12-18th August 2023: Arctic bay – waiting out the Lancaster storm

We ended up spending almost a week in Arctic Bay, much longer than what we had anticipated. The storm in Lancaster Sound has been ferocious and the wind has been blowing consistently here in the bay.  We eventually had to reposition to the other side of the bay to get protection when the wind shifted south easterly. For days it was blowing over 30 knots with record gusts well over 40. Fortunately our anchor held well throughout and with an anchor alarm set, we didn’t feel the need to stay up and do watches. Meanwhile, the wind was blowing even harder in Lancaster sound and Ugly Betty, tucked on the northern side of it in Burnett Inlet recorded gusts of 67 knots.

On the plus side, all this high wind broke up the sea in Lancaster and pushed it all the way west, leaving the strait clear when we are ready to go. As the wind eased in Arctic Bay but still blowing too much in Lancaster, it 's been frustrating to sit tight knowing the passage is finally clear of ice and wouldn’t remain so for long. But through the hurricane sounds of the rigging, it hasn't been all bad. Actually, we've been having a pretty good time here. We caught up regularly with Caprivi and Sentijn and we even had a game night on here which was really good fun. Tonight is our last night and we got together on the beach around a lovely bonfire. Jade from Caprivi baked a delicious chocolate brownie cake in her cast iron pot over the flames and we ate it on rock slates found on the beach. What a lovely bunch of people and hanging out with them made being stuck here much more bearable and entertaining.


We also went hiking with Caprivi and Sentijn (and half the village kids!) to the top of the hill for a nice view of the bay. Calin and I continued on to the little settlement on the other side. Not much of a settlement, more like the depot of snowmobiles and sleds. We met an 80 years lady who lives here in the summer with her husband and 103-year mother, she invited us into her rudimentary tent and we got a glimpse of her summer lifestyle. The tents are insulated but have no heating and other than a small cooking stove, it only contains a large tapchain covered with seal skins, making it somehow quite cozy and inviting. During the whole day, the sweet and genuinely inquisitive children aged 7-15 accompanied us and provided us with fun entertainment and an interesting insight of their inuit ways – all from a child perspective. I was amazed by their free spirit and sense of curiosity as well as their toughness. After all, hiking in the freezing cold in no more than a couple of layers (I had 4 and a hat!), no socks and old trainers full of holes is no mean feat for a child. Going for a mini dip in the freezing cold also seemed more fun to them than an amazing achievement.

That evening we carried on to what they call here “the Point” (at that stage, the kids were too tired to carry on and went home) where the women of the village observe the hunt of their husband from the shore and wait out patiently, sometimes hours, for the narwal catch to be brought in. Most of them are quite chatty and all welcoming. We find out that tusks are worth big money and a 3m one can fetch $9000 (about 6000€). Carcasses are littered on the beach, sometimes only the tusk and skin removed. It seems they dry up the skin to make jerky strips and use very little of the meat for their own consumption. Most of it is given to the dogs, if that.. As a wildlife lover, it is hard to observe the distressing hunting technique, chasing the animal for hours, harassing it with riffle bullets so it can’t take deep breaths at the surface, making it slow and dizzy and harpooning it with a floating buoy so it can’t go down anymore and can’t sink when dead. Perhaps I would find it all ok if I was living here and relying on that tusk cash to survive, it is not for me to judge their ways of survival. Somewhat relieved, the hunt tonight is unsuccessful and we hitch a ride back to town.

Somehow, time in Arctic Bay went by reasonably fast and we didn’t get to do any maintenance projects that we had envisioned. But we did catch up on a lot of sleep, and it felt wonderful to allow ourselves some very long guilt-free sleep ins. We lost our Starlink internet connection and it wasn’t  easy to diagnose the problem without the possibility of googling what could be wrong. Calin eventually figured it was an issue with the cable. Interestingly, having the Starlink and access to unlimited fast internet wasn’t something we had planned for when we started the trip in England. We were quite happy to be off the grid with just the Iridium for weather, ice charts and the occasional basic updates to family and friends. But we have to admit that it became a little pleasurable treat whenever we would set it up an anchor. Miraculously, and beyond all hope, Calin managed to source a 2nd hand cable by chatting with a friendly clerk at the supermarket. Arctic Bay only has about 1000 inhabitants but we are a long way from the old image of inuits wearing seal skins and ox furs and using dogs as their sole transportation to move from one isolated location to another. In 2023, everyone moves around with pickup trucks and snowmobiles in the winter and social connection via mobile phones and internet access is as normal as anywhere else in the western world.

We cleared in at the local police station – the RCMP (the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) and this was the best custom & immigration we’ve ever experienced! We were welcomed by two super friendly officers, Mark (Long) and Deano, totally incredulous to dust off their entry stamp for the 3rd time in one week. It is rare for boats to make Arctic Bay their first stop in Canada (most clear in at Pond Inlet) and the stamp was brand new. We also had to temporary import our riffle and both looked at it with a sparkle in the eye like a kid receiving a new toy at Christmas – it is a new shiny riffle and they are used to old rusted weapon. We chatted for a very long time and they gave us an insight of the other side of the local community, the harsh reality of a bleaker one. Everyday they have to deal with bootlegging and alcohol related violence, something that ultimately the children suffer the most from. It is hardly surprising. The governmen in the 25 communities of Nunavut at various degrees and here it is prohibited to sell and buy locally. One can only buy alcohol online through the committee and this privilege is taken away with misbehaviour, spurring a nasty black market where a 1l bottle of vodka can sell for CAD $800.

Despite the difficulty of dealing with recurring infractions and violence, our two officers demonstrate an incredible amount of patience and empathy and have built strong ties with the community. Every day, children come to the station and after diligently mimicking the sergeant salute as instructed by the officer, they are given a stamp on their hand and skip back outside with stickers and smiles, a candid ritual that delivers lightness and giggles for all.

The weather is finally clearing and we'll catch the end of the storm tomorrow. Next hurdle: the Bellow strait!

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