Sunday, September 21, 2014

The World Is A Wondrous and Strange Place

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The World Is A Wondrous and Strange Place

In my last blog I promised that when I felt better I would try to wind up writing about our trip to one of the most unusual landscapes on our planet, the Arctic Northwest. Looking back, it seems to me that there were three things of particular interests on our trip that deserve to be shared.

Even though after my accident I was no longer able to go ashore and could only go on deck for a very limited time, I nonetheless got to experience what the Northwest Territories of Canada were like. Our ship anchored off the town of Tuktoyaktuk, or as we called it just Tuk. This was a very important day for the Inuit Indians of this small village since it represented the very first visit ever by a cruise ship.

Not being able to go ashore to join in the festivities I did, however, stand at the rail and look across the relatively flat landscape of this environment. Dotting the landscape were large mounds which in some way reminded me of the Indian mounds you might see in Illinois. However, many of these hills were gigantic. As it turns out, I was looking at my very first Pingo.

A Pingo is a dome-shaped mound consisting of a layer of soil over a large inner core of ice. They are a striking feature to the otherwise relatively flat landscape of this terrain, and these ice cores hills are unique to permafrost areas. The region around Tuk is home to the tallest Pingo in Canada, and the second tallest in the world. It rises 160 feet into the air, or a height equal to that of a 16 story office tower. It is growing at a rate of approximately 2 cm per year, and is at least 1000 years old.

Having now been exposed to my very first Pingo, I was completely unprepared for what I was to encounter next. We came to an area that I call the "land of perpetual fire." As we cruised Westward towards the Beaufort Strait we could see a smoke filled horizon approaching. As we got closer, the smoke became more dense, and the landscape looked something like a volcanic region. What we were seeing however, had nothing to do with volcanoes. We had entered an area of Canada's Northwest territory known as the Smoking Hills. First discovered in 1826,it is a land that burns continuously, and has been doing so for centuries. The fires which burn underground, are the result of a process of autoignition between iron pyrite, sulfur and bituminous shale.IB9A7461 The landscape looked as if it was from the movie, Lord Of The Rings. I have seen elsewhere in the world where giant coal deposits have been set on fire by humans and burn for long periods of time, but I have never seen a landscape which self-ignites and burns for centuries. It was an eerie sight, and one of those unique experiences of our journey.

Lastly I would like to pass along a little bit of geographic trivia. In school I learned that the United States and Russia are at their closest points, separated by 55 miles across the Bering Strait. Well, as it turns out, that is not exactly the correct answer. Right in the middle of the Bering Strait, is a small island chain known as the Diomede Islands. The larger of the islands, known as Big Diomede, is part of Russia. The smaller island, known as Little Diomede is a part of the United States. These two islands are separated by only 2.4 miles. Even more unique, the International Date Line runs right between the two. So as we sailed directly down the Date Line, we could look to our left and see today in the United States, while if we looked to our right, we could see yesterday in Russia. See if you can figure that out?
Even though our journey was interrupted by an accident, we still were the one and only ship to transit the North West passage this year, and we got to experience some of the wonders of the Arctic North. Lisa and I have now had an opportunity to look at our photographs, and with a little help from friends who loaned us photographs towards the end of the trip, it does appear that we have enough to be able to put together another DVD to share with friends.
I hope everyone has enjoyed traveling along on this shorten trip, and know that there will be more in the future.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Back From The Edge


I am sitting in the lounge at the front of the ship, while all around me there is great excitement as we float on the gentle swells among the ice sheets surrounded by large herds of Walrus. Sadly as thousands of pictures are being snapped, I am confined to the inside of the ship, where all I have is my computer and no camera.

Over two weeks ago while having dinner, the ship suddenly rolled steeply over. Before I knew it, my chair tipped over and fell to the floor; and in the process severed the top of my right arm from the head of my shoulder. More critical, however, is that a portion of the bone was chipped and is now floating free. Efforts have been made to evac Lisa and me off the ship, but in the end, it was decided that it was best if we waited until our arrival into Nome on September 1st before heading home for the necessary surgery. A large part of the delay came from the remote part of the world in which we are cruising. Another big factor was the almost complete lack of communication we have had with the outside world. Since I last wrote, the ship has had no satellite connection, no phones, nor TV. Except for the emergency Iradium satellite phones carried on the bridge and by a few passengers, we have been cut-off from the outside world.

I have so much to share about an incredible journey, but for now typing is difficult. When we finally get home I will get a way setup to dictate, and then I’ll try to tell you of the wonders we have seen.


Au Canada!

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Monday August 18, 2014

Our journey west across Baffin Bay finally brought us to Pond Inlet, Nunavut, Canada. If you are at all like me, you have probably never heard of “Pond Inlet,” nor do you have any idea as to what the term “Nunavut Canada” means!

Canada is somewhat like us having a parliamentary democracy and a federation of “Provinces” analogous to our States. They also still consider themselves part of a constitutional monarchy, Great Britain. In addition to their Provinces, they also have three “territories:” The Northwest Territories, The Yukon, and the most recent territory created in 1999, Nunavut. Our journey in the northern reaches of the Canadian Artic thus begins in the Territory of Nunavut.

Pond Inlet is considered one of Northern Canada’s “Jewels of the North.” It is home to around 1,600 people, mostly Inuit. It is a “Port of Entry,” and the economy is largely based on government employment. We came ashore in our Zodiacs to a “wet” landing on to a sandy beach. We were greeted by several local guides who proceeded to provide us with a walking tour of the community. Since it was a Sunday, it was quiet, but we did get to see the town library, and eventually ended our walk at the Community Center. Here locals gave us not only a warm welcome, but also gave some moving and extremely interesting performances of Inuit traditions. Having just left the coast of Greenland, and having visited several Inuit towns along the way, it was a surprise to see just how different the Canadian village was. Gone were the “cookie cutter” homes all colorfully painted in one of five colors, and gone too were the little harbors jammed with fishing boats since here fishing is not even part of their town economy. The people here were all very friendly and everyone to whom we spoke was conversant in English – although the signage in town is generally written in the local language which is completely unintelligible to me.

