Going slowly…

by Guest Blogger

July 11, 2005

Greetings once again from the ice.

It’s 9 p.m. on July 8th and everyone keeps

asking when we are going to arrive at our next stop, the Zackenberg

Environmental Research Station.

We left Ittoqqortoomiit three days ago

and at that time, our ETA Zackenberg was tomorrow morning. But upon

departing Ittoqqorttoomiit the ship encountered an unusually heavy

amount of pack ice, and that delayed our progress quite a lot. At one

point the ship traveled six miles in six hours. In open water we cruise

along at nine or ten knots per hour, so the ice definitely thwarted our expected arrival time.

Not only has there been more heavy ice than expected, but we’ve also had

a lot of what we call “our favorite three-letter f-word.” FOG. At one

point today the visibility from the ship was a mere 250 meters, and with

fog like that, finding an open lead in the ice is virtually impossible.

Likewise, there’s no need to climb 11 meters up into the crow’s nest for

a better view of what’s out there because there is no view, no matter

where your viewpoint is. That makes the going even slower.

Even though the ice hampers our progress, I still prefer to be in it

than in open water. I prefer the more noisy slamming, scraping and

jarring motion of the ship in the ice to the rolling and pitching of the

ship when it’s in open water. I don’t get seasick when the ship is in

the ice, and since my personal goal is to be on board for two months

without puking, you can understand my fondness for it.

But it’s more than just avoiding seasickness. There’s a lot to see and

observe since the ice is incredibly diverse in terms of each floe’s

size, shape, thickness, hardness, age, color, and how much of the

ocean’s surface is covered by it. You never know what you’re going to

see when you look out a porthole. The ship can move from thin to heavy

ice cover in what seems like a moment.

But the best part of being in the ice is spending time in the bridge

watching the captain, Arne, maneuver through it.

Moving a ship through the ice looks like playing chess, Pacman, and

bumper cars, all at the same time. The ice is dynamic and seems alive,

as if every floe is a member of an opposing team that’s trying to

outsmart you. Or the ice is a trickster that lays out a set of clues and

then sits back, waiting to see how you will react.

Of course I write this as a layperson, aspiring cryophile (if that’s

even a word) and casual observer. I mean, Arne has been the master of

ice-going ships since the 1980s, and when asked the number of times he’s

piloted ships to the Antarctic and Arctic, he gets a puzzled look on his

face, scratches his head and then thinks about it for a while before

estimating he’s been to Antarctica 16 or 17 times and to the Arctic

around ten times. Arne is a

zen ice master and incredibly good at what he does, but above all else,

he is very humble and modest about his experience, accomplishments and


At any rate, it’s been a few days since my last update so I figured I’d

spend some time in the bridge tonight watching Arne “do his thing.” My

goal was to ask him questions so I could get an understanding of the

various levers, screens, dials and other tools he uses to make his way

through the pack ice. But in the end, I just don’t have the mental glue

for putting it all together. It’ll take a lot more observation and

understanding before I can wrap it all up into something that’s coherent.

So I’ll tell you what I do know: I have no idea when we will get to

Zackenberg Station. And neither does anyone else. We will get there

when we get there, and it’s a matter of how well Arne can play the

chess/Pacman/bumper car game against the opposing teams of ice and fog.

I have no doubt we’ll be there soon.

– Melanie

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