Friday, September 18, 2009

Grady Island and the Wonderstrands

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6 July, Day 5

Rough night, many people seasick and not in dining room both dinner and breakfast. As we got started, there was a knock on our door, which we didn’t recognize as a knock till the 2nd or 3rd time, by which time the young woman who takes care of our room was entering, asking if she could come in. behind her was a strong young man who went straight to the porthole and started closing it. He took a screwdriver to twist the handles on the porthole, so I can’t budge the handles now. Gotta get a screwdriver.

As we got going the waves began to mount and we began to feel a little queasy, but we didn’t get sick. After about 2 h I went to the day’s look back and the briefing for today—a stop at an abandoned whaling station on Grady Island and this afternoon, still coming up, the Wonderstrands, near Cape Porcupine. The Wonderstrands are mentioned in the Icelandic sagas as a very long beach. This was a clue for the Ingstads that they were on the right track in their search for the Viking settlement in North America.
Grady Island

Zodiac ride this morning to GI was rough and wet. Eventually I turned my face toward the stern and let the water spray on my back. It was cold in the Zodiac and I got colder the farther we went. My gloves were wet and Dottie’s got wetter, too. I decided to buy her the Inuit mittens that were in the window of the gift shop.

Today’s whaling station has been abandoned since probably the mid-1930s. Shoshana said her thoughts about it were extrapolated from her experience in Antarctica. She said that whalers initially concentrated on flensing the whales and rendering down the blubber. As the fisheries began to dry up, whalers began to use more of the whale and eventually rendered the entire whale grinding up bones and all, which had a lot of oil in them. Apparently some whale oil is still needed for certain machinery.

[Susan Aiken noted that the nutrients from the whales made the deep grasses possible and drove out other plants and flowers. Boy does she move fast. I couldn't keep up.]

Walking at GI was difficult bc we had to do some climbing, the ground was spongy, and there were large areas of grass that were deep and spongy and hard to traverse. At one point I was going too fast and I lost my grip on Dot’s hand and she fell backward in the grass. Thereafter we disengaged from the easy hike that focused on flora on the Island, made our way back to the loading area for the Zodiacs.

Shortly after lunch, Gloria, the hotel manager announced that the gift shop would be opening in 5 minutes. We got down there first and I was able to get the mittens, which are sealskin and very warm.

[Grady Island was the first site on which I felt threatened by wild animals, not because I saw them, but because armed crew members patrolled the area to protect us. It was cool seeing Shoshana carrying the bear rifle.]


This afternoon we went to Wonderstrands, the miles-long beach that is mentioned in the Icelandic sagas. At first, I didn’t think I’d go, but I began to think that the walk should be easier than the one at the whaling station.

I asked about seasickness and was told that if I didn’t feel sick yet, there was a good chance I wouldn’t. But other passengers suggested Graval, an odd-name for an anti-seasickness medication. And they suggested that we get some from other passengers, “your colleagues,” one of the passengers, Marion, said. Marion gave me a Graval, which I took right away. Pierre and Jean (?) gave me three more. I gave 2 to Dottie, and then we waited 30 plus minutes to eat. People kept asking how Dottie was doing, and I thought she was fine, except for being cold in our cabin. I got some crackers for her, which she ate, and then pulled her covers up around her and went to sleep,

This morning she said that she was up for a while in the night and that she had seen some very large waves. One, she said, washed by our window. I have to find out how high that is.

This afternoon the Zodiac trip was smoother, although it started with a rough exit from the stairway to the Zodiac and ended the same way. The waves pushed the Zodiac around and banged the stairway against the side of the ship. Still, we were able to make our way up. As we got closer to the beach, the waves diminished and we didn’t get bounced around so much. The waves were smoothest at the beginning of the return trip, but our Zodiac helmsman, Michael, is very careful about not bumping into rough waves so overall our return was smoother than our trip out.
The walk on the beach was great. The sun was out, the temperature was up, and there were tracks of a very small bear and caribou in the sand. People joked almost endlessly about how the animals would come out and puzzle over our tracks the next morning and how they would wonder about the hole in the ground that my walking stick made. The flora and evidence of fauna were very interesting and the walk was easy. I’m very glad we went.
An Inuit elder is on this expedition. He spoke this evening about how bowwhales were hunted, according to the stories he heard from the elders when he was younger. He has hunted whales, but not bowwhales. One of the hunters stepped on the back of a sleeping bowwhale. If the whale didn’t shake, that meant that the whale accepted the hunter, who would then begin cutting strips of blubber from the back of the whale. Eventually the whale would react and it would fold up as with a broken back or beach itself near the community of 2-3 nomadic families that was living at the beach at that time. One of the things that the hunters had to do was to wait until the whale was pointed toward the tiny village. That way the whale would come to a stop near the village.

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