Arctic Harbour in Canada

Saxon Blue's Blog
Harvey Jones and Andrea Stokes
Sat 14 Aug 2010 14:46
69:31.338N 67:33.207W Saturday morning

We're in Canada. We've sailed from Southampton to America! We had a little celebration last night after we'd dropped the anchor.

After we left the Polar Bear swimming along, miles from land, we sailed North along the coast. The wind was about 15 knots on the beam and the sea was flat calm so were making good time. The sun was shining low but bright and there was even some detectable warmth from it though my gloves and arctic suit. The land to our port side, Baffin Island, has a series of low hills fronted by some raised beaches. It looks more lush than Greenland but I think that may be an illusion as there is a lot of exposed rock and scree.

After a few hours, the wind died off completely and the sea went mirror calm. We could see every seal pop his head up to look at us and I was scanning around through the binoculars in hope of seeing a whale. We were about 3 miles off the coast (or half a mile according to our electronic charts which just goes to show that you can't rely on them) when I saw a whale nearer the shore. We headed in there for a closer look but he never showed again and I thought I must have imagined it as there was nowhere for him to hide. We carried on heading North towards Isabella Bay where we intended to spend the night.

As we came around the low headland into the bay, Magnus and I were chatting in the cockpit and we both saw a whale ahead of us slowly sound with a clear flukes-up. At least I didn't imagine that one. We headed towards where he'd been but, again, no further sign. This was getting ridiculous. You can't hide a whale in a fjord and, with a flukes-up, he wasn't a fast-moving Blue Whale so where had he gone? After about half an hour of fruitless looking, dinner was ready. We were only a couple of miles away from our intended anchorage so we turned the engine off and just drifted while we all went below and had our dinner of mushroom pie and cous-cous. After we'd finished, Kali went into the cockpit and began jumping around and shouting. The whale was lying in the water about 300 meters away, lazily spouting. His blow had two elements, one slightly forward and lower than the other. He was hardly moving forward, just dipping below the water between breaths. After about a dozen breaths, he arched his back and, in super-slow-motion, did a perfect flukes-up dive.

With all that evidence, it was time to get the books out. He was either a Northern Right or a Bowhead, probably a Bowhead given that Isabella Bay is well known for them and Northern Rights are rare here. By the time we'd talked that lot through, he'd come up again on the other side of the boat and was doing the lazy breathing performance again. This time, he turned away from us and we had a perfect view of the underside of his flukes as he dived. They had white tips and some other white spots. That confirmed it - he was a Bowhead for sure.

The Bowhead Whale is a true Arctic specialist. They can dive for up to an hour - which explains why we couldn't see him as he was still underwater - and have a tough head that can break through ice up to a foot thick in order to breathe. They're a baleen whale with the largest mouth of any of them so they eat the tiniest creatures, either shrimps or squid or anything else that gets in the way. The other amazing thing is that they can live about 200 years. Whales have been found with spear points embedded in their blubber from native hunts in the early 1800s. They're renowned for swimming slowly and I suppose that's why then can stay down for so long. I was really hoping to see a Bowhead at some point in our trip so seeing one on our first day in Canada is amazing - especially as we'd already seen a Polar Bear.

After all that excitement, we headed in for our anchorage. It's marked on the chart as Arctic Harbour so must have been used as such at some time in the past. The pilot books hardly mention it, though, so it's clearly not used much nowadays. There's no settlement for a long way so I suppose there's no reason to use it now that people aren't up here hunting whales. From the very basic chart, it looked as though there was a bay tucked behind some low hills and that's what we found. A perfect natural harbour large enough to moor an entire whaling fleet all safe from ocean swell. As we came in, it was absolutely calm so we had a good look around before dropping our anchor off one of the small beaches.

We were all tired but too thrilled about arriving in a new continent to be able to sleep so we had a little party with drinks and chocolate. An Arctic Fox trotted along the shore and a Raven flew over but that was about it for wildlife so it was soon off to bed and a totally calm night followed by a lovely lie-in this morning. We've just had poached eggs on toast for breakfast and are going to explore around and see what we can see.


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