Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut August 13, 2004 - 3:49 pm

CamBay landlubbers join German sailor

The Dagmar Aaen sails east again after wintering on Victoria Island



In the summer of 2003, residents of Gjoa Haven celebrated the 100th anniversary of Roald Amundsen’s historic journey through the Northwest Passage, even though Amundsen had only departed in 1903, and spent two winters in the Arctic before completing the trip in 1906.

A German adventurer who hoped to celebrate the anniversary by making his own passage last year found his trip became even more historically accurate when ice forced his ship to winter in Cambridge Bay.

Arved Fuchs, 51, is preparing to launch the second part of his journey east as captain of the Dagmar Aaen, a 24-metre wooden fishing boat built in Denmark in 1931.

He’s also picked up two new crew members from Cambridge Bay who will join him on a three-month voyage through Queen Maud Gulf and up to Lancaster Sound — on a route that will vary depending on ice conditions — and then to Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and eventually, northern Germany.

Doug Stern, a Kitikmeot resident of 22 years, first met Fuchs when he noticed a wooden boat at the end of the dock in Cambridge Bay last September. After a short conversation he learned that Fuchs had just come in from the Aleutian Islands and was on his way east.

A few weeks later, Stern noticed that the ship was back. Ice had forced the ship to turn around just north of Taloyoak.

“It was touch and go,” Stern says. “They were worried about losing the ship for a while.”

After a quick discussion, involving the RCMP, who expressed some reservations about leaving an unattended ship in port all winter, Stern offered to look after the boat with the help of Brent Boddy, another long-term Cambridge Bay resident.

“Right away I said, gee, so if we keep the three stoves going and look after the boat and look after the bilge and make sure the boat doesn’t sink, do you guys have a set crew for next year?” Stern recalls.

“He thought about it for a few seconds, and then said yes.”

For 10 months, Stern, a trapper and seasonal Parks Canada employee, and Boddy, the GN’s superintendent of public works, took turns making sure the ship’s three stove heaters were burning, and pumping out the water that inevitably leaks into the bilges of a wooden ship.

Last week, the ship’s nine other crew members and a camera crew returned to Cambridge Bay, only to find there was still solid ice through Dease Strait, between Victoria Island and the mainland.

As the crew waited for the ice to break, and for a strong wind to push it out of the bay, they planned a 10-day trial run into Bathurst Inlet and the outpost camps in the area.

“The only sailing experience I have is three months on a 250-foot-long coast guard ship in Hudson’s Bay in 1975,” Stern says. “I’ve got my sea legs, but no experience with sailboats or sails. For Brent and myself it’s going to be a pretty big learning curve.”

Intense winter experiences and isolated traveling conditions aren’t entirely new to Stern. For the past four years, he has worked with Parks Canada at remote Quttinirpaaq national park on Ellesmere Island. Three years ago, he spent three months as a guide in the Antarctic.

Boddy has his own expedition experience. In 1986, he was part of a six-man team that made the first unsupported dog sled trip to the North Pole. The trip took 57 days and Boddy was given the Order of Canada for his achievement.

Both men are avid explorers of the Cambridge Bay area and will serve as advisors on ice and snow conditions.

Journeying with Arved Fuchs will be an experience in itself. Fuchs has been exploring both ends of the earth for years and is world famous for his extreme adventures.

In 2000, Fuchs recreated the journey that Earnest Shackleton undertook to save his crew after his ship, the Endurance, was destroyed by ice in the Antarctic in 1914. Fuchs built a replica of the James Caird, a small, open boat with no engine and no radar, and set off from Esperanza Bay on the Antarctic peninsula for Elephant Island, where Shackelton’s crew spent four months waiting for help before deciding to try the 800 mile journey to safety themselves.

Thirteen days later, Fuchs made it to Elephant Island, and then set off for South Georgia, a British Island southeast of South America. The crew lived to tell the tale of wind, fog, and 10 meter high waves that continually threatened to capsize the boat.

“He is crazy but when you meet him, he’s just like talking to you or me,” Stern says of Fuchs. “You’d never know he did any of this stuff unless you asked him.”

Stern isn’t sure whether or not the latest expedition will be successful, but he’s looking forward to “the chance of a lifetime.”

“We’re gonna have to be lucky and we’re gonna have to have some good strong windstorms to break up some ice and get rid of it so that we can head over towards Gjoa haven and Taloyoak in late August or early September and work our way up the coast to Boothia Peninsula.”

If ice conditions don’t improve, Stern and Boddy will still be on board as the ship makes its way westwards around Alaska, to Hawaii, and through the Panama Canal to Germany.

Either way, Stern says he and Boddy will be good ambassadors for Nunavut.

“I took the Nunavut flag to the South Pole a few years ago when I was working as a guide. I’m gonna take it with me, and if we ever got to Germany — like who knows, right? — we’re going to go possibly through Europe, across Africa, then we might go to India, end up in Australia and New Zealand and then come back to Canada. I hope to have the Nunavut flag with me all over the place.”

Stern is also packing a sealskin bone and peg game for long nights on board the Dagmar Aaen, although he expects that getting to know the other crew members will be entertainment enough.

Among the crew are a Danish boat builder, a retired air traffic controller, a German geographer, and an Australian from Tasmania

“There should be some interesting conversations when you’re sitting around the table in the galley.”

The Dagmar Aaen is also working with WWF Deutschland to document evidence of climate change observed on the trip.

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