MV Polar Star VIKING TRAIL TO THE AMERICAS September by vrz15071


									                               MV Polar Star
                     VIKING TRAIL TO THE AMERICAS
                            September 7-23, 2004

Tuesday, September 7

Our new floating home, the Polar Star was moored conveniently close to downtown
Reykjavik. After having our baggage X-rayed, we boarded to find our room assignments
from our hotel manager,
Alwyn Frost. Lines were cast
off, and we left the dock at
6:50 p.m. during a lull
between the rain showers
that had lasted all day. After
what must be one of the
shortest         assignments
possible,      our       pilot
descended the port side of
the ship and transferred to
the bright orange pilot boat.
(Presumably the pilot is paid
by the job, and not by the
hour.) Once onboard, we
had time to settle in before
we met the Expedition team
led by Laurie Dexter and had a safety briefing where we learned from Captain Asbjørn
Endresen and Jørn Henriksen about the intricacies of donning a bright orange life jacket and
mustering under the life boats. Dinner was at 7:30, and the program for the evening was a
screening of the I-Max feature “Blue Planet”. Once we left the shelter of Reykjavik harbor to
begin our journey to Greenland, the ship began to rock. For some, the motion of the ship
was a comforting inducement to sleep; others had a more visceral reaction.

Wednesday, September 8
At Sea, Denmark Strait
Noon position: 63º 27’ N, 28º 15’ W
Wind: WSW-SW, 17 knots
Temperature 10º

During the night we traveled through an ocean in motion. We awoke to what Laurie
described as a “lumpy sea”, caused by a wind from the north opposing a swell from the
south. Doctor Murray Haines was active at breakfast dispensing medication for seasickness,
and various tales were circulating about, with those who slept well being the envy of the
many who didn’t. Our morning lecture was an explanation of sea ice and icebreakers given
by Laurie, who has a lot of experience on icebreakers, from small ones to the very largest

nuclear-powered ships. It was a comfort to learn how much hard steel we have between us
and the Arctic sea. In the afternoon, we had a lecture from Tony Lock about seabirds. Tony
demonstrated a clever new method of timing ones lecture. By running his computer on the
battery he was able to lose power and terminate his lecture precisely as his last slide was
displayed on the screen. Odell Byerkness, who gave us an introduction to the Vikings, is a
very thorough lecturer. He started his discussion of the Vikings by tracing the migrations of
Homo erectus out of Africa. He was thus able to compress several million years of history into
45 minutes!

The weather showed a lot of faces during the day. We had alternating fog, overcast, and
sunshine. The seas became more calm toward evening, and nearly everyone was well enough
to come to dinner. At least two fantastic rainbows appeared among the squalls. Tony
reported five species of seabirds, the most common being aorthern fulmars, which were
nearly always in view. A large pod of dolphins and a cloud of seabirds were spotted
persecuting a school of fish. Several opinions were voiced about the identity of the dolphins,
with white-beaked dolphins judged the most probable choice.

Thursday, September 9
At Sea, Denmark Strait
Noon position: 61º 25’ N, 38º 03’ W
Wind: SE 6 knots
Temperature 8º

Dawn appeared to a much calmer sea, and Dr. Murray reported that most of the passengers
who had been under the weather were improved. The sky was overcast in the morning, but
periods of bright sunshine appeared around noon. Just as we thought we were out of it all,
the wind picked up again during the late afternoon, and the rolling returned along with a few
real bumps.

Our first wildlife alert of the day was announced by Tony, who had examined approximately
6,000 fulmars through his binoculars in the last two days looking to see if one of them might
be the (so far) elusive kittiwake. To his delight, several kittiwakes appeared behind the ship
before breakfast had been called.

This was a day of lectures, and we had four
in all. Gary Kochert lectured first. His topic
was plate tectonics, and we learned about
Alfred Wegener and his tragic end in
Greenland before his ideas on continental
drift were widely accepted. Laurie then gave
a very lively account of the early history of
whaling. Everyone enjoyed his readings from
“Moby Dick”, and we all must have reflected
on what the “mincer” must have looked like
in his somewhat esoteric raincoat. Next was
installment two of the Viking sagas as related by Odell. He told us about the appearance and
construction of typical Viking dwellings and outbuildings. Our last lecture of the day was

Tony’s presentation about the calamitous effects on seabird populations of illegal dumping
of oil waste by commercial shipping. He also revealed hitherto unexpected brain damage--
apparently his long governmental service has produced a proclivity for the production of
acronyms. Two examples he revealed during his lecture: STOP (Satellite Tracking Of
Polluters) and RAGMOP (Regional Advisory Group on Marine Oil Pollution).

Just before dinner we had a zodiac briefing, and Laurie told us about our proposed landings
for tomorrow. From Emily Schindler, we learned all about how to get in and out of a zodiac,
what clothes to wear (modeled by Jørn), what clothes not to wear (modeled by Laurie), and
why we should put our waterproof trouser legs outside our rubber boots and not inside. We
headed off for bed with thoughts of narrow fjords bordered by high mountains and colorful
Inuit villages in our heads. Who knows what tomorrow will bring!

Friday, September 10
Prins Christian Sund, Aappilattoq & Nanortalik
Noon position: 59º 59’ N, 44º 32’ W
Wind: Variable, 2 knots
Temperature 11º

Laurie sounded just as upbeat and cheerful at 5:30 a.m. for our wake up call as he had at
more civilized times on previous days. We got up early to see the amazing scenery of Prins
Christian Sund, a deep fjord that we followed across the southern toe of Greenland. The
scenery on both sides was simply stunning. The fjord is a deep valley with granite walls, and
it shows the classic U-shape and cleanly scraped walls that indicate it was bulldozed out by a
glacier. In some places, we could see that the granite had undergone great heat and pressure
that caused it to be metamorphosed to gneiss. We could have illustrated a whole text book
on glacial geology with photos taken on our cruise through this amazing place. We saw
glacial horns, arêtes, cirques, hanging valleys, moraines, icebergs, and, of course, glaciers.

Right after breakfast, we filed down the gangway for our first expedition to shore in zodiacs.
The initial track of our boats was toward a sheer cliff leading up to twin granite spires so
high that we had to lean way back to see the tops. The scale of the place made our little
rubber boats seem puny indeed. Off to the left, we
could see colorful wooden houses at the base of
this huge granite cathedral. We cruised along
parallel to the cliff, passed the houses, and
wondered where in the world our driver was
taking us. Then, when we seemed well past the
village, our driver made a sharp turn to the right
into a marvelous little protected anchorage at the
village of Aappilattoq. As we approached, we saw
gulls (Tony identified these as Icelandic gulls) and
a few ravens, many small boats tied up to shore,
lots of brightly painted houses, a church, a school,
and many people engaged in a variety of activities.
All the buildings were constructed of wood, and they were painted in blues, greens, yellows,
or reds. We could hear a diesel-powered generator chugging away, and there was a

community water tap. Many of the houses had lace curtains and flowers in the window. Near
the small dock where we landed the zodiacs, the local residents were helping themselves to
pieces of meat and blubber from a recently killed pilot whale. The meat was a very dark,
deep wine color (our guides told us this was because of a high concentration of myoglobin, a
protein that stockpiles oxygen for the whale to use during its dives) in the meat, and we
could see that the blubber of the whale was an inch or two thick. During the time we
watched, several people (men and women) came to where the whale meat was laid out on
some plastic and helped themselves to two or three large chunks. Several of the houses had
big hunks of whale meat outside on rocks, and some passengers saw one local method of
preparing whale meat for consumption--the no-preparation method--eat it raw. The church
featured a local man playing the organ for those who went to the church early in our visit.
The church is Lutheran, and it had lace curtains inside also. The children were delightful,
very cute and approachable. One girl was carrying a puppy, and we were told there were only
two dogs in town (no wonder they can leave whale meat scattered around outside). Most of
the buildings were sitting on solid rock, but whenever there was some soil, there was
luxuriant vegetation. We saw seashore chamomile, cotton grass, and a lot of arctic willow.

