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An Update - Red Sea and North West Passage August 2012

The Doubilet look - subject backlight and flash fill foreground
Guess who?
Liam's elegant, I look naff
Anthias - great fish to have in pics!
The murky conditions at Maud's winch
The Maud's hull

Good grief, once again a big gap since my last blog. It’s just an old habit dying hard, the idea that no news is good news. In other words if you don't hear from me, things are going ok. Not that that will serve me well at all in our interconnected digital era. Where the means exist to be in contact, they must be used. Not much point in having a blog page otherwise. My attitude is a hangover from my early years in the Antarctic on a research station. Back then before many of dear readers were born, pre faxes and satellites, all the communications came by telex, a cumbersome system where messages were routed by HF radio from Cambridge to Stanley then retransmitted on to the each base. We had a “sched” at a set time of day, traffic went in and out, appearing on the telex machine about as fast as a good typist. Though not always as accurately if the ionosphere was full of sunspots. Official traffic might take an hour or longer to be passed, and to prevent clogging up of the system with too many messages, our personal traffic was limited to 200 words - per month. That doesn’t sound like a lot, indeed by today’s standards of unlimited emails it was naff all, but you became accustomed to it. And the habit stuck with me. If truth be told, I’m not a great one for letting it all the info out. Until now. April 2013 is new leaf turning time, I’m going to write ‘em up as they’re done. Join the digital age.
But first some catch up, because the last eight months have had their share of memorable experiences.
Marsa Shagra in the Red Sea was good for Liam and I in August. Unusually I thought, it was a resort where you could dive without any guide, perfect for selfish photographers like Liam and I. Hang around the whole dive waiting for the turtle to eat the sponge, or the shoal to get in the right place for the light. They’d drop you off anywhere along a couple of miles of reef front, either swim back solo or get picked up an hour later. Likewise night dives. It was pretty cool, Liam piled in another 20 or so dives bringing his total to 125 logged, and the talk as we came away was for him doing Divemaster next summer.

I wasn’t long home before an offer came in to join a private yacht to go through the North West Passage. I’ve been in at the east end of the route, up the top end of Baffin Island, plenty of times filming, and have been down the route as far as Resolute, but no further west. So great to be offered to see a part of the Arctic I haven’t experienced before. I flew to Pond Inlet, and we sailed through ice free water along the south coast of Devon Island to Resolute before dipping into the community of Arctic Bay down Admiralty Inlet. Do you remember Apak, our main character in the movie we did A Boy Among Polar Bears. He was 12 when we did that, he’s engaged to be married now ……. well done laddie!
On to the south, hardly a chunk of ice in sight. In fact we had to divert up an inlet to find some to dive under. An emphatic reminder of just how much and how quickly the Arctic ecosystem is changing. Even as recently as ten years ago, it was rare for just parts of the channels to be open, and the big tour ships seldom put the Passage into their itinerary as it was just too risky. But now several do it almost every year. The main danger now isn't ice but poorly or uncharted shoals. A month before us, the Clipper Adventurer had run aground on the route and all passengers had to be taken off and flown home. Fortunately no severe damage, no oil spill, but you have to say it may just be a matter of time ……
Off the community of Cambridge Bay we dived the wreck of the Maud, Amundsen’s old ship which he was going to use for his planned exploration of the North East Passage in 1918. Things didn’t go well, the ship was finally sold to the Hudson’s Bay Company as a freight carrier but was nipped in the ice and sunk off Cambridge Bay in 1930. There she lies to this day, half submerged, with the superstructure almost removed by the ice scour, though the hull is remarkably intact. Very murky, as she’s right at the head of the bay where the freshwater run off lies as a layer above the salt, gently mixing to give a classic lime juice effect. It was a long run in from the big yacht, and one guest was pretty hypothermic en route back, with the spray coming over the windshield and soaking us all. One of them days to keep the drysuit hood and mask on until we were back onboard the bigger vessel. Apparently there are plans to salvage her over 2013 / 14 and take her back to Oslo to join Amundsen’s other more famous ship, the “Fram”. Good luck, that’ll be a cold, gropey job then a long tow.
John Geiger was on the trip, the President of the Canadian Geographic Society, and an expert on the history of the North West Passage. He was present when in 1987 archaeologists disinterred the bodies of three of Franklin’s men who died on Beechey Island. His fascinating book “Frozen In Time” describes it all, and how their medical detective work pointed to lead poisoning from their tinned rations being partly to blame for their deaths. John’s breadth of knowledge was wide and fascinating. In the end I didn't manage the whole NWP, I flew home after Cambridge Bay. Maybe next year I’ll have the chance of the enigmatic Smoking Hills …..