Go with the Floe to the Northwest Passage ... INTREPID: A Portrait of Sir John Franklin's Journey through Arctic Icebergs ICEBREAKER: A Ship Makes Its Way through the Frozen Beaufort Sea towards Prince Leopold Island. Right: Inuit Girls at Baffin Island

Article excerpt

Byline: Tom Chesshyre

INUITS living on the coast of Greenland were bewildered when a group ofBritish naval officers in full regalia turned up one morning in 1818. Untilthen the Inuits had considered themselves to be the only people on Earth.

But here were chaps in fancy uniforms with giant vessels made out of a strangematerial - wood (there were only pencilwidth trees in the Arctic).

The officers discovered that the Inuits could only count to five, that theyplayed football using a ball made of walrus flippers and that they had neverbeen at war - there was no one else to fight.

The Inuits, in turn, were extremely puzzled by the officers and it had to beexplained that the British did not come from a race that consisted only of men.

The 1818 expedition was part of the search for the fabled Northwest Passage,which connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans through the Canadian Arctic. Ifa passage could be found, it would open up a direct and hugely lucrativetrading route from Europe to Asia. In the event, of course, frozen conditionsmeant this was impossible.

While scurvy and frostbite were constant worries for those early explorers,holidaymakers can now take comfortable cruises to some of the most remote partsof the world.

Cruise North Expeditions has begun offering week-long Northwest Passagejourneys, taking in many of the spots visited by some of the hardiest explorersin history, although exact itineraries cannot be planned in advance as iceconditions vary year on year.

One planned port of call is Beechey Island, which was visited by two shipsunder the command of Sir John Franklin in 1845. …