Labrador and Torngat Mountains Expedition Cruise

Our 2019 adventure exploring Newfoundland and Labrador aboard the RCGS Resolute was a win-win-win. For one thing, we visited a new-to-us part of Canada, including many stops well off the beaten path. We made new friends. And our experience confirmed that expedition cruising is a pretty good fit with our travel preferences.

This final chapter in the chronicles of our ocean voyage from Sydney, Nova Scotia to Iqaluit, Nunavut has three goals: 1) convey how eight previous blog posts fit into the itinerary for this particular cruise;  2) share cruise highlights that didn’t make it into previous posts; and 3) reflect on what we liked best about this particular cruise and which aspects we’d look to change up the next time we’re looking to book an expedition cruise.

Embarkation

rcgs-resolute-sydney-harbour

We arrived in Sydney the day before the cruise departure. After 5 days exploring Nova Scotia we wanted a couple of hours at a laundromat so we would start the cruise with all clean clothes. The 20 kg/person luggage limit had forced us to pack light, especially since our camera gear took 4-5 kg each, so we’d factored the laundromat into our packing decisions.

Departure morning, the lobby of our hotel was overflowing with milling passengers and their bags – large bags! It was immediately clear that the baggage limit was not going to be enforced. After all the tough choices we’d made when packing, it would have been easy to be annoyed, but traveling with just one carry-on sized suitcase and backpack meant we made our tight connection in Ottawa and we actually wore all the clothes we’d packed – mostly layers.

The first expedition with our fellow passengers was not by boat. Instead, we loaded our luggage and ourselves onto 3 charter buses for a half-day trip to the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site. Only after watching the changing of the guard, wandering the grounds and searching out the old bakery did we hop back aboard our bus and head for Sydney Harbour, where we boarded the RCGS Resolute to begin our cruise.

About half an hour after we left, a tugboat pulled alongside, our pilot out of the harbour hopped off the RCGS Resolute onto the Pilot boat and it veered away and turned back to the harbour.

pilot-boat

After that, it was time for lifeboat drill. The most shocking thing is how little water they would allow in the first 24 hours aboard, should we have to use the lifeboats. But then we talked about it and decided it made sense…after all, the bathroom facilities aboard would be minimal, at best. 🙂

lifeboat-drill

Following lifeboat drill, we were called down to the lounge, which our regular gathering spot early each evening where the lead expedition guide briefed us on what to expect the next day.

That first night, we received a shocking piece of news. Thanks to a shortfall in contracted fuel deliveries, we were not headed to Gros Morne National Park. Instead, we were headed to the east coast of Newfoundland, to Placentia Bay, to take on more fuel via an at-sea bunkering operation.

That did NOT go down well with a sizable group of passengers. They grumbled about it for the rest of the trip.

We were not of that mindset. After all, we’d signed up for an expedition cruise which – in our minds – meant we could expect at least a bit of the unexpected. Fortunately, we met several like-minded couples and could, for the most part, ignore those who walked around with dark clouds over their heads for the rest of the trip.

Revised Itinerary

Anyhow, the need to make a detour to on board more fuel really did a number on the expected itinerary.

Day 1 – departure, as expected

Day 2 – instead of hiking in Gros Morne, we enjoyed a Zodiac excursion in Placentia Bay

Day 3 – instead of visiting L’Anse aux Meadows, we did a Zodiac excursion at Aviron Bay

Day 4 – instead of visiting Battle Harbour, we hiked in Gros Morne, two days later than originally scheduled

Sailing from Gros Morne, we were in the middle of dinner when bridge crew made an announcement. Whales had been spotted! Everyone left the dining room and headed out on deck (we detoured to our cabin to pick up our cameras). The bridge crew had spotted two blue whales! Camera shutters clicked, fingers pointed and ooohs were plentiful. We only fully appreciated how special this encounter was when one of the expedition guides told us that in 10 years of guiding, this was the first time he’d seen blue whales.

