Welcome aboard the Polar Prince! I will be joining Leg 5 of the Canada C3 Expedition aboard the 67 meter research icebreaker that was a former Canadian Coast Guard Vessel. This ship will be our home for the next 13 days as we cast off and begin our journey northwest: from St. John’s to Nain in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
We arrived in St. John’s today. I couldn’t sleep on the plane and it was really rough flying for so long. When I got off the plane I met people outside the airport who ran taxi cabs. I caught a taxi to downtown St. John’s and had an interesting conversation with my cab driver about how people in St. John’s and most of Newfoundland have to leave as they are unable to find work when they are young. This cab driver said it is typical to have experiences like his: he left for 25 years working on oil rigs, got a house, had a life, and moved back to St. John’s when he had enough money to be stable. His goal was to be able to retire in his birth place, but had to spend 25 years away from home to reach where he is now. Now that he’s home, he still has to drive a taxi cab, so I guess he’s not really retired. There are no street crossing lights in St John’s, people just cross when the traffic is safe. There are lines on the ground as crosswalks, but it seems as though people ignore them and just cross anywhere.
After being dropped off downtown, I had an idea where the Polar Prince was docked, so I headed towards the Waterfront area and then began to backtrack going east along the ports. I met up with another Expedition member, Val, who was also looking for the ship. We both began looking together and eventually met up with someone who was getting off the ship from Leg 4; she showed us the gate with the security booth where we had to check in.
It was really difficult to get onto the gangway. My guide dog didn’t want to walk on it because the steel grating may have been uncomfortable for her feet and it was very narrow with steep stairs. When I boarded the ship I was instructed to take my stuff to the hangar deck. I had to travel all the way to the uppermost deck and go through multiple staircases that were more like ladders. I don’t know how I’m going to survive this. It’s really tough to guide on the staircases as they are really steep and narrow so I couldn’t use regular guiding techniques on the ship.
I went to the bridge by accident, and met the Captain, Captain Stephan Guy, who showed me the way to the mess hall to get lunch. On our way to the mess hall I found the passageways through the ship to be very narrow again and the staircases to be steep ladders. Inside the mess hall we couldn’t do proper guide work because it was so crowded and I had to put my dog somewhere and get food. Luckily Captain Stephan Guy helped me get my food help me get a table. Looking around, I’m thinking in my head, how am I going to survive the next 12 days? I can barely do anything myself or walk around this place. It’s going to be a challenge being mobile on this type of ship. Apparently the Polar Prince was built in the 1950’s so accessibility wasn’t one of the things that the shipbuilders were thinking about. In addition, this ship is a decommissioned Coast Guard vessel so I don’t think it was meant to have people with disabilities on board, but we’ll make do.
This afternoon, we met the Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador at the Government House, which was built in the eighteenth century. There were eight decamps who basically guard the governor; it seems like an appointment given to certain RCMP officers. They meet us at the door, took our names, signed us in and then instructed us to wait in the reception hall until the Lieutenant Governor and his wife were ready to meet us. Before finally meeting them, we were given cards to write our name for the lieutenant governor. So as was pass along in a line-up, we’ll shake his hand, he’ll read what the card says and call us by name. Maybe if we’re lucky enough he would say a few words to us. He did say some things to me while welcoming me to the province and asked lots about my dog. I shook his hand, I shook his wife’s hand and then I continued through the house to the next area where there were local foods and local beers. It was like a cocktail party/dinner with lots of local foods, and I had the chance to talk with different people from the community. It was especially interesting when the governor walked around to show us different pieces of art, talked about different things that were in his house and made us feel welcomed.
Afterwards, we walked back to the ship and were entertained with stories from the Folk Department at Memorial University. These people came on board the ship and told us local stories about folk legends, ghost stories and other interesting experiences that familiarized us with the culture. After listening to the speaker from Memorial University, a local chocolatier came on board and served us hot chocolate and snacks made with local chocolate and Newfoundland sea salt. The sea salt really made the chocolate a unique flavor.
While this is happening they are beginning to issue us with some of our gear. We’re supposed to get a bunch of things but all I was able to get was a toque and a water bottle. I guess it’s because things are so packed in storage at the moment. I hope I get all my stuff soon because it’s going to get cold. Afterwards, we were told that if we could withstand having very little sleep due to an early start the next morning, we can go to the Crow’s Nest, which is an officer’s bar/serviceman’s club that was started in World War II. I chose to go as I wanted to see the place, get a feel of the culture, meet some of the locals and hear about the history and heritage of the Crow’s Nest. We had a grand time listening to the president and the ex-president speak about its background. Listen below for talks and legends as told by current president Gary and the past president Margie.
I hope to get enough sleep for the next day because I know it’s going to be jam packed filled with good stuff!