Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Late Sealift, Early Snow

The annual sealift was late this year because of heavy ice conditions, lack of heavy icebreakers, and the grounding of the Anna Desgagnés on July 3.  The large M/V vessel got stuck in the St. Lawrence River near Montreal but thankfully, the ship was not seriously damaged.  The container ship was towed back to Montreal, inspected, and then sent out again on July 5.  The vessel, like many others that sail up north, delivers much needed supplies to communities in Nunavut & Nunavik.  The Anna Degagnés arrived in Arctic Bay on August 31.  The CCGS Henry Larsen was escorting her.  The second sealift vessel, MV Umiavut, arrived on September 5.  Only the "gas boat" arrived on time to replenish the large fuel silos at the community's Gas Station.
CCGS Henry Larsen.
The heavy ice conditions and lack of heavy icebreakers are common complaints that are voiced every year.  When a sealift vessel gets stuck in the ice, they have to contact and wait for a coast guard icebreaker to create a safe passage.  Unfortunately, there aren't enough icebreakers to deal with the high volume of sealift vessels.  Quite a few vessels got stuck in Ungava Bay and in the southern Hudson Bay this year.  They were forced to wait several days until the coast guard could free them.     

The federal government needs to investment more money, resources, and time in arctic development.  None of the northern communities have deep sea ports.  This makes the annual sealift a tricky & time-consuming business.  So far, only Iqaluit is slated to receive a deep sea docking facility in the near future.  This is nowhere near enough.  I suppose the sealift companies could help by building container ships that also act as icebreakers but I don't think they're ready to spend the money.
Building materials for two fiveplexes
that are to be built this year.
The annual sealift is a "Second Christmas".  Tons of supplies - food, vehicles, building materials, personal items - are offloaded and delivered to giddy & excited customers.  There is a lot of noise & activity when the ships are in town.  A makeshift "dock" is created in front of the Northern store.  Tugboats use a barge to bring several loaders and a small office ashore.  The office, which really is a small sea container, is used to collect delivery payments.  The tugboats then ferry the barges back and forth, bringing containers and crates ashore.  The loaders then drive around town, delivering sea containers and large wooden crates.  The Northern and Co-op stores hire locals to empty the containers and place all the delivered products in their warehouses.  English, Inuktitut, & French signs were posted outside the Northern Store, warning children not to play in the area.    
A loader driver catches a quick nap
at lunchtime.
The weather limits the shipping season to the brief summer months.  Since the boats only arrive once a year, customers do their best to buy supplies that will last them until the next sealift and/or beyond.  There are businesses that can help you with your sealift order, including the Northern & Co-op stores.  You can buy or rent a sea container if you need that much space, or you can pay to have your supplies crated in wood.  Just make sure you have a crowbar ready when the crate arrives.     
Several southern teachers & I participated in this year's sealift by purchasing space in JF's sea container.  (This was my first time doing a sealift).  We all did the best we could, but in the end, we didn't fill the entire container.  When I saw the inside of the container, I concluded that I should have bought much more.  Perhaps three times as much.  My contributions were dried goods, school supplies, and cadet supplies.  JF got his daughter to paint the exterior of the container so that it would be easy to identify.  The shipping cost alone was $6,000 CAD.  JF's container was onboard the Anna Desgagnés.  Unpacking and reorganizing everything in my apartment took some time.
Inuujaq School's sea container.
The school's sealift was onboard the MV Umiavut.  The blue sea container and two large wooden crates were dropped off in front of the school.  The principal hired several local Inuit to help him bring everything inside over the September 3 - 4 weekend.  Boxes and boxes of stuff lined the main hallway when I walked into the school on the morning of September 5.  I dropped everything in my classroom and took pictures of all the boxes.  I looked forward to receiving the school supplies I ordered before the summer break.

Before sealift.

Before sealift.
The last, but also important, thing that happens after the annual sealift is the small decrease in the cost of living.  It's cheaper for the Northern & Co-op stores to order & receive products by boat.  Several months before the sealift, prices go up because the stores exhaust their previous "sealift stock" and must rely on air travel to deliver food and other vital products.  Unfortunately, this drives the cost up.  I secretly walked around the Northern Store in late August and photographed some of the outrageous prices that the people of Arctic Bay had to put up with over the summer.  The most well-known example I have given in the past is that a can of (soda) pop can cost as much as $6 prior to the annual sealift.  The price usually drops to about $2.50 a can.  Everyone was glad that the prices came down, although, they are still very high compared to down south.
Before sealift.
September 5, 2016
I think what surprised everyone the most was to see snow falling on the community in early September.  Usually, snow falls on the surrounding mountains first, some time passes, and then snow falls on the community.  This year, however, the period between the snowfalls was really, really, short.  We all woke up on the morning of September 5th to see several inches of snow on the ground.  The skidoos would be out early this year.
HMCS Shawinigan
HMCS Shawinigan sailed into Arctic Bay on September 6th.  The crew had recently finished participating in Operation Nanook.  They would be joining the CCGS Sir Wilfred Laurier in the coming days to conduct archeological surveying of the HMS Erebus and search for the lost HMS Terror.  The Erebus & Terror were two vessels that were lost in 1845 during the ill-fated Franklin Expedition.  The crew only had enough time to spend a day in Arctic Bay. 
The captain and several of his crew members came ashore and paid a visit to Inuujaq School.  They arrived during afternoon recess when I was on recess duty.  I greeted the captain and his visiting crew before they were escorted to JF's classroom.  An afternoon presentation to the high school students had been planned.  Sarah & her Grade 9 class were invited.
The principal introduces the captain of the HMCS Shawinigan
The principal introduced the captain of the HMCS Shawinigan.  At lunchtime, the principal, mayor, cadet, and a member of the youth committee were given a tour of the vessel.  The captain and his crew explained what type of vessel the Shawinigan is - Kingston-class coastal defence - the type of operations they conduct, and why they were in the north.  The students were interested in the pictures that were shown, especially the ones where the crew members are operating the .50 caliber machine guns.  They were also intrigued by the anti-drug operations the ship conducted in the Caribbean Sea last year.  The captain also explained the benefits of working in the Canadian navy, the average pay, and how to sign up.  He did stress that applicants need to have at least a high school education. 
The presentation concluded at the end of the school day.  The ship left later that evening.

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