blue-whale

When blue whales dive, their flukes don’t come out of the water. Instead, when we saw the small dorsal fin located quite far back towards the tail, we knew the whale was about to dive.

blue-whale

After the whales moved on, we all returned to the dining room to resume our meals. I skipped dessert to photograph the evening’s beautiful sunset, one of the loveliest of the trip.

sunset-at-sea

Day 5 – instead of visiting Hopedale, we enjoyed a delayed visit to L’Anse aux Meadows

Late that evening, we spotted the first iceberg of the trip. It was quite far off and close to shore, so we were not able to gauge its size.

first-iceberg

Day 6 – instead of visiting Hebron, we spent the day at sea, covering as much distance as possible

The ship’s crew and the expedition crew improvised a number of activities to keep us busy. One option was to attend an open Q&A with the navigation officer and the captain. We learned a bit about the redundancies in navigating…

chief-navigator-and-passengers-on-bridge

…nautical flags and operation of the anchors.

captain-and-passengers-on-deck

We also enjoyed the phone photography workshop, thanks to trip photographer Adeline Heymann.

The real highlight of the day was when the bridge crew spotting the first BIG iceberg of the cruise. Immediately following the announcement, passengers swarmed out on deck, cameras in hand.

iceberg

We photographed fellow passengers who wanted a photograph with the iceberg in the background and, in turn, we made the same request.

Up on deck with everyone else as the RCGS Resolute approached the first sizeable iceberg of the cruise

The trip photographer and one of the expedition guides headed off by Zodiac to get a photo of the RCGS Resolute and the iceberg. I can’t help but think there’s a little bit of forced perspective at play here, to really emphasize the size of glacier. 😉

iceberg-and-ship

This was the only time during the cruise that the deck forward of the bridge was opened to all passengers.

passengers-photographing-iceberg

Yes, this iceberg really was amazingly turquoise…

iceberg

…and it had a sphinx head. Do you see it?

iceberg

The captain did a complete doughnut around the ‘berg. This photo shows the curve of the ship’s wake, as well as the research vessel that approached the iceberg as RCGS Resolute continued north.

iceberg

With a full day at sea, I had time to play a bit with framing, making an “iceberg between two lights” sandwich.

To help pass the time during a full day at sea, I had some fun with framing - this time an iceberg sandwiched between two lights

This was the second large iceberg of the day, and this photo shows there were plenty more appearing on the horizon.

iceberg

Before the trip ended, the captain sailed 360s around three different glaciers. Here’s a photo of the navigation track, that shows one of the doughnuts!

ships-track

Day 7 – instead of day one of two days scheduled in Torngat Mountains National Park, we visited Hebron, just one day later than scheduled

For the Hebron excursion, the captain opted to pilot one of the Zodiacs. Here he is, waiting for the rest of the Zodiacs to be lowered off the upper deck and for passengers to be called to the gangway. He tried just about every activity at some point during the cruise – his first in command of the RCGS Resolute.

man-waiting

There was a special supper at the end of our day in Hebron. The bridge crew barbecued several types of meat while the kitchen crew made an assortment of tasty side dishes. For this particular evening, dinner was served on the open air stern deck, off the bistro. The trip photographer took this photo of our table, which we shared with some of our newly-made friends. It was a great evening.

dinner-with-friends

Day 8 – originally to be our second day in Torngat Mountains National Park, this turned out to be our first day in Labrador’s only national park.

That evening we saw another huge iceberg, one of the one’s the captain sailed around. We were close enough – and the iceberg was long/wide enough – that I had to do a three frame pano to fit the whole thing into one image.

icberg

Here’s an end-on view as the sun sank even lower.

iceberg

And once we were on the east side of the ‘berg, Mr GeoK got a great sun flare photo.

iceberg

This was another great sunset-at-sea evening.

sunset-at-sea

Day 9 – instead of visiting Martin Bay and the Button Islands, we enjoyed a second fantastic day in Torngat Mountains National Park, exploring Nachvak fjord

Day 10 – we didn’t make it to Monumental Island, disembarking, instead, for our last Zodiac excursion – in the Button Islands; it was a good call on the part of the expedition crew, as lingering ice would have made it difficult/impossible to reach Monumental Island anyhow.

