Captain's Logs - Final RCGS Posts 2014 - Victoria Strait Expedition 2014
Captain Bill Noon of the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Sir Wilfrid Laurier reports on the search.
The 2014 Victoria Strait Expeditionisa bold Canadian initiative that will assist in the Parks Canada-led search for the lost Franklin ships in Canada’s Arctic. The project, which is comprised of a number of individual projects, brings together public and private organizations to advance Canada’s interests in a number of priority areas. It is an innovative collaboration by experts in the fields of hydrography, ice and coastal mapping, navigation, marine history, archaeology and ocean engineering, who are all contributing their efforts, expertise and technologies to explore the Arctic Ocean seafloor.
This year there will be a record number of players and ships supporting the expedition: CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier (Canadian Coast Guard), HMCS Kingston (Royal Canadian Navy), research vessel Martin Bergmann (Arctic Research Foundation) and One Ocean Voyager (One Ocean Expeditions), as well as a number of smaller vessels.
Follow this blog, as Captain Bill Noon of the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier and other experts on-board provide personal insights and clues into the whereabouts of Sir John Franklin’s lost ships, the challenges of surveying these waters, the critical role of navigation safety systems and services, and Canadian innovation in marine technology.
August 16, 2012, 21:00 Mountain Time:
Captain Noon shares his first report from the 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition: Introductory insights into the Canadian Coast Guard’s role in the search area
By Captain Bill Noon
While the Victoria Strait Expedition won’t begin for us for another week or so, the crew of the Canadian Coast Guard ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier is already engaged in our annual Arctic summer work program.
We changed crews in Kugluktuk on August 12. The previous crew, who earned their flights home to Victoria after leaving port nearly six weeks and 5,072 nautical miles ago, assisted science specialists who embarked at Dutch Harbour, Alaska and conducted oceanographic work in the Bering and Chukchi seas.
The first sight of sea ice during that leg appeared on July 21 near Wainwright, Alaska, and continued into the Alaskan North Slope. Upon finishing their work, the science staff disembarked at Barrow, Alaska. As part of more typical operations, this crew also provided icebreaking services and an escort for a Canadian vessel into the Beaufort Sea. Once in Canadian waters, the Laurier serviced 56 navigation aids that directly support safe shipping through Arctic waters.
On August 6th, six staff members from the Canadian Hydrographic Service (a branch of Fisheries and Oceans Canada) came aboard and set to work. It’s common for us to work closely with these surveying and charting experts as they share our mandate of marine safety. Their survey launches, CSL Gannet and CSL Kinglett (specialized vessels for conducting hydrographic survey work carrying a lot of cutting edge technology), were shipped from Victoria aboard the Laurier. The hydrographers have been busy conducting surveys in Dolphin and Union Strait, Coronation Gulf and are now surveying eastward in Queen Maud Gulf to widen the existing shipping corridor. In addition, the Canadian Hydrographic Service has equipped the Laurier and the Royal Canadian Navy ship HMCS Kingston with multibeam sonars for the first time, which will contribute to our ability to surveying the Arctic.
Once the current crew conducted our required safety drills, we continued transiting eastward. We are continuing to service navigation aids, and will be establishing navigation buoys in Cambridge Bay and Simpson Straits.
Our team is also growing as we head eastward, and our stop in Cambridge Bay on August 16 included picking up terrestrial archeologists Dr. Doug Stenton of the Government of Nunavut and Dr. Robert Park of the University of Waterloo. Our stop also included a rendezvous with the Arctic Research Foundation’s vessel Martin Bergmann to transfer cargo that we carried up for them to assist in their upcoming research activities. The Bergmann is also in preparation mode, with a few other partners aboard, including Parks Canada and Royal Canadian Navy staff.
There are few slow days on our ship, and there is much to do in such a short field season. In only a few weeks all vessels and partners of the Victoria Strait Expedition will be fully operational. There is still quite a bit of ice in Victoria Strait at the moment. In fact, one of the channels near the survey area is known as Icebreaker Channel — a reminder to all of us that work up here remains a challenge and should not be taken lightly. It is the Arctic after all.
August 20, 2014, 20:00 Mountain Time:
New tools create maps of archaeological sites
By Captain Bill Noon
We have another week of regular operations before we turn the Laurier’s attention toward the Victoria Strait Expedition, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not busy.