After returning to the Polar Star, we sailed through the most spectacular section of the fjord,
with towering mountains and waterfalls. The weather steadily improved, and we enjoyed blue
skies and white cloud
backdrops to the amazing
rock towers and spires on
both sides. Just at the lunch
call, we left the fjord and
entered the open sea again.
Near the end of the fjord,
some got a nice sighting of a
humpback whale not far
from the starboard side of
the ship. After lunch, Laurie
gave us a short briefing, and
we had time to rest before
our afternoon stop, which
commenced at 3:00, when
we anchored by the town of
Nanortalik. At the floating
jetty we were welcomed by a man from the tourist office, who lead us in a group to the
church (again Lutheran and again with lace curtains). A local Inuit group then sang several
songs a capella for us. It was very hot in the church with all the clothes we had layered on us,
but we all enjoyed the singing. We were then left to our own devices to explore the town.
Laurie told us to be sure to see the museum, so we hiked up what looked like the main street
in that direction. Unlike Aappilattoq, Nanortalik has streets, and some of these are paved. It
also has many vehicles, a container port, a hotel, and at least two large supermarkets. The
supermarkets had a wide variety of items including fresh-looking watermelons, apples, and
grapes. On the way to the museum we saw one of the leading sights of Nanortalik, a large
rock that shows an outline purported to resemble the aquiline profile of the famous Danish-
Inuit adventurer, Knud Rasmussen. The museum is a collection of six buildings featuring
various aspects of traditional culture and an outdoor interpretive area consisting of full-size

Greenlandic sod houses, skin tents, a skin umiaq (large boat) and several kayaks. One of the
buildings housed a geological collection; others had displays of Inuit artifacts or displays
illustrating contemporary culture. It was an easy zodiac ride back to the ship, and we just had
time to clean up before a recap of the day’s activities by the expedition staff. Now, thanks to
                  Tony, we know that gulls have dihedral in their wings and fulmars have an
                  anhedral, unstable configuration. Thanks to Laurie, we also know why Leif
                  the Lucky was not so lucky after all.

                  At dinner we had some great shrimp that we learned were obtained by
                  barter from a shrimp trawler that had stopped near us during our morning
                  zodiac stop. Laurie always says you have to be opportunistic in the Arctic,
                  and it sure paid off this time. No evening program was set up for us, and
                  we were glad. It has been a long day, but a great one.

Saturday, September 11
Brattahlid & Itillek
Noon position: 61º 09’ N, 45º 30’ W
Wind: NW 5 knots
Temperature 9º

Wow, what a sight! We anchored early in the morning in the fjord between Narsarsuaq and
Qagssiarssuk, or Brattahlid as it was known to the Norse, and when we got up, the water
was glassy calm and the sun was shining brilliantly. All the buildings of Qagssiarssuk and the
hills behind the village were brightly reflected in the water. There were patches of frazil ice,
and we could see it flex when the wake of a small boat created a wave. A bright green car
driving along the road in town was reflected upside down in the water, and it looked as if it
were driving on the lower surface of the frazil ice. If we looked the other way across the
fjord we could see the runway at Narsarsuaq. It runs parallel to the fjord and slants upward
noticeably. It made us glad we were arriving on the Polar Star and not by air.

Brattahlid is where Erik the Red established his farm on the sheltered flanks of the hills in
985 A.D. Here his wife, Thjodhild, built the first church in Greenland in 1001 A.D. after her
son Leif Eriksson brought Christianity to the new colony. This was later replaced by a large
stone church. Erik and subsequent landowners constructed longhouses, byres, barns and
other buildings to house the families and their retainers, their sheep, cattle and other
livestock, and to store the all-important hay for winter fodder. The longhouse had very thick
sod walls, and a bright green sod roof. Inside there was a lot of woodwork. One side was
                                                                  fitted out as it would be for
                                                                  a person of high rank. The
                                                                  sleeping bench had ornately
                                                                  carved railings, and the sod
                                                                  that made up the wall was
                                                                  paneled with wood. The
                                                                  other wall had a sleeping
                                                                  bench, but the sod was only
                                                                  partially     covered      by
                                                                  reindeer skins. The house

also had a vertical loom with rock weights to hold the vertical threads (warp), and a polished
whalebone shuttle. All the clothing for the Norse, and even the sails for their ships, were
made on such a loom.

Today, the village of Qagssiarssuk continues in Erik’s footsteps, with extensive hay and grain
(cut green for silage) fields, piles of white plastic-covered bales, sheep scattered over the fells,
and huge sheds in which to keep the sheep over winter. We landed zodiacs on a cobble
beach and walked directly to the longhouse and the churches for our tour. Our tour guides
showed us the replica of Thjodhild’s church, a longhouse, and farm buildings built for the
1000-year anniversary. On the bluff overlooking the settlement, we could see the statue of
Leif Eriksson unveiled in 2000 by the Queen of Denmark, a regular visitor to the community
during the last decade or so of Norse anniversaries. A quantity of reindeer meat was brought
in by boat while we visited, and Captain Endresen selected some for the crew mess. There
were some very interesting rocks and flowers around town. There was some nice gray and
red sandstone behind the town, and the base of most monuments was faced with an unusual
red and tan sandstone. Flowers observed included arctic harebells, lots of yarrow, bearberry,
and thrift.

An hour down the coast of Erik’s Fjord we landed on another cobble beach at the end of
the King’s Highway. Then we hiked about 3 km in beautiful sunny weather to visit Igaliku,
the former seat of a powerful bishop. He maintained a large church, palatial residence,
smithy, barns and byres to house his own stock and fodder and the tithes presented by his
parishioners in the Eastern Settlement. Those who wished to ride rather than hike, could
hop in a vehicle that the ship had booked. Stragglers who arrived at the rear of the pack on
the way back were treated to a great aerial display by a pair of peregrine falcons. Near the
beach where we boarded the zodiacs was a fenced area that has been planted with small
conifers in an attempt to establish a forest.

Since we got back on the Polar Star a bit early and the fine weather held, we headed up a
nearby uncharted fjord to approach Qôrqup glacier. The fjord turned out to be more than
400 meters deep, so we were able to continue up the fjord toward the glacier face. The
scenery in the fjord was fantastic. The water was flat calm. As we approached the glacier, the
ice cover increased, and the Polar Star plowed right through several large aggregations of
glacier ice. We left a prominent smear of red paint on one of the sm all icebergs. Captain
Endresen said we had left our calling card on the ice! The bright blue sky, the white clouds,
and the surrounding snowcapped mountains were all reflected in the water with
photographic clarity. We were able to approach to about 1.5 nautical miles of the glacier, and
the air was so thin, it seemed much closer. Near the glacier we could see the icefall, where
the glacier descended from the valley above, and the tortuous maze of crevasses and seracs
on the surface of the glacier. Dinner was delayed until we turned around to leave the fjord
for the next leg of our journey.

After dinner, we had a short recap session, with sessions on Norse history and geology. The
night sky was crystal clear, and the milky way was very prominent. There were still a few
passengers in the observation lounge when Gary announced a star-gazing session on the
upper deck near the zodiacs. After pointing out the main northern circumpolar
constellations to the few that he could harass into going outside, Gary, Murray, and some
passengers noticed some strange lights in the northern sky. After conferring, Gary and

Murray notified Laurie, and, following a bing-bong announcement, several went on deck to
see the aurora borealis. Bright, constantly shifting curtains of light danced around near the
northern horizon. For those who had not seen the northern lights before, it was a great treat;
for those who had seen them before it was a good chance to compare the present display
with those they had seen in the past. Several meteors and at least one satellite were also seen
by various northern-light-gazers. After a very fine and full day we headed for bed (the
second time for some of us).

Sunday, September 12
Hvalsey & Qaqortoq (Julianehab)
Noon position: 60º 42’ N, 46º 09’ W
Wind: WSW, 1 knot
Temperature 12º

We must be doing something right! The curtain went up today on another brilliant day.
We didn’t think yesterday could be topped, but, if anything, today was better. Early risers
were treated to a great sighting of a pair of fish eagles, and one proved it was aptly named
by catching a fish not far from the Polar Star.

