadn’t improved. If anything, they got worse. Breakfast seemed to stay down, but as the morning wore on, many of the swells got so bad that items on tables and counters were sliding off. In the lounge, glasses and plates were flying off and crashing to the floor. A water cooler toppled over. Some of the crew told us that they lost over half of their plates and glassware during a couple of the bad swells.

Despite all that, everyone rushed out on to the deck when word came that there were polar bears on the sea ice. Naturally, the sight of the Arctic’s most iconic species causes a great stir of excitement, and these bears didn’t disappoint. Many people got great pictures, despite the fact that the bears turned and walked or swam away as we approached.

This afternoon we headed into Cumberland Sound, as we continued our detour towards Iqaluit. To avoid the still-heavy swells, the captain and crew (who have been fantastic throughout our recent rough seas) swung us around some fairly-heavy ice to get out of the wind. That allowed us to get off of the ship for the first time in 48 hours to cruise in zodiacs amongst the ice looking for wildlife. Sadly, none was found, but it was still a great experience nevertheless.

Well, I’m sitting here writing this while watching a beautiful sunset and wondering who else is watching it. Our resident musician, Ian Tamblyn, is serenading us with some songs as we wrap up our day. Tomorrow, we arrive at Pangnirtung. This will be my third visit to this beautiful community, and they’ve done a lot to prepare for us on really short notice. It will nice to reacquaint myself to Pang, but it will be extra special to see a couple of students from previous expeditions who live there or are spending a few weeks there.

All in all, it should be a great day.

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