Everything north of Holland was new territory for me. I’d never seen the ice and could barely imagine it. When I asked a shipmate of mine what it was like, he said, you feel how old it is, how untouched. I was on watch when the first iceberg was spotted, just a shadowy, jagged outline far on the horizon. Within what seemed like minutes, the horizon was white and growing. We’d found the ice. The iceberg had come from the shadows and become a mountain of blue and white angles. It was mesmerizing. The bridge slowly became populated with people until nearly the entire crew was pressed against the windows or braving the frozen winds on the wings. I was in silent, elated awe.

John Quigley briefed the crew about the significance of drawing the Vitruvian Man with copper on an ice floe and how we would go about doing it. I found the concept quite profound. To recreate an imagine that so wholly represents the modern human era and have it melting off the ice into the sea, speaks directly to the world’s desperate need for a new paradigm. A paradigm where we are responsible for our actions, recognize the damage we are doing to the planet, and move toward some kind of harmony.

No one, including John, had drawn anything out of copper on ice before, let alone a giant ancient sketch, so we knew there would be some guess work.

Once an ice floe was selected, we came along side with the ship and moored into the ice. I can’t explain the feeling I had jumping out of the pilot door onto a huge piece of ice floating in the ocean. I couldn’t help but let out of burst of excitement when my feet landed on the ice. Then, the drawing started. First with the circle, then the square. Next came the grid and the outline of the figure. Looking at it from where we were, it appeared to be a giant mess of red irrigation flags and golden sand bags but John reassured us we were on track.

The next day we laid the copper. The entire crew was involved. Some were standing lookout on the bridge and in the crow’s nest, while the bulk of us were split into teams on the ice. Each team was responsible for a different body part, meticulously folding and shaping the subtle curves of the Vitruvian man. I have to admit, there were moments when I looked up and was struck still: The silence, the endless sky, the whiteness, the crystal blue melt ponds, the black feet of a nearly invisible ivory gull floating past... attempting to, somehow, take it all in and understand how it was that I could experience sensory overload and deprivation at the same time.

What seemed like suddenly, we were finished. All of the copper was laid. I kept trying to see the man from the ground, but I could only ever see pieces, never the full image. It was too big. I hurried to the crow’s nest, the highest point on the ship, and stuck my head out the window. There he was, softly melting away into the sea. I suppose this too speaks to our condition - that it is sometimes quite difficult to see the consequences of our actions unless we are willing to step back and look at them from a higher vantage point.

The Melting Vitruvian Man

Georgia is a deckhand aboard the Arctic Sunrise, at 80 degrees north.

Photos: © Nick Cobbing/ Greenpeace