a href=”http://www.superseniorsblog.com/adventures/part-three-of-in-search-of-the-narwhal-whale/narwhal-whale-skelton/” rel=”attachment wp-att-879″>The Arctic regulates the rhythms of life far more pronounced than the city life we left behind. Capricious winds, sweep down off the slopes behind us, sometimes with vengeance, causing problems on land and sea. The wind will turn and come across the bay packing the shoreline with ice of varied thickness and yes on rare occasions the wind becomes a zephyr, gentle, soft, leaving the sea millpond tranquil. Here near the North Pole most things are constants, the mountains, sullen immutable; marine life moves ponderously through the frigid seas; ice in one form or another is always present. And the tidal changes regulate when we dive so we seven soon found ourselves regulated by constant sunlight, wind and tides.

I was our first and major casualty of the wind, as I mentioned in a past installment. I found solace and dryness in our mess tent although I never slept there. Tim also had a pole break due to the winds.

The unpredictability of the wind caused some concern for Rick and me on one dive. This was a shore entry dive into the sea. Clumsily we entered the water, our equipment very heavy on land and almost unwieldy on the surface of the ocean. Nevertheless, we descended through the greenish-yellow water searching for large mammals to film. We weren’t deep and after an hour I was so cold, bone dry but chattering and using up precious air rapidly and it turned out Rick was having the same problems. We ascended towards weak sunlight and our compatriots only to be rebuffed near the surface with tightly jammed ice. The fickle wind turned. We couldn’t dislodge any ice; our only opportunity was to continue east until we could find either an opening or the backside to the newly formed ice field. Our adherence to our dive plan was reinforced; we had sufficient air to travel quite far underwater at such shallow depth. Our swim ended at the back-end of the ice. My memory may be faulty but I seem to recall thinking we were now a quarter-mile from our shoreline, this may not sound like a great distance and normally it would be an easy traverse. On the surface the large light is awkward to lug around and the large movie camera was equally difficult. Maneuvering these boxy instruments and ourselves was quite difficult on ice. We had to improvise somewhat like a diver caught in a kelp field, slither along the top of the ice being careful not to fall back into the sea and have the ice cover us up again. Laboriously we went from shifting ice to shifting ice, sinking somewhat and dog paddling upwards onto the next sheet of ice. Worn out we welcomed the helping hands of the men.

One day after lunch one of us spotted a polar bear; I think it was Warren. Someone dashed into the mess tent grabbed the rifle and bullets and handed me the weapon and bullets. The polar bear is at least five hundred yards away and we weren’t in imminent danger. I also hadn’t a clue how to use this rifle, so as leader of the expedition I handed it to Ted and said; “a good leader delegates and here Ted you are defend us.” Ted in turn said to the hapless person next to him; “I’m second in command you kill the bear.” The gun and bullets went around the group until it landed back at me. Meanwhile our erstwhile enemy got bored looking at us buffoons and left. It turns out two things we learned, one, none of us had ever used a powerful rifle and secondly we were never in danger from a polar bear again.

Our diving never lost its luster; for sure we collectively missed not seeing the whales, one time Rick and I saw a shark moving slowly and well out of camera range. We would see shy Sculpin well camouflaged in the kelp many tiny invertebrates. The ring seals didn’t trust us and always kept their distance. We sensed their presence more than seeing them. I’m still searching through my slides for one particular underwater photo I took. I’ll upload the photo when it’s found. We had two monumental experiences in our short stay in the High Canadian Arctic.

One glorious day the sun shone, the winds were on a twenty-four hour sabbatical, we who were often cooped up in our tents disrobed, ran naked on the shore line, did our ritual washing for hygiene and then had a contest. Who among us was the bravest man? The man who would be fully submerged underwater would be the bravest of the bravest among us. The fool writing this account won. All I can tell you is it took two hours before, my gender difference reappeared from its warm hiding place.

Earlier I alluded to the Inuit’s former whale hauling location, with its meadow of colorful flowers. We went over and took photographs and did some exploring, we found an abandoned hut and sundry other oddities. It was decided that one night we would dine here and if it got cold we would eat in the hut.