We are continuing to work our way toward St. Roch Basin, moving eastward from Cambridge Bay. This included two days in Simpson Strait, a narrow and shallow bottleneck channel located south of King William Island and characterized by many twists and turns. This winding and shallow route creates inevitable challenges for the ships that serve the communities of Gjoa Haven on King William Island, and its neighbour Taloyoak located to the northeast on Boothia Peninsula. Each year, our work here includes the set up and/or maintenance of the many navigation towers and navigation buoys in this channel from the beginning of the shipping season that typically runs from August until the October freeze-up.
Today, terrestrial archeologists Douglas Stenton and Robert Park were able to take full advantage of clear skies and warm weather (roughly 8 C) to get to shore and conduct surveys of their own in Douglas Bay on the south coast of King William Island and on Adelaide Peninsula at a place known as Starvation Cove. This year they’ve added some new advanced technology provided by colleague S. Brooke Milne of the Centre for Earth Observation Science at the University of Manitoba — ground-based LiDAR. LiDAR (short for light detection and ranging) is a more recent remote-sensing technology that can measure the distances and shape of a target surface over a larger area.
LiDAR works similarly to echolocation (think bats), but uses ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared wavelengths rather than sound waves. Similarly, the Canadian Hydrographic Service has also used airborne bathymetric LiDAR in previous years with great success as certain wavelengths are able to penetrate into shallow waters to map the seabed. A key advantage to LiDAR is its ability to generate 3D elevation maps to help highlight unique features on the ground. For Stenton and Park, this new tool will help to create high-resolution maps of archaeological sites.
As we waited for Stenton’s and Park’s return later that evening, I was again struck by the difference between our current modern operations and the historical efforts and labour required as the European explorers were first trying to sail and chart the Arctic. In a period of hours, Stenton and Park were able to take full advantage of great conditions to conduct their surveys and return to the ship by helicopter from Starvation Cove to a full dinner prepared by our talented cooking staff. The historical contrast isn’t lost on any of us.
August 21: 13:00 MST
The exploration history of an Arctic hamlet
By Captain Bill Noon
We are presently anchored offshore of the hamlet of Gjoa Haven. This hamlet is brimming with historical significance and is always one of my favorite stops. The Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen stayed here for more than two years (between 1903 to 1905) while completing the first transit of the Northwest Passage, and named the harbour after his small sturdy wooden sloop, the Gjöa. It’s also the site where Amundsen and his men met a band of Netsilik Inuit. The deep relationship that formed between the two groups lasted nearly 18 months, and saw Amundsen’s crew deeply immersed in learning and respecting northern culture and skill. Amundsen’s later successes in completing the Northwest Passage were likely the direct result of his ability to incorporate their lessons, knowledge and skills into his mission.
The hamlet also holds the oral history of the Inuit and many in the community maintain profound insights into their community, their history and their environment. Community members still speak of the stories of Franklin survivors trying to reach safety, and their interest in the searches is also ongoing.
And today, the word on the street in Gjoa Haven is that the ice is still holding fast on the other side of King William Island in our project area. Our latest ice maps and satellite images from the Canadian Ice Service have confirmed what the Inuit already knew. Ice conditions in the Arctic are often driven as much by the wind as they are by the amount of ice, and without some strong southeast winds the ice retreat will be very slow this season. Sailors never wish for gales, but I might make an exception if it blows southeast before we get there.
August 22, 2014, 22:00 Mountain Time:
Work continues after passing through sea ice
By Captain Bill Noon
Today, we headed north into James Ross Strait, on the northeast side of King Edward Island, to complete the servicing of our navigational aids in that area. Transiting James Ross Strait, along with Simpson Strait, offers an alternate route around King William Island to allow ships to avoid the ice of Victoria Strait.
Upon reaching the north entrance of the James Ross Strait, we immediately encountered high concentrations of sea ice. Using the ice charts generated by the Canadian Ice Service and imagery provided by the Canadian Space Agency, we were aware that the area had been assessed as mainly first-year sea ice. We put our nose into the ice, and found it easy for our icebreaker to transit through. Video footage (see below) from the bow of the Sir Wilfrid Laurier gives a great sense of the ice we transited for about an hour. This ice, however, would still pose a significant
In fact, our ship has been in communication contact with three yachts over the past few days. Each was heading eastward through the Northwest Passage. These types of vessels used to be a very rare occurrence, but have become increasingly more regular in recent years.
Once back into open water, our Coast Guard crews resumed their navigation aids work and the Canadian Hydrographic Service continued their seabed surveys.
While the calm weather and light winds are helpful for our regular navigation and hydrographic programs, they’re certainly not helpful in clearing out the sea ice that is locked in along the north and northwest side of King William Island, including the areas targeted for this year’s Franklin search.