The scenery of this area is simply incredible, with snowcapped mountain ranges visible on every horizon. The beautiful bay still has several floating icebergs, and one interesting fact is that when we started our trip in Greenland we were shown an “ice chart” of this area that indicated that the surface of Pond Inlet was 90% or more ice covered. By the time we had arrived here however, the ice coverage has just about disappeared. So two things to note: most of the year the waters in this beautiful part of the world are frozen over and also when the surface ice starts to breakup, it can disappear quite quickly. That is why our crew has hope for our eventually journey through the North West Passage even though still at this time, the charts are showing significant ice along our intended route.

I assume that everyone realizes that we are travelling north of the Arctic Circle, and even though it is almost September, this area still has 24 hours of light each day. That situation of course reverses, and during the winter they have 24 hours of darkness. However, for now I can look out the window of our suite and during our passage last night could witness some truly breathtaking scenery. If I were a real adventurer, I would throw on my clothes and go outside to take pictures, but sleeping somehow sounds better to me right now.

During the night and into this morning, the ship moved north to North Devon Island. This island has the distinction of being the largest uninhabited island in the world. Our journey to this remote island was to allow us to visit the remains of an old Royal Canadian Mounted Police outpost located near Dundas Harbor. The photograph which was shown last night at the briefing suggested a wet landing onto a sandy beach which was right by the outpost. However, when our zodiac pulled ashore this morning it was onto a rocky beach and before me was a steep climb up a rock strewn hill dotted with bogs that were so mushy that they threatened to literally suck my boots from my feet. Lisa had decided she was not up for going this morning, and so she had stayed on the ship which turned out to be fortunate because there is no way she could have made the trek. I was dubious, but decided to gamely climb at least to the top of the hill to see the camp, and I suspected to get some great photographs. Well, I was correct about the photographs, but to my shock, the camp itself was over the hill and down to a beach on the other side. Apparently the picture I saw last night was correct; however no one mentioned that we could not land there because of the high surf. When I reached the top soaked in sweat and looked down on the remaining hike, I just about gave up – but out of pure stupidity I gamely went on. Without question, I was the slowest of the walkers, but eventually I did reach the base and made it back to the ship all without falling. I then promptly fell asleep for two hours.

Right now the ship is cruising to an area called “Crocker Bay.” Here we will visit the last glacier on our journey, Cunningham Glacier. The plan is for all of us to be given a zodiac tour up close to the glacier and then to return to the ship in time for dinner.

Let me share a couple of quick points. First, the ship has been without either cell phone service or internet for several days. Everyone was hoping that when we visited Pond Inlet yesterday that we would at least have cell phone coverage, but no one could connect. That seems strange since during our welcome it was mentioned that the town was proud of its new cell service, but none of us could connect to the network. We have a few passengers who are carrying their own satellite phones, and I understand that even they are having some difficulty in making calls. I know the ship itself is getting some communication over the iridium system, but for us for now; we are not connected, which this day and age feels strange.

Finally we have reached the area where the polar bears live. Starting today and from now on, before we are allowed off the ship a complete survey is made of our landing area to insure that it is free of bears. While we are off the ship, there are “bear guides” on our perimeter to sound any alerts should bears appear. If they do appear, then we must all return to the ship. We will probably see polar bears, but we will see them from the safety of the ship or from a Zodiac.

Lisa and I hope that everyone is well. I should remind you that when I write an e-mail at the same time I will post it on our web page where it will have a map and usually some pictures. You can reach that page by going to

Also if you just would like to see some pictures from the trip then you can jump directly to the by going to


Greenland Equals Ice


Saturday August 16, 2014

It is hard to believe that we have been on our cruise now for a full week. As you recall, because of the ice situation in Canada, we have spent this entire time travelling north along the west coast of Greenland while waiting for conditions to improve along our route through the North West Passage. At this time, conditions while improved are still not favorable enough to insure that we will be able to make the passage, but the decision has been made to leave Greenland behind and to travel to our first stop in Canada, Pond Inlet. The distance to be covered is around 450 miles and will take us about a day and a half. Right now we are therefore cruising west, across what is known as Baffin Bay, and are scheduled to arrive at our port tomorrow about noon.

I wrote to you last on August 12th; at that time, we had spent the night at anchor off the coast from Ilulissat with the hope that the morning weather conditions would improve and allow us to visit this community. They did not improve, and instead we went north to the village of Saqqaq. Over the next several days, our ship explored the coast northward, stopping at several local communities with names I cannot pronounce. We even visited a rather large mining community, but the mine had shut down and was abandoned; we stopped at a place called Qllakitsoq, where in 1972, extremely well preserved mummies were found dating from the 1300’s; and eventually, we reached our northernmost point yesterday, at the community of Upernavik, which is home to around 1,200 people. It is located at 72’ North and 56’ West.

All along our journey we have been surrounded by magnificent scenery and breathtaking icebergs of all shapes and sizes. In fact, I recall on our first day when an iceberg appeared there was jubilation all over the ship, and there was a mad dash to the upper decks to take pictures. Now if you look outside and see “another” iceberg, it is a rather “ho-hum” matter because they are so common now.