Our morning landing was at Hvalsey, settled in 986 A.D. by one of Erik the Red’s
cousins, Thorkel Farserk. The site is a very lush meadow on glacial till at the base of a
basalt cliff. Large veins of granite penetrate the basalt, and the cliff is a rock-garden for
mosses, lichens, and flowering plants. Roseroot was very prominent, because its fleshly
leaves were turning red. Arctic harebells were blooming among the rocks and grass in the

 The ruins at Hvalsey include a longhouse, great hall, barns and byres, a horse corral and
various other outbuildings, but the centerpiece of this stunning site is the ruined church,
built in the early 1300s at the heart of this
extensive farm site. The stone walls of the
church are about three feet thick, and very
skillfully constructed with shaped stones.
The structure would originally have had a
sod roof, as would the other buildings at
the site. The church served the needs of
families in several surrounding fjords until
the mysterious end of Norse habitation in

The last known events at the church and settlement included a burning at the stake in
1407 of a man accused of having an affair with a married woman and a wedding between
two Icelanders. The community – and the entire Eastern Settlement – is thought to have
been abandoned about 1450.

At our next stop, Qaqortoq, the light was again perfectly placed to show off the brilliantly
painted buildings of the town. We didn’t need our rubber boots, because our landing was

                                        at a floating dock near the information center and
                                        the heart of the town. A guide was waiting for us
                                        for a tour of the tanning factory. On the way to the
                                        tanning factory, we passed seve ral small fishing
                                        boats in dry dock. One of them had obviously
                                        been in the water for a long time, because the
                                        bottom was heavily encrusted with mussels and
                                        rockweed. One passenger remarked that the
                                        possibility of an entire college degree in marine
                                        biology was present on the hull of that one ship.
                                        Our tannery guide was well- informed and was
                                        quite a formidable person. Basically, she has had
                                        to try to justify sealing, the killing of polar bears,
                                        and the manufacture of fur garments to a series of
                                        visitors, most of whom are Europeans and
                                        Americans opposed to the practices. The guide
                                        was obviously experienced, since she answered
                                        most of the sensitive questions before they could
                                        be asked. According to our guide, Greenlanders
                                        kill about 120,000 seals per year, and they are all
                                        killed for food. The skins that the Greenlanders
don’t need, they sell to the tanning factory, and it processes about 80,000 seal skins (and
30 polar bear skins) per year. The factory processes skins from several species of seal,
including ringed seals, harp seals, hooded seals, and bearded seals. They also process
arctic fox skins and sheep skins.

Next we proceeded to the harbor for a demonstration of kayaking. One the way we
passed the only fountain in Greenland, and, according to our guide, a great source of
pride to the community. The base of the fountain was faced
with the unusual red and tan sandstone that we had
previously seen in Nanortalik. Two ladies demonstrated
doing Eskimo (should it be “Inuit”?) rolls in kayaks. Then
we were unleashed and allowed free time to look around the

Qaqortoq, like so many of the southwest Greenland
communities, was founded in the 18th century by trader
Anders Olsen, and it has now grown to be the third largest
town. Much of the town is on steep hillsides, and we got a
really good view of many of the buildings from the ship or
from our zodiacs. This is a fair-sized town, and there are
many motorized vehicles (we had to be very careful
crossing the streets, because the cars go fast, and we were somewhat out of practice in
watching for cars). The museum at the corner of the square dates back to 1804 and
contains informative displays on local history, archaeology, art and technology, such as
the manufacture and use of kayaks and associated hunting gear and clothing. There was

an extensive photo gallery on the first floor, and the floor above contained rooms
occupied by anthropologist Knud Rasmussesn and aviator Charles Lindberg, who was
scouting for suitable airfield sites in Greenland in the 1930s. There was a very modern
church, in which the altar was surrounded with tiles containing paintings of local
wildflowers, and an older wooden church, a big hotel, supermarkets, and many other
amenities of modern civilization.

At our pre-dinner recap session, Tony showed us a small piece of wood about an inch and
a half in diameter from the trunk of a dwarf shrub. By counting the rings, Tony
determined that the shrub from which it
came was fully 110 years old. Gary
explained his theory for the formation of
the unusual sandstone from Nanortalik.
Laurie gave a critique on the tannery
guide’s representations of the way wildlife
is managed in Canada, told us about his
experiences as a kayak instructor, and
talked about the problems involved in
using fur clothing as expedition wear.
Basically, furs are too fragile for heavy
work; they require frequent sewing- up and
patching. Plus, furs are too hot for use in
strenuous outdoor activities.

Just before dinner, we had a chance to look for the famous green flash, because we had a
clear view of the sun setting over the ocean. About half of us claimed to have seen the
elusive flash, but others (looking at the same sunset!) had no such visions. Laurie said the
phenomenon was mythical and he “mythed” it.

Leaving Qaqortoq, we headed out towards the Davis Strait. Murray again sprang to life
dispensing seasick pills to all comers. Maybe the sea will be nice and smooth all the way

Monday 13 th September
At Sea, Davis Strait
Noon position: 59º 51’ N, 52º 11’ W
Wind: NW, 3 knots
Temperature 8º

This morning the sea seemed to be cooperating with our wishes for a smooth voyage.
There was only a gentle roll and a fairly light breeze. The number of birds around the
ship and following the ship has greatly increased. We saw a large number of fulmars, and
we got some really good views of them as they wheeled around and hovered near the
Polar Star. We also spotted sooty and greater shearwaters, a pomerine jaeger, and an
occasional puffin.

This was a day for lectures, and we went back to school with a vengeance. First, Odell
told us about the daily life of the Vikings and showed us slides of the excavations at
York. Then Gary told us about the ice core drilling projects in Greenland, and how ice
cores can be used to reconstruct past climates. Tony was up after lunch with a slide show
about Labrador and his adventures there as a young wildlife biologist. Our last lecturer
was Laurie, who gave us the second part of his history of whaling. We also had engine
room tours, and everyone seemed to enjoy those.

The weather began to deteriorate right before dinner, and we were soon rocking and
rolling again. Some braved the waves to see the evening feature film shot in 1933 by
                              polar explorer and ethnologist Knud Rasmussen on the
                              east coast of Greenland, entitled “The Wedding of Palo”.
                              The movie portrays how the people in the Ammassalik
                              area lived before the arrival of Europeans. The movie
                              started with a lively narrative (in Danish) by a bald
                              headed Dane with round-rimmed glasses. That set the
                              tone for the movie which followed, because it proved to
                              be largely incomprehensible. We did get to see a lot of
                              raw meat-eating, a stabbing, a fiancé strapped onto the
                              back of a kayak like a dead seal, and a thrilling kayak
                              chase ending in the drowning of the villain (or at least we
                              think it was the villain). The closing credits proclaimed
                              we had been watching “life in paradise”. We preferred
                              our comfy rooms on the Polar Star.

Tuesday, September 14
At Sea, Davis Strait, North Labrador Coast
Noon position: 58º 50’ N, 60º 01’ W
Wind: NNW, 6 knots
Temperature 6º
The day dawned brightly, and we had sunny and improving weather all day. The sun
shining brightly on the ocean gave a great backdrop for the large numbers of fulmars,
kittiwakes, and shearwaters following us for a large part of the day. The sea started out a
bit rough, but improved greatly as we began to get some shelter from the Labrador coast.
One of our passengers, Dick, was the first to spot land. As we approached the coast, the
sea lost all its white caps, and merely smoothly flexed its muscles in a gentle swell. We
began to spot small groups of murres on the sea toward the end of the day.

The staff put on another full day of lectures, and most of us tried bravely to stay awake
through all of the m. First off was Gary, with a lecture on volcanoes. We learned about the
perils of the Plinys at Pompeii and all about the gestalt of basalt. Next up was Odell with
his photos of an American student skiing expedition across the Greenland ice cap
following the route taken by Nansen in the 1880s. After lunch, we heard from Tony about
seabird conservation, and then Jørn showed some of his wonderful photographs and told
us about how to take better pictures. He had gorgeous shots of various places around

Svalbard, and even had some shots taken earlier in our own cruise. Included were some
pictures of fulmars that Jørn took from the Polar Star. There were lots of fulmars
following the ship when Jørn’s lecture ended, so some of us rushed out with our cameras
to see if we could emulate Jørn’s technique. Others were inclined to throw their cameras
overboard and see if Jørn would sell them any pictures.

Just before dinner we had a very pleasant surprise when Laurie announced over the bing
bong that we were going to toast our arrival in Labrador with a special drink. Since the
drink was on the house, all of us went directly to the bar. Eliseo Esguerra (our worthy
bartender) and Alwyn had invented a new drink just for the occasion. Since our first
destination in Labrador was Saglek Fjord, the drink was christened “Saglek Slush”. We
had a very enjoyable time drinking and chatting in the bar. Finally, Ed rang the bar bell,
and we realized it was time for dinner.

