Expedition: 1. A journey or excursion undertaken for a specific purpose. 2. The group of persons making such a journey. 3. A sending or setting forth.
To this Merriam-Webster definition let me add number 4. A word used as an excuse to cover deficiencies, shortcomings, and anything else that goes wrong. Toilets don’t work…hey, it’s an expedition. Shower and sink water brown… hello!!, it’s an expedition. Didn’t see much wildlife….sorry, it’s an expedition. Missing most of our island stops due to high winds and rough seas…by golly, it’s an expedition.
My wife & I have traveled all over the world. This was our 20th cruise. We have sailed on big, luxury ships and on small expedition vessels. We have also been on many land tours.
We wanted to see the Arctic and experience the ice, wildlife and culture of the north. After booking our trip with Cruise North Expeditions, we studied their Arctic brochure and website. They feature wonderful photos of wildlife and stunning scenery. Our tour was the “Arctic Odyssey” on a Russian, ice strengthened, leased ship, the M/V Lyubov Orlova. They boldly claim in their literature, “Nobody gets you closer.” We were excited. They further state: “We have designed our itineraries to maximize time spent ashore taking in Inuit villages, wildlife colonies and the breathtaking landscape. By the end of the trip, you will be amazed at how much you have seen and experienced.” By the end of our trip, we were amazed how little we experienced and how much money this “expedition” cost us. Cruise North does have a fine print disclaimer stating “weather, ice, tides and other conditions will dictate the itinerary and shore excursions. Wildlife sightings and some activities depend on favorable conditions.” For our “expedition” this disclaimer was an understatement. Due to high winds and rough seas, we skipped Walrus, Digges, Mansel, Quaqtaq and Akpatok islands. Also from the brochure, on the “Arctic Travelers FAQ” page: “Seas in this region in summer are usually calm, though rough weather can be experienced at any time”. I spoke to many Inuit staff members who told me it’s usually always windy and rough. And for my trip, this proved to be true. Reading this you might think I’m upset about missing over half the cruise stops. No. Here is what really made me mad. When we did have good weather and calm seas, it was not taken advantage of.
July 20, 2008
Our first day in Churchill, on Hudson Bay, the weather was beautiful. Beluga whales could be seen in the distance lolling in the river and ocean. A young Polar Bear was spotted from the bus. After lunch we had a tour of the town, some shopping, then boarded the Orlova. Since the ship was being refueled, our departure was delayed. So, we sat on the ship for hours until the sun went down, doing basically nothing. The Zodiacs should have been launched so we could go out and see the Beluga whales. Instead we sat there watching the workers handle the refueling. By the time we sailed, it was late and the Beluga’s could not be seen.
July 21, 2008
We spent the day crossing Hudson Bay. A Sunny day with 28 mph winds. We had the lifeboat drill. Our muster station had 3 open lifeboats, two with oars, one with a motor. You wouldn’t want to be in one of these in the middle of Hudson Bay. Various lectures were given during the day finishing with a movie after dinner.
July 22, 2008
We awoke to sunny skies but rough seas and 35 mph winds. The plan was to visit Walrus Island to see Walrus and Polar Bear. From the upper deck, those with good binoculars could see a Polar Bear. The Zodiacs were launched. We had split into 2 groups on the ship, Oopik and Nanuk, my wife & I were Nanuk. Each day we would take turns going first on the tours. Today Oopik went first. Zodiac loading was very rough. I was watching from above when a 13-year-old girl was trying to step into a Zodiac. Her mother and father were already in and seated. Then just as she was getting in, a big swell hit the Zodiac pushing it partially under the gangway platform. The gangway repeatedly banged against the Orlova pretty hard and the poor girl was screaming and holding on. Two Russian crewmembers were there yelling instructions to her in Russian, which she did not understand. Then the Zodiac took off leaving her behind without her parents. I had met her family earlier and spoke to them later about this incident. They said she was really scared and spent the next two days in the cabin crying. The Zodiacs returned pretty quickly, seeing very little of Walrus Island. It was too rough so the rest of the tours were cancelled. Zodiacs ramming into the gangway damaged it. So from then on we used the gangway on the other side of the ship for all future tours.
