Fortified by 50 tonnes of food, Coast Guard vessel will be the first to winter in frozen Arctic wate

Breaking the ice with Captain Julien


Stéphane Julien might be the captain of an icebreaker, but he knows nature holds the advantage in the Arctic ice pack.

"Compared to the power of the ice we're a little nutshell," says the boyish captain of the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Amundsen, during a recent call at Iqaluit for the Qanuippitali? Inuit Health Survey.

Julien is at ease in his well-appointed cabin, which doubles as an office, and is filled with charts, manuals and no fewer than four dictionaries – three in French, one in English. And the 23-year coast guard veteran, who has worked in Atlantic Canada, the Great Lakes and the Arctic, will be spending a lot of time in it, since the Amundsen will spending the winter North of 60, locked in ice.

The Amundsen will be at sea for 15 months, travel more than 50,000 kilometres, visit 33 Inuit communities, and consume more than 50 tonnes of food. The ship's cooks will prepare 120,000 meals over the course of the journey. The goal is to stay mobile, and this will be the first time a Coast Guard ship has wintered in the Arctic.

"I will need [all the] horsepower I can possibly have," Julien said.

And while any sane captain avoids ice when possible, Julien admits crashing through the pack in a huge ship is fun, especially when it's thick. While the Amundsen can ram through ice up to 4.5 metres thick, the ship has to back up and take a run at the ice to break through.

The Amundsen is the only coast guard ship dedicated to scientific research. So while other ships cruise the Arctic breaking ice, repairing aids to navigation and doing search and rescue, the Amundsen – at a charter cost of $35,000 per day – is at the disposal of the scientists aboard. That's a role that doesn't suit some coast guard captains, Julien says.

"Since [the scientists] pay that amount of money they're very demanding," he says. "Some captains…don't feel like they have to answer to anyone but their bosses."

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