The after-dinner program was the film “Moby Dick” starring Gregory Peck as Captain
Ahab. Just as we were settling down to watch the feature, Alwyn bing-bonged to
announce that there was a great show of aurora borealis outside. We paused the film and
went outside for a look. This was an even better display than we had seen in Greenland,
and those who persisted saw nice greens and oranges in long streamers across the sky.

Tonight we are anchored in Saglek Fjord, and we are being rocked by a gentle swell.
Time to get some sleep before our first chance to land in Labrador tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 15
Saglek Bay & Mugford Tickle
Noon position: 58º 29’ N, 62º 40’ W
Wind: NW, 2 knots
Temperature 5º

They said the weather changes quickly in
Labrador, and they were right! Last night we
were marveling at the aurora and the bright
stars. This morning it was raining, and we had
a low cloud cover and patches of fog. Because
of security concerns, the Polar Star now has to
clear customs immediately on arriving in
Canada and before allowing any passengers
on shore. We had planned to clear customs in
Saglek Fjord by having the customs officials
from Goose Bay fly into Saglek. However, the
airfield is visual flight rules only, and the
weather was too bad to allow the flight to take
place. Thus we were not able to go ashore. We
were only able to admire the spectacular geological features of Saglek Fjord from afar.
We could see, however, that the surrounding rock cliffs were made up of gneiss, and that
there were textbook quality examples of basalt dikes intruding the gneiss on all sides.

Laurie went ashore to talk to the local meteorologist about what could be expected from
the weather. When he returned, he told us the forecast left little hope that the customs
officials would be able to come before Friday. So, all in all, it seemed best to set sail for
the next airport south along the coast at Nain. The forecast for Nain was more favorable,
and, with luck, the customs officials will be waiting there for us. Nain is famous for the
gem labradorite, which is a kind of feldspar. The best labradorite shows a kind of internal
iridescence (or labradoresence) when rotated under a light. We left Saglek Fjord about

Early in the afternoon, Laurie gave a presentation called “The Polar Bridge” in which he
related his experiences skiing across from Russia to Canada via the North Pole in 1988.
His Russian-Canadian expedition made the trek in 91 days, and set a record that still
stands for the shortest time skiing to the North Pole. He also showed slides of his many
other arctic and antarctic exploits. We had free time after Laurie’s lecture to admire the
Labrador coastline on our way south, to read another chapter in our book, or to play

About 5:00 p.m., we arrived at Mugford Tickle. Apparently, the term “tickle” is used by
Newfoundlanders to describe a narrow oceanic strait that might “tickle” them on each
side as they traversed it. At the northern entrance to the tickle, we boarded zodiacs for a
cruise through. The Polar Star went on ahead, with a promise to meet us at the south end.
This cruise was great, and it gave us a chance to get off the ship for the first time since
we left Greenland. The towering walls of the tickle had a basement layer of gneiss that
was topped with several layers of basalt lava flows. The
other zodiacs looked very small indeed when viewed
from afar against these cliffs. We saw several very
interesting things that we would not have seen at all had
we gone through aboard the Polar Star. Tony was very
excited with the spotting of harlequin ducks in the surf
near a tiny bay in the basalt. We got some very good
looks at inquisitive ring seals, noted the spectacular
pillow basalt on the east wall, discovered a tent ring
where Inuit had camped, and topped the day off by
spotting a Minke whale. The whale was cooperative enough to surface and blow several
times near the zodiacs. When we returned to the Polar Star, the sea had calmed greatly
and presented a smooth, glassy appearance only disturbed by the wakes of our zodiacs
skimming back to our floating home.

After dinner, Laurie reported that the customs officials were already at Nain waiting for
us, so there should be no trouble getting permission to go ashore tomorrow. After a
showing of another Blue Planet episode, we went off to bed with visions of labradorite
dancing in our heads.

Thursday, September 16
Nain & Ford Bay
Noon position: 56º 32’ N, 61º 40’ W
Wind: Variable, 2 knots
Temperature 10º

This morning we were anchored just off the town of Nain. From the deck we could see
the small town on a gentle shore sloping up from the bay. We could also see the airport
running parallel and right next to the shore. Several small fishing boats could be seen tied
up to the dock. We also had our first view of trees for a while; small evergreen forests
were spotted here and there on the slopes of the rounded rock hills that surrounded our
anchorage. The weather was warm, the sea was calm, but the skies were still largely

Laurie shortly returned with the customs officials, and we all filled out customs
declaration forms right after breakfast. By 10:00 we had cleared customs, and we boarded
zodiacs to visit the town. It was a dry landing, because we were able to tie up to a slipway
used by the car ferry that visits periodically. Some young would-be sailors met us at the
dock eager to hold our lines and anxious to hop on board the zodiacs and look around.

The first option we had in Nain
was a visit to a scallop-processing
factory near the dock. The small
boats we had seen from the ship
were scallop trawlers, and our tour
featured the biggest piles of
scallops and scallop shells that
most of us had ever seen. The
scallop shells had heavy growth of
barnacles on their exterior, and
many were nice shades of purple
or pink.

After touring the scallop plant, we
were on our own to tour the town.
Nain has about 4 streets that
parallel the shore. All of them
were gravel. Many of the houses
had a sort of ramshackle look, with
abandoned cars in the front yard and trash everywhere. There were grocery stores and
general stores to visit, where we could compare the goods (and the prices) with those
found at our homes. Those who visited the Local Inuit Development Corporation were
able to see a very striking floor made of polished labradorite tiles. Some visited a local
sculptor, who worked from his house near the airport. Going toward the sculptor’s house,
we could see some stuffed hairballs that turned out to be young huskies. One or two

Labrador dogs were also seen around town, one chained to a house with two magnificent
pairs of caribou antlers over the door. It was interesting to see sleds and snowmobiles
parked outside many of the houses. The residents were whizzing around town on small

There were plenty of trees around town, and these gave it a very different look from the
towns in Greenland that we visited. Most of the trees were spruce or larch, and dwarf
dogwood, proudly holding its cluster of bright red berries up for us to see, was plentiful
under the spruce trees. There were lots of sand flies, also. We were lucky that they don’t
bite, but they did seem to have a death wish to crawl into every one of our external

The car ferry pulled into the slipway just as we were boarding zodiacs to return to the
Polar Star for lunch. It was a huge vessel that made our rubber taxis seem small indeed.

Laurie made some inquires while we were in Nain, and he learned that we could visit the
labradorite quarry in Ten Mile Bay. So we steamed off in that direction over lunch. When
we next dropped anchor, we could see the quarry in the distance very near the water’s
edge. As we approached in the zodiacs, we could see the smooth stone faces where large
blocks of rocks had been cleaved from a gently sloping solid rock mountain. However,
the stone did not seem to be anything special. From our boats, it seemed to have a
uniform gray color….where was the famous labradorite?

We landed at a small floating dock and ascended the world’s steepest small gangway to
                                                             get up to the quarry. Huge
                                                             blocks of stone were
                                                             stand ing around, and we
                                                             could see channels where
                                                             they had been drilled and
                                                             wedged from the country
                                                             rock. Soon we began to see
                                                             flashes of blue iridescence
                                                             in some of the scrap stones
                                                             lying about. Gary identified
                                                             this    as    the    famous
                                                             labradorite.    Then     Dr.
                                                             Murray wet the smooth
                                                             face of one of the gray
                                                             monoliths standing nearly,
                                                             and we were amazed to see
                                                             the change in the rock.
Gorgeous blue labradorite was scattered through the gray rock. Gary told us that the rock
was actually called anorthosite, and the blue mineral we were seeing was labradorite.

