Women plan 3,000km Northwest Passage snorkel relay

10 women have hired an expedition boat and plan to take turns snorkeling, in heated wetsuits, the 3,000km from Pond Inlet, Nunavut, to Inuvik, N.W.T. in the summer of 2016.

‘It will be very black, so we are not gonna see much,’ says expedition leader Susan R. Eaton

Susan R. Eaton emerges from a Royal Canadian Air Force CH-146 Griffon tactical helicopter at Arctic Bay. Eaton was among a group of tourists rescued from the sea ice on North Baffin Island last summer, when the ice they were camping on unexpectedly broke apart and began to drift away. (Stephen Henshall)

A travel writer, adventurer and scientist from Calgary has persuaded nine women to join her in a 3,000-kilometre snorkel relay from Pond Inlet, Nunavut, to Inuvik, N.W.T.

  • LISTEN Click the link on the left to hear Susan R. Eaton in conversation with CBC North's Marc Winkler

Susan R. Eaton says she’s passionate about adventure, empowering Inuit women and girls, and educating the world about the global melt now underway.

Susan Eaton (right), wearing her critter cam dive mask, prepares for extreme snorkelling in the Antarctic Peninsula. (Emory Kristof)
“It's not just a world record. It's not just about climate change. It's about connecting with people of the North and hearing their stories about climate change, ocean change and how it's impacting them today.”

Last summer, Eaton was among a group of adventure tourists plucked from remote north Baffin Island by helicopter after the ice pan she was camping on unexpectedly broke away from land and began to drift away.

“I’m not sure that adventurers necessarily find themselves unprepared,” she says. “I think what is more likely the case is that Mother Nature intervenes. And it’s unpredictable when a piece of ice might break away from a shelf that’s stable.”

The rescue cost the Canadian Military $2.7 million, the National Post later reported.

That hasn’t deterred Eaton.

She says the idea for this trip has been percolating for about three years and she has the logistics all worked out.

Heated drysuits and underwater scooters

The women have hired an expedition boat normally used for tourist cruises as their base camp. They’ll take turns jumping over the side in special dry suits that have heated undergarments and mitts, powered by battery packs.

A lunch break during an expedition near Arctic Kingdom’s safari camp near Arctic Bay in June, 2013. Eaton is on the far right. (Stephen Henshall)
Instead of swimming, the snorkeler will use one hand to hold onto a “diver propulsion vehicle,” a 1.2-metre-long scooter with a small propeller that travels between 3 to 5 km/h.

The plan is for the relay to continue non-stop as long as there’s sunlight.

“We likely won’t snorkel at night for safety reasons,” Eaton says.

What does one see when snorkeling in Canada’s High Arctic?

In the shallow water, small animals, invertebrates and seaweeds.

“But when we’re doing our transit, for example in the Davis Strait where the water will be hundreds of metres deep, it will be very black, so we are not gonna see much.”

Portable aquariums

Eaton has lots of extreme snorkeling experience.

She’s snorkeled with belugas when they gather in the summer at the mouth of the Churchill River in Hudson Bay, and headed underwater during expeditions to Antarctica.

The planned route, East to West, covers about 3,000 kilometres of ice cold water. (Susan Eaton/Twitter)
On Baffin Island last summer, she was snorkeling with beluga and narwhal with the the adventure company Arctic Kingdom Polar Expeditions before the ice pan broke apart. (Scroll down to watch a video of that experience.)

On this trip, she plans to share that experience with local people, who tend not to snorkel or even swim in the extremely cold waters.

The ship will carry portable aquariums, so when the group arrives in Arctic communities, they can display samples of sea life to local people for four or five hours at a time, before returning them to the sea.

“We want to do a lot of education and outreach with respect to the people who live in the North. There's a really large educational component to it,” Eaton says.

They’ll also invite climate and ocean change researchers to join their expedition to take temperatures and salinity measurements of the waters.

This summer, the team plans to cruise from Labrador to Baffin Island and Greenland to test their skills and equipment. 

The main adventure will take place in the summer of 2016. 

Eaton expects it to take about 100 days.

The 3,000 km expedition would be a snorkeling world record.

“Why do explorers want to do anything?” she asks. “Because it’s there.”


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