|PETER CALAMAI PHOTO|
|A victim of cabin fever, freelance journalist George Tombs emulates Patrick McGoohan's character in the classic television series, The Prisoner.|
OTTAWA – There was barely time for a visit to the bar Thursday before a Bandierante aircraft from Kenn Borek Air arrived on the ice airstrip having dodging the freezing rain which had scrubbed an earlier flight. A little more than 24 hours later, Air Canada delivered me back here.
More reflection on the experience will no doubt come with time. But here are 10 valuable lessons I learned during three weeks aboard the Canadian Coast Guard’s icebreaker Amundsen:
1. It’s not a good idea to use the last dregs in a helium cylinder to inflate a weather balloon. They’re likely diluted with nitrogen and the radiosonde won’t ascend.
2. Drinking coffee before a long helicopter flight is a really, really bad idea. Unless there’s an empty water bottle.
3. Muskox meat is available free at Sachs Harbour on Banks Island¸ providing you have some way to take it away. The muskox are killed for qiviut, the unshrinkable underwool that’s eight times warmer than sheep’s wool and which sells for high enough prices to recoup shipping costs. The meat doesn’t.
4. Cabin fever is a real danger. The photograph shows journalist and Conrad Black biographer George Tombs shouting “I am not a number” as he unsuccessfully tries to escape from the airport at Sachs Harbour. Burlap bags of qiviut can be glimpsed behind to his right.
5. The afternoon crew break at three o’clock is when fresh-backed cookies appear in the Amundsen cafeteria. The chocolate chip are better than anything in Toronto at any price. Trust me on this.
6. The best Arctic clothing and gear is made in Norway, except for boots where Canada excels. The really neat Norwegian item are the armoured gloves used by the fishery workers, which were great when hauling rope and grasping frigid metal parts out on the ice floes here
7. The pilots and planes of Kenn Borek Air deserve their stellar reputation for flying in dicey conditions at both ends of the Earth.
8. Running boards are a wonderful idea that should be reintroduced. Try getting on or off a snowmobile with an artificial hip and Baffin boots and you’ll discover how useful that step-up is.
9. Woman truly get the chance to show their mettle in the Canadian Coast Guard, from “matelots” (seamen) through logistics officers up to captain. It’s a much better career choice for a young woman than the Canadian merchant marine. You’ll have to trust me on this as well. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble.
10. Home is best.