Churchill, MB to Arviat, Gillam then Pickle Lake, ON Canada
After waiting out a day of terrible weather in Churchill, which shut down our plans to kayak with the dozens of Beluga whales in the estuary where the Churchill River meets Hudson Bay, the 5intheSky crew were ready to take the next step toward the goal of visiting every province and territory in Canada.
We had already landed in British Columbia (of course), Alberta, Saskatchewan, Yukon, Northwest Territories and now Manitoba. Being that Churchill, Manitoba is so close to Nunavut, we decided we had to do what we could to visit our third and final territory.
After filling up with fuel in Thompson a few days prior, in theory we had enough fuel to fly from there the 215nm to Churchill, onwards to Arviat (CYEK) (about 152nm following the coastline) and then directly back from Arviat to Gillam, Manitoba (CYGK), a further 280nm. However, theory is just that: the reality was we needed not only an extra reserve of fuel when we reached a destination to be legal, but also a reserve of fuel that was practical. There was not a single airport (other than Churchill) on the 280nm route from Arviat to Gillam (and Churchill had no AvGas).
Non-Pilot Tip: When flying in Canada (Visual Flight Rules and during the Day) a pilot must ensure there is enough fuel on board the aircraft they are flying to make it to their intended place to land plus an additional 30 minutes of flight time at normal cruising speed. In good weather conditions, and in an area with plentiful airports, this minimum amount of reserve fuel might be more than adequate, however in northern regions with long distances between airstrips it's wise to carry much more than the minimum.
As such, to get up to Arviat in Nunavut and back, we need more fuel, and Avgas is not always easy to find in the north. Calling the Arviat airport we were informed they had “lots” of Avgas, but we would need to buy a full drum and pump it ourselves. Buying Avgas in a drum can be a risky proposition, particularly without the right pump and filters to transfer the fuel to the aircraft. Any water, dirt or rust in the fuel, if transferred to the AirVan fuel tanks, could result in an engine failure and a not-so-happy ending, a long way from anywhere.
We assured the fuel in the drums was not too old and was clean, so now we just had to figure out how to pump it when we got there. A quick visit to the Churchill Home Hardware store and the 5intheSky crew had an in-line 12V automotive fuel pump and 30’ of PVC hose in-hand. We were carrying a 12V battery boost pack (with fittings to plug into the Airvan should the plane battery need boosting) and this would be the power source for our jury-rigged transfer pump. Far from ideal, we were still concerned about water and dirt in the fuel (as our pump had only a small automotive grade filter) and of the potential for static electricity building up during pumping (sparks are not welcome when fueling), but we had some ideas to deal with these and hoped it would work.
We were off to Arviat, leaving Churchill airport as we had found it, devoid of any other aircraft. We tracked the coast as we flew north, determined to see at least one polar bear. We had set a little 5intheSky competition, with the prize (a pack of Smarties) going to the first person to spot a Polar Bear. Then, midway into the flight, Samantha spotted one wandering the shoreline. The polar bear sported a beautiful white coat and was very plump from a long winter out on the ice hunting seals. We did get some GoPro 360 footage, but due to the scale of the environment, the bear appears as a miniscule speck on the video (even if we zoomed in) but the pictures are cool regardless. Check them out!
Refueling... very slowly
We landed on the well maintained gravel strip in Arviat (once again the only light aircraft in sight) meaning we had now landed in 3 out of 3 territories in Canada. Our contact for fuel, Helen, met us in the terminal, showed us our barrel of 100LL Avgas, and then gave us a quick tour of town before we paid for the drum of fuel. Now here’s the thing, as almost everyone is aware, the price of fuel has skyrocketed over the past few weeks, and we had recently been paying $2.50-3.00 per litre for AvGas. The fuel in Arviat (not the most remote town in Nunavut, but a contender) came out to around $1.60 per litre! Turns out the fuel is barged in, and this was from a previous delivery when fuel prices were lower, plus all fuel in Nunavut is subsidized. The drum was dropped off near the AirVan and then we were alone to pump it. After opening the drum we pumped a few samples and the fuel was of the correct type (always worth checking) and looked clean. We rigged up our pump system which worked great, other than it was slow, a total of 2 hours to pump most of the drum, leaving the last few liters in case of dirt or rust at the bottom of the tank.
Helen took us for a quick tour of the town, and we saw our second polar bear of the day when stopped at the dock; again spotted by Samantha. On our way further into town we saw our third polar bear, only this one was flat, skinned and on the ground outside of someone's house. Helen told us the story of how this polar bear was actually periodically hiding by this man's house for weeks until he finally found it, had enough and unfortunately had to shoot it. When the polar bears come into town there is no choice but to get rid of them, in whatever way possible, as they pose a significant threat to the people of the town.
Inside the Arviat Home Hardware
On departure from Arviat, we departed runway 15 in gusting 15-20 knot winds and circled over the town and breakwater, getting a great view of the polar bear we had earlier seen from the ground. Entering CYGK into the GPS, we pointed the AirVan to the south and started the 2+ hour flight to Gillam, Manitoba, arriving around 5pm local time. We topped the tanks and then continued south-east. We had hoped to get as far as Geraldton, Ontario, but it had been a long day, with the last few hours of flying being in moderately bumpy conditions, adding to the fatigue. We revised the plan and aimed for Pickle Lake (CYPL), a small village in northwest Ontario on the shores of, you guessed it, Pickle Lake (We commented that the lake from the air looked like a Dill Pickle if you squinted a bit, but it turns out it’s name came from a local indigenous dialect for Pickerel fish, not Dill Pickles).
Photos from the Arviat Airport
Reaching Pickle Lake, Ontario, the 5intheSky team had flown 4,634 nautical miles (8,582km) and logged 44.0 hours of airtime, stopping at 34 different airports. We had now stopped in all of the Territories in Canada (Yukon, Northwest and Nunavut) along with BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. 5intheSky’s goal of visiting all Provinces and Territories in the country was now very achievable.