Rather than trying to present a running dialogue of each day’s activities, I wanted to step back and look at a somewhat larger picture. In truth, every village we visited had a familiar feeling to it, looking just like the last village we visited. While the typical village or community in Greenland is quite colorful, they only use about five colors to paint their houses and buildings. Since 81% of Greenland is ice, the remaining land lies along the coasts and is a narrow, mountainous, barren and rocky terrain. Believe it or not, Greenland is shown as having 0% arable land, and likewise 0% permanent crops. So each little village, while colorful, seems to cling precariously to the steep rocky terrain. While Greenland is the 12th largest country by landmass, it is home to only 53,000 people. Those small numbers of people are confined to a narrow band of rocky land along the immense shoreline of Greenland where they live in very small communities. The population of Greenland is 89% Inuit, and without question the main source of income is fishing. I wondered just how these small communities could afford to support themselves on fishing alone, particularly when you realize that in winter the sea freezes over and they must use dog sleds to go out on the ice, cut holes, and fish using long baited lines. This is certainly not a large scale operation. Well it seems that Greenland receives large subsidies from Denmark. That is how Air Greenland can afford to operate to these small villages; it is how cellular and internet service is available; and it is where young people go if they want to receive a higher education.

So, I am very thankful for our additional time in Greenland. It has certainly given me a better understanding of this large and exciting land. Now, however, we move west to Canada where we hope we will find a way to make the North West Passage. Every evening we are privileged to receive a briefing on what is coming up. That briefing has included detailed ice charts of our planned passage with a frank discussion of what is happening. I learned something very interesting. The ice chart is not showing the thickness of the sea ice, but rather the percentage of the surface covered by ice. Whereas an icebreaker is designed to “ride up on” the ice sheet, and crush it thus creating a passage. We are in a vessel with an ice hardened hull, where we can “push ice aside” as we go, but that implies that we have somewhere to push the ice. If the ice sheet is solid, then as I witnessed once on this very ship in Antarctica, the ship will go only so far before becoming unable to go further – there is no place to push through. Right now our passage forward is blocked by solid ice sheets, but we are still at least five days away from confronting that issue, and the leadership seems to feel confident that by then the situation will improve. This should be a fascinating experience, and one that I am anxious to share, after all “What a Wonderful World.”


PS Right now we do not have internet service, and so I will be careful to date my musings so that when I can send them, it will make some sense.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

It’s An Adventure, Stupid - Not A Cruise


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When I awoke yesterday morning and looked outside, the ship was surrounded on all sides by icebergs; some many times larger than our ship. We were carefully picking our way through the ice covered waters, but that was complicated by the patches of fog, sometimes severely reducing visibility.


It has just been announced that a Humpback Whale is just starboard of the ship, and we are turning to approach ----- I’ll be back soon. “It is an adventure!” as I said.

What an incredible experience. The Captain maneuvered the vessel close to the whale and then shadowed it for some time. At one point, the whale was jumping completely out of the water to feed, and the Captain stopped the ship. We drifted in silence completely enthralled by the spectacle. Eventually the giant whale rolled on its back, and for the longest time beat its giant flippers against the water; each time producing a loud thunderous “smacking” sound. The sound of clicking cameras was likewise somewhat thunderous as everyone, and I mean everyone, was outside snapping away. Having just now come back to the room, I simply could not wait to take a peek at my pictures, and “hallelujah,” after all these years; I finally got my picture of a broaching whale! In fact, I got quite a few and I am so happy--I could – smile!


So back to my narrative: we planned to go into Ilulissat in the morning and have a walking tour. Then in the afternoon, local boats were going to take us on a two hour cruise among the icebergs. Nature, however, had other plans. Eventually, the fog cleared where we were located, but it never cleared in the small town – not even enough that the local boats could come out to our ship. So in a creative “tour de ’force,” our Captain used the Explorer itself to give us a wonderful tour of the ice in the morning, and in the afternoon, they lowered the zodiacs (the small motorized rafts) and we got to ride in them among the giant icebergs. What a thrill!

I need to provide a little more in the way of explanation about the icebergs and why Ilulissat is important. This community, which is the third largest in Greenland, is immediately adjacent to the most active glacier in the northern hemisphere. Greenland is one giant ice cap. In fact 81% of Greenland is covered by this massive body of ice. As new snow is continually added to the top of the glacier, the pressure slowly forces the ice sheet to spread outwards. It is somewhat similar to the way in which the lava flows from a volcano. In some cases, these ice flows reach the ocean and when that happens, the ice being pushed forward eventually breaks off in big chunks and falls into the water; there to find its balance point and float away as what we call an iceberg. The glacier next to the town of Ilulissat is called the Jakoshavn Icefjord. This glacier alone produces nearly 20 million tons of ice each and every day; and as such it is known as the “birthplace of icebergs.” Historians are almost certain in fact that the iceberg which was hit by the Titanic originated here.

So yesterday and today we have been cruising among massive structures of ice which have all been generated by the Jakoshavn Glacier. When we eventually turn to the West and travel to Canadian waters, we will leave the glaciers behind and instead have to deal with sea ice. This is ice that is formed when the very ocean itself freezes during the cold winter months.

This then brings me to an important briefing given to the entire ship yesterday afternoon. At the current time the sea ice in the northern reaches of Canada is too thick for safe passage, even in a vessel that has an ice hardened hull. However, the Captain and the staff are all in agreement that it does appear that in a few days’ time, we should safely be able to make our journey. At the current time, a Canadian Icebreaker is attempting to transit along our future route and information from her passage will provide us with valuable information on which to base a decision.

Therefore – forget the beautiful schedule carefully printed up by Home Office, it is time for an Adventure. It has been decided that we will remain in Greenland waters for the next three days and then hopefully start our journey to the West to Canada. Last night we remained out at sea near Ilulissat with the hope that perhaps first thing this morning, we could finally go ashore. However, that did not materialize. So the ship has traveled north to the small and remote village of Saqqaq where we got to go ashore and walk around this morning. The village is home to perhaps 150 people; there were almost as many people on the ship as lived in Saqqaq.

It was a colorful location, and the bay in which it was located was loaded with icebergs – gigantic icebergs. Apparently as the icebergs move off the Jakobshavn Glacier some of them are blown by the winds northward into the fjord which leads to Saqqaq. Here they become grounded, and so they will stay until they die – meaning eventually they will melt away. But for now, they provide a fantastic backdrop to the picturesque little village.

