Stuck in the ice
Sailboat winters in the High Arctic

Oakley Cochran
Northern News Services

GRISE FIORD (Sep 13/99) - A surprising sight greeted locals in Grise Fiord recently and it wasn't the long-awaited sealift.

The sealift - an icebreaker that brings food, lumber and other supplies to High Arctic communities once each year - finally arrived last week after being delayed nearly a month by poor ice conditions.

But the ice didn't delay the Northhangar, at least, not too much. Following a two-month sail from Norway, the steel-reinforced ship tried two times to make it through a particularly ice-choked stretch of sea and eventually succeeded on its third attempt, according to expedition member Dr. Lars Hole.

The vessel arrived in the early hours of the morning, welcomed by a fresh skim of ice on the sea, a light snow and swarms of icebergs that soon crowded it.

The ship - and the seven expedition members, including a two-year-old girl - better get used to being surrounded by ice. The team, which calls itself the Otto Sverdrup Centennial Expedition, plans to spend the winter in Hourglass Bay, about 70 miles as the crow flies from Grise Fiord. As the sea continues to freeze, the ship will become stuck and completely immobilized in the ice.

According to expedition leader Dr. Graeme Magor, the Northhangar has a retractable keel and a hull that allows the vessel to be pushed up rather than squeezed when encountering heavy ice.

Crowded with over a year's worth of supplies and communication equipment, the 53-foot ship and a small shelter on shore will be home for the team until the ice breaks up, probably sometime late next summer.

For the next year, the team, which includes arctic biologist Guldborg Sovik and meteorologist Dr. Hole, will study climate change and the circumpolar environment. The team will also be the subject of a study analyzing the psychological effects of isolation under the direction of Dr. Magor.

"That's what people seem to be most interested in -- the isolation study. That and my two-year-old daughter, Keziah," Dr. Magor, a physician from Markdale, Ont. said.

Indeed, most of the questions in the question-and-answer portion of the expedition's Web site revolve around Keziah, who is the first child of Graeme and Lynda Magor, his wife and fellow team-member.

Because of the threat of polar bears, Keziah will be kept under constant surveillance, her parents said in an interview with Canadian Family.

The Magors hope the team's two other couples, both of whom are childless, will learn to adjust to Keziah and not be afflicted with cabin-fever.

But if a two-year-old isn't enough to create cabin-fever, two large, energetic, husky dogs were just added to the mix. The huskies, pets owned by Sovik and Dr. Hole, were flown to Grise Fiord from Norway and landed in the hamlet the same day the ship did. Sovik said that she hopes that Bamse and Yukon will alert the team to the presence of polar bears and perhaps help pull sleds during the team's overland trek to Axel Heiberg Island in the spring.

By attempting the winter-over and the overland trek, the team hopes to bring recognition to little-known arctic explorer Otto Sverdrup. At the turn of the century, Sverdrup sailed from Norway to Ellesmere Island in the Fram, a ship he helped to build. His expedition then spent the next four years travelling by dog sled, exploring and mapping Ellesmere and islands to its west, including Axel Heiberg. During this exploration, Sverdrup came across a long fiord filled with walrus that he named Grise Fiord.

Magor believes that remnants of Sverdrup's expedition -- including old campsites, a sealed cognac flask and a Norwegian flag -- might still be found on or near Axel Heiberg.

He hopes that school children in both Norway and Canada will follow the expedition on the Web site and learn about the Arctic and Canada and Norway's shared history - as well as each other.

The nearly $500,000 expedition is being sponsored by the government of Canada, by Norsk Hydro Canada Oil & Gas, the Canada Millennium Partnership Program, and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, among many others. Supplies ranging from wine to underwear to Solatube miracle skylights for the shore station are also being provided by sponsors.

But the most important criterion for the success or failure of this type of expedition is, of course, the quantity of chocolate. By that reasoning, the expedition is sure to be a success: 300 kilograms of chocolate were loaded on the ship in Oslo.

During the dark season, as the four-month period without sunlight is called, team-members will engage themselves with the tasks of daily survival.

"We're hoping to entertain ourselves mostly with the daily chores of simply having to live," Lynda Magor said in an interview on the website.

Communications will also take up much of the day. In addition to contacting nearby hunters and passing airplanes by radio, the group will be involved in maintaining e-mail contact with the world.

Problems or not, the team welcomes visitors from the hamlet, Dr. Magor said. On the beach at Grise Fiord, he invited locals on board the ship for a tour and asked them to visit once the ship is set up in Hourglass Bay for the winter. From shore, it appeared that the Nunavut flag flew higher than the Canada flag - perhaps a sign that the team is eager to make a good impression with their new neighbours.

Their website is