We got to tour the quarry with one of the workers as our guide. For this tour we had to
wear hard hats, just like the real miners. First we looked at some slabs of anorthosite that

had been smoothed and polished. Wow, this didn’t look anything like the plain gray
surface of the big blocks being quarried. We learned that the labradorite in the stone only
shows up well when the rock has been polished (or wet). We also learned that the big 20-
ton blocks were not processed locally, but were shipped to Carrera, Italy (famous for its
marble quarries) to be sliced and polished for counter tops, tiles and dimension stone. We
also learned that the stone produced here is not gem-quality. Next we visited the quarry
itself. Our guide explained that the entire mountain that we could see behind the quarry
and the hills on the other side of the bay were all made of anorthosite. They picked the
present locality in part because the rock was relatively free of joints, and they could
quarry large pieces. He told us they removed the slabs either by drilling with carbide bits,
then driving in wooden wedges to free the stone blocks, or by using a giant diamond saw
to cut out big blocks.

We were welcomed to pick up any stone scraps we wanted, and by this time our pockets
and packs were bulging. Gary’s rain pants (which have elastic suspenders) were drooping
badly, because his pockets were bulging with samples. He told us that if he fell
overboard, he would just walk on the bottom back to the Polar Star. After a short zodiac
cruise of Ten Mile Bay, we retuned to the Polar Star in time for the afternoon coffee
break (great muffins!).

We continued our very busy day with a description of Inuit culture by Laurie. He told us
about the Independence, Dorset, and Thule cultures, when they flourished, and a bit about
their language and religion. Then Laurie announced that we were going to make one
more landing before dinner. This was to be at Ford Bay, which used to have a settlement,
but was now abandoned. By this time the weather outside was fantastic. We were treated
to a clear blue sky, smooth sea, and great scenery on all sides as we passed through the
complex of islands and “tickles” on the way to Ford Bay. We even got to pass through a
dense fog bank at one point, but the fog soon dispersed.

So back on with our boots and waterproofs and into the zodiacs. The landing at Ford Bay
turned out to be a real treat. Even from the zodiacs, we could see that the vegetation here
was going to be very interesting. There were no large trees, but the low vegetation was a
riot of color…everything from deep red through bright green to creamy white. A solitary
abandoned building maintained its lonely vigil on the shore. After landing on a smooth
sandy beach we climbed up the
gentle slope to look around. There
was plenty to see. The interior
walls of the abandoned house were
festooned        with          family
photographs, and there was still
furniture and food in the house. A
sign invited anyone who needed it
to help themselves to the food.

We saw dwarf dogwood, mountain cranberry, crowberries, and cloudberries (bake
apples). There were dwarf rhododendrons and Lilliputian forests of birch, willow, and

larch. On the mountain off to the left of the landing site there was a large crack or crevice
that ran right up over the top of the mountain. Those who had the energy to climb up
could descend into the crevice and walk along the bottom. There were lots of ferns
growing in the moist bottom of the crevice.

Just below the abandoned house, n the shore, there was a black dike that had been
intruded into pink granite gneiss. The edges of the dike were very clearly defined, and we
could see where it disappeared underwater into the floor of the bay. Nearby, there were
fantastic swirled layers in the gneiss and occasional black inclusions. Many of us hiked to
the tops of one or another of the hills flanking the landing site, and we were treated to
fantastic views of the surrounding bays. The time passed very quickly, and our time
ashore was soon over.

Dinner was announced as soon as we returned to the Polar Star, and we were ready to eat
after our hikes. After dinner, we had another episode of the Blue Planet Series, and
another spectacular display of the northern lights. A very full day indeed, and thanks to
Laurie for some very great spur of the moment site selection.

Friday, September 17
Hopedale & At Sea to Battle Harbor
Noon position: 55º 27’ N, 60º 12’ W
Wind: E, 2 knots
Temperature 7º

During the night, we continued south down the Labrador coast, and early this morning we
anchored just outside the village of Hopedale (about 600 residents). Shortly after
breakfast, we went ashore for a tour of this historic site. We were met at the dock by
David, our guide, and quite a number of young boys and girls eager to help us land the
zodiacs. In Hopedale, we visited a church originally founded by the Moravians, a
European religious sect. The Moravians were granted 100,000 acres in Labrador, and
established their first permanent settlement in Nuneingoak, which they renamed Nain, in
1771. From their base in Nain, they
established branch missions at other sites
along the Labrador coast. The historic
18th and 19th century buildings at Nain
are all gone, but some of the mission
buildings and the church are still
preserved at Hopedale.

Hopedale was the second branch mission
established    from     the   Moravian
headquarters in Nain. An Inuit whaling
settlement called Arvertoq occupied the
site when the first scouting party of
Moravians arrived in 1775. There were a
number of sod houses, about 300-400

residents, and, according to David, Arvertoq was known as the capital of northern
Labrador. Eventually, the Moravians received permission from the local Inuit to build a
mission, and construction started in 1782. We were able to visit the church (1865) and the
mission house (1853). One of the mission buildings had been converted to a museum,
with Thule and Dorset cultural artifacts, as well as historic items brought by the
Moravians. There was an old dentist’s chair with a foot-operated drill, a model of a
                                                   water-powered pit sawmill that once
                                                   stood nearby, and an ancient typewriter
                                                   that had keys on both sides of the roller.
                                                   We also had a chance to buy soapstone
                                                   carvings and other crafts on sale by
                                                   local people. Popular items were
                                                   representations of seals, walruses,
                                                   kayaks, Inuit hunters in pursuit of
                                                   game, and the tails of whales
                                                   descending into the deep. The local
                                                   residents were very friendly, especially
the children. Jørn attracted a galaxy of young followers by taking pictures with his digital
camera, and then showing the children their pictures.

After the tour was over, we returned to the Polar Star for an exhibition of drumming by a
group of local young people. Their drums were made of modern materials, but in the
traditional style. Basically, the drums were a hoop about 24 inches in diameter with a
handle. Some sort of fabric was stretched tightly over the drum, and a short drumstick
was used to pound out a monotonous, driving, simple beat, punctuated by occasional
chanting. According to the participants, they performed at local graduations and
weddings. After the performance, Laurie explained the various items of the drummer’s
apparel including the materials used, the method of construction, and differences from the
same items worn by Greenlanders.

As soon as the drummers left, we sailed for our next locality, Battle Harbour, which we
hope to visit tomorrow afternoon. During the afternoon, Gary gave a lecture on the
natural history and geology of Newfoundland, and passengers Ed and Barbara organized
a quiz. We started with teams of five persons who endeavored to answer 10 questions on
a variety of topics. Then the answers were collected, and the teams reorganized into four-
person groups, then three-person and two-person groups. The persons who got the most
correct answers from the forty questions were then judged winners and received a
handsome prize from the Polar Star. Winners were Tom, Tony, Sheila, Kathleen, and

After dinner, the film “Shipping News” was shown in the observation lounge. We
received a warning from the bridge that there was a chance for gale- force winds during
the night, so we went to bed with some trepidation.

Saturday, September 18
At Sea & Battle Harbour
Noon position: 52º 27’ N, 55º 29’ W
Wind: NW, 4 knots
Temperature 14º

We were pleased that the high winds predicted last night did not materialize, and the
weather was quite pleasant. The morning was spent in travel to Battle Harbour, so we had
some time for shipboard activities. During the night, about a half dozen snow buntings
landed on the Polar Star, and they were found huddling on the upper deck this morning.
Unfortunately, some of them were dead. Tony told us that they had probably been
migrating and saw our ship as an island (albeit a strange- looking one) where they could
take refuge and rest. He speculated that they were near the end of their reserves when
they landed, and that exhaustion had killed the two we found dead. However, even a dead
bird in the hand is interesting to Tony, and he pointed out the salient features of the
plumage to anyone who wandered too close to him in the observation lounge. As we were
speculating on how many feathers such a small bird might have, John told us that
according to an old cockney saying, there are “Forty fousand fefers on a frush’s froat”.
Although it is dangerous to extrapolate from a thrush’s throat to the entire body of a snow
bunting, there must be many feathers indeed on each small bird.

Emily gave us the first lecture of the day entitled “How Much is it Worth?” Emily is a
well-known sculptor herself, and we were fortunate to have her onboard to share her
insights on art in general and Inuit art in particular. She traced the history of Inuit art and
illustrated the different types of objects made, their purpose, and the production methods
used. In our stop in Hopedale yesterday, there were a number of sculptures and other art
objects for sale. Emily made slides of many of these, and we learned a great deal about
the objects on sale (and some of the ones we had purchased). We learned, for example,
that the local artists have only grey soapstone to use for their sculptures. Undaunted, they
produce black and brown pieces by using shoe polish. Thus these pieces are not
“sincere”, because this term means “without wax” and had its origin when sculptures
from inferior stone had their defects masked with wax. However, Emily emphasized that
the shoe polish is immaterial to the value of the piece as art; it is part of the art itself. She
ended her lecture with her own personal philosophy about purchasing art---“If you like it,
buy it!”

