Swing your Partner Round and Round

After a long nap and a bit of much needed washing, we descended upon Novara. We had been invited for cocktails, an event not to be missed even if the cabin were on fire. Brit Steve Brown, Novara’s owner, and crew of three climbing friends had come to the Northwest Passage after a long look into the fjords and Baffin Island east. They’d found a way through the ice in Regent that turned us back, arriving in Fort Ross the day before.

Soon after our boarding and tour, the crew of Tandberg also descended. Within moments a gathering whose intent conversation had slowly circumnavigated our collective Arctic experiences turned into a party fueled by an endless supply of rum, Steve’s, and an ancient bottle of Balentine’s disgorged from the bilges of Tanberg (label mostly worn away) and delivered to Novara’s table by Father Christmas.

Visitors from Tanberg were four of the six crew, a coiffed, neatly dressed (colorful knit sweater, colorful knit cap) captain, a rotund, avuncular engineer whose lack of English kept him in the corner, an affable, thick-fisted mate, Sean Connery fan and voluble singer of bar songs, and Father Christmas, unanimously nominated because of his large white beard, rosy cheeks, and red cap. Beyond these likenesses, however, similarities began to run thin. For example, Father Christmas was rather quiet, a chain smoker with an unusual sensitivity for the gravitational effects of a full shot glass, and a disbeliever in the healthful effects of bathing. This latter quality was apparent to all, but it was Nick who afterward explained its reason. “Bathing washes away my essential oils,” he reported Father Christmas as saying, “and makes me cold.” The night ended with several rounds of “The Drunken Sailor,” and we departed, having partaken enough of Novara’s hospitality to raise her lines two inches.

Four hours in our bunks and we were awakened by ice grinding against the hull. The pack was invading Depot Bay, rounding the eastern point en masse and flowing in like pale lava. Les called for immediate departure and we were underway before Novara, whose chain was impacted. She was an hour getting out. We poked into Brands Island bay, but found it too choked with ice; then opted for Levesque Bay.

On our way we spied a mother and cub Polar Bear inspecting us from the western edges of Levesque, and then another two bears on the pack ice to the opposite side. Both sets were curious, approaching us as we did they. The mother and cub came down to the beach, and one of the pack-ice bears came out to the edge and hung there scratching and rolling like a dog in grass until it was we who bored, longing for a warm cabin and our bunks.

A few hours sleep in Levesque on a lovely sunny morning; then lunch. As we moved to the salon for coffee, Les noticed pack ice invading Levesque. So we weighed again, this time following Novarra, who pounded through the closing windows, leaving her red bottom paint for us to use as day marks, and were back in icy but unmoving Depot by mid afternoon.

Now strong wind from the NE has cleared Depot of ice and, we hope, is opening a lane to Gjoa Haven. Tonight we retire to Tandberg for Arctic Stew, advertised as Seal and Arctic Hare, both recently acquired by the crew. The hare has been hanging for a week and is finally ready. As are we.

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