Thursday, 10 July 2014
Position @ Noon: 77°21’ N / 49°26’ E
Outside Temperature: 34F / 1.2C
Thickness of Ice: There is none!
759 NM (873 miles / 1,406 km) from the North Pole
A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.
— John A. Shedd —
There was no wake-up call to greet today — an opportunity for everyone to take it easy during what is the first of a two-day crossing back to Murmansk, Russia.
And that’s exactly what I did — starting with sleeping in until 8:30a. Having gone to bed well before I did, Mui was already up and at ‘em. I shooed him off to breakfast, asking him to bring me a bagel with cream cheese, and a plate of fresh fruit … which I am eating even as I begin to write this post.
Before I get on with the story of today, I want to touch upon a conversation I had with some shipmates last night in the Victory Bar. On the surface, the question that initiated the conversation was an easy one — how would you compare the Antarctic to the Arctic … or vice versa? The responses around the table — from those who had been to both polar regions — didn’t come as a surprise as it reflected what I had heard many times before. My response, on the other hand, took some off guard … I think.
How we ended yesterday — with sunshine filtered by clouds …
… how we ended today — with thick fog!
When we were planning our first Arctic trip — which happened to be to Svalbard, in the Norwegian Arctic — I was told repeatedly that since we’d been to Antarctica, we were doomed to disappointment. Hmmm! I suppose if we had gone with that mindset, we might have been crestfallen. But we didn’t … and we weren’t. You see, we simply did not compare the two. Rather, we looked upon the Svalbard voyage as an entirely separate polar experience … as a standalone ‘whole experience’ to be cherished and remembered as such. The same holds true for our Greenland voyages, and for this one as well — just different … special … memorable … incomparable.
No ice anywhere around us today — this photograph of repeating
patterns was taken in northern Franz Josef Land two days ago.
To take it a step further, not only do we not compare our polar experiences, we don’t compare any destination … any trip — regardless of length or $s spent. Each is different and special in its own way. Thus making the "What was your favorite trip?" question impossible to answer — in case anyone has it in mind to query us in that regard ;-)
Alex on the P/A with a wake up call from an earlier day on this voyage.
Now to go out and play a bit … more later.
Later — the story of today …
Taking it easy extended to more than getting up late and dallying in the cabin this morning. When I stepped out on deck I noticed that the fog was thickening quite rapidly. There was a damp chill in the air. And around us was nothing but open seas. Not much to invite me to stay outside. No matter — a quiet day indoors was exactly what the doctor had ordered. I even gave my shutter-clicking finger a rest — while many of the pictures in this post are from today, I ‘stole’ some of them from previous days.
Just some of the instruments that guide our way on 50 Let Pobedy.
I debated going to the lectures — Colin gave a talk on Extra-Terrestrial Ice: Glaciers on Mars; Bob presented Russian Aspects of the Arctic Ocean; Norm’s topic was Global Warming — Climate Change. I’m sure they were interesting, but I skipped all three. Collecting my Kindle and laptop, I found a quiet corner in the library to read, and process photos for the voyage DVD — with so many passengers missing out on Cape Fligley (post here), I wanted to get my photos from that landing exported to share with my shipmates.
In addition to being our balloon pilot, Kiff is responsible for compiling the voyage DVD.
By the time I had uploaded the Fligley images to the laptop where all photos for the DVD are being collected, it was lunch time. During our days in the ice, I frequently ate and ran. Not today. I took my time, enjoying the company of the fellow passengers with whom we shared a table. The conversation was good — as was the food … deep fried calamari rings from the buffet; chicken schnitzel with potato salad (for Mui); orecchiette with smoked salmon in a creamy sauce (for ‘moi’); cranberry-banana smoothie (for dessert).
After lunch, I went for a walk outside, but the damp chill drove me inside after a while. A cup of hot chocolate to warm up, and then I joined Mui on a self-guided tour of the lower decks. We stopped by the gym first. We’ve not taken advantage of these facilities, but there has been a ‘sports hour’ led by a member of the expedition team every day — today it was ping pong with Timur.
The exercise facilities might be small, but they get the job done
for the ship’s crew … and for the passengers.
Our trip around the lower decks was not aimless — Mui wanted to check out the swimming pool and the sauna. What makes the seawater pool interesting is that it is located below the waterline, allowing the reverberations from the engines to travel through the water. Mui said the water ‘vibrated’ — sort of like those relaxation massage chairs one sees in airports these days.