Jørn continued his series of photographic workshops during the morning, and these were
much appreciated by the passengers. Many of us have digital cameras with a lot of “bells
and whistles” that we are not quite sure how to use to maximum effect. Jørn cleared up
many of these questions and gave us composition lessons and general hints to boot.

As we were having lunch, we could feel the ship turn to the starboard to start our
approach to the Battle Harbour area. Through the dining room portholes, we could see
that there as quite a swell and large waves were breaking on the offshore islands and
rocks. The first anchorage we tried would not hold, so the Captain took us to the lee side
of a point and we found a secure spot. Laurie warned us before we boarded the zodiacs

that we might expect a long, rough, and possibly wet ride into the harbor, so we were
well encapsulated with waterproofs when we descended the gangway. The conditions
were rougher than any we have encountered in the zodiacs so far, and we got to ride up
and down some impressive swells. To get to the harbor, we had to round an exposed
point, follow a steep, rocky shore, and pass through a very tricky narrow channel to enter
the harbor. Once inside the harbor, conditions were fine. We were met at the floating
dock by a group led by Mike Earle, who manages the Battle Harbour site. Mike turned
out to be quite a showman, and he had an encyclopedic knowledge of everything about
the site and the surrounding area.

Battle Harbour was founded in 1770 by John Slade and a company from Poole, England.
                                                             It is one of the oldest
                                                             European settlements on
                                                             the Labrador coast. The
                                                             main industry was, of
                                                             course, fishing, and from
                                                             the earliest days the cod,
                                                             salmon, and herring in
                                                             nearby      waters      were
                                                             vigorously pursued. Cod
                                                             were salted, dried on a huge
                                                             open platform called a
                                                             “flake”, and then shipped
                                                             out       to        far-away
                                                             destinations. Salmon could
                                                             be shipped in barrels of
iceberg ice, and be served up fresh in places as far away as Chicago. Cod liver oil was
produced by throwing the livers in a barrel and allowing them to decay naturally. The oil
would collect on top and could be skimmed off. Then more livers were added and the
process continued through the summer. At the end of the summer, the last oil was
skimmed off and the remaining sludge (imagine how that smelled by then) was dumped
into the bay. Battle Harbour quickly became the economic center of the region, and many
merchants established themselves there.

The Battle Harbour National Historic Site is a small island, and the harbor is quite small.
Entrance is made through either the North or the South channel, and these are quite
narrow. The site is particularly noteworthy because of the number of substantial wooden
buildings remaining from the earliest times. We toured the salt works, the sail loft, the
church (the oldest Anglican church in Labrador), and we visited the loft where Peary held
his news conference announcing his claim to ha ve been the first to reach the North
(geographic) Pole. The buildings we visited had all fallen into disrepair, but they have
been marvelously restored. We almost expected a schooner to enter the harbor anytime
with a full load of cod ready to be salted. Sadly, however, the cod fishery is no more, and
we can only hope that it will eventually recover.

After our tour finished, we could get coffee and souvenirs in the restored general store. It
was a very interesting tour, and Mike assured us we would be very well treated if we
were to come back for a longer visit. The site can accommodate 40 guests, there is a
twice daily boat to the mainland, and it would be a wonderful place to spend a few days.

                                                     We arrived back at the Polar Star
                                                     in time for some delicious cake at
                                                     the coffee break, and we were soon
                                                     sailing south again. The wind
                                                     continued to pick up, and we were
                                                     glad we had made our landing
                                                     earlier in the day. At 6:30 we had a
                                                     recap and were the recipients of
much esoteric knowledge from the expedition staff. Laurie did his imitation of a
lighthouse, Jørn told an incomprehensible riddle about a lighthouse keeper, and Tony
waxed eloquently about the different types of feathers on the snow bunting corpse that
continued to accompany him everywhere. Gary passed around a stalk of blue flowers of a
type that many of us had seen growing on the island. After we had examined it closely,
he informed us that it was monkshood, that it was deadly poisonous, and that we had
better wash our hands before dinner!.

The after dinner program was “The Vinland Mystery”, a documentary on the Norse
settlement in Newfoundland at L’Anse aux Meadows. This was a very interesting film,
because there were extensive interviews with Helge Ingstad and his wife Anne Stine, who
discovered the site at L’Anse aux Meadows after a very hard and long search.

Sunday, September 19
Red Bay & L’Anse Amour
Noon position: 51º 44’ N, 56º 26’ W
Wind: N, 20 knots
Temperature 9º

During the night, we heard (and felt) the engines stop. It was different without the
constant rumble, and it was very nice to be rocked to sleep by the gentle motions of the
ship. This morning, we learned why we had stopped during the night. The harbor at our
first destination is small and scenic, and it was much nicer (and perhaps safer) to enter the
harbor in daylight. Our first outing started early (8:30), and we split into two groups; one
group went directly to the visitor center at Red Bay, and the other group went for a tour
of Saddle Island right across the harbor. After about 90 minutes, the groups changed
places so everyone got to see everything. It was not very cold, but the wind was blowing
steadily. We were glad to be warmly dressed, especially on Saddle Island.

Red Bay is a National Historic Site, and application has been made to make it a
UNESCO World Heritage Site. The reason for all this interest is the fact that Red Bay
was the site of the world’s first industrial-scale whaling station. The first European

occupants were Basques. By the mid sixteenth century, whaling was well under way at
Red Bay, with more than 30 galleons and 2000 men being sent each season to hunt the
bowhead and right whales that were so abundant nearby. They were interested in whale
oil, for which they could find a ready market in Europe; the carcass of the whale was
                                      discarded. At the height of the trade, 20,000
                                      barrels (180 kg each) of oil were being produced
                                      at Red Bay each year. Each ship could transport
                                      1000 barrels, and this represented about 20
                                      whales. Whales were usually spotted from shore
                                      lookouts. Open boats, called chalupas, each
                                      holding six to eight men, would then set out to
                                      pursue the whales. After the whale was harpooned
                                      and became tired from towing a float, the whalers
                                      would approach and kill it with lances. The
                                      whales were then towed into Red Bay for flensing
                                      and “trying out” on the shore. Coopers were busy
                                      making the barrels used to transport the oil. The
                                      season lasted for about eight months each year,
                                      and the whalers did not leave until December,
                                      when the Bay began to freeze over. The trade
                                      continued until the early 1600s when, for reasons
                                      which are still not understood, the Basques
                                      stopped coming to Labrador.

                                         Discovery of red roofing tiles on the beach at Red
Bay led to the realization that Europeans had been there, and the first l nd excavations
took place in 1977. Much of the knowledge about Red Bay has come from the research of
Selma Barkham, a historical geographer. She studied about the Basque whalers by
searching the archives in Spain. Subsequent to the initial discoveries, many amazing finds
have been recorded. For example, in 1565, the 300 ton galleon San Juan was wrecked in
Red Bay Harbor after a storm. It sank with 1000 barrels of whale oil aboard in 12 meters
of water near Saddle Island. Archeologists anchored a barge over the site, completely
excavated the ship, studied it, then put it back in place on the harbor bottom. No modern
preservation method is the equal of the natural conditions underwater at Red Bay. The
San Juan is the most completely preserved galleon from this period anywhere in the

We visited the excellent museum at Red Bay and the visitor center containing a
reconstructed chalupa recovered at the site. There was a good selection of books for sale
in the visitor center, and several of us got some nice labradorite jewelry. Red Bay today is
a town of about 220 people. The setting is very picturesque, all rocks and wind-blown
scrub vegetation with many of the buildings seemingly sited in the most exposed
locations. Perhaps this is in hopes that the wind will blow away the blackflies and
mosquitoes that, according to one gift shop worker, plague the residents each summer.

