July 25, 2011

Every morning at what seems like much too early an hour, we are awakened and given a brief outline of the day’s plans by the friendly, German-accented voice of Jan Bryde, our expedition leader, who is responsible for informing and entertaining us. He is a personable, worldly fellow whose talents include leading tours, traveling around the world and singing in the ship’s bar. Most of the announcements are made in English and German, the two most dominant languages on this sailing. At lectures and other functions, interpreters will translate simultaneously through headsets for the Russian and Chinese speakers. Today we have safety briefings on the helicopter and lifeboats, and fittings for the rubber boats we’ll use when we go ashore.

The helicopter deck.

Lifeboats and, at right, their interior.

I will come to regard this as The Year of Two Winters. When I left New York, the temperature was 102 degrees F., about 42 C., unbearably hot. I don’t tolerate winter well, and being plunged from one extreme of humid heat to another of dry cold wreaks havoc on my skin and my psyche. Two weeks of precious summer are being taken away from me, but in exchange, there are wondrous sights ahead.

As we sail through the Barents Sea, we sight a pod of about 100 humpback and fin whales, which blow through their spouts and occasionally breach. Dmitri Banin, the ship’s ornithologist and marine biologist, will later say he has never seen so many on one of these cruises. Land will not be in sight until the next day, yet Arctic birds like black and white guillemots, and gray and white kittiwakes, fulmars and glaucous gulls zip along beside us, stopping to rest on the water. In the evening the friendliness flows along with the champagne at a welcome reception with the captain, Dmitri Lobusov.

The Barents Sea. Hundreds of miles of open water, no land in sight, a bird here and there, but soon ... ice.

Expedition leader Jan Bryde, right, Captain Dmitri Lobusov, beside him, and crew members.