After landing, we slowly walked to the top of a small hill to the town church, and inside found a surprisingly serene and warm atmosphere.DSC01370 After the church, we walked around the town and I walked a little further than Lisa to reach a wooden scaffold on which were hung about seven skinned harbor seals. These were hung to dry and cure, and will be used as a food source. Even though the little harbor was filled with small ice chunks everywhere, there were a large number of small fishing boats at anchor. From what we could see, fishing is the main income and food source for the natives. We never saw a car, but only dirt bikes. The “roads” if you can call them that, do not go to any other town. There is no airport, although there was a helicopter pad. The native-peoples were friendly, but shy. Essentially they paid us little attention as they went about their day. The only things that paid any attention to us were the young puppies of the working dogs and the mosquitoes. First the dogs: dogs here are considered “working dogs” and once they reach a certain age, they will be chained to the ground and will spend their entire lives outside. If a working dog is taken inside, I have been told that it is ruined as a working animal. As for the mosquitoes: we had been warned that even though it was late in the season, it was still possible in the right conditions for them to swarm around us. So far I had not encountered any, and even when we arrived at Saqqaq there were no signs of the little darlings. Suddenly conditions must have changed, and before I knew it, I was surrounded by a swarm of them. There were so many, I could not swat them away, and I even inhaled one by accident and I could not get it out of my throat – I almost threw up, but managed to get back on the boat without embarrassing myself.

After this visit, our ship turned north, cruising for about 3 hours before reaching an abannoned coal mine and the rather large town that surrounded it. If we wanted, they would take us ashore for what is known as a “wet” landing, and we could walk around. To tell the truth, after grabbing a quick lunch I lay down for a quick nap before this second visit of the day, and when I woke up I found that the visit had come and gone. When I ran outside to get some pictures, the zodiacs were bringing guests back to the ship and we are now moving on.

I can’t tell you exactly where we are going next nor how we are going to get there. The comment was made yesterday that this ship will arrive into Nome, Alaska exactly as scheduled, but how that gets done remains to be seen.

Oh, I did ask yesterday if we were the “first” passenger ship to traverse the North West Passage as I had heard; it seems that we are not the first to make this trip. It has been done by several icebreakers, but I would not exactly call them passenger ships. A few foreign ships carrying passengers have made the trip, but in over 20 years, probably no more than 10 times. So while we may not be the first, we are one of the early adventurers, and I can guarantee you, we are on the most luxurious ship to ever make the trip.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Say It Ain’t So!

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Well, we found our ship in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland! And no, I still cannot pronounce it!

Believe it or not, our experience leaving Denmark was actually civil. I screwed up my alarm, and we were awakened by a phone call announcing both that our car was ready to take us to the airport and that room service was on their way up. Grrrrrr!! So we skipped any breakfast, slammed things into our suitcases, and ran like hell for the waiting car for fear that at 6am in the morning if it did not wait, it might not be easy to get a quick ride to the airport. All of this was my fault, but hey, I am human. We did make the airport in time for our flight on Air Greenland. Security in Denmark is actually an efficient and civil affair. We did not have to take our shoes off, and while they did check our carryon bags, they did not frisk Lisa. In fact, the entire process was in stark contrast to our TSA.

Our flight to Greenland was six hours, and I was so exhausted that I fell asleep before we even left the gate and only woke up as we were about to land. Lisa tells me that the flight was extremely rough with what she would describe as extreme turbulence at times – all of which was news to me. Anyway, we left Copenhagen at 9am and landed at Greenland at 9:40am. The only problem with landing so early in the morning is that the ship has not had time to disembark its passengers, and in turn, clean the ship and have it ready for the new arrivals. Since this voyage is full, turning the ship over, is a big deal. Just to add to the fun, our ship was not able to actually reach the dock. The runoff from the glaciers this year has been so great that the harbor was silted over and so the ship had to anchor several miles downstream. This meant that every piece of baggage going on and off had to be put on a barge and transported to and from the ship. The passengers, meanwhile, got the thrill of immediately having to join the ship by small motorized rafts known as Zodiacs. None of us were dressed appropriately, but everyone was up for an adventure. Interestingly, at our first gathering, rather than asking for a show of hands of people who had sailed the Explorer before, they instead ask for a show of hands of first time members. Almost no hands went up, meaning that virtually everyone on this cruise has been on the ship before.

So, in order to allow time to prepare the ship, arrangements had been made for us to tour the “town” and surrounding areas for almost 3 hours. Everyone was dead tired, it was cold, windy and there was a heavy drizzle. All in all, it was not a fun experience, but everyone took it in stride, understanding the situation.

I did learn some interesting things. For one thing why is there a town at Kangerlussuaq anyway? As we found out on our drive there really was not much there – except one thing: the airport. The airport has a runway capable of handling almost any size aircraft. It was built by the United States during the Second World War and was kept active until sometime in the 80’s. At that point, the base was sold to Denmark for $1. Service to and from Copenhagen is provided by Air Greenland using its one and only Airbus 300. From Kangerlussuaq, Air Greenland then provides local flights to the small communities around the coast of Greenland. The terminal is not much to look at, and many of the old buildings have been abandoned. Air Greenland maintains a maintenance hangar as does the Danish Government. Even though Greenland is part of Denmark, it has achieved a large measure of independence. It has its own Parliament and handles its own affairs. They defer to Denmark for defense and foreign policy.

Finally, we made the ride out to our ship, and I must say that it felt very much like coming home. We know a fair number of the crew and officers. The afternoon was a whirlwind of activity. A quick lunch, unpacking for a 90 day voyage, 30 min. to nap, mandatory safety briefing, a lifeboat drill, a briefing for tomorrow’s events- quick shower, dinner and finally we collapsed into bed dead tired. Apparently after we traveled down the fjord from Kangerlussuaq to the open sea, the ship encountered rough seas, but once again I was so dead tired that I was completely unaware until this morning I awoke to find things moved around the cabin.

