torstai 29. elokuuta 2013

August 29th 2013

What's On The Menu?

77° 32,401'N, 105° 37,480' E

About twelve hours later we woke up and had for breakfast bacon and eggs
with the glass of sparkling wine from the previous night (real sailors are
not too fussy!). For lunch, we had Finnish pancakes (= räiskäle) which we
can make because we have a proper räiskälepannu (I am sure you can figure
out what the word means), with ice-cream, peach jam, and the rest of
yesterday's sparkling wine. For dinner, I made sweet-and-sour chicken, and
for evening snack, Pekka made warm ham sandwiches with pickled cucumber
and onion rings sweetened with honey. As you can see, when we don't have
to concentrate on ice, we happily concentrate on filling our stomachs.

The wind is still blowing from the east, presently at a speed of about 25
knots, gusting 30. Since there is not much point in going against the wind
and probably also against a flow of ice coming from the Laptev Sea, we'll
stay here at least till tomorrow. I have already started planning today's

August 27th 2013

Too Much Ice!

While we were sailing along the Vilkitsky Strait towards Cape Chelyuskin,
the weather changed and we were soon engulfed in a fog that made seeing
difficult. As luck would have it, we sailed past Vega Point without seeing
it but we were happy that the passage seemed to be mostly ice-free. We
were talking about what we would do when at anchor: a warm shower, a
proper meal, a good night's sleep etc. But as we neared Cape Chelyuskin
and our anchorage, we saw through the fog big bergy bits on our right-hand
side and soon also in front of us. We first thought that the thick fog was
playing a trick on us, that it was causing some kind of a Novaya Zemlya
effect but the closer we got the bigger the ice grew. They were huge bergs
of old ice packed together along the shoreline totally blocking our way to
the anchorage. The sight made us shiver. It was so unreal or actually
surreal, like one of Max Ernst's more depressing paintings.

This photo was not taken at Cape Chelyuskin. At the time,
we were preoccupied with more pressing matters like getting out of there.

So far the sea had been calm but suddenly a swell appeared out of nowhere,
a powerful swell that started lifting the ice up and down, as it did our
boat, and we realized that we had to get out of there. We had only two
alternatives, either to go back the way we had come from provided that the
passage was still open behind us or to go north, and to the north we went.

The swell had been an early warning of a strong wind that started blowing
from the north-east and soon we were struggling against the wind amidst
floe and drift ice. Tacking is not one of Sarema's strong points but tack
we did for several hours until we reached the peninsula coast again. By
now, we were so exhausted and hungry that we let Sarema drift while we had
breakfast/lunch/dinner, we didn't know which as we had long since lost all
track of time.

After the meal, Pekka slept for an hour while I was on ice watch and then
it was my turn to take a nap. We agreed that Pekka would wake me up after
half an hour but instead of waking me up he started the engine and
continued our passage towards the Laptev Sea which was almost around the
corner. After sailing for about an hour, Pekka woke me up saying that he
needed to consult me. I was still half asleep when I went up and what I
saw made me exclaim “Missä helvetissä me ollaan??? Nyt viet meidät heti
pois täältä!!! (Roughly translated: “Darling, where are we? I don't think
we should be in a place like this!”). Which reminds me that I had thought
of teaching you some Tundra Nenets but as we won't have any time to visit
Nenets people and since Nenets belongs to the same Uralic Language Family
as Finnish, I have now decided to teach you some Finnish instead.

Now back to the scene above. I saw around us a zillion pieces of ice that
looked like broken crystal, hard, sharp, and transparent. It was clear
that we would never be able to sail through this closely packed field. So,
we carefully monitored our way out of the ice and luckily found a
protected anchorage in the nearby Amundsen Bay. I am now snugly curled up in
my sleeping bag with a glass of sparkling wine in front of me. For a
change, my hands are warm, my feet are warm, and since I don't have to be
on ice watch, I can finally close my eyes. Ah, life is sheer bliss

August 26th 2013

Zigzagging Through Ice Fields

Our next encounter with ice took place in the Nordenskjöld Archipelago. I
was taking a nap as the weather was good and there was open water ahead of
us. After about an hour, Pekka woke me up and told that he was unable to
find a passage through the ice field we had entered while I was asleep.

