Wednesday 23rd August 2023

It looked like a crisp summer morning off the North Slope when we had breakfast (4C, southerly wind, 15 knots, gusting 30). For the first time on the voyage, we have a moderate chop but nothing is sliding about in the restaurant yet!

We are making good progress towards Herschel Island. This is a significant place in the NWP because of its association with two successful expeditions (Amundsen and Larsen).

Having transited the NWP Amundsen made landfall here before moving on to Nome. His route was very shallow in places and would not accommodate large commercial ships. So, despite the euphoria, interest in the passage waned, but after Britain transferred her Arctic possessions to Canada, countries such as Norway and the USA began to question the country’s sovereignty. The US established a whaling post on Herschel Island and the Canadians realised they needed to protect their interests and sent in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to set up a permanent post from which they could send out patrols and establish a national presence.

Henry Larsen was born in Norway in 1899, went to sea at the age of 15 and eventually worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company sailing from Seattle and Vancouver to Herschel Island and other places in the NWP. Whilst trapped in the ice at the island (1927) he met RCMP officers, changed jobs and became an officer on the schooner St. Roch. During the 1940s the ship was too small to be requisitioned but it did play an important role in supplying Canadian settlements in the Far North and made it through to Halifax in 1940 – 42, surviving two winter entrapments by the ice. Returning to Vancouver in 1944 Larsen transited the NWP in one season, dropping off Inuit people at the island and eventually arriving in Vancouver on 16th October 1944. St. Roch was the first ship to sail the NWP in both directions and to do a transit in one season, and as we have seen it is displayed in the Maritime Museum in Vancouver.

Some of Larsen’s work in the Far North has only recently been revealed. He was tasked with ‘flying the flag’ for Canada but also seized strategic points along the NWP to deter German forces from taking command of the cryolite reserves which the Germans needed for the development of their terror weapons.

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