The really big news that came from our briefing is that our ability to make the transit through the so called “northwest passage” is far from certain at this time. In fact, if the decision had to be made today, then we would not be able to complete the journey because of the heavy ice remaining after this past winter. Our Captain is the gentleman I have known from previous trips, and there is no one that I trust more to make sound judgments. In addition, the Staff Captain is a woman that we got to know from previous cruises, and I know she has made this trip many times in icebreakers. In fact, she learned to be a helicopter pilot in order that she could scout ahead of the ship to locate the best route. Not only that, but Canada requires that the ship take an additional ice captain certified by Canadian authorities, so we will have plenty of expertise on the bridge to hopefully get us through. So far no one has explained what happens if the ship is not able to complete the journey – that could be interesting.

So departing Kangerlussuaq as I mentioned, the Explorer traveled down the fjord and entered the Baffin Bay. Then it headed north to our next destination, Sisimiut. This site has been inhabited for over 4,500 years. Today it is home to around 5,600 people, which makes it the second-largest town in Greenland. Its primary importance comes from the fact that it is the northernmost year-round ice-free port in Greenland.

When we arrived early this morning, the city was shrouded in a thick mist and constant drizzle. The ship offered several walks ranging from 3 miles to less ambitious, but equally interesting shorter strolls. We went for one of the shorter walks, and managed to get some pictures, but conditions were not good. Sadly we got to watch a beautiful home on a hilltop just above our ship catch on fire. The response from the local authorities was impressive, and luckily they were able to save the structure but it was badly smoke and water damaged

Shortly we will be departing for our next destination up the coast of Greenland. With any luck I will get this published before we lose internet.

Keep your fingers crossed…..


Friday, August 8, 2014

The Thrill Is Gone

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The Thrill Is Gone

Once upon a time the mere experience of travelling across the Atlantic to new destinations was in, and of itself a really thrilling adventure, and it was something to look forward to. Sadly, those days are gone only to be replaced by a floating anxiety about having to tolerate all the indignities that attend air travel today.

That being said, days before our departure both of us were becoming a little nervous, but poor Lisa was afflicted the most. She went through days of extreme anxiety, while I tried to calmly and sagely explain that “it would all work out.” Well, damn if she was not right and I was wrong.

On Wednesday, we headed off to the airport for our 22 hour journey to the city of Copenhagen in Denmark. Believe it or not, it took almost an hour to “check in” because the guy at the counter did not know the airport code for Copenhagen, and thus our boarding passes and luggage tags were all wrong. It is not a simple matter to correct those items once printed, and when he tried to do so, he had our departure date to Copenhagen all wrong. He thought we were spending a night in Chicago and then going on, rather than having us go straight on.

Once that was all completed, neither Lisa nor I were 100% sure that our routing was correct, but most importantly he had messed up our luggage tags so many times, and then in the end forgot to attach the “Priority” tags, that for all we knew our bags were going to Istanbul.

Finally out of excuses, we both approached the TSA screening with some anxiety, even though on both of our boarding passes it clearly stated that we were TSA “PRE-CHECK,” that should have insured a pretty painless screening. In reality, Kansas City is not setup for “Pre-Check” services so the only benefit I received was that I could leave my shoes on. Otherwise, it was the same rushed experience, but for me it was no more obnoxious than normal. When I finished the line, I looked behind to find Lisa, and found that she had been directed over to a personal screening area because with her metal knees, she could not go through the metal detector without setting off the alarm. Two TSA employees immediately descended on her. The first went off to tear into her carry-on items, while the other – well “the other” was a piece of work. She had been enjoying her donut when the call came, and she reluctantly put it up with a look of relish on her face at the coming encounter. She could not have weighed less than 350 lbs. and could barely waddle across the floor towards poor Lisa, who looked to the woman like Lisa was a slab of beef in a meat market. The big woman had a mean glean in her eye and as she “snapped” on her latex gloves, you could see that she was going to enjoy every minute of this “pat down.” I looked on from outside the screening area at this tragic play unfolding and could do nothing. Poor Lisa was stressed to say the least, and all I can tell you was that the screener was “extremely” thorough and there was no doubt that she was enjoying the “encounter.” Because of her extreme size, she could not reach around Lisa, and so she had to slowly circle to reach her victim, and when it came to bending down to inspect Lisa’s legs, why she could get only so far down; at which point Lisa had to sit down and put her feet up in the air so the woman could reach her knees and feet. I kept thinking to myself two things: “where do they find these people” and secondly “how in the world have we gotten into this mess?”

Shaken and embarrassed, Lisa was finally let go, and if her anxiety was high before, it was not out the top. The agent meanwhile went back to her donut and to await the next female victim. It took some time, but eventually we laughed because as I convinced Lisa, our crisis is out of the way – what else could go wrong. Those were famous last words.

The time comes to board our first flight, and I present my boarding pass first, with Lisa right next behind me in line. By the time, I got to the aircraft and turned around to help her lift her bag into the overhead – there was no Lisa, just a steady and relentless surging mass of people anxious to grab space in the overhead bins. Like a deranged salmon swimming upstream, I tried to exit the aircraft to find Lisa, but I was told that if I did so, I would not be allowed back on board. So I was stuck trying to figure out what in the world could have gone wrong now. Finally, Lisa is the last person to board and one look told me that she was close to losing it. With some effort, I finally got her to explain that they had taken her carry­-on bag and insisted it be checked to Copenhagen. “Why?” was my question? We had never had that problem before. We each carried a standard roller board. In addition, Lisa had a purse, and I had a small bag containing my CPAP breathing equipment. What was different about this trip was the fact that we had one addition small bag that contained some of the medicine for our 90 day trip. The gate agent was claiming that this was too many bags, and so one of them had to be checked.

