The M/V Avataq is a multi-purpose container ship owned by NEAS. It was built in Japan in 1989. This is the first time the vessel has visited Arctic Bay since my arrival in 2013. As I’ve mentioned for the last four years, the arrival of sealift vessels is like a summer Christmas. The ships only come once a year and unload an abundance of goods, supplies, and vehicles from the south. The only things you wouldn’t see being delivered by sealift vessels are perishable foods because they will be rotten & spoiled by the time the ships arrive in the communities. Once the ships leave, you won’t see them again until the following August because the water ways become blocked by thick ice.
Another vessel, owned by Groupe Desgagnes, would arrive several days after the Avataq. Both vessels begin their trip to the north from Montreal, QC. You can track their movements online.
There is a lot of excitement and activity near the breakwater pier. People are eager to see their orders come off the boats and be delivered to their houses. (Orders are packed in sea containers & wooden crates). The Northern Store & Co-op hire people to help them unload the year’s worth of supplies they’ve ordered from the south. Signs are put up around the breakwater pier, warning people to stay away, because heavy loaders will be working around the clock.
NEAS recently decided to sponsor the northern cadet corps for another year. Their first act was mailing $500 cheques to all the northern cadet corps. (The money Arctic Bay received was deposited at the local Co-op). It was mentioned to me that I should get in touch with NEAS and see if something could be arranged between the Avataq & the corps. Perhaps a tour of the ship? Or a photograph with the crew on shore?
I wrote an email to NEAS Management, explaining who I was and what I had in mind. They responded with interest and put me in touch with the captain of the Avataq. He said that a tour of the vessel would be possible except he could only take a handful of cadets & adult supervisors at a time. All visitors would be required to wear life jackets & hard helmets, and must follow the rules governing the ship. We were also not allowed to interfere and participate in the unloading operations. I agreed to all the conditions and presented this special opportunity to the cadets. Many were interested and signed up. There would be two groups, totaling 11 cadets and two adult chaperones. The tours were set for August 24.
Arctic Bay lacks a deep-sea port but the bay is deep enough to enable large cargo vessels to anchor close to shore. Travel time between the ship and the shoreline is shortened but having a deep-sea port would make things go much more smoothly. I should also point out (again) that none of the northern communities in Nunavut have deep-sea ports. A deep-sea port is in the works for Iqaluit and a small craft harbour is being planned for Pond Inlet. Progress on infrastructure projects in the north are regrettably slow. The federal government has yet to step up to the required level of financial investment that is required to improve the territory’s social & economic conditions. I hope this happens soon.
|Cadet T. Kines and other Group 1 cadets wearing red hard helmets & life jackets.|
The cadets and I arrived at the breakwater pier at 1715 (5:15pm). The cadets were wearing their 3045 hoodies and I was wearing my CadPat uniform. Two loaders were already driving around, carefully unloading large sea cans off a barge. I walked to a blue sea can that had been converted into an office and introduced myself to the shoreline coordinator. He had paperwork in one hand and a walkie-talkie in the other. He appeared to be very busy, coordinating between the ship, tugboats, and loaders. He issued all his commands in French. He quickly showed me where the life jackets & helmets were and instructed me to make two groups. I did just that and instructed the first group to put on the new life jackets & helmets. A female chaperone would supervise the first group and I would supervise the second group.
|Tugboat pushing barge.|
The first group was escorted onto a barge after it had been unloaded of supplies. I gave the chaperone my camera and a NEAS flag. My group watched a tugboat pull the barge away from the shoreline and slowly push it towards the Avataq. We waved goodbye to the first group. The time was 1730 (5:30pm).
|Group 1 holding the NEAS flag.|
Having to wait enabled me to organize the delivery of my sealift order and the orders of two other teachers. All our orders were under the name of the Grade 8 teacher and NEAS needed to know where to drop the large wooden crates. I climbed into a loader and showed the driver where the Grade 8 teacher lived. Getting a ride in the loader was a lot of fun and made me think about getting a heavy equipment operator licence.
|Christine - Group 1 Chaperone.|
|Group 1 Cadets.|
The first group didn’t come back until 1945 (7:45pm). Their tour took longer than expected. When they walked off the barge, I asked them if they had fun and they all said yes. I told them they were free to go home. The female chaperone handed me my camera and the NEAS flag. The first group gave the second group their life jackets & helmets and we boarded the empty barge. We left the shore at 2000 (8:00pm).
|The Group 2 Cadets convince me to take a selfie with them.|
We slowly floated closer to the anchored Avataq. The ship got bigger & bigger. Two large white cranes and many blue sea containers occupied the main deck. There were even several vehicles sitting on top of the containers. The tugboat pushed the barge around the stern and up against the side of the ship. We could no longer see Arctic Bay. We had to wait for the crew to finish loading a barge with wooden crates before we would be allowed on board. The weather was a little cold. The cadets met and spoke to Johnathan, an Inuk crew member who is a resident of Arctic Bay. He is working on the Avataq for the next several months.