A few days later I was dropped off with a bag of charcoal, matches and the food I was going to serve that night. I had secreted two fresh limes and some white rum away from the others. I didn’t drink any of the rum alone rather it was gong to be for a special occasion. One of the men who will go nameless was caught red handed drinking our communal supply. Needless to say we weren’t happy. I foraged along the shoreline for some driftwood and nary a stick did I find along the shore. Further afield I did find a few sticks. I dug a trench filled it with charcoal and sticks set it all afire. When the briquettes were red hot I covered them with stones and on top of the stones wrapped in aluminum foil was our dinner a large Arctic Char with soya sauce, lime slices and white rum marinade. I covered this up with more stones. I believe we had reconstituted mashed potatoes and some freeze dried vegetable. A few hours later the men returned and as they disembarked I handed each a tumbler filled with glacial water, rum and a slice of fresh lime. I can say all of us were thrilled to eat something that was fresh besides fish. My dad and Rick uncovered the meal it was done perfectly, moist and flavorful. The winds picked up so we went inside the gloom of the hut. After awhile my father says; “boys this isn’t a hut, but a whale’s jaw.” We all laughed and began looking around and sure enough we were in the jaw of a whale, we saw clearly the jaw bones along the ground and above us. I ask you, how many people do you know who were inside a whales jaw and survived? Or for that matter how many people do you know who had dinner in the remains of an ancient whale? The rest of the evening was spent in wonderful camaraderie reluctantly we headed back to our camp, sated with food and drink and something to tell our grandchildren one day.

Friday the thirteenth was a monumental day for so many wrong reasons and one right one. My son Warren had become an avid fisherman. While Rick and I were on a dive Warren was in the zodiac that was tied to one of the forty-five gallon drums of fuel either for the boat or the stove about forty feet from shore. The sea was tranquil when we descended into the gloom; we went deep because the visibility was poor at shallower depths. When we returned to the surface I was cold due to a small leak in the boot portion of one leg. The men helped us with our equipment. I looked around and saw Warren alone;” I told him nobody does anything alone please come in.” He replied okay dad. Within a moment the winds swooped down off the mountain with such force that the thin tether line between the zodiac and the drum was snapped and broke. It may have been because the rope was synthetic and cold, who knows? One thing for sure my child was being swept out to sea. We yelled to him drop the motor into the water and start the engine. Again we don’t know what transpired on board the craft, did the motor flood, did Warren not have the setting right? Warren panicked, the winds were howling, Rick said I’ll go get him, I said no, and I’ll get him he is my son. I put my fins back on and my mask and snorkel and began chasing down the boat and my son. The waves got higher and white caps began to show on some of the waves and I was losing ground to the elements. I knew two things for certain, Warren would be safe in the boat, and he couldn’t be swept away into an endless ocean due to the ice. The worst case would be he would end up across the bay and he would restart the motor and come back. I on the other hand would probably die of hypothermia if I stayed out here much longer. I stopped and yelled to Warren to stay in the boat he will be safe, I have to go back or I might die. I say this with all emotions still raw after all these years, to here my little boy pleading don’t leave me still haunts me. I think I chased the boat and Warren for a half hour. When I turned for shore, I was shivering from the cold, and apparently I was also swimming in circles forgetting about the safety line. Ted told me I was within ten feet of the rope several times. One of the etched in stone declarations we had was we were never to have anyone try and rescue others. We had our limit in the water, Warren and me.

Dying of hypothermia is quite pleasant after the initial shock of cold, teeth chatter, you shake involuntarily to warm up and soon numbness overtakes everything and life slows down. I wrestle with this quite often during the years since. At one point in my swim to shore, I seemed to have had an out of body experience, there appeared on my left side one version of me and another me on the right. These two me’s were arguing the merits of dying or living and it felt that me, the outsider had know control of the discussion or outcome. One said close your eyes you have accomplished all you wanted already. The other argued, there are challenges and adventures yet unknown to try, be part of your children’s lives, and so it went I kept plodding along. I was exhausted when I looked at my watch, I had been in the water for several hours and the shore seemed along way off but in my febrile mind I felt ten more minutes and I’d be ashore. Time passed and unbeknown to me I had lost all power to propel myself forward. The wind had died down and very soon I felt the strong firm arm of Rick pulling me to shore. All I recall was passing out in Ted and my dad’s arms. What I didn’t know was I was turned over after the zipper was undone and drained of water, stripped of the suit, and placed into my arctic sleeping bag and hot drinks were poured down my throat. I awoke a few hours later. Stiffly I got up and wandered over to where the men where standing and asked if Warren was seen yet or had he returned? The answer was a negative. My brother David ran down to another campsite several miles from us where some Inuit guides were with some fisherman. They soon appeared and I wanted to go with them my dad objected and for the first and only time in my life I pushed my dad aside and defiantly stated he is my son I need to find him. My father quietly said to me; “and you are my son I almost lost you once today I don’t want to chance it a second time.” I promised my dad I’d be careful. It was while scouring the water on the craft when I began to consider the immensity of the situation. What will I tell my wife and three remaining children if Warren is dead? How could I face my mother or my in laws? How could I live with my decision if he died? I wasn’t in panic mode just yet but on the threshold, could I have continued to catch him. No. I could only hang on to the thought that he would be safe if he stayed in the boat and that was my mantra to keep me calm. When the guide and I returned everyone was whooping and dancing around. The other guide found my son alive and well. Warren passed out in fright which probably saved him from doing anything rash. The little grey craft upon the gray sea bumped ashore across the bay. Warren awoke and did what he was taught. He dragged the boat high up on the beach far from the tides. He then tied his bright yellow buoyancy device to his fishing line and used it as a flag and that is how he was found. I leapt out of the boat dashed to his tent and hugged him and told him how much I loved him. The day was filled with great peril but in the end Friday the thirteenth is a very lucky day in many people’s lives.

