Prepping the Vessel

A productive summer and fall on board the s/v ArcticEarth is slowly yielding to the cool quiets of late fall and early winter. This morning’s air temperature is 5°F in Qaanaaq, Greenland’s northernmost settlement on the west coast. Here on the Maine coast, it is a balmy 46°F, amidst the wet winds of an autumn nor’easter. Temperatures are on my mind, of late. How could they not be? July was the warmest month in Earth’s recorded history. In a few days, the world’s heads of state will gather in Glascow to discuss action plans in face of the climate crisis.

Five years have passed since s/v ArcticEarth was first launched in Cape Town, South Africa (as the s/v Eva, designed and built for/by Claude Borel-Saladin and Julie Catherine Le Boeuf). The boat now enters the next Arctic phase of life as a full charter vessel for production, research, and private expedition groups.

Captain Magnus Day and I are getting to know this vessel, its systems, layout, and equipment. We are working with the talented deep bench of Maine’s marine support industry (Rockport Steel, Hamilton Marine, O’Hara Corporation, Lyman-Morse) to make additions and modifications. The safety systems have been completely overhauled: we added a new 8-person Viking life raft with insulated floor and SOLAS A pack. Then an identical Viking life raft #2 as back-up. Offshore commercial grade Spinlock harnesses and lifejackets have been purchased, as well as cold-water immersion suits. Durable Treadmaster non-skid is being installed on deck, and a 2021 Commando C3 inflatable tender with a 4-stroke Yamaha 20hp outboard has been added to the support boat fleet.

(l to r) new Treadmaster non-skid deck, inflatable tender with T-Ladder, redundant 8-person life rafts, 2 custom dive tank racks.

Enticed by the magical underwater world of ice diving -and what veteran Nunavut scuba diver Graham Dickson of Arctic Kingdom calls “… ‘the bubbling Arctic,’ where all the wildlife is together interacting,” our biggest modifications are in dive support. The speedy new tender can transport a dive master and 2-person teams to remote designated dive spots around the point, while back on the live-aboard ArcticEarth, the transom platform now supports a rugged T-Ladder for divers who are climbing out of the cold depths, with or without fins. This ladder came from my long-time filmmaking colleague and friend, the underwater Director of Photography Nick Caloyianis. He used it for decades onboard a favorite dive boat. Other additions include custom-fabricated aluminum racks, installed on either side of the dive prep area. They hold up to 6-8 dive tanks, positioned within easy reach of the air compressor we have spec’d out for installation this winter. In our September sea trials, we also tested a diver recall system, plus two types of remote operated vehicles (ROVs).

“The best dive ladder ever!”

In late September, immediately following the MECAL inspection that Magnus has been preparing for all summer, the s/v ArcticEarth traveled to Casco Bay Maine on a pleasure outing with friends Frank Simon and Tom Amory, and niece Lydia Morin. We visited the spectacular new Schiller Coastal Studies Center (Bowdoin College) on Orr’s Island and met nearly 15 college students from Prof. Dave Carlon’s Marine Science Semester Program. Nearby in Brunswick, ground has been broken on the main campus for the John and Lile Gibbons Center for Arctic Studies. Very cool! Unfortunately, we missed hosting Arctic Studies Prof. Sue Kaplan and Curator Genny Lemoine aboard -next time I hope. Onward to Portland, where we are graciously hosted by Phin Sprague at Portland Yacht Services. There, AE (the emerging nickname for the boat!) hosted some old friends of Magnus’, plus Citizen Science Strategist Sarah Kirn and the visionary CEO Don Perkins from the Gulf Of Maine Research Institute. Tacking back to the east, we stop for dinner in the Damariscotta River with Marine Ecologist Bob Steneck (UMaine) and his wife Jo. Our last stop is the gorgeous Bigelow Lab, now ably directed by Deborah Bronk. Among many visitors at the dock there, Marine Chemist Christoph Aeppli shares some of his questions about Oil in the Environment, and his colleague Doug Rasher discusses his team’s work with eDNA and abrupt changes in coldwater ecosystems.

s/v ArcticEarth on the dock at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, East Boothbay, Maine.