After a short zodiac ride back to the Polar Star, we had lunch and set out again for the
shore in Red Bay to catch a bus for our next outing. We were all able to fit in one large
bus. Our driver guide, Frank, had a very interesting accent. He dropped “h”s on the front
of some words, but as if he were unwilling to give the h’s up entirely, he added them onto
the front of other words. For example, we had “ares and hotters” as examples of local
wildlife. When questioned about the internal temperature on the bus, he said we could
have either “eat or hair conditioning”. After sorting out the placement of the wayward h’s
in our minds, we were able to enjoy the one hour drive to the lighthouse at L’Anse
Amour. Frank kept up a running commentary that was very informative and entertaining.
We stopped right on the road on a bridge over the famous Penware River. It was a very
scenic place, and we all got out totake photos. What a place…can you imagine being able
to stop a bus on a major highway bridge with no worry about traffic? From the bridge we
could see the upright cones on the coniferous trees all around us, and some of us
remembered from Gary’s lecture that this meant they were balsam firs. Frank told us that
the Penware is famous for Atlantic salmon fishing. U.S. presidents Reagan and Bush I
came here to fish.

We also stopped at a historic grave site where a 12 year-old girl was buried about 8,000
years ago. The grave was discovered during construction of the road, and it turned out to
be very unusual. The grave site was about 10 meters in diameter, the girl was buried face
down, and many unusual artifacts were found in the grave. She was either someone very
special, or there was some special ritual significance attached to her internment.

The lighthouse was very impressive, and the historical information was nicely displayed.
We could see the living quarters of
the lighthouse keeper and his
family, and we could climb the
100 plus interior steps to go up and
see the light itself. The masonry
construction of the lighthouse was
amazing. The walls were six feet
of solid stone, and the stones had
curved interiors and exteriors that
had been precisely cut to produce
the graceful round shape and
tapering profile of the tower. Once
we reached the top, we were
treated to a lucid explanation of the
workings of the light by a young
man (who looked like a character from a family movie by Walt Disney). The Fresnel lens
of the light was very impressive. It had many separate pieces of glass arranged something
like Venetian blinds, and they were carefully placed to direct the light of the lamp
horizontally out to sea from the lighthouse. The light has a 16 second on-4 second off
pattern that identifies it as the L’Anse Amour light.

After the bus ride back to Red Bay, we got back on the zodiacs to return to the ship. We
just had time to clean up a bit before our 7:00 p.m. recap session. Tony told us that we
had crossed a biological boundary of sorts. He had seen some birds today that one does
not see further north, where we have been for the last few days. He saw crows (instead of
the ravens we had previously seen) and a great cormorant, which is not found further
north. Tony had heard a rumor that someone had seen a bald eagle; Gary reported he had
not seen a bald eagle, but had spotted a bald ornithologist. Jørn told us additional
information about the 8,000 year old burial site we had seen. It is the oldest yet found in
North America. Gary told us that the seashore in front of the lighthouse contained fossil
remains of a reef built by archeocyathids (which are now extinct) about 500 million years
ago, and he also told us a bit about DNA and how it could be used to tell which kind of
whales the Basques whalers were killing. Laurie told us about the plans to visit L’Anse
aux Meadows tomorrow. Dr. Murray told about hopes to construct some sort of tunnel to
be able to transport Labrador’s abundant electric power to Newfoundland. A cable cannot
be laid on the floor of the strait, because it would be destroyed by iceberg scouring during
the winter and spring. We adjourned just in time for another excellent dinner prepared by
our chef Chris Russell and his staff.

Our after dinner program was a lecture by Odell on L’Anse aux Meadows. After a long
day outside, we were ready to turn in after the lecture.

Monday, September 20
St. Anthony & L’Anse aux Meadows
Noon position: 51º 22’ N, 55º 33’ W
Wind: N, 36 knots
Temperature 6º

During the night we sailed to St. Anthony for our first visit to Newfoundland. The plan
was to anchor outside St. Anthony harbor, then zodiac in to St. Anthony to catch a bus to
L’Anse aux Meadows and other nearby points of interest. However, the wind was
blowing like gangbusters when we awoke, and plans had to be revised somewhat. To get
better shelter, the captain moved the Polar Star to St. Anthony Bight on the other side of
the bay. It was calmer there, but still quite windy. A strong wind can be dangerous to
negotiate for a zodiac with only the driver aboard. Heading into the wind, the large flat
bottom of the zodiac could catch the wind and cause the zodiac to flip backwards and
dump the driver into the drink. In such cases it is best to have some weight, or ballast, in
the front of the zodiac. Ballast is usually defined as something dense and of little intrinsic
value. When Laurie thought of ballast, Gary and Murray came immediately to mind, and
they were assigned to ride in the front of zodiacs driven by Jørn and Emily. The brave
ballasters took their assigned positions, and we managed to get everyone landed safely
and dryly at a small wooden slipway inside a very small harbor. Four curious pelts were
to be seen on the slipway. A quick inquiry to a local revealed that they were from the four
quarters of a moose.

The bus, driven by Danny, was waiting for us at the head of the slipway, and we hopped
aboard for a full day adventure. Our first stop was the Grenfell Interpretation Centre. Dr.

Wilfred Grenfell was born in England, and he came to Labrador for the first time in the
summer of 1892 as a young man of 27 working with the Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen.
He immediately saw the plight of the common people and decided to commit his life to
helping them. The people that Grenfell met that first summer were mainly fishermen and
their families. They were held in economic bondage to merchants by an abomination
called the “truck” system. Credit was advanced by merchants to each fisherman at the
start of the fishing season. At the end of the season, the fishermen’s catch was turned
over to the merchants to pay off the debt. If there was any excess, the fishermen were not
paid in cash, but were given “tin money” which was negotiable only the stores owned by
the merchants who had advanced the credit to the fishermen in the first place. If the fish
catch did not generate enough tin money to carry the fishermen and their families through
the winter, more credit could be obtained. Charges were also made by the merchants for
use of their docks, for processing fish, and for a myriad of other things. There was thus
no way for the fishermen to escape this vicious circle and gain any economic freedom.
Naturally, there was no way to educate their families or to provide even minimal health
care for them or their families.

Grenfell sought to break this terrible cycle by providing medical care and helping
fishermen to form cooperatives so that they could market their own products and cut the
merchants out of the loop. By hard work and a flair for showmanship, Grenfell
accomplished much. With the help of his wife, Ann Elizabeth, and many paid and unpaid
associates, Grenfell obtained hospital ships; constructed hospitals, health clinics, and
orphanages; and helped the local people to set up fishing cooperatives, sawmills and
other businesses. He worked very hard on the lecture tour and wrote many books to make
the world aware of the wonderful people of Labrador and Newfoundland and their urgent
need for help. He was knighted in 1907 and again in 1927; he died in 1940.

Next we visited the Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital, a short walk from the Grenfell
Centre. We went in to look at the Jordi Bonet murals in the entrance lobby. Bonet
migrated to the United States and then to Canada from Spain to find a more receptive
audience for his art. The murals depict historical and social themes in a series of panels,
some realistic and some abstract. From the hospital, we had another short ride to the
Grenfell House Museum. The house was built between 1909 and 1910, and much of the
original furniture is still present. Some of us hiked to the top of Tea House Hill behind
the Grenfell House.

The weather was not improving, and we were pleased when Danny announced that he
was going to make a stop at Tim Horton’s Coffee and Doughnut shop. Well fortified, we
boarded our bus to set off toward the north. We had not yet finished our doughnuts and
coffee before we arrived at the Town Hall. This stop had a twofold objective: to see the
stuffed polar bear in the entryway of the Town Hall and to satisfy a desperate need some
passengers had for liquid refreshment at the “milk store” across the road. The polar bear
apparently wandered into St. Anthony one winter, scared the bejeesus out of the local
residents, then just reared up and fell dead. The bear was mounted standing up on its hind
legs in a plexiglass case, and it was impressively large. After we had plenty of pictures of
the polar bear, and our dairy addicts had revictualed, we headed on our way yet again.

