THE HIGH ARCTIC
DAY TWO - TOUCH-DOWN IN YELLOWKNIFE
Having taken off earlier this morning from Edmonton, we came in to land at Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories for a refuelling stop. And here we had yet more bad news.
It seems that, once more, we had been confounded by the weather. Instead of blowing stuff away from us, the wind is blowing stuff towards us and blocking our passage, which can be very painful if you have forgotten to bring your ointment.
The bad weather conditions mean that we can't go on yet again, and we are now stranded here in Yellowknife for a while, until I have no idea when.
Looking at the positives however, because I need to adopt a more positive outlook, I can say that at 62°27N this is the farthest north point that I have ever reached, beating Finland 1981 by a good 100 or so miles.
But will we make it any farther north?
That positive outlook didn't last very long, did it?
While something is busy being organised, I went for a walk outside the airport.
Straight away, I stumbled across a paid of really old aeroplanes which, unless I am very much mistaken, are Douglas DC3 Dakotas, parked up at the end of the runway. I had heard that there were some that had been abandoned here but I didn't think that I would be lucky enough to find them.
Dakotas are probably the most famous and certainly the most iconic aeroplanes of all times. Their ruggedness and ease of maintenance makes them the ideal choice for bush pilots - the type of plane that can be fixed with nothing more than a hammer, some baling twine and a roll of duck tape.
Described by Michael Williams as
"a collection of parts flying in loose formation",
Jonathan Glancey once famously said that
"the only replacement for a DC-3 is another DC-3"
These are the kind of planes that can go on for ever, and there are still many in the air.
These two are in the livery of Buffalo Airways, a company owned by "Buffalo Joe" McBryan, a larger-than-life personality who has been featured many, many times on television with his rather ... errr ... functional collection of aeroplanes.
He has much more exciting stuff than this, and most of it is still flying.
The aeroplane here is registration number C-GPNR and it was apparently built in 1942, construction number 13333 and ex-USAAF serial 42-93423.
It?s a DC3-S1C3G variant, which seems to indicate to me that it's fitted with two 895-kW Pratt and Whitney R-1830-S1C3G Twin Wasp radials rated at at 1200hp. It's therefore much more powerful than the versions fitted with Wright Cyclone engines.
But it doesn?t look as if it will be going very far in the near future as from what I could discover, the last airworthiness certificate that I could find for this machine expired on 23rd May 1996
This one is not, strictly speaking, a DC3 "Dakota" at all but a Douglas C47 "Skytrain", the freighter version of the "Dakota", although they were pretty-much interchangeable and many of them were.
Her registration number is C-FCUE, built in 1942 as construction number 12983 and fitted with two Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92 Twin Wasp radial engines.
She has several claims to fame, amongst which are that she is claimed to be the first aeroplane to have landed in Yellowknife, and also that she can count among her celebrated passengers the Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
One very vocal local yokel told me that one of these two aircraft was involved in the D-Day landings in Normandy in June 1944
Given their history, I reckoned that it's a crying shame that these aeroplanes are stuck here and slowly dissolving into the landscape like this. Someone ought to do something about saving them.
That's not all either. There's another aeroplane here too, away in the distance and it looks as if it's on display on a plinth. Yet another obliging local told me that this was the first aeroplane to have landed on the North Pole.
With a reference like that, I went down there to see that too.
And, lo and behold, it's Arctic Fox.
She's a Bristol Mk31 freighter registration CF-TFX and apart from her historical significance she's a very interesting aeroplane simply because she's so rare. I bet that there aren't more than a dozen or so remaining of the 214 that were built.
She was built in 1953 to a wartime design as a freighter as you can tell from the clamshell front doors for transporting machinery and vehcles.
Most people of my generation will know these machines very well because the most famous operator of them was the legendary "Silver City Airways" - the company that used to operate an air ferry service from Lympne to Le Touquet in the days before the arrival of the Ro-Ro car ferries.
CF-TFX was bought by Wardair in 1958 and used for the transportation of freight around the various locations in the Northwest Territories.
But her own particular claim to fame is much more important. She was the first ever wheeled aeroplane to land at the North Pole, a feat that she accomplished on 5th May 1967 under the control of a pilot called Don Braun.
In view of her fame she was purchased from Wardair in 1968 and installed here as a monument on 22nd June 1968
Having done all of the sightseeing bits that I reasonably could, I went back to the airport afterwards to see what was going on.
The bad news was that we would not be going on any further today. Our destination is still rather vague at the moment and there's a question of logistics and accommodation if we go any further onwards than this without an assured position.
The good new, if there is such a thing, is that we have been taken in charge yet again by the organisers and they have found somewhere for us to stay.
We were picked up by a shuttle bus and driven to our hotel. While it might not be a Renaissance Hotel, which would be highly unlikely around here anyway, we've been bunged into the Days Inn in the centre of the new town, up on the hill.
That's reasonably acceptable. I've stayed in much worse places than one of these.
By now it was lunchtime.
There was no food arranged for us, which is not really surprsing and no-one can be blamed for this of course under the circumstances.
Instead we were given a list of restaurants and told to make our own arrangements and to bring back the receipts.
Most of my fellow travellers were attracted to the place that sole Mooseburgers, Walrus steaks and seal blubber but not me of course. A very friendly couple who knew the town pointed me in the direction of a "Subway" sandwich bar across town.
That'll do me nicely.
But I didn't quite make it straight away. I was distracted by the sight of a large bulldozer busily knocking over an old wooden building.
There was qute a crowd out there watching it go too - probably half of the town I reckoned. My initial thought was that it must have been the highlight of the year - making quite a change from watching the traffic lights change colour or the grass grow.
However in actual fact, it turned out to be some kind of silent protest.
I was told that it was probably the oldest building in the new part of the city and was something of a historical curiosity. They reckoned that almost everyone in the community was up in arms about the whole affair.
Mind you, I did meet someone from the city later on during my voyage who told me that in her opinion it was a derelict wreck and about time that it was demolished and replaced.
Leaving the site behind, I went off to the sandwich bar to see what I coud find to eat. At least there, with everything being quite generic, there's always something for me. And the rinks fountain is quite impressive too.
Being so far out from mainstream Canada I was intrigued about how the local telecommunications functioned. It wasn't as if you could run a landline all the way out to here from Edmonton.
The answer soon resolved itself.
Here in the city is a telecommunications company that is responsible for the services. While there is a landline available in the district, the communications actually come in by satellite for onward distribution.
And on the way back from my sandwich, it looks as if I had stumbled upon their distribution centre. This little lot here is quite impressive.
There were quite a few little signs dotted about the place giving a few little details about the town.
One of them was telling us that the town was built on some of the oldest rocks yet known in the world. And so when I stumbled upon one of the administrators of our journey, I recounted the story of the rocks being 4,000,004 years and three months old.
But as Alfred Hitchcock and Kenneth Williams once so famously remarked
"it?s a waste of time telling jokes to foreigners".
But returning to things more serious ... "just for a moment" - ed ..., this sign on the door at the Salvation Army hostel caught my eye.
It's the list of disciplinary sanctions for anti-social behaviour, ranging from ...
For Aggressive Yelling or Outbursts - being asked to go for a walk and come back later.
Fighting, Racial Slurs or Smashing the Furniture - being expelled for half a day.
If however there's an assault on a member of staff - being expelled for 3 months.
And this kind of thing tells us more about the usual level of acceptable behaviour of the habitual inmates than it does about anything else.
On that note, I wandered back to the hotel to see what was going on.