Alvah Simon is an explorer and adventurer who has undertaken various odysseys, accompanied by his wife, Diana White. But there was one adventure he had a burning ambition to accomplish, which was to spend a winter on a boat embedded in the ice in the Arctic.

Halifax_perched_on Alvah's_hoodThey set off sailing northwards from Maine in June 1994. Stopping in Halifax, Nova Scotia for supplies, they came across two kittens in the local market. One was a wild little minx of a creature who hissed and scratched. They felt this one would be a fellow survivor and so took her on as companion, bed warmer and possible polar-bear detector, naming her Halifax. Halifax’s first actions on board were to tear up their charts and pee in their bunks. But gradually she settled down. As a bear detector she wasn’t much us, though – the first time a polar bear approached the boat she slept through the whole episode!

On 6th October, Diana’s birthday, they received a radio message from her father, saying that he had terminal cancer. They agreed that Diana must get home to be with him: but Alvah decided to continue with his plan. He would have only Halifax for company and he promoted her to First Mate.

Halifax loved to accompany him for treks out on the ice, clambering on his shoulder or into his parka for a while when she became tired or her paws got too cold. But one day she stopped following him and sat whining in the snow – at 45 degrees below zero. He went on, until he realised that if he left her much longer she would certainly freeze to death. In his haste to pick her up and warm her in his coat he heard a crack – her frozen ear had snapped in half. Alvah was full of remorse, cursing himself for being so stupid and subjecting his companion to the ordeal.

One day in March, two Inuit arrived on a snowmobile, bringing fresh meat – and a letter from Diana saying she would be returning. She arrived in mid March. Diana brought a huge can of diesel – and 35 lbs of cat food!

As the ice gradually melted, the boat was finally released from the grip of the ice that had held it captive – but this meant that to relieve herself she had to be taken to the beach in the dinghy. She got used to miaowing when she wanted to go; but if no one came she would jump on passing ice floes and go drifting off. Her humans would go looking for her and when they arrived she would jump imperiously into the dinghy, as though she had just ordered a taxi!

Finally, in August 1994, they decided it was time to leave. On 20th October they anchored at the same dock in Maine from which they had set out nearly 17 months earlier.

We’re very sad to report that Halifax passed away during June 2009. Alvah Simon, her ‘Captain’, has written a moving tribute to her: “Our beloved friend, crewmember, and fellow adventurer, Halifax of the North, is dead. I have been writing for many years, but that last sentence was the hardest I have ever written, and our boat and our lives will ring hollow for a long time to come.”

For a fuller account and to see some amazing images of Halifax, go to:

http://www.purr-n-fur.org.uk/featuring/adv09.html.

This article by Patrick Roberts (whose website is www.purr-n-fur.org.uk ) first appeared in the Winter 2010 edition of The Cat, which is Cats Protection’s quarterly magazine and reproduced here with his very kind permission. 

 

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