Now a couple of things to understand: we have a house rule that only items that cannot be checked are put into carry-on. What is in the bags we carry is considered essential. By way of example, cameras, medicine, laptop, iPads, money, etc. To let one of those bags out of our possession is a BIG DEAL. What are the chances that a bag with a nice camera in it will go through Chicago get transferred to SAS air and that it will arrive into Copenhagen? You can answer the question for yourself. In addition, we had carefully checked in advance the baggage policy of every airline we were flying, and both my CPAP machine and Lisa’s purse were excluded items. This was a disaster in the making--BIG TIME. Once everyone was seated the gate agent came to the cabin door and I ran to her to see if I could reason some sense into her. She finally threw up her hands and said “if you can find a place to put that bag in the cabin, I will get it for you.” Thinking she had me, I ran to our overhead and pulled out a small bag, located the owner, and asked permission to put it under out seat. He agreed, and then I went back to the agent, who reluctantly had one of the line agents go and locate Lisa’s bag and bring it to me. Just before the door closed, she once again boarded the aircraft and gave me a big speech in front of everyone about how she was breaking every regulation in the book, and that if an FAA inspector should see this, the airline would be fined. She admonished me to solve this problem before we tried to board our SAS flight later that evening because we would have this problem all over again.

Seeing how many bags most people manage to carry onto an airplane, I just could not imagine what was driving this agent. I asked the cabin attendant, and she did not know the answer, but she agreed to go look it up when she had time and get back to me. When she did it appears that “Republic Airlines” does not recognize a CPAP device as an excluded item, and that was the problem. Whoa----Republic Airlines? We were flying American Airlines to Chicago, holding American Tickets, flying on an aircraft painted in American colors, BUT being operated by Republic. No, we had not checked the policy of Republic on cabin bags.

Our flight to Chicago was over an hour late, but that did not matter because we had allowed on purpose a 5 hour layover. During dinner, we decided to ignore the lady’s suggestions for the simple reason: we had already looked into the policies of SAS and could see no problem.

After a quick airport style dinner in Chicago, we had to change to the international terminal, which meant that once again we had to go through the TSA screening. The lines were many and breathtakingly long. Here, however, there were no fat ladies lying in wait for Lisa and because they had the newer screening machines, we both sailed through without incident. By the time it came around to boarding our 10pm flight to Copenhagen, we both literally fell asleep in our seats and stayed that way until they awakened us for breakfast.

We arrived into Copenhagen around 2pm and when we reached our hotel at 3, we both fell asleep. A quick dinner and then back to bed- we just do not handle these time changes too well anymore. We awoke this morning to a beautiful day. DSC00654Temperature around 73 degrees and sunny skies; so we walked around some this morning, got lunch, and now we are getting ready for an early departure tomorrow.

As incredible as this may sound, we flew 9 hours East to Copenhagen just so we could catch a flight tomorrow that will take us 6 hours back to the West to Kangerlussuaq in Greenland (and no, I do not yet know how to spell it!).

So wish us luck on another “thrilling” day travelling by air, and by the next time I write, hopefully we will finally have found our ship.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

And So It Begins, Again!

Trip 1

And So It Begins, Again!

The Merry Globe-Trotters are once again about to set sail for an adventure on the high seas. Beginning in early August, we will sail from Greenland in the North, to Tahiti at the equator. All in all the journey will take almost 3 months with us returning home just in time for Halloween.

This blog will be the first in what I hope will become a log of our journey. We will be cruising on the Silver Explorer, an Expedition ship which will be home to around 120 passengers and some 130 crewmembers. The beginning of our sojourn will have us flying to Copenhagen, Denmark. Why Denmark, you may well ask, since we join our ship at a place called Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. In other words we will fly all the way across the Atlantic to Denmark, only to fly back West for six hours to Greenland. Well, as it turns out, Greenland is a part of Denmark, and the National Airlines, Greenland Air, provides service to the small cities in Greenland. Rather confusing if you ask me!

The first month of our trip will have us attempting to traverse the famed "Northwest Passage." This is a route across the northernmost parts of Canada which will connect the Atlantic to the Pacific. Historically these waters have been to ice covered for a normal ship to navigate, but it is hope that the ice hardened hull of the Explorer will allow it to become, what I have been told, the first passenger ship to make the passage.

The map above is a rather crude rendering of what I believe we will be doing, but it shows that we will leave Greenland, travel across Canada and end up in Nome, Alaska in early September. As I have done in the past, I will try to send our routine blogs about our happenings, but realize that life on an expedition ship can at times be VERY busy thus not allowing too much time for writing, and in addition, it is quite likely that in that part of the world we will not have constant satellite coverage.

Remember that while I will be sending my blogs as e-mails also, you can find the actual journal at our web page

Life is a journey, and so let's enjoy it together.


PS Anyone who is receiving this who would prefer to be removed from these mailings, please let me know and I will be glad to accommodate you.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

"A Road Less Travelled"

2014.08 Cruise

Friends keep asking Lisa and me - "what will be your next big adventure?" It is a fair question; however, when I start to try and explain what it is we will be attempting, I not only find myself getting tongue-tied, but their eyes glazing over.

So, this brief missive will be my best attempt to convey some of our excitement over what we believe will be "the trip of a lifetime," and most definitely a trip down "the road less travelled!"

Upon leaving Kansas City in early August, we will fly to Copenhagen, Denmark. There we will spend a few days catching our collective breaths before boarding a direct flight to Kangerlussauaq, Greenland. (I told you this would get a little confusing, because if you are like me, I had no idea where in the world Kangerlussauaq was located, much less can I even pronounce the word.) Suffice it to say, it is located along the West coast of Greenland, and it is where we will join the beautiful and small expedition vessel, the Silver Explorer. The yellow pins on the map above give you an idea as to some of our stops, but not all. Some of the locations, I could not even find on Google Earth. In general, we will travel west from the coast of Greenland and travel through the fabled Northwest Passage across the northern part of Canada, eventually reaching Nome, Alaska. We will continue west to the northeast coast of Russia, and then drop south as shown until in late October, we finally come home from Tahiti, French Polynesia.