Leaving Mui to his swim and sauna, I returned to the library where a special event was in progress — photo ops where passengers were striking a variety of poses while holding the Sochi Olympics Torch that 50 Let Pobedy carried to the North Pole in October 2013. This was part of the traditional torch relay that precedes every Olympics. Torchbearers from several countries — Russia, Canada, USA, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Sweden, and Denmark — participated in an approximately 3-mile (5 km) relay … the first ever at the Geographic North Pole. (More info here.)
In keeping with tradition, the relayer — 50 Let Pobedy — gets to keep the torch.
Afternoon tea was preceded by an activity that brought home the fact that the expedition aspect of this voyage is all but over — the return of the boots and zodiac life jackets loaned to us by Quark for the duration of the trip. Sigh! All good things come to an end … like it or not. To ‘drown my sorrows’ I skipped the tea and got myself a Baileys — hold the hot chocolate — and headed to the aft saloon for Bob’s presentation entitled Hunters and Trappers, Whalers and Sealers: Exploitation of the Living Resources of the Arctic.
- Blubber (oil) — walrus, seal, whale
- Meat — walrus, seal, whale, reindeer/ caribou, musk ox, bear
- Other Food — birds and eggs, fish, hare
- Hides/Skins (leather) — reindeer/caribou, seal, walrus, bear
- Pelts (fur) — seal, fox, bear, reindeer/caribou, weasel, ermine
- Ivory — walrus, narwhal
- Other Products — baleen (whale); antler (reindeer); wool/qiviut (musk ox); eider down (duck)
As abhorrent as the idea is to me, I can understand the need for indigenous people to hunt. They did it to survive in the far north — they couldn’t have lived in the high latitudes without these products. It was the food they ate … the resources they needed to make implements, to clothe themselves, and to build huts. Subsistence hunting is still practiced in the Arctic. There is a substantial difference between hunting for ‘need’, and hunting for trophy — I’m OK with the former; not with the latter. OK — off my soapbox now.
In the brief time between Bob’s lecture and the daily R&B, I ventured out for a breath of fresh air. Thick fog continued to surround us, but the light seemed brighter — perhaps I just wanted it to be so. At least we had lovely weather up north — for days at sea, it really doesn’t matter as much.
Looking aft, or …
... starboard, or ...
… ahead — we’re fogged in! No question about that.
Alex started the R&B by telling us that we’ll be arriving at the mouth of Kola Bay tomorrow evening. We have to wait for customs agents to clear the ship before we can proceed further. Oh, and the timing of the tide is important, too; has to be high tide before the ship can enter the bay! We did get some bad news before Alex wrapped up — the gap between ship’s time and passenger time will be closing … we’re putting the clocks ahead one hour tonight; and will do so again tomorrow night.
The recap portion of the meeting consisted mostly of Conrad’s mini-lecture on the seabirds of Franz Josef Land, focusing on some of the adaptations as they relate to predation. He also had a few brief words about our encounter with bowhead whales yesterday. It is estimated that there are about 300 of these whales in the entire archipelago; that we saw so many of them (I estimated around 10-12 animals) yesterday makes our sighting all the more special.
From our very special encounter with bowhead whales yesterday.
Dinner was a special theme night — Russian — with the wait-staff dressed up in traditional costume. Vodka shots were served to kick-start the meal — Mui got to double up as I can’t stand the stuff ;-)
Then came blinis — a type of pancake that dates back a thousand years or so. They can be served with a variety of fillings … in our case, chopped onions, eggs, rice, sour cream, and caviar. The menu offered three options for the main course — I ordered the baked fillet of salmon “Franz Josef” with puff pastry, white wine risotto, and beetroot; Mui got the beef stroganoff served with dumplings and broccoli. We agreed that both was good. To conclude, we ordered the “Swan” puff pastry filled with a vanilla vodka cream — yummy!
Clockwise from top left: blini, beef stroganoff, salmon “Franz Josef,” and cream filled “Swan.”
We didn’t dally after dinner — call it part of the “taking it easy” theme of the day. When we entered the cabin, we found two black bags on the bed — one for each of us. The notecard indicated they were a gift from Quark, intended for us to use to pack our parkas. I think we’ll keep them as a souvenir and use them when we get home instead.
And that’s a wrap as they say in show business. This is perhaps the earliest I will be turning off the light … tomorrow should be another quiet day at sea. I’m looking forward to it.