Polar Bear Blog

Making history on the Hudson Bay coast. From Gillam to Seal River in the Oddney II.

Jeanne Reimer and Captain Jack Batstone with the Oddney II at Seal River Heritage Lodge.
Jeanne Reimer and Captain Jack Batstone with the Oddney II at Seal River Heritage Lodge.

By Mike Reimer, Churchill Wild

Shackleton strained his tired, salt-crusted eyes through the glooming fog. Could it be? Was that really land in sight? Aching, cracked and bleeding hands struggled to maintain a grip on the oars as they pulled desperately for the salvation they now saw before them. Land at last, after a month at sea in a tiny rowboat on the most savage, storm-swept waters on earth…

Fast forward a century.

“Cap’n Jack” Batstone and his trusty baloney sandwich maker, Mike Reimer, have just rounded Cape Churchill on route to completing their version of the Shackleton epic, which in this case was a 440 km 12-hour nonstop dash up the Hudson Bay coast from Gillam to Seal River Heritage Lodge.

Crew and guides discuss the plan for going from Gillam to Seal River Heritage Lodge via the Nelson River and Hudson Bay.
Crew discuss the plan for going from Gillam to Seal River Heritage Lodge via the Nelson River and Hudson Bay.

The voyage really began this past winter, with the building of a specialized filming craft designed by Fab-Tech Industries in Glovertown, Newfoundland. Jason Collins and his merry band of expert craftsmen at Fab-Tech customized their classic Silver Dolphin into a brilliantly functional charter boat, built specifically to cater to the likes of National Geographic, BBC, CBC and other film crews wishing to see polar bears in the wild at Seal River and capture them on film.

Once completed, the boat began its journey to Seal River Heritage Lodge with a ride aboard a transport semi to Winnipeg Sport & Leisure (WSL). Once there, the WSL team fitted the boat with twin Yamaha I-4 V MAX SHO 115s, and all necessary rigging and controls.

Churchill Wild Wilderness Guide Quent Plett then completed the rig by installing every conceivable electronic complement you can imagine including GPS, Sonar, VHF and CB radios and InReach Satellite tracker. All advantages Shackleton would have loved to have had in his epic Antarctica struggle a century ago!

The next phase of the saga for the now aptly named Oddney II (see story from Maureen Martin Osland below regarding the original Oddney) was to gain transport to Gillam, Manitoba. Due to the sad situation of our rail line being out of service, we couldn’t move Oddney II from Winnipeg to Churchill by rail, so Ross and Robyn Issac, son-in-law Fraser’s parents, volunteered to truck the Oddney II to Gillam.

Much to our dismay, upon arrival it was discovered that the mighty Nelson River, which we had hoped to use as access to Hudson Bay, was decidedly short on water due to hydro restricting the flow during another dam construction!

Peanut Hatley led the way for us on the might Nelson River. And we never “touched” a prop! Wahoo!
Peanut Hatley led the way for us on the might Nelson River. And we never “touched” a prop! Wahoo!

So it was hurry up and wait, pray for rain, and hope the great hydro gods would release enough water to safely run the 120 km on the Nelson River to the mouth of Hudson Bay. Finally, a week later, our river pilot Peanut Hatley, advised us that we were good to go and Cap’n Jack and I flew from Churchill to Gillam to begin the trek. Launch Day brought a 90 km/hr nor’easter, which would likely have been child’s play for a veteran sea captain such as ol’ Shack, but we opted to ride it out safely in harbour one more day.

On Monday, July 16, 2018 at 10 a.m. we pushed off the bank into the fast flowing and always mighty Nelson River. We began a bit of a stop-and-go convoluted criss-crossing of the historical waterway as we very gratefully followed veteran river guide Peanut Hatley through the many rapids and shallows down to the coast. And we never “touched” a prop! Wahoo!

On to the mighty Nelson River!
On to the mighty Nelson River!

The wind was still blowing briskly and quite a swell was running but we elected to exit the river and turn north up the Hudson Bay coast. To our east was the Hayes River, York Factory and Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, all dripping with history, but we were headed to Seal River Heritage Lodge and we weren’t waiting. We could have snuggled up in the boat until the next tide, but Cap’n Jack didn’t appear to be much of a snuggler. We refueled, said our goodbyes to Peanut and his mate Gumby and headed for blue water.

Beluga whales and seals greeted us as we entered Hudson Bay and the air took on a decided chill. The sun was shining in the clear blue skies, the wind was dropping and the twin 115s were purring like well fed kittens. All was good.

We pounded through ever-lessening waves and by the time we reached Cape Churchill we were running in gently rolling swells, thankfully, as my knees were beginning to feel like they were on some sort of downhill ski marathon!

Once at the Cape, Cap’n Jack advised me that modern GPS systems were overrated and to set a compass bearing direct for Seal River some 110 km away. He opened the throttles to 4900 rpm and off we cruised at better than 50 km/hr due west into a gorgeous setting sun.

Jack’s years of expertise gained running Hudson Bay in his Peterhead freighter was obvious and two hours later we commenced a direct approach to the harbour at Seal River Heritage Lodge without once relying on any fancy GPS corrections! All done, 12 hours non-stop from Gillam to Seal River!

Thanks to the many good people in the north who helped us on this classic northern adventure, the Oddney II had arrived safely at Seal River Heritage Lodge!

The story behind the original Oddney

Maureen Martin Osland, sister to Churchill Wild co-founder Jeanne Reimer’s mother Helen Webber, sent us the following bit of history on the original Oddney.

In the early 1930s, our grandfather Sigurmunder Sigurdson left Arborg, Manitoba hoping to find a more lucrative customer base in the booming town of Churchill, Manitoba. To his surprise, he got kicked off the train near Gillam because he didn’t have a work permit. Being a stubborn Icelander, he and his two sons built a boat, named her Oddney after his mother, and with the help of a nervous local guide travelled on to the treacherous waters of Hudson Bay and made their way to Churchill. The family set up shop in Churchill and further north, trading in Arviat, Maguse River and the Seal River area. The Sigurdson and Martin grocery, dry goods and ship chandlers operated in Churchill until the early 2000s.

Mike Reimer (husband to Sigurmunder Sigurdson’s great, great granddaughter Jeannie, and co-founder and owner of Churchill Wild) and local expert Jack Batstone travelled the same route from Gillam to Hudson Bay and on to Churchill Wild’s polar bear lodge at Seal River in the Oddney II. Churchill Wild named the Oddney II after Oddney Hannesdottir (Sigurmunder’s mother), who has an awesome adventure story of her own, having come to New Iceland in the early 1900s with eight children and no husband. She was the only single mother to stay in the area and her story is well known in Iceland and in the Interlake area of Manitoba.

The most recent adventure in the Oddney II is now part of Manitoba, and Canada’s, rich and important history.

Thank you Maureen!

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