Canmar Marine (Dome Petroleum) Spring Breakup in Canada's Beaufort Sea

by Captain Alec Provan 2012

The pictures of HMCS Corner Brook, safely docked on the floating dry-dock Seaspan Careen, brought back memories of my time in the Arctic when the dry-dock, then known as the Canmar Careen was located in McKinley Bay, northeast of Tuktoyaktuk, where the Dome Petroleum fleet of four drilling ships and various support vessels was based. During the 1981 and 1982 drilling seasons in the Beaufort Sea, I was employed as Second Mate and then as First Mate on the drillship Canmar Explorer III.

The drilling season commenced with the arrival of the crew members (in a Ken Borek Air, DC-3) engaged in the re-activation of the vessels after their long period of hibernation during the Arctic winter. Initially the crews arrived by fixed wing aircraft, landing directly on the ice adjacent to the ships.

After breakup, most of the personnel movements took place by helicopter (a Sikorsky S-61N), utilizing the flight decks on each of the drillships.

Leaving the aircraft, we looked out at a scene reminiscent of a Star Wars movie set, based on a planet somewhere in frigid outer space.

Ice and snow extended as far as the eye could see in every direction, interrupted here and there by the various vessels of the fleet, securely embedded in the landfast ice. The four drillships immediately caught the eye.

The mighty Canmar Kigoriak, flexing its muscles as it prepared to break out a channel through the landfast ice to the moving icefields of the Beaufort Sea, an operation which occupied several weeks.

With the aid of the Ditch Witch (a glorified chainsaw) and snowplough, a sliver of open sea was opened up around the ship.

Water around the Canmar Kigoriak was opened up – just enough to allow the vessel to gain the necessary momentum to commence the icebreaking process. Meanwhile, the rest of the fleet was busily engaged in loading the stores and equipment required for the upcoming season.

Eventually the channel was opened, the vessels released from their icy prisons, and a stately procession of drillships and supply vessels, led by the Canmar Kigoriak, slowly made its way toward the Beaufort Sea.

The icebreaking tug Canmar Supplier II (with characteristic number 2 on her funnels to distinguish her from her three other sister ships.)

The Canmar Kigoriak was constructed in nine months in 1978 in response to the need for specialized ships to support the Beaufort Sea drilling. Canmar was the marine arm of Dome Petroleum, and pioneered the introduction of the flat plate simplified hull construction, geared diesel for propulsion, CP propeller in nozzle and a forward ice reamer. She was 91.06m x 17.25m x 10m. She was powered by a 17,400bhp diesel engine. She is an Arctic 4 icebreaker. This means that she can maintain a speed of 3 knots through ice 0.91 metres (3 feet) thick moving steadily forward through the water.

Provan

Editor’s note: Captain Alec Provan spent two drilling seasons working with Canmar Petroleum as a Mate in drill ships in the Beaufort Sea. (All photographs in this article copyright to Captain Alec Provan.)

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