North to ad­ven­ture

White­way ship­yard pre­pares ves­sel for Arc­tic re­search


After three-and-a-half weeks of retrofitting at Jack­son’s Boat­yard in White­way, the Ocean Al­liance was sched­uled to set course for the Arc­tic last week.

Her maiden voy­age will take her up the east coast of Baf­fin Is­land and west through Lan­caster Sound into the Arc­tic.

The 64-foot, shal­low-draft ves­sel will serve as the home base for sev­eral months of sci­en­tific re­search in the re­gion.

The owner of the ves­sel is the Arc­tic Re­search Foun­da­tion, a new pri­vate, not-for­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“A group of Cana­dian busi­ness peo­ple wanted to pool some re­sources and look at ways they could help ex­pand the ca­pac­ity for con­duct­ing re­search in the Arc­tic,” says foun­da­tion pro­ject man­ager Ok­sana Schim­nowski, who most re­cently worked with Fish­eries and Oceans Canada in Win­nipeg.

Ac­cess­ing the Arc­tic

“ There are a lot of ar­eas in the Arc­tic you can’t ac­cess with a large ves­sel,” Schim­nowski ex­plains.

Ger­ard Chi­d­ley of Renews had just what the foun­da­tion needed, a com­mer­cially cer­ti­fied ves­sel that could be quickly retro­fit­ted.

Pro­ject leader and re­fit man­ager Matthew De­bicki says the foun­da­tion pur­chased the Ocean Al­liance be­cause “the price was very right.”

He says the ves­sel will “ have peo­ple on board for up to six weeks at a time non­stop in an area where they can’t stop (any­where) for food or any­thing else.”

A captain of su­per yachts for the past 10 years, De­bicki, who is from Win­nipeg, knew ex­actly what a ves­sel on a short sched­ule needed.

Some of the retrofitting nec­es­sary to turn the fish­ing boat into a re­search ves­sel were as sim­ple as “crea­ture com­forts,” in­clud­ing more food and fuel stor­age, wa­ter mak­ers, and more power, he says.

How­ever, a large amount of sci­en­tific equip­ment, in­clud­ing a com­puter lab, was also added to the Ocean Al­liance.

The re­fits were done in less than four weeks, though De­bicki would have pre­ferred a three­month win­dow.

Per­fect fit

Jack­son’s Boat­yards was a per­fect fit for the foun­da­tion.

“ What hap­pened here is a mir­a­cle,” Schim­nowski says. “ This shouldn’t have come to­gether the way it has.”

The Ocean Al­liance is the se­cond ves­sel De­bicki had re­fit­ted at the White­way fa­cil­ity.

“I had such a good ex­pe­ri­ence with them, that’s why I chose here. They’ve been per­fect from start to fin­ish,” he says.

“ We’ve en­coun­tered a lit­tle bit of danc­ing, where you’ve got peo­ple in dif­fer­ent rooms try­ing to work at the same time and cross­ing paths.”

The late ar­rival of bat­tery ca­bles — “the heart of the boat,” De­bicki ex­plains — slowed the re­fur­bish­ing. Find­ing the right electrician was an­other frus­tra­tion, with one of two re­ac­tions, “ This job is too big — or lit­tle — for us.”

The core crew of captain, chief mate, se­cond mate and two deck­hands will be joined by other peo­ple up north , “who have more ex­per­tise with the hy­dro-graphic equip­ment we’re go­ing to be us­ing,” Schim­nowski says.

The foun­da­tion is part­ner­ing with gov­ern­ment and uni­ver­si­ties. Its sci­en­tists will be in­volved in hy­dro-graphic sur­vey or bot­tom map­ping.

There may even be some seabed clas­si­fi­ca­tion, “which is where you take up sam­ples from the bot­tom of the ocean to be able to clas­sify and com­pare it with the hy­dro-graphic sound­ings you’re tak­ing,” Schim­nowski ex­plains.

“ The Arc­tic is very poorly charted. That’s a big chal­lenge,” she says.

The Ocean Al­liance will be over­win­ter­ing in Tuk­toy­ak­tuk, in the Inu­vik Re­gion of the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries, or Cam­bridge Bay, Nu­navut.

“By then, the ice starts form­ing and the storms start com­ing in,” says Schim­nowski.

“I’ve re­ally fallen in love with the north,” De­bicki adds. In­deed, he is now aim­ing his ca­reer ob­jec­tives north­ward.

Schim­nowski is ex­cited “to see some­thing like this come to­gether. It’s quite im­pres­sive.” She’s pleased the foun­da­tion “re­al­ized they needed to fo­cus some re­sources and en­ergy on this trip.”

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