Needless to say, Lisa and I are both quite excited about this unusual trip, and just a little apprehensive. It will be the longest trip we have ever attempted. We are both so fortunate that we have our health for now and the ability to pull this off, and we cannot wait to share our journey with all of you.

We hope that everyone is having a great New Year, and while there will be no blogs until August, there should be a great deal to share then.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Bah Humbug - Enough is Enough Already!

Bah Humbug - Enough is Enough Already!

When we finally get home from a trip, I'd like to let everyone know that we arrived safely and are now happily settled into our routine -- OK, so you have been so notified. However, getting here was anything but easy. Considering that we spent most of our Christmas trip sick, why should it surprise me that the ending would be any different?

Our ship arrived back into Ft. Lauderdale as scheduled on Monday, January 6th. As soon as I turned on my phone, there is a message from Delta that our flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Atlanta has been delayed almost 2 hours, thus insuring that we will miss our connection home from Atlanta. It was 6am, so too early to call our travel agent for help, and thus I sprung into action in an attempt to come up with some alternative. Yikes - almost every flight from Ft. Lauderdale to anywhere was sold out. It seems that the weather was terrible in the northeast so flights had been canceled in large numbers, and our ship was not the only one dumping its passengers into the airports. The best I could come up with was that we would have to stay in Florida until Thursday.

By this time it was late enough in the morning that I could contact our travel agent, and as if I ever needed any proof as to why I need her help, she was able to confirm that we had been rebooked by Delta onto a later flight both into Atlanta and then onto Kansas City. Now why I could not come up with that is beyond me, but then at my age perhaps I should just stay away from this new technology anyway.

After the "flight" scare. we were already exhausted as we left the ship for the long journey home. After 5 hours sitting at the airport, we finally departed for Atlanta arriving with just 50 minutes to scram to our next flight. Whoops - we arrived at the gate only to find a huge crowd, but no airplane? Finally there is an announcement telling us that our airplane has been taken out of service, however another aircraft which we can use has been located in the maintenance hangar. A cheer goes up, but is cut short as the gate agent informs us that the aircraft will have to be cleaned up and vacuumed, and then towed to the TSA for inspection before being returned to service. Also it has too much fuel on it for our flight so it will have to be partially defueled, and lastly it will then have to be provisioned. In short, it is going to be a LONG wait until we actually see that aircraft at our gate!

We sit down for the long wait and my cell phone rings. It is our wonderful house sitter with some bad news. One of our Jack Russell Terriers, Mary Alice, was found dead in her cage that afternoon, and he had taken the body to our vet. We were devastated. I hardly remember the rest of our time in Atlanta because Lisa and I were both pretty deep in grief.

An aircraft finally arrives and we were boarded. We made the long taxi out to the runway, where we are number five in line for departure. Eventually we get to the runway and sit; and we sit, and we sit. Other aircraft are going around us, and we sit. The pilot announces that the airplane has an indicator lamp on which he believes is a false indication, however, he cannot depart with that lamp lit. And so, it takes almost an hour to taxi against all the traffic and back to some gate in order for maintenance to come aboard to resolve the problem. They fixed the problem by powering the aircraft down and then back on again - in essence a reboot. That solved the problem, but then there was another 30 minute delay while the necessary paper work was completed.

Finally we left Atlanta and arrived into Kansas City. After landing I turned my phone on, only to receive an e-mail from Delta informing us that they are very sorry that our bags "did not travel as intended" and directing us to see the baggage claim attendant. The baggage claim area was stacked so high with lost luggage that it was difficult to even get into the claim office. There we learned that not a single bag of ours made it onto our flight! Welcome Home!

It seems that if it could go wrong, it did that day. Eventually we are reunited with our bags, but then we are faced with the void from the loss of Mary Alice.

Fortunately this story has a happy ending. Our daughter Carol springs to the rescue. We arrived home late on Monday, and by Tuesday morning, Carol sent Lisa a link for a "rescue dog" which she had located in Troy, IL. Carol offered to take Friday off work, pick up the dog, and bring it to Kansas City! So we went from moping around about the loss of Mary Alice, to the intrigue of thinking about a new addition. The terrier which Carol had located turned out to have been adopted, but in the process Lisa found a 2 yr. old terrier who had been rescued after having been run over by a car and abandoned. Her name is Spirit, exactly like the ship we had just left by the way. It turns out that Spirit was located just 5 minutes from where Carol lives. After some paper work and negotiating, Carol arrives Friday afternoon with our new addition. She is adorable and has already fit into the house routine - so finally our New Year gets off to a good start!


Our best to everyone for the New Year. The Globe-Trotters (that's us) will be home now until August when our next journey will begin. That will be an 81 day odyssey - but I'll save the details for later. It should, however, be one hell of a trip.


P.S. I am sorry for all the problems with our web page and blog site. I also learned that the pictures from our trip were locked so that you could not even see them. I have finally repaired all the issues, so you may read our blogs at Once there, click on the picture of the penguins and you will be taken to our photo page. Open the album labeled 2013.12 Caribbean and enjoy.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

It Ain’t Over ‘Til The Fat Lady Sings


I sure wish she would get on with it – it is time to come home, even to the cold and snow.

You rarely hear us speak about being ready to come home, but because of our various illnesses, we really are looking forward to just getting back to our little cubby hole. Overall, the ship has done a good job, and the ports were for the most part interesting, but it is just time to bring this to an end.