Our plane was three days late due to the weather in Resolute Bay. The Canadian Arctic wasn’t quite finished with our brave little group. We were starting to get on each others nerves and that isn’t a good thing when you can’t wander off and blow off steam. On the third day a Beaver Airplane landed. We placed all our equipment and belongings into the plane and soon we were air bound for our first leg home to civilization. I had asked when we were finished taking off when our expected arrival would be in Resolute Bay and the reply was eleven thirty that morning. We weren’t airborne for but a few minutes before someone yelled look out side on the left. Here was a huge pod of Narwhal Whales below us. They were magnificent even from this height, regal, graceful creatures; carefree safe in their environment, their backs glistened under the Arctic sunlight. At ten o’clock I noticed we hadn’t began our descent into Resolute Bay. I went up to the pilots and asked them if we were lost. When they question my query I told them that based on my journey in about a half hour before we arrived we began a slow descent and you gentlemen hadn’t even started. The men finally told me not only were we without a working compass the radio was also kaput and we only had about an hours worth of fuel and they hadn’t any idea where we were. I looked out the window and I could see why every island looked identical to the others in the surrounding area. While the men and I were discussing options someone yelled look at the Beluga whales. I’m not to sure what was more thrilling, the Narwhals or these huge brilliant white creatures rising and sinking into the sea as heart beats. This pod was massive in human terms almost like an army marching by. It was these breathtaking creatures that saved our lives. The men knew their migratory pathway, made a hard right toward our destination. I told the group what may happen. The minutes ticked by slowly, conversations ceased. Each person on board was either making peace with his maker or trying to cut a deal to a longer life. We landed on fumes. After all the equipment was accounted for and transferred to Nordair. We returned the rifle and bullets to the federal government, got rid of our trash and headed to the showers. There was a long low slung building equipped with probably two dozen shower booths and unlimited hot water, soap for washing and shaving cream for normality. I stayed under the stinging spray of hot water for at least a half hour cleansing my body, clearing my mind of the calamities and near disasters. We got home safe and sound, forever changed by the experience. This adventure was and still is the greatest adventure I have ever embarked upon.

Epilogue

This adventure took place thirty four years ago. So much has changed; we now have global warming and far less ice at the poles. Giant ships occasionally traverse the fabled Northwest Passage. Canada, Russia and the USA are now verbally fighting over sovereignty of the Arctic. In my mind there isn’t any question whom the land belongs too; those who have been its guardian for all my years and then some –Canada. I truly pray that we never despoil this treasure with off-shore drilling or allow supertankers within the confines of the high arctic. The Canadian High Arctic is truly worthy of a World Heritage designation.

Warren Berman is now forty-eight years old with three boys and he is an acclaimed chef.

David Berman is now fifty-three and a world famous plastic surgeon with four boys.

My beloved father Joseph Berman died in late 2003 at age eighty. I am so glad we shared this time together and he let me be the boss with grace and good humor.

Tim, well I’ve heard rumors of his whereabouts and won’t comment other than to say he is still alive.

Rick Mason I haven’t been able to track him down. I’d like to think he is still alive and doing what he loves. I think he was a little older than Ted and me. I truly hope he is enjoying life to the fullest and like to reconnect with him once again.

Ted Francis, my fellow adventurer, male soul mate, often times the more level headed but not always and greatest friend is still well and alive. Ted retired a few years ago and is living hard against the shoreline of Georgian Bay Ontario enjoying life. We recently spent a week together and decided we have one more grand adventure left in us and chose the adventure. No doubt this will make us feel more alive than any other adventure we have ever embarked upon. We are flying to Australia, getting in an open topped cage with our cameras and video cameras and will wait for the great white sharks to try and eat us by attacking the cage. I think for two men in their seventies, this would be a fitting end to grand risk taking adventures don’t you agree?

The Baldguy.