The barge full of wooden crates was pushed aside by a second tugboat and our barge was moved closer to a long rope ladder. A crew member held the rope at the top so that it wouldn’t sway. The cadets ascended the ladder, one-by-one. I was the last one to climb onboard. We all took our time going up the ladder because it wasn’t attached to the side of the ship. No one fell off. I was told that if someone is too scared to go up the ladder, they lift the entire barge out of the water using a crane. Now that would be something worth seeing!
The main deck of the Avataq runs along the sides of the ship. The centre is occupied by large retractable roofs that protect the storage chambers down below. The roofs were fully retracted today and we were able to see what the ship was packing. Sea containers, wooden crates, and many vehicles. I’m certain every space was filled when the ship left port in Montreal.
|The cadets speak with Johnathan.|
(Centre left, wearing glasses).
Our French tour guide led us to the stern (back) where the superstructure is located. Johnathan followed us from behind. The guide showed the cadets the galley (kitchen), the officers mess, and the crews mess. He then took the cadets outside and explained how the rescue boats worked. Johnathan translated the explanations in Inuktitut.
|Captain Lizotte shows the cadets how the steering works.|
|The red line with dots shows the anchor.|
We were led into the bridge where we met Captain Lizotte and his bridge crew. (The majority of the crew were French and we were told there was only one female crew member). The cadets were shown how the ship is steered, what all the buttons do, and how to read the many monitors displaying important information. My favourite monitor was the one showing the depth of Arctic Bay and the winding path of the anchor.
|Frank's new minivan.|
While the cadets played around on the bridge, I watched several crew members directing a crane operator while he raised a large red minivan off a sea container. Naturally, I photographed the event. The red van belonged to Frank, the former commanding officer of 3045. He had told me he was bringing up a new minivan last week. He uses the van as the medevac ambulance.
Captain Lizotte joined the cadets on the poop deck for a group photograph. Two cadets held the NEAS flag we got from the company last year. Johnathan joined in. I presented a corps hoodie to the Captain after the photographs were taken.
Our next stop on the tour was the engine room. Captain Lizotte had to remain on the bridge. We descended many staircases before arriving at the entrance of the engine room. The Chief Engineer would lead this part of the tour. Everyone was given earplugs to wear. Even with earplugs on, it was a challenge to hear what the Chief Engineer was saying, because there was a loud & constant droning sound of the diesel engines. Everything is big. The engines, machine parts, tools, and other machines I can’t name. And there were pipes everywhere. The most notable difference, aside from the loud droning sound, was the temperature. It was hot & humid down below. We were all sweating by the end of the tour. Several group photos were taken.
I’m not an expert in the realm of ship engines & their parts, so I’ll just let the posted photographs do the talking.
|Group 2 in the mess.|
Our last stop on the tour was the mess hall where the crew prepared snacks & pink lemonade for us. We ate as much as we could. The cadets also asked the crew members about daily life on the boat and how much they get paid.
We walked back to the rope ladder and descended, one-by-one, onto a waiting barge full of vehicles. I thanked the crew members for hosting us and slowly climbed down to the barge. The time was past 10:00pm but there was still sunlight. A tugboat slowly pushed the barge away from the Avataq and towards the shoreline. I took several more photographs of the ship.
A large crowd was waiting for us in front of the Northern Store. The time was 10:30pm. Many adults and children wanted to see the unloading of the new vehicles. Getting the vehicles off the barge is a meticulous operation. The barge is pushed very close to shoreline, just short of getting stuck. A loader lays two ramps connecting the barge to the ground. Since the ground in front of the ramp is underwater, a large metal plate is placed and held here by a loader. The vehicles are then slowly driven off the barge.
The shore crew drove the first three vehicles off the barge and then gave us permission to walk off. The cadets & I wanted to drive the vehicles ourselves but they wouldn’t let us. We returned the life jackets & helmets to the office in the sea can. I dismissed the cadets for the night.
The whole experience was amazing! I could tell the cadets had a great time touring the Avataq. When I got home, I wrote thank you emails to Captain Lizotte and NEAS Management. It took me several days to edit & crop the photographs on my camera. I sent the group photographs to NEAS and my military superiors in Winnipeg. They may be used for promotional purposes.