On Jan. 3rd, we did visit the Dominican Republic, or more correctly, we visited the small peninsula of the Dominican Republic known as Samana. We were put onto an air conditioned bus for a change, but there we were imprisoned for a “spam in a can tour.” Our guide was right out of the foreign information office, and he filled his captive audience with all the wonders of the government’s current programs. So, for an hour we drove hither and yon around the small city of Samana “looking” before pulling up to a very small Museum on the subject of whaling. We were carefully shepherded into the building and given an hour to look around, which was easily done in 5 minutes. Then back onto our bus for a 20 minute ride just outside of town to a Center dedicated to using dioramas to tell the story of the indigenous people. We were each given a small iPod player and directed to follow a one way circuitous path that took an hour to walk. While I did learn some information, overall it was boring.

Once again, we got back on the bus and drove to a government funded resort where rooms and condos were available, and where we were treated to a spin pizza and a pop. Yet again, back onto the bus where we returned to town to a shopping Mall just completed by the government for tourists. Unfortunately, it was not quite finished and only two or three stores were open, but we were given an hour to “browse the shops.” Several of us objected, and asked if we could walk back to the tender on our own, since it was only a few blocks away and there were some pretty pictures of the town. Unfortunately we were not able to go off on our own, so we “had” to wait for the bus. To sum up our trip to the Dominican Republic, we drove a little, saw a whaling museum, saw a diorama program, had a pizza and were given an opportunity to shop. Did we really see the country – hell NO!

Yesterday was our last stop on the cruise. We visited the Island of Grand Turk. We had been to the island before and knew the people were friendly and it was a very safe place to visit. It was a Saturday, and on this Island everything closes on Saturday, particularly on a holiday. So, our small group gets into a small van to start our tour, and before we realized it, the driver is killing time because nothing is open; therefore he is just driving around – not letting us stop for pictures. Finally he takes us to the one thing which is open, the Grand Turk Museum. This is a small, but interesting 200 yr. old building, which you could visit in 15 minutes and see everything. Instead we are let off and told we have an hour at this stop. Well, a little rebellion took place about not letting us stop for pictures, and I explained to the driver that every person on our bus had a camera – which means that every person on that bus came to take a picture and not through the dirty windows of the bus either. Well, believe it or not, he listened, and he apologized to the group and from that point on, he made sure we got our photographs, even retracing his drive in order that we could stop and snoop around some really pretty areas in Old Town.

Today is our “pack to go home” day. Outside it is a balmy 83 degrees, but I gather we are about to undergo a huge temperature shock. Anyway, it will be good to go home, and if I listen carefully, I am certain that I am hearing “the fat lady singing.”


Selected pictures from this trip are now posted online. Go to our webpage at On the right you will see a link to our photo albums. The current album is 2013.12 Caribbean. Open it and enjoy

Saturday, January 4, 2014

My My – What a Fun Trip We Have Had


We are only three days from ending our Caribbean holiday! Looking back, it seems unbelievable that BOTH Lisa and I have been so sick most of the trip. It has become a joke that we actually came on this trip just to spend time in the infirmary – which I can assure you is not true. Just when we thought we had turned the corner, I came down with yet another virus that once again put me down with a high fever, and Lisa was grounded with a really bad asthma attack. I will spare you the details, but do want everyone to know that today we both seem well (knock on wood) and hopefully will have some fun for our last three days.

Obviously my blogs have fallen by the wayside, and just to make matters worse, when I did try to post my early blogs it seems that the Google programs which host our web page has undergone a change, and it is not working correctly. Unfortunately with the slow internet connection on the ship, I simply am not in a position to repair it, so it will have to wait until I get home. You can however go to our web page at It may look strange but the content is correct, and if you click on the pictures of the Penguins on the right you will be able to see some of our photographs.

I last wrote about St. Lucia. Lisa did manage to make it ashore in Barbados, but I did not, so we’ll have to skip that stop. Our next port of call was to Bequia, a town on St. Vincent and the Grenadines which is all the way South near the end of the Windward Islands. To go further South would put us on the coast of South America. So, our last visit of the old year was at Bequia, pronounced beck-way. The tiny island is the most populous of the 32 islands and cays that make up the Grenadines. Now even as travelled as I am, it does not surprise me that I am continually introduced to little places and islands about which I have never even heard; but what does surprise me is just how crowded all of these places are with tourists. Let’s take Bequia – this to me, at least, is not your typical tourist destination. First, it has only a very small airport. Second, the harbor, while beautiful, has no dock, so any ship which makes port has to come ashore in tenders. In short, this is not a place that one just “happens upon”. It does, however, have one of the prettiest anchorages in the Caribbean. The mountainous terrain provides a multitude of hide-a-ways with superb views, and the beautiful gold-sand beaches are unbelievably inviting.

In fact, at every stop on our journey, we have found the Islands teaming with tourists in holiday residence. At times it almost seems as if the world has moved to the Caribbean, not to mention that virtually every cruise ship from North America is cruising these crowded waters. I would bet that if I went on deck right now, I would be able to see at least one other cruise ship on the horizon, and sometimes several at once. During our visit to Bequia we constantly had a helicopter overhead, which the locals said came from the adjacent island. That island had been taken over by Bill Gates and his party and the helicopter was one of his providing his party over flights.

Yesterday we stopped at the British Virgin Islands, anchoring off the island of Virgin Gourda. Once again the island and surrounding waters were teeming with tourists. After being tendered ashore, we once again crowed into a little open air truck and quite literally drove from one end of the island to the other. By the end of three hours holding on for dear life, we thankfully we able to seek refuge back on the ship.

If you would like for me to spend more words describing each island, you would quickly discover a numbing redundancy. While there are naturally some differences among the islands, for the most part they all have a striking similarity. That is not to diminish the striking beauty that one finds in the Caribbean, it is rather to acknowledge that in this part of the world they all share a common history rooted in the slave trade. They survive mostly on tourism and their people are friendly, at least in the southern Caribbean.

This afternoon we are set to anchor off the city of Samana in the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic shares the Island of Hispaniola with Haiti. I have visited Haiti, but never been to the Dominican Republic before, so this will be a new adventure.

Lisa and I both wish everyone a very Happy New Year, and I will try to do a better job of writing for the end of this journey.