The good news new is that weather does change quickly, and we still have time over the next two weeks for the ice conditions in the search area to improve. Now, like all of Victoria Strait Expedition partners, all we can do is wait to see how conditions will change, and be ready to adapt when they do. This is the Arctic, after all, and being able to adapt to the environment will be critical to our success.
August 23, 2014, 16:00 Mountain Time:
Reduced visibility slows work, but only briefly
By Captain Bill Noon
The day started with a blanket of fog surrounding the ship. This reduced visibility directly affected a number of our planned operations, which were stood down until conditions improved. By lunch, the fog had lifted and all operations became active. The Laurier positioned the final navigation buoy scheduled for Simpson Strait, the Canadian Hydrographic Service headed east of Simpson Strait to expand the hydrographic data coverage in the area, and the helicopter and several Coast Guard crew members conducted additional work on the navigational aids, including painting several beacons for added visibility — especially important once the first snow flies.
August 24, 2014, 13:00 Mountain Time:
A classic breakfast to help keep time, then back to work
By Captain Bill Noon
Eggs Benedict was served for breakfast this morning, which means it’s Sunday. It’s easy to lose track of the time here, but that standing tradition is a ritual that keeps weekly calendars aligned in the most delicious way.
Slight winds, warm weather and rippled waves are expected. The helicopter and survey launches were dispatched immediately after breakfast, and the conditions helped us complete navigational operations by mid-day. This is a good day to catch up on paperwork, which, even this far away from shore, you can never outrun.
August 25, 2014, 20:00 Mountain Time:
The short Arctic field season means taking advantage of every opportunity
By Captain Bill Noon
The morning greeted us with light fog, but it didn’t linger very long and only minimally affected operations slated for the day.
The first activity of the day saw the two Canadian Hydrographic Service launches Gannet and Kinglett deployed toward Requisite Channel for part one of their surveying day. After surveying for much of the day, both teams returned for supper, refueled the launches and ventured back out into Storis Passage. These can be long days for the launch teams, who are led by hydrographer Scott Youngblut and comprised of Canadian Hydrographic Service hydrographers and Coast Guard coxswains. And similar to great race teams, it also involves our engineers who inspect, fuel and maintain the launches to the highest standards. Since August 8, the Canadian Hydrographic Service launch teams aboard the Gannet and Kinglett, along with recent contributions directly from their multibeam installation on the Laurier, have line sounded over 2,150 kilometers and still counting. But Arctic field seasons are very short and sea conditions are variable so they must take advantage of every available opportunity to maximize survey coverage and expand the shipping corridors. Fantastic work so far!
The helicopter was airborne by mid-morning with Nunavut archeologist Douglas Stenton and archaeological anthropologist Robert Park from the University of Waterloo aboard. They surveyed the Adelaide Peninsula coastline from Smith Point to Grant Point, and the shores of five small islands immediately west of Grant Point. Besides the mystery of the Franklin expedition, there is significant Aboriginal history here as well, and Stenton and Park are extremely dedicated to documenting this vital part of Nunavut’s heritage.
The Laurier encountered some ice in Storis Passage in the early evening. The launches Gannet and Kinglett skirted safely around the ice to catch up with us, and managed to continue to survey all along their routes. It’s been a few years since we encountered ice in this area, reminding me that open water in this area at this time wasn’t always the norm.
August 26, 2014, 15:00 Mountain Time:
A day of transition: A weather change, a mid-day launch and an upcoming rendezvous
By Captain Bill Noon
The 25-knot winds calmed slightly in the afternoon and we carried on with our navigational aids servicing operations. A wind like this does not impact our helicopter operations, but it does force us to take a close look at sea state for the hydrographic launches to conduct fieldwork safely. Throughout the day my crew kept busy building and installing beacons, as well as maintaining navigational aids on at least four small islands in the area.
As predicted by Environment Canada’s weather forecast, the winds in the afternoon eased, and by mid-day the Gannet and Kinglett were away to continue their surveying in Requisite Channel. The hydrographers have collected a significant amount of data over the past several weeks, and the analysis of that data through specialized geographic information system software is also conducted onboard. Archeologists Douglas Stenton and Robert Park will also be reviewing and scrutinizing their recent survey data collection. Up here, everybody makes hay while the sun shines (and processes the data when it doesn’t).