Our next stop was the highlight of the day, the archeological site at L’Anse aux
Meadows. Helge Ingstad and his wife Dr. Anne Stine discovered the site in the early
1960s, and it has proved to be one of the most significant archeological sites ever found
in North America. Ingstad was convinced that the Vinland of the Norse Sagas was to be
found in southern Labrador or northern Newfoundland. By persistent search along these
coasts and constant inquires of the local people, he eventually found the site at L’Anse
aux Meadows. A local resident, George Decker, pointed out a group of low mounds on
the bank of Black Duck Creek. Excavations led by Anne Stine revealed the remains of
several Norse buildings and many artifacts, proving that the Norse were in North
America more than 400 years earlier than Columbus. After we toured the excellent
museum and bought books and other items at the gift shop, we braved the wind for a tour
of the site. The wind was very strong as we filed along the boardwalks and paths past the
grassy ridges that preserved the outlines of the sod and timber structures that had stood
there more than 1000 years ago. It was extremely windy by this time, and at each stop of
the outdoor tour, we stood huddled together like emperor penguins on an ice floe while
our guide made a heroic attempt to communicate with us over the gale.

Warmth was on the way, however. The next stop on the tour was a reconstructed Viking
longhouse with gas logs burning in
each firepit. We could see
firsthand how the Vikings could
stay warm in a harsh climate. The
thick sod walls and turf roof made
the inside nice and warm and
effectively blocked the raging
wind.     It was the reenactors,
however, who made our day. In the
reconstructed longhouse, we met
Bjorn the Beautiful, a robust and
hirsute Viking with a great store of
information and yarns. This guy
was really good, he told stories,
recited poems, and answered
questions      with     unflappable
aplomb, all the while staying in
character. His female companion
did not get a chance to say much,
but would occasionally comment on some of Bjorn’s more egregious suggestions relating
to the role of women in Viking society. We reluctantly left Bjorn, braved the wind once
again, and boarded the bus.

Our next stop was Norsted, created to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of Leif
Eriksson’s voyage to Vinland. The several buildings at Norsted are supposed to be
representative of a Viking trading settlement. There was a reconstructed blacksmith hut, a
reconstructed longhouse where weaving and cooking were being demonstrated, and a

large building housing a reconstructed Viking transport ship. One of the main things we
                            learned was that the Vikings got along on a very low budget
                            for internal lighting. It was difficult to see what was going
                            on anywhere except right next to the wood fires or right
                            under a roof smoke hole. However, it was interesting to
                            listen to the reenactors explain about the skills necessary for
                            daily life in Viking times. The fair Gundred demonstrated
                            spinning wool thread and weaving on the upright loom, and
                            others demonstrated making flat bread. The blacksmith was
                            reluctant to start an actual fire, but we did get to pump the
                            bellows that would have fed such a fire. The reconstructed
                            Viking ship was a wonder. It was much bigger than many of
                            us had expected. The workmanship was marvelous, but we
                            had to remind ourselves that this was just a copy, and the
                            workmen of 1000 years ago were able to make the originals.

                           On the way back to St. Anthony, we stopped at the Black
Tickle Gift Shop. The local economy received another large infusion of capital, and our
luggage received another boost in weight.

Laurie radioed the Polar Star when we were nearing our landing site. Captain Endresen
reported that conditions were quite bad in the bay and were getting worse. By now it was
raining and still very windy. Two zodiacs were sent from the ship to pick us up, and Jørn
and Emily got us back on the Polar Star under very rough conditions. Some of us had our
first experience of how exhilarating a face full of cold salt water can be.

At our recap, we found out just how serious the weather situation had become. Laurie
told us that the Queen Mary II had cancelled its planned stop in Newfoundland because
of the weather, and that two fishermen had lost their lives when their boat foundered off
the coast. Captain Endresen then showed on a map of Newfoundland how a large, slow-
moving, low pressure storm system was causing our high winds and rain. He said the
storm was probably going to prevent us from making any landings for the next day or
two. The Captain and Laurie decided that it was best for us to stay anchored near St.
Anthony’s Bight. If we went out into the open sea, we would have a very rough ride.
Laurie said we would have some sort of program tomorrow, depending on the weather,
and then he explained the dangers of ice cream trucks to older men.

After this sobering news, dinner was announced. We were scheduled to have a barbecue
out on the deck behind the observation lounge, but the weather was obviously too
extreme for that, so we had it in the regular dining hall. It was terrific! We had steak,
salmon, chicken, pork, and veggie burgers, The salad bar was decorated with wonderful
sculptures done by the kitchen crew. A watermelon was carved in surface relief to make a
very realistic fish, and there was an entire bouquet of flowers carved from various fruits
and vegetables. We stoked up on enough calories to ride out whatever the storm might

Our evening feature film was narrated by a sailing ship captain about his adventures as a
young sailor on the Peking, a large sailing ship engaged in the trade around Cape Horn in
the early 1900s. This was an amazing film with great footage of life on the ship and the
enormous seas encountered rounding the Horn. Captain Johnson’s narrative was very
entertaining, and we will long remember the captain of the Peking and his indomitable

Tuesday, September 21
A Storm at Sea
Noon position: 51º 19’ N, 55º 14’ W
Wind: NE, 60 knots!!!, Force 10
Temperature 4º

This morning we were still at anchor in St. Anthony Bight. Those who went up to the
bridge could see that the Polar Star was restless at anchor. It swing back and forth on its
great chain, and even managed to drag the anchor a bit. It seemed as if the ship was
restless to go out of the Bight and challenge the storm raging around us. Shortly after
breakfast, the Captain and Laurie briefed us on our plans for the day. They told us that
the low pressure system causing the storm was moving very slowly to the northeast, and
it would not be out of our area for some time. Therefore we would not be able to make
any more zodiac landings. Since we have only two more days on the schedule, the best
thing seemed to be to head for St. John’s with all prudent speed. The Captain explained
some regulations we had to follow for travel in rough conditions. All windows on the
third floor will have the interior shutters installed, no one is allowed to go out on deck
(except for a small smoking area to the rear of the observation lounge), and all meals will
be served to us in the dining room by the staff. The Captain and Laurie emphasized the
necessity of being very careful when moving about the ship.

Odell’s morning lecture on Vinland had to be canceled part way through, because the
ship was rolling heavily. Other activities scheduled for the day were also canceled.
However, we were still permitted to move around the deck and visit the bridge.

                                              The storm was as awesome sight from any
                                              window, but especially from the bridge.
                                              The Polar Star was rising and falling,
                                              twisting and turning, and occasionally
                                              plunging its bow into the water to generate
                                              huge fountains of spray that sometimes
                                              reached the windows of the bridge. The
                                              tops were being blown off the waves to
                                              generate long streamers of foam that
                                              scurried across the surface away from the
wind. The ship rolled heavily. We could stand on the bridge and watch the bubble in the
liquid- filled tube that measures roll, and we noted rolls of up to 35 degrees. In the

observation lounge, we could watch the water level in the plexiglass tank of the water
cooler as it swung back and forth in response to the ship’s rolls. Any items not fastened
down were potential hazards as they fell or slid across the floor, and sitting in a chair not
tethered to the floor invited a high-speed slide with an abrupt stop.

The storm had sustained winds of about 55 knots and gusts up to 70 knots. Sustained
winds of over 64 knots would constitute a hurricane. We did not have winds that high,
but our storm reached Force 10 and was classified as a severe storm. The Captain
estimated wave heights of 10-18 meters.

The kitchen staff performed heroically in providing and serving meals, and the Polar Star
crew kept everything in order and reassured us that everything was all right. We hope to
reach St. John’s tomorrow afternoon, and the storm is forecasted to abate somewhat

After dinner, Laurie announced that a move would be shown in the observation lounge
for those hardy passengers willing to endure the constant motion. Fittingly, the movie he
chose was “The Perfect Storm”.

Wednesday, September 22
At Sea to St. Johns

Today the fury of the storm lessened as it moved to the northeast away from us, and we
sailed southeast toward St. John’s. We expect to arrive sometime in the late afternoon, and
we hope to have some free time to investigate this historic town. It has been a long and very
interesting cruise. It seems like a very long time ago indeed when we boarded the Polar Star
in Reykjavik. The ship seemed like a maze to us then, but now we know her decks and
passages, we have seen her innermost secrets in the engine room, and we appreciate her
ability to keep us safe and warm in high seas and freezing temperatures. We will miss the
Polar Star and will think of her often as we relate our stories of zodiac landings on northern
beaches, visits to historic Viking sites, and how we staggered about, rode the bumper chairs
in the observation lounge, and clutched for the rails as we rode out a great storm off

Log written by Gary Kochert
Who takes credit for all good features and blames others for any shortcomings.


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