Sunday, September 2, 2012

Arctic Respect


30 days ago we sailed out of the locks at Den Helder Holland happily leaving the Jongert Shipyard behind in our wake. We were now bound for Svalbard and the Polar Ice Cap a true Arctic Cruising Expedition.



It’s hard to articulate all of the emotions and logistics of moving back on board Vivid and getting back on the water after living on land for 8 months during the refit of Vivid.  To put this in perspective: In the past 11 years, I have not lived on land longer than a few weeks! I guess it would be like you moving back into your home and land-based life routine after 11 years away at sea. 

I have just had my first few real nights sleep in over a month.  In the last 30 days we have sailed over 2400 nm, including crossing the Arctic Circle, a stop in Lofoton N. Norway, an amazing 10 day cruise of Svalbard, sailing over the 80 degree N. latitude line and sailing along the edge of the Arctic Polar Ice Cap. 

Today we are pinned in up here at 78 13N 15 35E - in Svalbard.  We are patiently waiting for a gale force low-pressure system to clear its way out of our path South.   We have about 3700 miles ahead of us to reach Spain when we pick up anchor and leave the North behind. The severe weather systems are one of the risks that come with cruising in the extreme high latitudes this late in the season. 

The best of the cruising season in the Arctic is about 2 months long.  We are past that now and the gale force weather systems are starting to dominate the Greenland, Barent and Norwegian Seas, as summer turns to winter with no “in-between” season.  

I will breath a much easier when we get south of the Arctic Circle and down to warm water again and have a few months before we sail to the South Extreme High Latitude’s.  

This truly has been a proper Arctic experience, with everything from: Hungry Polar bears, explosively calving glaciers to beautiful serene anchorages changing that can change there attitude in a few hours to become unwelcome ice choked anchorages.

I have come to find my self with a jaw dropping awe and admiration for this remote arctic area’s beauty.  It is never static and is always changing; one minute - sunny vivid blue skies the next you have, rainbow outlined snow squalls. 



I do find my self cautiously tempered with a critical respect and appreciation for the extreme dynamic’s of the fast changing unforgiving weather, ice and in general the forces of nature that are unique to high latitude cruising.   

Two real life “hit close to home” stories that build this cautious respect and are sad reminders of how serious you must take the nature of cruising around ice and cold water: 

6 Years ago when we cruised West Greenland, 4 yachts went up to Greenland and only 3 came out.  One ill prepared boat got too close to a Glacier it calved and sank the boat.  Luckily a tour operator quickly plucked the crew and guests from a certain frozen death.

Two days ago, 5 miles from where I am writing, a tourist was killed while sightseeing near a glacier.  Sadly the tour operated RIB (small boat) was to close to a Glacier when it calved.  Ice fell on the women’s head.

Respect, caution, safety and awesome appreciation….
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15 August:
We are anchored in front of a in the jaw-dropping beautiful Fjortende Jlibreen Glacier.  We are in the last weeks of the Midnight Sun, where it is daylight 24 hours a day.  Night becomes Day and Day is Day.  The energy and stamina that you have is noticeably different when it is 0100 and it is as light out as 11 in the morning.  It is so silent here, all you here are the birds and the ice popping like rice krispies.  Randomly your attention is thrown to the glacier with a massive thundering percussion.  As sound travels slower than the actual glacier calving event you look in time to see a chunk of ice the size of your garage fall into the water creating a huge spray and then local tsunami.   It is a spectacular sight, almost better than the best fireworks finale you have ever seen.  I hope for future generations that we are not watching the Polar Ice finale. 

16August
0200  We are surrounded by ice.  As I come on for my anchor watch I find our picturesque glacier front anchorage is rapidly deteriorating.  The anchorage is full of ice and more is pouring in from nearby glaciers.  To mix things up a bit throw in a thick fog pushing in.  Time to pick up the anchor and gently push our way out, minding the brand new paint job!

To make things challenging in the last 48 hours we have lost our depth sounder, and our entire compass generated electronic navigation equipment.   It is time for “old school” navigation. I slowly steer and push ice along the plotted a course for the opposite lee shore, monitor the measured distance off the rock cliffs and navigate around the large mini-van sized ice chunks are stopped on the shallow water ledges.

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I am very aware how incredibly fortunate I am to to be doing what I love and to be working for someone that I have great admiration and respect for.  I am just now comprehend what we have accomplished in the last 30 days.  Fantastic experiences and memories that will last a lifetime….

As winter is quickly closing in here it is time to sail south, we have about 3000 miles ahead of us starting tomorrow.  The compass course will be easy to remember from watch to watch.  South (180). 



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