Later tonight, we’ll be making our start toward Cambridge Bay for refueling and resupplies. We’re also picking up the rest of our team, including colleagues from Parks Canada who will begin their search elements from the Laurier. It will be nice to see our old friends back aboard. We have built a strong working relationship with Parks Canada over the years and it feels great to shift from the planning cycle of the Victoria Strait Expedition into its operation. Once they’re safely aboard, we’ll begin preparations for our official leg of the search. And while the Franklin elements are certainly drawing well-deserved attention, every partner under the Victoria Strait Expedition umbrella will be continuing to make advances in other areas, including sea bed surveying, land-based archeological surveys and navigational enhancement work. This being the Arctic, the weather and ice is predictably requiring us to make adjustments to the marine search plans, and this is shaping up to be a very busy and exciting few weeks!
August 27, 2014, 15:00 Mountain Time:
The Wilfrid Laurier’s health officer compares notes with a colleague in Cambridge Bay
By Captain Bill Noon
Last night, we began our steaming toward Cambridge Bay to pick up our Parks Canada colleagues and rendezvous with the tug Henry Christoffersen, which is delivering our fuel. Bunkering operations were completed safely by the early afternoon and shore parties into the hamlet were arranged for crew members to visit the community and retrieve our new passengers.
Our onboard health officer, Laura Schreiber, BScN, RN (C) took the opportunity to meet with a nurse colleague stationed at the Cambridge Bay Health Centre to discuss differences between at-sea and shore-based health services. A highly qualified nurse and a critical member of our crew, Schreiber has served aboard Coast Guard vessels since 2010, including the CCGS Henry Larsen and the CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier. While she is always available to our crew for any medical conditions that might arise while at sea, her skills are especially critical during search-and-rescue missions. And like all medical emergencies, when you need help, you want the best care. We are very lucky to have her.
August 28, 2014, 17:00 Mountain Time:
Fire drills, survival suit fittings and helicopter briefings greet new guests to the Laurier
By Captain Bill Noon
The weather today was overcast, with grey skies, 20 knot winds, and based on the forecasts we expect this to continue into tomorrow as well. While the winds made it awkward for boat work, they should help to speed up the ice breakup in Victoria Strait (our ideal target search area). Operations today focused on navigational aids works in Cambridge Bay, which is as close to a port as you get in this area of the Arctic. We will head toward Requisite Channel over night to get close to our search area tomorrow.
Safety was the theme on board today for our new guests, complete with a fire drill, survival suit fittings and a comprehensive helicopter briefing. Safety at sea is more than simply an exercise, and we take it very seriously. While we do many things, the most important is search and rescue. In addition to the vessels previously mentioned onboard, we also carry with us two rigid-hull inflatable rescue boats, a nurse and four crewmen who are also well-trained medics, also known as rescue specialists.
A highlight for many of our guests was the comprehensive briefing given by our pilot Andrew Stirling. Technically both he and helicopter engineer Stewart Rurka are Transport Canada employees, but we see them as part of our close-knit Coast Guard family. With over 30 years of experience as a helicopter pilot, Stirling understands helicopters and passengers. His detailed briefings cover all aspects of safe helicopter operations, in-flight equipment and protocols for emergency scenarios. And besides being a talented pilot, he’s one of the funniest people aboard.
The Coast Guard helicopter on the Laurier (call number CG362) is a light twin MBB 105 constructed in 1985 and modified in 1987 in Fort Erie Ontario for Coast Guard operations. Rated to wind speeds of 45 knots for safe flight, the helicopter with its heavy-duty landing gear is ideally suited for ship-based operations. It’s also well looked after, as Rurka conducts all routine inspections and both scheduled and unscheduled maintenance in the helicopter’s retractable hangar. The aircraft is an essential tool for our navigation work and is regularly transferring crews and supplies to remote locations. In fact, we are preparing to sling a 30-foot tower in the next few days. But the helicopter also supports a number of other ship-based operations, including ice reconnaissance, search and rescue and is overall a key workhorse for us. Simply put, it’s an essential tool in the Arctic, and all managed by a flight crew of two.
August 29, 2014, 20:00 Mountain Time:
Great animal sightings and the official surveying resumes
By Captain Bill Noon
We started our day at the south entrance of Requisite Channel. As expected, the morning weather was largely a re-run of yesterday’s overcast, windy conditions, limiting our operations to some navigational aids work while we moved northeastward into the southern search area. Tomorrow will be our official start date for our leg of the Victoria Strait Expedition, delayed slightly to accommodate the ice conditions (by now, it should be clear that we accommodate the ice, it does not accommodate us).