New Partnerships & Initiatives

CLIMATE CHANGE INSTITUTE (CCI) of University of Maine.  I am pleased to announce that our 2022 season in Greenland will begin in June with the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute and its well-known Director Paul Mayewski.  Along with fellow expeditioner Alex Kuli and UMaine colleagues Neal Pettigrew and Mario Potocki, Paul is first-out-of-the-gate, working from the s/v ArcticEarth in coordination with the Government of Greenland. Their objective: developing multi-year monitoring projects in both the marine and terrestrial environments in Greenland.
WORLD OCEAN OBSERVATORY (W20).  Another early partner is Compass Light Production’s longtime collaborator and advisor Peter Neill and W2O.  Through their books, syndicated radio programs, museum and aquarium exhibits, and website, the World Ocean Observatory has agreed to disseminate findings and opportunities connected to ArcticEarth expeditions.
ARCTIC FUTURES INSTITUTE (AFI). Building on the 2017 Arctic Council meeting in Maine, Charles Norchi of the Center for Oceans & Coastal Law of the University of Maine School of Law has co-founded this think tank with CCI’s Paul Mayewski and W2O’s Peter Neill. The mission is to understand and communicate issues relating to the northern latitudes through examination of policy and law, science and research, education and public engagement.

MAINE MARITIME ACADEMY (MMA).  The s/v ArcticEarth and Compass Light Productions have been invited to be the support and media boat accompanying the schooner Bowdoin’s proposed 2023 return to the Arctic, on the occasion of its 100th anniversary. The only American schooner to be designed and built specifically for Arctic exploration, the Bowdoin is the official vessel of the State of Maine.

Pass the Mic

I first met Captain Andy Chase 40 years ago when he was the 3rd Mate on the Sea Education Association’s (SEA) sailing research vessel Westward. He is now Emeritus Professor of Marine Transportation at the Maine Maritime Academy, after a distinguished professional maritime career on both power and sailing vessels. Along the way, he was profiled by author John McPhee in Looking for a Ship. Perhaps closest to Andy’s heart is the time he spent as Master of the Bowdoin, especially when he led a group of Maine Maritime students to 70° north latitude in 1991. 

Compass Light Producer Eli Kao had a chance to chat with Andy about this famous Arctic boat. Edited excerpts below. (Photo: Kevin Fahrman, Foreside Photography)

When did you become Captain of the Arctic Schooner Bowdoin? I got the job as Captain when the Bowdoin got to Maine Maritime Academy 31 years ago. I was completely smitten with the boat and its whole history. I read that the first Captain, Donald MacMillan, only took a couple of weeks to get to Labrador… and so I asked Ken Curtis, the President of MMA, if I could do that with some students and the reply was “yes.” Well, the trip to Labrador in 1990 went so well, I said, “Could we make it across the Arctic Circle?” And President Curtis said, “Go for it!” It was amazing. My trip above the Arctic Circle was 1991. There’s been two trips above the Arctic Circle since then. Captain Elliot Rappaport in 1994, and Captain Rick Miller in 2007. We propose it is time to go again.

What is remarkable about this boat? The Bowdoin can still sail to the Arctic, exactly as she started out doing 100 years ago. That continuity is amazing. She’s not converted for the north. After 100 years, she’s still doing the same thing. MacMillan, he would sail there and do science. But also, a sort of accidental study of culture, because he was a very personable guy and he got along really well with the Inuit. Mac kept logs and journals. He was a keen observer. He recorded a LOT of information, some deliberately collected and some incidentally collected. Much of that 100 years worth of data is preserved within the Bowdoin College collection. What can be learned from those 100 years?

What recent changes have been seen from the deck of the Bowdoin? In 1991, I left Maine to sail north on July 3, during what happened to be the heaviest ice year on record at the time. We encountered our first iceberg before we got to St. John’s, Newfoundland. Our plan was go from St. John’s to Nain, Labrador and then across to Nuuk, Greenland. We couldn’t get to Nain. Nain was still frozen in. So we had to scrub that idea. We were, however, able to work our way up towards St. Anthony, Newfoundland with reasonable confidence from the ice office that by the time we got there, there would be an opening for us to get out. And across to Greenland. That was 1991. In 2007, when Captain Rick Miller went up with the Bowdoin, he left June 1, a month earlier than I did. And he didn’t even see any ice until he got to Greenland. My friend Peter Wilcox -who was captain for Greenpeace- he was up there with a Greenpeace icebreaker and they went all the way to the edge of the Arctic Ocean sea ice -the permanent Arctic Ocean sea ice- without having to dodge a single piece of ice.

