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.
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.”