On July 12th, Day 4 of our adventure, we woke super early, gathered up all of our gear and headed for the school buses, which took us to the Ottawa International Airport. There we loaded our mountain of gear and hoped that we weren’t about to overpack our First Air charter flight. It’s happened on previous expeditions, apparently. Sucks to be on the tarmac, scratching your forehead and wondering what to leave behind because the plane just can’t handle the weight of all of it. In the end, it was beer bottles that were left behind. But that’s another story that I’ll tell a little later. And it does have a happy ending.
Our charter flight was headed to Kuujjuaq, a remote community on Ungava Bay, in northern Quebec. Our ship would be waiting for us in the bay. And we were so anxious to get on board and begin the expedition component of our adventure together. Our flight time from Ottawa to Kuujjuaq was about two hours.
We arrived to overcast skies, much cooler temperatures than we’d had in Ottawa, and an incredible landscape. We walked about a mile from the airport to the town’s community centre and then had a walk around town, headed down to the beach and then back to the community centre for a BBQ that the town had put on for us. Youth from our expedition connected with local youth and soon, friendly challenges of Inuit games and rapping and beatbox were being exchanged.
After a few hours in town it was time to head for our ship, the Sea Adventurer. She had come upriver a bit and anchored, waiting for our arrival. But we still had about a 30 minute zodiac ride to get to her. Exciting! Our first ride in the zodiacs! As we sped down river, the wind in our hair and the northern sun on our faces, the rhythmic bouncing of the zodiac on the waves, we soaked up the scenery as we went.
The landscape around Kuujjuaq and along the river is rugged. Kuujjuaq is located just at the edge of the boreal forest treelike. So you see some trees to the south, but they are small spruces. And the treelike quickly disappears as you head north. The shoreline is rocky and rugged. Looking out onto the massive pieces of rock, one expected to see a polar bear lumbering across the landscape.
As we made our way down river in the zodiacs, everyone was pretty quiet. Talking above the sound of the outboard motor was difficult. But part of the silence was that we were all just taking in our surroundings. For many on the expedition, this was the farthest north they had ever been. The magnitude and magnificence of the landscape was something many had not experienced before and none of us could help but just look and watch as we sped along.
As we headed down river towards our ship, we began to notice camps dotted across the landscape. One of our northern students said that families were out on the land now, hunting and camping.
As we sped downriver, the outline of our ship came into view. And as we got closer, it’s size and magnificence became apparent. It was hard to believe this would be home for the next 11 days! There was definitely a palpable excitement in the air as the zodiacs circled, waiting their turn to tie up to the ship’s platform and step aboard.
The Sea Adventurer, is a 100 m long ship with an A-1 ice class rating. So technically, it’s not an icebreaker, but its reinforced hull can find its way through plenty of ‘bergy bits’ that often litter the waters of the northern Labrador coastline in July.
The Sea Adventurer staff had already kindly installed all of our luggage in our cabins by the time we arrived. Our cabins were tidy, modern and comfortable. Sure, they’re small, but we were just there to sleep (and as we’d find out, grab whatever rare nap-time could be stolen during our busy days).
I remember on Day 1 of our adventure, during our introduction, Geoff Green was describing the Sea Adventurer. His comment was that this ship is far, far too nice for us on us. Ya, sure. 😉 It wasn’t until I began to explore around the ship and came upon the dinning room that I understood what Geoff meant. Just peeking into the dinning room, I felt as if I should have brought my evening gown on this arctic expedition! Note to self for next time – don’t just pack the rubber boots and blackfly jacket, include evening wear as well. 😉
But it gets better. Not only is the dinning room fancy-schmancy, but all of the serving staff were wearing tuxes. And they were the most incredibly friendly people. By the end of the expedition, we’d all become friends. And… we certainly didn’t starve during our expedition. How could one starve while eating 5-course meals for dinner, for 12 days? Seriously! They fed us 5 course meals for dinner! Breakfast and lunch were buffets. And all I can say is that the food was phenomenal! I normally don’t eat dessert, but I did for these 12 days! Although I just couldn’t bring myself to eat the delicate pastry that was shaped like a swan. Seriously, it was ‘pastry origami’! Talk about roughing it on our arctic expedition. 😉
And…. the menu from dinner one night… some evenings we ate fresh arctic char that members of our expedition had caught that day.
After dinner, I wandered up on deck with my camera, soaking in the fresh evening air as we made our way through Ungava Bay. The land disappeared and the open water lay before us. As the sun began to sink in the sky, many of us took some time on deck to jus have some quiet time to ourselves, to reflect on all that had happened up to this point and what our next 11 days would be like.
Our floating home, the Sea Adventurer, was INCREDIBLE. All of the staff were more than outstanding. So friendly, courteous, the food was out of this world. The cabins so comfortable. We all complained when we got home that our beds at home seemed not to be nearly so comfortable as those on the ship. Our captain was phenomenal. You’ll hear more about him later and how he’s given us the adventure of a lifetime.
Tune in next time for the first BIG day of our adventure, exploring the beauty of the Labrador coastline…