Today’s highlight for all aboard was the sighting of a healthy female polar bear and her two cubs in the pack ice of Storis Passage. We brought the ship to a halt at the edge of the ice and watched the family from several hundred metres away as they moved across the ice and swam in the water. Getting quick glimpses of polar bears, Arctic foxes, Arctic cod and other northern wildlife in their natural habitats are always uplifting. Lucky for us that we have several gifted photographers aboard, including our own winchman Cory Glencross, who captured this week’s best animal images.
By the afternoon, the wind began to die down and our partners returned to full operations. The Canadian Hydrographic Service sent both the Gannet and Kinglett back into the water for surveys and Parks Canada staff assembled their autonomous underwater vehicle out on the hatch in preparation for sea trials. By early evening, we gathered all vessels and equipment back onboard and turned our sights toward the southern end of Alexandra Strait to anchor.
The Canadian Hydrographic Service completed a preliminary electronic charting of this new route in 2012 taking us further south into Alexandra Strait. Prior to their work, only two vessels were known to have sailed this specific route — one of which, the U.S. Coast Guard ship Storis, left behind a very narrow track line of soundings around 1957. This significant achievement by the Canadian Hydrographic Service, which may ultimately provide an alternative routing for safe transit between Victoria Strait to Storis Passage, demonstrates just one more leap forward by our partners.
Before I sign off, I’d like to pass along congratulations to the captain, crew, and expedition team members (including some friends of mine) aboard the Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent and the CCGS Terry Fox, for their successful voyage to the North Pole this week. Well done!
August 30, 2014, 23:00 Mountain Time:
Victoria Strait Expedition ships meet to refuel and restock
By Captain Bill Noon
Today is the Laurier’s official start date on the Victoria Strait Expedition!
The day was dedicated to transits, transfers and tramping. The first operation this morning saw the Martin Bergmann come alongside the Laurier for scheduled refueling and a top-up of freshwater. It was great to touch base with our colleagues and their captain Dave McIsaac before the Bergmann headed back to the southern search area where their combined crew from Parks Canada, the Royal Canadian Navy and the Arctic Research Foundation are making significant inroads in their side-scan surveys. I had a mug-up with captain McIsaac, who is also a commercial fisherman from the East Coast. Trading yarns with this experienced Newfoundland captain made for a great start to the day.
Following that task, we set course for Jenny Lind Island at the southern end of Victoria Strait where we met up with our partners aboard the One Ocean Voyager to complete the transfer of the Parks Canada dive tender Investigator and the remotely operated vehicle. This was a delicate operation that first required the 83-metre Laurier to pace slowly into position along the slowly moving starboard side of the 117-metre Voyager. I knew beforehand that the larger ship was going to test the reach of our crane, and the location of the Investigator on their aft deck meant that we couldn’t secure alongside with the starboard side of our ship, which is cluttered with a science A-frame and the hydrographic survey launches. We mapped out the lift in advance using Autoload stability software to verify the height and reach of the crane, and then prepared to put our plan into action.
We set up only one spring line, lots of fenders, and managed to station-keep while supported by crewmembers on deck. Boatswain Rhett Miller and winchman Cory Glencross coordinated the delicate crane operations that saw the carefully maneuvering of the Investigator from the aft deck of Voyager and into a cradle on the port side of the Laurier. Watching from the bridge, I worked with my chief officer to manage the position of the ship and ensure the safe transfer of cargo. I was so proud to watch our expert deck crew adapting so effectively throughout the operation, especially considered the space constraints, the crane at full reach and the reality that it was being conducted between ships underway together in the Arctic. I’m sure that the many photographers and film crew who caught the action were equally impressed.
Our well deck is now at full capacity, with the two seven-metre CHS launches Gannet and Kinglett and the Parks Canada 10-metre Investigator tightly arranged around our hatch. And I shouldn’t forget to mention the toys stored in the hold, including both the autonomous underwater vehicle and the remotely operated vehicle that Parks Canada brought up, in addition to our own ROV. The planning phase is now officially over, and our limitations now relate only to the number of crew available to operate the assets, the weather, and as always, the ice.
With all transfers completed, I planned on this being enough activity for the day. But by 8:30 pm local time, we headed off instead to the southwest to provide advice and an ice escort to a container ship in the area. Our icebreaking will continue late into the night, and once done, we will turn around toward our start point at the southern entrance of Alexandra Strait and resume our role in the Victoria Strait Expedition. Now off to work with all our toys to find those ships. I think I have Franklin fever.