Later in the day, the winds calmed somewhat and it was decided to stop at Coats Island for a hike on the Tundra and to see Walrus. We had a nice Zodiac ride to the beach. The Sun was out and the winds were fairly calm. We hiked about a ½ mile. No wildlife was in this area but we did see flowers, spongy tundra, a patch of ice, and other vegetation. We then went by Zodiac to see a Walrus colony. The Walrus were everywhere on a stretch of beach, some in the water. It was very cool. Except…. I was on the wrong side of the Zodiac, so I actually didn’t see them hardly at all. The Zodiac driver didn’t turn in a circle so we could all see and without a word, took us back to the ship. We had paused there for only 3 to 4 minutes. I could have stayed for an hour. So much for getting me “closer”.
July 23, 2008
Again we awoke to rough seas and 40 mph winds. It was decided to stop at Cape Wolstenholme on the Ungava Peninsula to see Thick Billed Murre birds that nest on the towering cliffs. After seeing little wildlife so far, I was ready. We walked down the gangway, my wife got in, and suddenly the Zodiac took off, leaving me on the platform. I ended up in the last Zodiac, of the last group. There were only 5 of us in the boat, and we got pounded pretty hard by waves due to being so lightly loaded. After a scary, wet ride, we made it to the cliffs. I was sitting at the front of the boat and had gotten quite a beating from the waves. Sheltered by the cliffs, the ocean was slightly calmer. I removed my camera from a waterproof bag and took some pictures. I couldn’t see much because of all the turbulent water bouncing us around. After spending about 10 minutes here we started back to the ship. Now, we are riding into the wind and it was very rough going. The other Zodiacs had disappeared leaving us alone. We were nearly back when the Zodiac was smacked solidly by a wave, just like hitting a wall. The impact bounced me off the pontoon and into the middle of the aluminum Zodiac floor, my legs twisting behind me as I landed. As my weight came down, both knees hyper-extended and nearly dislocated. The Zodiac driver yelled at me to get back on the pontoon. I crawled back on the pontoon and we continued to the ship, at a much slower pace and hit no more waves. I was stunned, shaken and unsure how hurt I was. Thinking about it now, the ocean water is very cold and if the Zodiac had flipped or one of us fell in, there would be little chance of rescue. Especially with the high waves and no other Zodiacs around. We did wear flotation devices that were supposed to inflate when submerged in water. If this had happened, I would have ended up a Popsicle. My knees? Both knees were injured. My right one is O.K., just really sore. My left knee is seriously damaged. I cannot walk normally on it or bend it. So, for the rest of the cruise I was stuck on the Orlova, hobbling around. I’m going to have an MRI in a few weeks and hopefully get it fixed. I chose to go in the Zodiac in very rough seas and have no one to blame but myself. I took the risk and in this case, was unlucky. But getting stuck on the ship proved to be no big deal, we didn’t see much wildlife after this day anyway.
July 24, 2008
The weather was better today. Partly cloudy, calm seas. We are at Kangiqsujuaq, an Inuit settlement. While I remained on the ship my wife went ashore for a visit. They got to mingle with some locals and were treated to a cultural show featuring drumming and story telling. She enjoyed this small village on Wakeham Bay. I didn’t know this trip was the Arctic Marathon cruise. So before we left Kangiqsujuaq, supplies and volunteers for the race were loaded onboard. Then we had a nice cruise up a fjord to Douglas Harbor. Once anchored, twilight Zodiac rides were offered, but there was little wildlife to see. So far we have seen no ice on this trip.
July 25, 2008
A nice sunny day, light wind. We are anchored at the end of a fjord called Douglas Harbor. There is a mining road here that will be used for the Arctic marathon. Kayak rides are available. Zodiacs take people ashore to hike. An Arctic Hare and a few Caribou are spotted. Otherwise there is no wildlife. The sides of the fjord are weathered and eroding.
There’s nothing to really look at. Late in the day a BBQ is staged on deck. We stay here all day and into the night waiting for the Arctic marathon to finish. Then we motor back to Kangiqsujuaq to drop off marathon equipment and volunteers. A waste of good weather and my vacation time.
