August 4, 2011

An early wake-up call for breakfast, followed by our disembarkation briefing. It’s sunny and cold in the Barents Sea, much colder than it was at the North Pole, though we will arrive in Murmansk by midnight. After days of relatively calm water, the sea is very rough, and the ship is pitching and rolling amid huge swells. More than a few people are looking a little green around the gills, and walking through the ship is an adventure in keeping your balance. At times it approaches weightlessness, as the ship rides the crest of a wave and drops down suddenly.

Rough seas, mate.

As the afternoon wears on, the boredom that anyone may have experienced dissipates a bit under the assault of the rough seas. I venture out onto the deck for some photos and video, and it is one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen. The ship rides high on the waves and seems to take an elevator down one or two floors, tilting to each side. The wind blows hard and the spray seems like rain, yet the sun is shining brightly from the clouds on a patch of sea ahead. The ride is like an exhilarating roller coaster, the difference being that you’re safe on a coaster, and here you, or your camera, could easily get pitched overboard.

Before dinner we view the video presentation of our voyage, a copy of which we are given on DVD, then have a champagne reception with the captain and applaud the staff. Photos are taken, phone numbers and e-mail addresses exchanged, warm memories toasted, all to the lulling (or sickening, depending on your point of view) rhythm of the ship.

A pilot boat prepares to guide the ship into Murmansk harbor.

After dinner we head for our cabins to pack for the 6 a.m. wake-up call, then a good number of diehards make one last night of it in the bar.

We reach the Kola Fjord, where the land gradually gives way to a few dwellings. We have returned to civilization. In the evening, pilot boats pull alongside and crew members come aboard to guide us into the port of Murmansk. I notice something very strange – it is twilight, the first darkness we have seen in almost two weeks. At midnight it is gray and foggy. By 1 a.m. we are in port, and officials come aboard to check passports while the passengers sleep. They are there well beyond 3 a.m., when I finally give in and go to sleep. Outside, on the decks, there is an eerie silence, the water calm despite the immensity of the ships docked there. A few fishing boats prepare for the day’s work; for me, it’s time to go to sleep for a couple of hours before the 6 a.m. wakeup call.

The Kola Fjord and Peninsula, which leads into Murmansk.