This journey following in the footsteps of Franklin will appeal to both lovers of wildlife and the dramatic history of early polar exploration. We will trace the routes of the early explorers who sailed, and perished, in these waters as they sought a way through the fabled Northwest Passage. Our itinerary includes a visit to one of the largest migratory bird sanctuaries in the world, and we hope to enjoy frequent sightings of seals as well as beluga whale. The mythical narwhal inhabits these waters, and we also hope to encounter polar bears at special locations that we have discovered over the years.
Although there is no commitment to extended walking on this journey, we nonetheless want to keep the ‘accent on the active’. We therefore advise that any physical training you complete before undertaking the trip will be to good effect.
We depart Edmonton on our charter flight to Resolute, a remote outpost above the Arctic Circle. Located on the southern shores of Cornwallis Island, the town is named after the British ship HMS Resolute which was trapped in ice and abandoned here in 1850 while searching for the lost Franklin Expedition. A weather station and airstrip made it a strategic outpost during the Cold War. On arrival, we meet our expedition team and prepare for our zodiac ride to the ship. After a welcome cocktail, we weigh anchor and depart Resolute in the early evening.
Beechey Island holds great historic importance in the story of the Northwest Passage. It is here that Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated expedition spent its last ‘comfortable’ winter in 1845 before disappearing into the icy vastness, sparking an incredible series of search expeditions. The mystery of what happened to Franklin was partially solved in September 2014, when a joint Parks Canada and Royal Canadian Geographic Society expedition found the HMS Erebus in the Victoria Strait. One Ocean Expeditions played a vital role in the discovery by carrying underwater search equipment on our ship as well as scientists, historians, researchers, dignitaries and sponsors. A trip ashore at Beechey Island to visit the grave markers on a remote windswept beach is a thrilling location for history buffs. Through the afternoon we will sail across Barrow Strait and approach the towering bird cliffs of Prince Leopold Island. This is an important migratory bird sanctuary, home to thick-billed murres, black guillemots, northern fulmars and black-legged kittiwakes. Numbering several hundred thousand birds, Prince Leopold Island is one of the most significant bird sanctuaries in the whole of the Canadian Arctic and makes for fantastic zodiac cruising. The sea ice around Prince Leopold Island is a great place for spotting ringed seals - and wherever we find ringed seals, we usually find polar bears.
Overnight we sail south into Prince Regent Inlet and wake up along the southeastern shore of Somerset Island. Our objective is to go ashore at Fury Beach, named after the HMS Fury, a Royal Navy sloop used in two Arctic expeditions by Commander Edward Parry. During her second expedition, she was damaged in the ice while overwintering and abandoned here in 1825. Her stores were unloaded on the beach and left as a future supply depot for future Royal Navy expeditions into the Arctic.
Continuing to the southern end of Prince Regent Inlet, we find the historic site of Fort Ross on Somerset Island. A former Hudson’s Bay Company fur trading outpost, fascinating archaeological sites nearby tell a story of more than a thousand years of habitation by the Inuit and their predecessors. A transit of Bellot Strait is a thrilling experience as the currents roar through this narrow channel. We are now in the heart of the Northwest Passage. The mixing of waters in this strait provides an abundant food source for numerous marine mammal species including harp seals, bearded seals and even polar bears. The skill of the Captain and Officers and capabilities of the ship becomes apparent during this exciting day of Arctic navigation.
We cross the Franklin Strait and arrive at Conningham Bay on the shore of Prince Of Wales Island. This is a known hotspot for polar bears who come here to feast on beluga whales, often caught in the rocky shallows at the entrance to the bay. It is not unusual to find the shoreline littered with whale skeletons – and very healthy looking polar bears!
Pushing further to the south, the mystery of Sir John Franklin and his ‘lost expedition’ is beginning to unravel. Prior to the recent discovery of the HMS Erebus in September 2014, very little was known of how the Franklin Expedition spent its last months in the frozen Arctic. The vessels, abandoned in the ice of Victoria Strait, are just coming to life thanks to the ongoing efforts of Parks Canada’s marine archaeological team and the recent Victoria Strait Expedition. On Victory Point a lifeboat left abandoned, bits and pieces of metal, cutlery, buttons and a skeleton here and there, tell a story of a desperate race south in the hope of a rescue that never came. We will aim to travel very near the location of the wreck of HMS Erebus.
Pasely Bay on the Boothia Peninsula is another fascinating historic location. The RCMP vessel St. Roch spent a winter here in 1942 frozen into the sea ice. The ship was the first Canadian vessel to ever transit the Northwest Passage. One of the ship’s crew passed away while in this location and was buried by shipmates along the shoreline.
We track northwards through the Franklin Strait and into Peel Sound. The area is known for its heavy sea ice concentrations, and is only open to vessel navigation for a short period each year. The high ice-rating of our expedition ship means we are well equipped to take on the challenges of this route through the heart of the Northwest Passage. We now know that Franklin sailed his two expedition ships through Peel Sound in the summer of 1846, before becoming beset in the ice.
We have an exciting last day planned in Aston Bay. A deep inlet of Peel Sound, this location often features heavy concentrations of ice and is a known hotspot for wildlife activity. We explore in the zodiacs and aim to make a shore landing searching for wildlife. This evening, we enjoy a special dinner attended by the Captain of the ship and the chance to reflect on a what has been a superb 10-days of exploration in this pristine Arctic wilderness.
By morning, we are at anchor in Resolute from where we commenced our expedition a week ago. We make our way ashore by zodiac and bid farewell to our crew. A charter flight returns us to Edmonton where our journey comes to an end
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