July 26, 2008
Cloudy, rainy day with 28 mph winds. We stop at Opingivik Island. It’s really wet out. The Zodiacs load up and take people ashore for a short hike around the area. My wife returns completely soaked. In the afternoon, we motor to Diana Island. The weather is getting worse, more rain and stronger winds. My wife braves the rain to go on a hike. She returns sopping wet and says she saw a Musk Ox on a far ridge. About this time I start to notice a curious thing. Some passengers I talk to just completely love this trip, they rave about it. Others are as disappointed as me. Well, turns out the majority of passengers on this cruise are travel writers, travel photographers, book authors, travel agents and their families, corporate staff and their families, or friends of the staff. They are not full fare paying passengers. The Arctic Marathon is a big promotional event and these folks were here to cover and promote it. So, if you ever read travel news stories and reviews…. remember these folks have an incentive to write only “happy talk”. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
After Diana Island, we set out for Akpatok Island. The seas were very rough. The ship was getting tossed about and seasickness bags were deployed everywhere. Our porthole leaked every time a wave hit it. I spent most of the night sopping up the water with a towel and had to move everything out of a dresser under the porthole. I asked one of the Russian housekeeping staff for help in securing the leak, but she didn’t understand English and walked away. Fun night.
July 27, 2008
Cloudy, rough seas, 41 mph winds. Akpatok cancelled. We could see the island in the distance but that’s as close as we got. The Expedition Leader said he wanted to make today’s 4:00pm high tide at the Koksoak River instead of tomorrow at 4:00am. So we would just go straight there. Along the way, the skies cleared and the winds calmed down. Many icebergs were spotted, some with Murre birds on them. Did we stop and go investigate any? No. Our cruise was over because our leader wanted to make high tide today. Once we got to the river, we laid anchor around 5:00pm and just sat there. There was nothing to see or do. A waste of my time and money.
July 28, 2008
Our last morning on the ship. Partly cloudy, sunny skies with little wind. Ate the usual buffet breakfast. At 11:00am we took the Zodiac to the marina where a bus took us to Kuujjuaq. In the afternoon, it was hot and humid with a late afternoon thundershower. We had a tour of the town. Did some arts and crafts shopping, walked around. Our flight to Montreal was delayed for 6 hours due to mechanical trouble. So, we missed our hotel in Old Montreal, already prepaid. It was a hot, confusing 6 hours. We finally left. Now back in Montreal, after getting our luggage, it was 1:30am. First Air put us up at the Best Western near the airport. We had an early flight home, so we left the hotel at 6:00am for the airport.
So, that’s my big Arctic expedition. In contrast to the sales brochure, I didn’t see much ice anywhere, there was little wildlife, and we had lousy weather most of the trip. A lot of time was wasted due to the Arctic Marathon. When there was good weather, the cruise staff didn’t take full advantage of it. Most days the toilets were broke. We were told to fill the bowl with water from the shower, then flush. Well, if this didn’t work, you now had a full bowl to deal with. Also, the hot water line always had air in it. So whenever I turned it on, it would spit out forcefully into the toilet or sink and blow water all over me. Nice. It was a couple of days until I remembered to use only the cold water. The water from the shower and sink was always brown. It was advised not to drink it. So each passenger gets a water bottle that you can refill from a purified source in the library. Bar soap is not provided. The rooms cannot be locked from the outside and there are no keys. Staff said it was for safety. The goal of Cruise North is for the local Inuit to eventually take over and run the cruise line. This will provide jobs and opportunity for many Inuit. Much of the staff on this cruise were young Inuit trainees. They were fun to talk to and had a real passion for their culture. They were happy to share their lives with us. In contrast, some of the western staff were quite rude. One night, our Inuit friends put on a demonstration of Throat singing and traditional arctic games. My favorite Naturalist onboard was George Sirk, an expert on birds. A very friendly, knowledgeable man. A real pleasure to have with us. Most days we had various lectures. There was a well stocked library. Usually after dinner there was a movie or presentation. Breakfast and lunch were buffet style. Dinner was served to us. The food was O.K. It was always open seating.
At 4:00pm each day there was tea and goodies served.
This was my trip and I wish I could say I enjoyed it. Alas, I did not. My recommendation? Go to Churchill in November and take the Tundra Buggy. You will see Polar Bears and have more fun. I wish I would have.