There’s a picture of MacMillan in the ice barrel aloft looking at a glacier and that’s the Rink Glacier. That was on that trip in 1920’s (photo courtesy the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, Bowdoin College).

We think the Rink Glacier would be a reasonable goal for 2023; a place to visit again, marking 100 years of change.

Tell me more about the Bowdoin itself, as a vessel. She’s very much drawn from the design of the Grand Banks fishing schooner. They proved to be a very seaworthy vessels. The designer William Hand and the explorer Donald McMillan, both of them had a common vision for the vessel that they were going after, that became the Bowdoin. Bill Hand had not only designed yachts, fast racing yachts, but he also design heavy workboats, and also designed motor vessels, and also designed motor sailors.  A discreet hidden reality deep inside the Bowdoin…deep inside that boat… she is the best motor sailor anybody’s ever built. She can sail well. She can motor well. And she can motor sail really really well. McMillan rarely only sailed her. He had the hammer down all the time because he had to cover huge mileage! Most of the pictures I’ve seen of the Bowdoin from back then has black smoke billowing out.

She’s got her Grand Banks shape, and Mac and Bill Hand said, they said “Well, we want to make her into an icebreaker. So we’ll put a big high bow on her, give her a lot of buoyancy forward so that she can handle heavy weather.  We will double the scantlings so that will make her twice as heavily built as anybody else around.  Fill the bilges with cement, and then put a layer of greenheart outside the hall and then put a layer of steel plate outside that up in the bow. We’ll make her as rugged as hell.” They put in a watertight bulkhead,, which was not that common at the time.  MacMillan said, “If I stove the bow in, I want her to still float. If I stove the stern in, she should still float. If I broke her in half, both ends should float.”

All vessels in the waters of Baffin Bay and the Labrador Sea can hit things. Easily! When I brought the Bowdoin south along the Labrador coast, the charts had big blank areas which in other parts of the world would be full of soundings.  As we were sailing, I was standing in front of the depth sounder. I could see the bottom coming up all of a sudden. …sometimes going from 65 fathoms to zero in probably two boat lengths. We were just nursing along, just groping our way along. I couldn’t afford to be sailing. I need to be able to stop.

But when you need to go, the Bowdoin can go. When MacMillan was leaving Refuge Harbor way north in Greenland, he had to bounce her over a ledge!  He had to split an iceberg. Which he did at full speed. CRACK! The ice opened. He got through. If he hadn’t, he’d have been frozen in for another year.  But by that time he knew his boat. He knew the Bowdoin. Somebody made a wrong turn during the previous year in Baffin Island. They hit an iceberg full tilt. Nothing broke. MacMillan must have said, “Ok. We’re not sinking, therefore I have a good boat.”

What are your thoughts about the future of this boat and the Arctic? I can imagine the Bowdoin still sailing to the Arctic 100 years from now, in the future.  And I can say that with a high degree of confidence. We have already laid out a plan to always have the money raised for her next rebuild, and in place for each rebuild after, spaced roughly 25 years apart.  

100 years is not that far away.

Discoveries & Arrivals

Harp seals not the “driving factor” impacting cod in Newfoundland ? – Evidence supports environmental factors as having the greatest impact on populations of cod, capelin, crab, and other species.

High-speed internet comes to the Arctic On July 1st, a Soyuz rocket launched 36 OneWeb satellites from eastern Russia. They join 216 already in orbit to provide high-speed internet to regions above 50 degrees latitude, including Greenland and Nunavut, Canada. Elon Musk’s Starlink aims to service to Nunavut by year’s end.

“Angakusajaujuq: The Shaman’s Apprentice” screens at Toronto festival– From Zacharias Kunuk, the filmmaker behind Atanarjuat The Fast Runner, the trailer for this new stop motion project can be seen at

Bowdoin Turns 100: A century of training, promoting science, cultural awareness, and adventure– Writing from Captain Andy Chase, in Maine Boats, Homes, & Harbors.

New Chapter in the Book of Greenland, says Marco Tedesco– The first rain in history at the summit of Greenland’s ice sheet. Before this century, above-freezing temperatures occurred sheet six times in 2,000 years, wrote Martin Stendel. It has happened three times in the last ten years.

Back to that temperature-on-the-mind thing again.