An ice-locked Christmas

“I see so much that is creative that it is truly a miracle”



Trapped in the ice in Arctic Bay, Norwegian sailors plan Christmas in the cold

If you were looking for a peaceful Christmas getaway, without the bustle of family and friends, or the stress of shopping or cooking, an ice-locked sailboat in Admiralty Inlet would be the perfect location.

Unless, of course, you had already spent 18 months on the same boat, and you won’t be going anywhere until the ice breaks up next summer.

But Knut Espen Solberg and Camilla Grønneberg, both from Norway, are planning to make the best of their situation.

After their second attempt to cross the Northwest Passage this summer, they’re just happy to be close to Arctic Bay, and not just on an ice floe somewhere.

The pair sailed away from Norway on June 13, 2003, to retrace the historic journey of Roald Amundsen, also a Norwegian, and the first European to cross the Northwest Passage in 1903. They hoped to reach Gjoa Haven that fall, where Amundsen and his crew on the Gjoa had spent two winters in the ice.

But on September 6, several visiting dignitaries, including Premier Paul Okalik and the Norwegian Ambassador Ingvard Havnen, looked vainly on the horizon for the sailors with whom they’d hoped to share the 100th anniversary celebration of Amundsen’s arrival, and unveiled a commemorative plaque without them.

The Jotun Arctic made it all the way to Greenland, headed north along the coast before crossing Baffin Bay to Canada, and into Lancaster Sound on the northern tip of Baffin Island, but that’s as far as they got before ice forced the boat to return to safe harbour in Disko Bay for the winter.

They left Greenland on July 1 this year, sailing north towards Qaanaaq, also known as Thule, and reached Canadian waters after two days of sailing west from Greenland. This time they made it all the way through Lancaster Sound and Prince Regent Inlet and the Bellot Strait, where they waited for six weeks for the ice to open. It never did.
Fifteen months after leaving Norway, Knut, 31, an engineer who has been working with boats all his life, and Camilla, a homeopathic healer, are planning their second Christmas away from their homes near Oslo.

Several of their friends and family members have asked them why, but Knut, speaking by telephone from the public library, is resolute.

“We might have been able to lift it out at Nanisivik,” he says. “On the other hand, I kind of enjoy this. What’s the rush in getting back home?

Life on board was relatively comfortable until most of the boat was closed off to conserve the heat produced by a diesel engine. Knut and Camilla now share “a living room the size of a double bed.”

The rest of the ship has frost on the walls, and the temperature is -20 C in the room that housed their Internet access.

Among the party are five fully-grown sled dogs brought from Greenland, and three puppies, chosen from among 14 dogs the pair had amassed during their winter in Disko Bay. A wildlife officer in Gjoa Haven had suggested the dogs could inject new blood into the local stock.

As foreigners, Knut and Camilla are denied hunting rights, but local hunters have generously provided seal meat for the dogs.

Knut takes them on sled runs about twice a week. He is familiar with mushing from his childhood, and has also led dog teams in Spitzbergen, Norway’s far-flung island in the Arctic Ocean, but says that mushing in Canada is very different.

Canadian Inuit run dog teams in a fan, with a rope to the sled for each dog, whereas in Europe, dogs are tied in pairs, two by two.

Knut’s kamotik, imported from Greenland, is also unique, and according to Knut, “has had several people shaking their heads.”

In addition to seal meat, the hamlet of Arctic Bay has provided free Internet access and newspapers at the public library and friendly people to visit.

Camilla has joined a group of women in town who are sewing a giant sealskin tent, using sinew as thread in the traditional fashion.

Last year, the pair celebrated Christmas with games and treats they had packed for the occasion. This year, those supplies are depleted, so they will celebrate Christmas like everyone else in Arctic Bay: with 14 days of traditional feasts and competitions.

Both have been looking forward to the Christmas Games ever since they came ashore in September, when a resident, on hearing they would be in the ice all winter, immediately told them about the annual celebration.

The pair left Norway with food and fuel supplies for two years, but are also eating seal, Arctic char, caribou and muktuk. They were surprised to learn that few Canadians eat beluga meat, after cooking whale pizza and spaghetti all winter in Greenland.

Mainly, they are enjoying the pace of life.

“Back home, if you’re waiting for the bus for five minutes it pisses you off,” Knut says. “When you tell people in Arctic Bay you’re waiting for a year, they don’t think it’s weird.”

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