September 1, 2014, 23:00 Mountain Time:
Great conditions allow for plenty of action from the Laurier
By Captain Bill Noon
Light winds, open water and relatively calm seas made for a perfect day to get all of the equipment in the water and in the air, and advance multiple project goals simultaneously. The northern search area remains difficult for boat work. Patience is the key up here, so we will go hard wherever the ice and weather let us work. Our current area down in the south is a location we have been searching since 2008, and it remains an area of interest. So, we will continue to cover more of this spot.
Immediately after breakfast, Parks Canada’s Investigator, along with its autonomous underwater vehicle, was launched back in the approach to O’Reilly Island, followed by the Canadian Hydrographic Service’s Gannet and Kinglett which were deployed toward their survey blocks. Lead hydrographer Scott Youngblut’s team had also engaged the multibeam on the Laurier very early in the morning so the onboard hydrographers Arthur Wickens and Ryan Battista kept themselves very busy processing the near real-time data throughout the day.
Our terrestrial archeologists were also eager to work today, and were able to grab the extra seats in the helicopter with Youngblut as he headed to one of the unnamed islands in the southern area. Besides the ongoing multibeam work, the hydrographers routinely establish global positioning stations onshore. These are critical to ensuring the positional accuracy of their surveys. While Youngblut set up the GPS station, archeologists Douglas Stenton and Robert Park conducted archeological surveys, located several Inuit tent rings and mapped sites using the ground-based LiDAR. The pilot stayed with them, keeping an eye out for hungry predators. Luckily, they only attracted curious caribou. The ability to share resources and assets between the various agencies aboard is a fundamental element of this project.
September 2, 2014, 22:40 Mountain Time:
More great weather means lots of action from the Laurier in the Victoria Strait Expedition
By Captain Bill Noon
Another beautiful day in the southern search area. With Environment Canada’s weather reports looking good, we took full advantage again to send out all of our assets and expand our surveys. The Canadian Hydrographic Service, Parks Canada and Nunavut’s terrestrial archeology team all made further progress today.
On our nightly check-in with our partner vessels, I was very excited to hear that the Defence Research and Development Canada team aboard the One Ocean Voyager ran very successful sea trials of the Arctic Explorer this morning. The Arctic Explorer is an autonomous underwater vehicle equipped with a state-of-the-art sonar system. More than just a search tool, it is a highlight in Canadian innovation and engineering. Prior to my arrival on Laurier, I worked on a number of our Coast Guard research ships, but never had the chance to work with the AUVs. I’m intrigued about how this new technology works compared to conventional scanning methods.
As for our colleagues, the Voyager was gradually inching northward today through areas of rotting ice in their efforts to get into the prime search area and were very optimistic about the improving conditions, while the Martin Bergmann remained closer to us in the south where it continued to make very impressive gains with its side-scan sonar operations.
As for us, with conditions just right and all systems operational, even routine operations are making for very full days. With another 11 days left to go for our group, the hunt continues.
September 3, 2014, 21:30 Mountain Time:
Clear sailing: Continuing great conditions make for busy days
By Captain Bill Noon
This good weather, with its light winds, warm temperatures, clear skies and smooth seas, held all day in the southern search area. All of our assets were back out on the water and on the land until the early evening working to finish up what they could in this area. Tonight, the Laurier will steam back toward Alexandra Strait, and then we’ll set our sights north tomorrow. The One Ocean Voyager has already made its way to the northern search area and is now actively scouting near the point of abandonment where they hope to launch the Defense Research and Development Canada’s Arctic Explorer. They’ll start surveying for the lost Franklin vessels as soon as they can find enough open water.
Just imagine what the men aboard those Royal Navy ships must have felt as they waited two years for open water before making the final decision to trek southward over land. It simply boggles the mind to think of the level of hardship they endured.
September 16, 2014, 22:15 Mountain Time:
Reliving the find: How events transpired on the Sir Wilfrid Laurier as new of Franklin discoveries developed
By Captain Bill Noon
Each year that we’ve done this mission, we’ve had a talk with our crew and the partners aboard to discuss what we would do if we found something. All I can say is: be careful what you wish for. Because when it happened, it happened fast and events rapidly overtook us. Several personal commitments, including my “Captain’s logs,” were shelved temporarily as we worked to keep up with rapidly changing objectives.
