Erebus and Terror Bay

Wednesday August 13, 2014 (74o 44’No 91.47’W): Erebus and Terror Bay,

We have now spent three nights in Erebus and Terror Bay, keeping close watch on the ice charts, waiting for a band of ice between us and Resolute Harbour to either move or melt.  The bay is a two by four mile wide bowl flanked to the north and southeast by the high cliffs of Devon Island, with the equally tall island of Beechey Island, standing guard southwest of the  entrance. The bay is named after the two ships of Franklin’s failed expedition that spend the winter  of  1845-1846 here before being abandoned near King Williams Island in April of 1848, with the eventual loss of all crew members, three of whom are buried on Beechey.  [ Ref: The Northwest Passage, Tony Sope, The Globe Pequot Press Inc., USA, 2012. ]

Given the protection of the cliffs  and the historical significance of Beechey Island, it seems to be a popular anchorage. In addition to Manevai, the Canadian icebreaker Pierre Radisson was anchored here Sunday and Monday. And yesterday, a National Geographic cruise ship, hundreds of feet in length,  entered, anchored, and ferried at least 50 passengers back and forth to the graves sites on Beechey, before heading abruptly back out in classic cruise ship style. Via the single side band radio we’ve heard that they hoped to be in Cambridge Bay by the 15th, but are waiting for the ice to break.

Pete Fasoldt looking out toward Resolute

Meanwhile, we have been waiting as well. Monday, shotgun in hand, Dave and Pete visited the graves on Beechey, and then hiked to the top of the island, looking out over the ice on the far side of  Wellington Sound. As policy, we leave one person on board the boat, knowing how rapidly the winds can change in the Arctic and the possibility that the  dinghy motor might fail in the middle of the bay. Yesterday was my turn on shore, as Pete and I climbed the hills to the north, again looking out over the sound. Nice to stretch ones legs.

Boats in Erebus and Terror Bay

Monday evening, before turning in for the night, I took one last look out the hatch to be surprised by the beauty of the surroundings. The sky was clear, with bands of clouds reflecting the midnight sun. Across the bay to the south  was a full moon hanging low above the cliffs with the Canadian icebreaker anchored  below.  To the north, the sun was hidden behind the cliffs, but high enough to cast a warm glow on the face of Beechey Island. The winds were calm and the sea quiet.

Beluga Whales

In contract, midnight last night was chaos. After climbing into sleeping bags, having just compared the day’s notes with Eric on Manevai via SSB and VHF radio, a call came back over the VHF with Eric’s French accent , “ Lillian B, Lillian B .. this is Manevai, Over.” Sitting up and reaching for the radio:  “Roger, Manevai. This is  the Lillian B. Over.”  “ We ‘ave a whale between us. Over.” It took a second for this message to sink in.  “ Thanks, we’ll take a look! Lillian Out” Outside, the harbor was alive with activity. The sky was overcast, and waves just short of whitecaps. In the hundred or so yards between us and Manevai was the smooth black side of a whale, floating lazily. In contrast, tight  clusters  of seals, each with thirty to forty seals,  could be a seen a few hundred yards to port ,  starboard and aft; each swimming frantically and bobbing up through the waves as if being pursued by predators. All across the bay and above the shore, birds were soaring and alighting on the waves, as if in a feeding frenzy, but with no visible prey. And forward, a little over one hundred yards to starboard was a pod of what we conclude to be beluga whales, making the water almost boil as their white bodies surfaced and rolled, for what purpose we could not determine. The activity was so bizarre it felt  supernatural, as if we should expect a tidal wave  or earthquake to follow. We stood on deck, taking pictures and watching in amazement as long as the cold night air would allow. Over to port, the crew of the Manevai did  the same, before we all headed down below for the night. 

In the morning, there was no sign  of the turmoil of the night before. It has  been windy, at thirty knots, but otherwise peaceful. Pete and Dave are currently  taking  another hike on shore and when they return, it will be about time to download this evening’s ice report to decide whether to stay at Beechey Island another day, or leave for Resolute.

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