Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Stepping Stones of Ungava and Labrador

So here's something that I didn't know. The only place in North America where the Nazis landed in WWII was Hutton Peninsula in Labrador. Here, on October 22, 1943, a crew from U-537, a German submarine, landed and constructed a secret automated weather station. Since weather generally moves west to east across the Atlantic, the British received accurate weather forecasts from their Allies in Canada and the United States. Germany wanted the same weather reports and planned to place a series of clandestine automated weather stations along the Labrador coast. (Another was scheduled to by built in 1944, but that U-boat was sunk in the mid-Atlantic en route.) After the war, the station lay undiscovered until 1981 when a German engineer researching a book on the German weather service contacted Canadian authorities who investigated the site and found it undisturbed. The German sailors had even left behind American cigarette packs scattered about to divert suspicion.
All of this has nothing to do with kayaking, but historical anecdotes like this are part of the charm of Nigel Foster's new book Stepping Stones of Ungava and Labrador.
Foster first paddled the area in 1981. He paddled south out of Baffin Island to Resolution Island, hoping to from there to cross Hudson Strait to Labrador and continue south down the east coast, but the trip did not start out well, as traveling delays put him two weeks behind schedule, and at Resolution he decided to cross the strait instead of returning to Baffin. He had a harrowing crossing in rain, wind and fog, and he was forced to abandon his trip soon after. In 2004, he returned with Kristin to complete his voyage along the coast of Labrador.
The fact that bad weather prevented Foster and his paddling partner Kristin Nelson from landing and making the short trek to visit the ancient Nazi curiosity doesn't detract from Foster's engaging storytelling. While going into detail about the planning and the logistics of the trip, he also goes into some historical detail about the terrain he is travelling and the people he is meeting, and tells of encounters with polar bears and breathtaking scenery. A terrific read, and well worth checking out.

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