Cambridge Bay Escape

August 25, 2019
Cambridge Bay

Sunday morning. I am kick-the-dog frustrated. Wind is still hard and cold from the SW, day after day, relentlessly the wrong way, pinning us down in Cambridge Bay. And it is the same for as far out as the forecasts care to predict. How can we get home in such a wind?

From the cockpit, I can see a lone wooden platform on the beach near the tank farm, the cradle in which this boat stood the winter of 2014/15, now old and gray as driftwood. It’s a sign, I think, inviting Mo’s return. But I resent it deeply. I do not wish to spend a winter in Cambridge Bay. The injustice of it, to be stopped less than 4,000 miles from our goal. Lacking a dog, I slam my hand on the table. It aches for an hour. 

At noon I move the boat downwind of the tank farm so as to make the ferrying of fuel from the beach a less wet exercise. I am to meet Miale, the wife of yesterday’s taxi driver, at 12:45pm. She will bring my jerry cans for tank farm pumps that open at 1pm. I dinghy ashore at 12:30. Promptly, Miale arrives at 12:45. 

“Are the pumps open yet?” she asks, even though it’s clear we are alone. 

The wind is chill. Miale wears the hood of her purple jacket up. I pull my wool cap down and over my ears. We step behind the pump shed to wait out of the gusts. 

Miale is Inuit, a Baffin Islander, born near Iqaluit. She might just be five feet tall and looks far too young to be the mother of four. She is quiet without being diffident. Her black eyes sparkle when she smiles.

Having been in Cambridge Bay but 19 years, she considers herself new to the area. 

“I can’t get used to how flat it is,” she says. “Baffin is all mountains. And because it’s flat, we get more wind. It makes the winters colder. Fifty below is normal. We have no sun for eight weeks, and when it’s dark, we just stay inside. The winters are very long.”

Miale’s English is perfect, and I learn that she went to university in Nova Scotia. “Pretty common,” she says. Miale works for the government as a court clerk. As Nunavut villages are too small to need a full time court, the judge and his administration travel. Miale is often on the road. 

In Cambridge Bay, she met her husband, Cory, most definitely a white guy. 

I ask, “what’s the ratio of white … ?” I pause. 

“You mean non-Inuit? In Cambridge Bay it’s about 20%. In smaller villages there might not be any non-Inuit at all. We call you _______.” She says the word. I attempt to repeat it. Twice I have her say the word, but it is no good. To a white guy, the Inuit language is unpronounceable. 

“Don’t feel bad,” says Miale, “I can’t speak the local dialect, and I can only understand the basics.” Each hamlet in Nunavut, all twenty two of them, has it’s own distinct dialect. “This one is more closely related to the Inuit of Alaska,” she says. 

As we wait, I learn that this hamlet of 2,000 people is supplied by two barges a year, one with fuel (the tank farm holds a two-years’ capacity in case the barge is turned back by ice) and one with general supplies. Food, clothing, housewares, tools, phones, computers, hunting and fishing gear all arrive on this second barge. 

“It’s like Christmas,” says Miale. “Suddenly the stores [there are two] are full. The prices go down, and we have a nice selection of canned goods.” 

I relate, laughingly, that in the hamlet of Gjoa Haven I once found, on a nearly empty shelf, a can of peaches priced at $12. To Miale, this is as funny as a flat tire.

By now it’s 1:30. A line of cars and trucks has formed, all waiting for the tank farm pumps to open. 
“It’s a new company running fuel distribution. We had hoped for better service,” says Miale.

At 1:45 a white pickup arrives with the fuel attendant for the day. 

“My goodness,” he says,” I didn’t expect it to be so busy.

“At 1pm, it wasn’t busy,” says Miale.

Now fuel is aboard. Tanks are full and so are the jerries. 

In the evening, I go into town for pleasure for the first time in five days. Pablo Primero of Mandragore (his lone crew member is also a Pablo, hence the title) has invited the crew of Moli and Alioth to a pizza dinner aboard. Mandragore is moored to the quay. As we jump down into her cockpit, we are asked to de-boot, and Pablo hands each of us slippers to wear in the cabin. Outside the wind still blasts. Inside the heater is roaring. There are five, homemade pizzas already laid out on the large dining table. Pineapple, salame, onion and garlic, smoked tuna, gorgonzola. There is a can of cold beer set before each place. Pablo Primero is prepared.

Soon the conversation warms up. Pablo Secundo, we learn, has spent the day defending Mandragore from the parade of hamlet children. Each asks to come aboard for a tour. Pablo Secundo politely declines; the children politely listen. And then they ask again. Then they go away to ride bikes for awhile. When they return, if Pablo is not in the cockpit, the children throw pebbles onto the deck to get his attention. “Hey mister, is this your boat? Can we come aboard?”

Vincent of Alioth announces that he may have sourced the gear box part needed to get his vessel on the move again. There is a toast!

Then Randall says that he will be underway in the morning. 

“But the wind, it is so strong,” says Pablo Primero. 

All night the wind makes its white noise sound in the rigging. But in the morning, it is very light from the SW. Mo’s chain goes straight down. I weigh anchor at 8am and slip quietly out of the bay.

5 Comments on “Cambridge Bay Escape

  1. That be some darn fine scribblin fer a sea cap’in. Well said. Taint quite po’try, but taint fur from it, neither.

  2. The long-miles will stand to you now. Run for home, before the door closes.

  3. Love that you share these sweet parts and photos of your adventure with us! Stay safe!

Leave a Reply to Kowden Cancel reply