Day 11 – arrive Iqaluit, several hours later than expected

We did not sleep well (at all?) our last night at sea. Despite knowing that the hull of the RCGS Resolute could withstand the broken-up sea ice that flowed out of Hudson’s Bay and was then blown up into Frobisher Bay, there’s something nerve-wracking about chunks of ice tumbling under the hull from bow to stern, some large enough to cause a micro-pause in the ship’s momentum.

When the wake-up call came over the cabin speakers, it felt like we were still moving. A look out the cabin window confirmed we were not anchored off Iqaluit, which is where we were supposed to be.

porthole-view

After breakfast, we were asked to vacate our cabins, and to use the common areas until we anchored at Iqaluit. At that time, we were advised that our ETA was about 10 o’clock, just a couple of hours away.

boat-sailing-through-ice

After we settled into the forward observation lounge, I fired up our handheld GPS and discovered we moving at an equivalent land speed of about 10 km/h. The unit estimated we’d arrive in Iqaluit well after noon.

sea-ice-chunks

Sure enough, it was something like 12:30 when we dropped anchor. There were three freighters in the harbour…the first ones to arrive in Iqaluit this season.

three-freighters-at-anchor

Disembarkation

Because there is not yet a deep-water wharf in Iqaluit, the expedition crew got right to work transferring the suitcases we’d left outside our cabin doors the previous evening into several Zodiacs for transport to shore.

loading-luggage-aboard-zodiac

There is a deep water wharf under construction in Iqaluit, funded by the federal government. That’ll make unloading freighters (and cruise ships) much easier and quicker, once completed.

at-anchor-iqaluit

Here’s a look at the town of Iqaluit. The reflection in the water is off the top of the local CBC building.

iqaluit-nunavut

At last, it was our turn to board a Zodiac and be ferried to shore. We waved a fond farewell to RCGS Resolute, and its crew.

rcgs-resolute

Unfortunately, our late arrival in Iqaluit meant we really didn’t get to see anything of the town except for what was visible from the window of the school bus that took us to the modern airport.

Flights Home

Since ship passengers made up the bulk of the passenger list for our First Air flight, they held the plane. It was almost 3 pm when we took off. Thanks to my window seat, we had a bird’s eye view of Frobisher Bay for a few minutes.

plane-wing-over-frobisher-bay

Thank goodness we gate checked our suitcases and checked in for our connecting flight at the Iqaluit check-in desk. We started out seated in row 23 and eventually managed to swap with a couple of expedition crew members seated in row 10 (thanks again). As a result, we walked off our flight from Iqaluit, up a ramp, into the Ottawa departure terminal, across the hallway and on to our connecting flight to Calgary. Phew!

After no sleep the night before, I did a little catching up as we flew west towards Calgary.

woman-sleeping-on-plane

Final Thoughts

All-in-all, our first expedition cruise was a good experience – good enough that the word “first” is a giveaway that we’re open to doing more expedition cruises in the future. We really enjoyed meeting fellow adventures and made some great friends (and yes, we’ve stayed in contact). The itinerary supported an appreciation of the natural world as well as local culture and history. The food was very good. And we like that the dress code prioritized comfort/weather/activity so that we could truly pack light.

The biggest downside was significantly reduced activity compared to usual. For one thing, the small ship size meant there was no walking deck so we had to work out the optimal route, including several sets of indoor/outdoor stairs to get in at least a few thousand steps/day. For another, the schedule was pretty full so we never did find time to use the exercise facilities. Had we sailed the original itinerary, there would have been a few more days with at least a few hours on land, which also would have helped. So for any future expedition cruises, we’ll be taking a closer look at the activities on offer.

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