July 30, 2011

An ocean voyage can be thrilling, but when the tides are against you, it can be a long, monotonous haul.

Another long day at sea. Fog and ice, nothing but, and ice crystals falling like snow. Searching, searching, searching for something else, but only the occasional bird, which means there must be some land somewhere out there. Sometimes the ice is dirty, brown or black, which also means it must have broken off from land and drifted away. Or a piece may be sticking up, and the shadows make it look like a seal, or something living, a piece of flotsam, anything, but it is nothing but ice.

After breakfast we have a lecture by one of the ship’s geologists, Susan Currie, who tells about the formation of the Arctic and the continents. In keeping with the varied and fluid nature of the region, there are four poles:

  • Geographic North Pole – 90 degrees North, the northern axis of rotation of the earth.
  • Magnetic North Pole – where the compass needle points. It is moving and is currently in the Arctic Ocean off northern Canada.
  • North Geomagnetic Pole – the north end of the axis of the geomagnetic field surrounding the earth and extending into space. It is where electrons from the sun are concentrated, producing the Aurora Borealis. Located over northwest Greenland.
  • The Pole of Inaccessibility – the farthest point from any land, about 1,100 km away, in the Arctic Ocean near the International Dateline.

There are also three methods of defining the Arctic:

  • The geographic definition is everything bounded by and north of the Arctic Circle. This eliminates places such as parts of Greenland and Siberia that are frozen and should be included.
  • The tree line or line of permafrost. This also excludes places that should be included.
  • The definition most geologists use is the points at which the average July temperatures do not exceed 10 degrees C.

On several afternoons there have been informal Russian lessons, attended by a few German and Taiwanese women. Today there have been a few highlights on the social calendar.

Captain Dimitri Lobusov

First is a reception in the quarters of Captain Dimitri Lobusov. He is a large, bearded man, exactly the type you’d imagine to be piloting a nuclear icebreaker. We have a glass of wine and he answers questions through an interpreter and poses for pictures.

In the evening the World’s Most Northern Charity Auction takes place, to raise money for Arctic- and polar bear-related charities.

Jan Bryde, our expedition leader, conducts it with all the skill of an experienced auctioneer, as well as a good deal of humor. He frequently asks survey questions of the passengers, who raise their hands, Simon Says-like, only to find he has tricked them into bidding.

Numerous items are sold, such as oil paintings done on board, a model of the ship and a captain’s hat, which also includes the opportunity to steer the ship for an hour. An iPod Nano with pictures and music heard on the cruise goes for 2,000 euros; the final and most lucrative item is a chart of the voyage, done by the ship’s artist, which a young Russian oilman obtains in a bidding war with a Swiss woman for the staggering sum of 24,000 euros. In all, the auction nets 47,000 euros.

This chart of the voyage was auctioned off for 24,000 euros.

After dinner, a dance is held in the aft saloon lounge, with music by the pianist-singer-DJ Benny. A few waltzes and tangos are sprinkled in among the oldies and contemporary dance music, and the party goes on till the wee hours.

I have met so many interesting, well-traveled people from so many different places on this voyage, with such a wide variety of experiences, that telling all their tales would take a long, long time.