September 1 started like most of our days, with a 7 a.m. morning briefing to formulate the day’s plan. As the fog, winds and other conditions are unpredictable up here, trying to plan even the night before is often a wasted effort. This day looked great for flying, so helicopter time was assigned to the Canadian Hydrographic Service’s Scott Youngblut so that he could set up a GPS reference station on shore. The Nunavut archeology team of Douglas Stenton and Robert Park jumped at the chance to join Youngblut in the chopper’s extra seats for a flight over to land. Add to this situation a pilot, Andrew Stirling, with keen eyesight and a budding interest in archeology, and you have the start of our great adventure.
I can still clearly remember the smirk on the faces of Stenton and Park when they stepped out of helicopter upon their return to the ship. As a standard ritual, I have always met them on the flight deck after they return from a survey just in case they’ve found something new. Stenton whispered to me “I’ve got something cool to show you,” although I couldn’t see anything as his new finds were hidden away in the helicopter. Within half an hour, Stenton retrieved his items and carried them to the ship’s bridge where they caused a lot of immediate excitement.
Stenton showed me the iron fitting first. And then I saw the broad arrows. I knew instantly that they were on to something big. Because I have a classic boating background, I’ve walked over many wood sailing ship hulls in my life and I quickly considered which part it could be. I raced down to my cabin to look at the ship plans for Terror and Erebus to see if I could identify it. At the same time Parks Canada’s Jonathan Moore was doing the same, and he located it just minutes before I had (those guys are really good!). It was an iron fitting from the base of a davit. Even to my amateur eye it was obvious that this was the “real deal.” What an extraordinary find for the Government of Nunavut!
As always, we stuck to the plan that had been developed in advance for just this type of find. The first joint news release by the Government of Nunavut and the federal government was issued on September 8 and outlined the key details of the first clues found on land.
The next big wave would follow later, as Parks Canada’s team followed up on the vital clues located by the Nunavut archeology team. The next chapter then suddenly shifted to Parks Canada’s team aboard the Investigator (coincidentally named for Captain Robert McClure’s ship which was abandoned in 1853 in Mercy Bay while also trying to solve this mystery).
Parks Canada’s archeologists kept their find from me until one evening when they called me into my own cabin and shut the door behind me. If you know anything about ships, you’ll know that this is extremely unusual. I had no idea what had happened and I actually feared the worst. As I sat next to my bookshelf filled with nautical history, they let me in on their astonishing secret. They had found one of the ships! They showed me the recording of the side-scan image, and as I watched it scroll by I felt like I was watching it live.
I was overwhelmed. It took a few minutes to sink in. But after the tears and hugs, we resumed our mission as we are so apt to do after years of being on this hunt. We had a clear contingency plan that was used to guide our next steps. We unplugged the ship from the world, briefed the crew on the story and then set to work to confirm the discovery with Parks Canada’s remotely operated vehicle. Nature tried to stop us with high winds, but we pushed on and the underwater archeologists gathered the visual evidence they needed. We definitely found one! We just don’t know which one.
On September 9, the Prime Minister would proudly release a formal statement about our well-kept secret to Canadians and the world, and a technical briefing would give the world access to our inside story.
This story is so much bigger than any of us, and that any attempt to describe it in my log would take away from those who have worked hard for many years to make this happen. It is a true honour to be have been among this extraordinary group during this expedition, many of whom who have been deeply dedicated to this work for years and have faced many challenges and criticisms along the way.
One of the greatest honours for me took place on September 10 when I was invited to address the council in Gjoa Haven, along with the federal Minister of the Environment, the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, the Premier of Nunavut, the Honourable Peter Taptuna, the Nunavut Minister of Finance, the Honourable Keith Peterson, and the mayor of Gjoa Haven, His Worship Allen Aglukkaq. Following that meeting, the hamlet held a community feast and put on a true northern celebration that included speeches, singing and drum dancing.
As the celebration went on, I realized that this honour truly belongs to the Inuit. Over the years, I have read many accounts of the oral history, and I have been fortunate in being able to speak to many residents of Gjoa Haven. In particular much credit goes to Louie Kamookak, a local well-respected Franklin historian. The Inuit stories held true.
Since this project began in earnest in 2008 (when making our own charts was needed simply to get into this area), the specialized knowledge, talents and skills of those aboard have been shared freely. In hindsight, this resulted in a scenario where pilots became archeologists; hydrographers became historians; professional mariners became hydrographers; archeologists and ship captains became diplomats; and all aboard became aware of the significant value of Inuit traditional knowledge.
Lastly, I’d like to toast Lady Franklin for spearheading many of the early search expeditions and leaving a legacy for us to follow. I’m so glad we could help.
September 17, 2014, 23:00 Mountain Time:
Briefs on a busy day of underwater archeology and associated work
By Captain Bill Noon
Today was set for diving operations and there was no time to waste. With wind and sea conditions having improved overnight, and with so little time left, I shook our crew at first light to launch our ship’s fleet before7 a.m. to head out to the site.
The crew from Parks Canada had spent the past several days preparing their dive equipment and finalizing dive and safety plans. They were ready and there would be no holding them back from exploring and filming the wreck for as long as their air would allow. We had our rigid hull inflatable made ready to deliver filled dive tanks throughout the day to keep their operation going strong.
Between dive operations, it fell to the Canadian Hydrographic Service to multi-beam the wreck from all angles and generate a high-resolution, three-dimensional image. This technology, on top of the Parks Canada’s side-scan sonar, adds an entirely new dimension to the analysis as the multi-beam can penetrate the vegetation to give a clearer look at the wreck structure itself. The multi-beam data will be used to support Parks Canada’s analyses, and will be overlain with the ship plans to identify features and assess structural integrity.
And if that wasn’t enough, Nunavut archeologist Douglas Stenton had much more of his own exploration work to do. Along with Canadian Hydrographic Service’s hydrographer Arthur Wickens and pilot Andrew Stirling, they lifted off for more land-based survey work and mapping of ancestral Inuit sites.
The Martin Bergmann also joined up with us this morning, and I met with captains McIsaac and Chidley and their senior crew while we topped up their water and fuel to discuss exit strategies to avoid the ice and enjoy fair winds en route to Cambridge Bay.
Dive operations, as well as hydrographic surveys, were finished late in the evening. And with the last zodiac sent out to ferry guests back to the Bergmann, the crew was tired. They’d need a good night sleep. We have less than a full day in the area to complete operations before we steam to Gjoa Haven. Logistics, ice and weather are shutting us down fast.
September 18, 2014, 20:30 Mountain Time:
The 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition comes to a close: One last day of diving and searching before the ships head south
By Captain Bill Noon
This was our final day of operations, and this time there was a hard deadline. By 3 p.m. we needed to start heading for Gjoa Haven. Tomorrow morning we will rendezvous with the M/V Avataq, a commercial vessel that will transport the Investigator south. Timing the shipping of cargo in the Arctic is critical. The ice this year is similar to the normal ice patterns we experienced a few years back and we have to watch closely. Over the past several years, we’ve been relatively ice-free in this area, but the ice is moving in early this year.
Our crew has been pushing hard over the past month, and with only a day left to go it’s more important now than ever before that I remind everyone aboard to be safe and not to let our guard down in all the excitement.
The Investigator was off as soon as our morning brief was over, and final dive operations by the Parks Canada’s underwater team were conducted up until mid-day. The Canadian Hydrographic Service launches Gannet and Kinglett also finished up their multi-beam surveys of the ship, and I must admit that even the three-dimensional raw data is very impressive. I can’t wait to see how it looks after it’s been post-processed.
Helicopter operations were also underway again today as hydrographer-in-charge Scott Youngblut headed out to take down a GPS station he had previously installed. Archeologist Douglas Stenton and pilot Andrew Stirling joined him, and spent the time working on additional land-based surveys. I worried about sending them out together again — the last time they went out together caused a lot of excitement.
As all the launches returned, I had a final photo taken from the helicopter of our little Sir Wilfrid Laurier squadron. Once done, we loaded up the boats and steamed away. I left with mixed feelings in having to shut it all down. I gauged some of the keys of our success: all of our assets, including helicopter, survey launches, an AUVs and an ROV, all performed efficiently with no downtime — a testament to our engineers and technicians; and we had no accidents or injuries — a testament to our professional crew. We stuck to our plans, both short and long range, and flipped our plans south when the ice sent us there. My crew was amazing. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Tomorrow, once we discharge the Investigator to the Avataq, we will sail to Cambridge Bay to discharge Gannet and Kinglett to another Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker, CCGS Terry Fox, which will carry them south to Newfoundland.
To search each year since 2008 has been a logistic and environmental challenge every step of the way, especially considering the narrow window that nature allows us to search. What a dream to find one of the lost ships on my watch. Thanks so much to everyone who helped us to be part of this story. I will be closely following the work on this vessel for years to come, and am more interested now than ever before to see what stories the vessel will tell and what mysteries it will solve. Clearly, I am going to need a much bigger nautical history bookshelf.
Fair winds and following seas everyone.
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