And true enough, there was ice all around us, all the way to the horizon
whichever way we looked. The good thing was that the sun was still shining
and there was not much wind which would have made our situation much more
serious. We proceeded gingerly amidst the ice, and after about three hours
of careful manoeuvring and numerous trials and errors, we finally managed
to find a passage to more open water.

As we were approaching the Oscar Peninsula, we found ourselves again in a
field of ice and this time the field continued for the next 30 miles. We
spent about six hours zigzagging between floe and drift ice and when we
got tired of the whole thing, we parked our good boat Sarema against a
floe of ice and had a lunch break. 

Then we continued zigzagging and finally managed to
find a more open passage again near the shore. After
this, we kept as close to the shoreline as possible but a few times we
were forced to turn out to the sea because our passage was blocked by pack
ice that stretched from a nearby island uninterrupted to the shore.

Since Saturday morning, we have had less than six hours of sleep but
fortunately we are now nearing Cape Chelyuskin, the northernmost point of
the Eurasian Continent, where we intent to anchor and rest for a while.

August 25th 2013

Towards Cape Chelyuskin

We left Dikson on Thursday morning the 22nd of August. For the first two
days we motor-sailed slowly towards north-east following the empty and
barren coastline and trying to spot polar bears or just any animal for
that matter but without luck. We proceeded at a leisurely pace making only
about 55 miles a day and anchored for the night as we were in no hurry.
However, on Saturday morning, we received an ice chart from Esko Pettay,
our man in Finland, and our vacation ended there and then.

Because of the continuous north-easterly winds, we were forced to sail
further north than we would have wanted to, and not to our great surprise,
during Sunday night, we found ourselves in the first of the several ice
fields we were to encounter during the next few days. This was very open
drift ice and we had no major difficulties finding our way closer to the
coast where there was a less ice-infested passage for us to follow.

perjantai 23. elokuuta 2013

August 20th 2013

Leaving Dikson

Today, after studying the latest GRIB files, we decided to leave Dikson.
This has nothing (or very little) to do with our impatience because from
Thursday onwards more favourable winds should be blowing for about two to
three days which might open a passage that could enable us to sail around
the Taymyr Peninsula. We will first stop at the abandoned Mikhaylov
Fishing Settlement, 75° 04,63' N, 86° 58,57' E, about 145 miles east of
Dikson, and then gradually move closer to the ice edge while waiting for
the ice to retreat. If we are (extremely!) lucky, we could be on the other
side of Cape Chelyuskin sometime next week.

P.S. We have now come to realize that it is also possible that the passage
is not going to open at all this season or that it will open so late that
we won't have time to sail through it. Our permit expires on the 25th of
September after which we have to be out of Russian territorial waters.
This means that we have about two more weeks to wait for the passage to
open, and if that does not happen, we have to turn back and sail to
Norway. We try not to dwell on this possibility too much!

August 18th 2013

No More Patience!

After waiting for two whole weeks, we have developed such negative
feelings towards our present surroundings that we should be ashamed. After
all, it is not Dikson's fault that we are trapped here, it is not Dikson's
fault that we are tired of waiting, and it is not Dikson's fault that we
would rather be anywhere else than in Dikson.

The weather has not lifted our spirits either. The temperature is now +6°
C, the skies are grey, and the direction of the wind is all wrong. The
wind should be from the south so that it would push the ice off the
passage but for the past several days it has been steadily blowing from
the east. And, according to the weather forecast, it will stay in the east
at least for the next three days.

We are not yet running out of time, but patience yes! For a fortnight now,
we have been downloading ice charts, studying weather forecasts, hoping,
and wishing. From Dikson, we still have a long way to go, thousands of
miles in fact before we'll reach our destination. We should be on our way
by now, not wasting our precious time here. But the fact remains that the
passage is blocked, and there is nothing we can do about it but wait!

torstai 15. elokuuta 2013

August 15th 2013

Restless in Dikson

We are still in Dikson waiting for the ice around Taymyr Peninsula to thaw or disperse enough so that we can continue our voyage. I must confess that after ten days in almost total idleness, we are gradually getting a little restless.

Although Dikson is a nice little town, there is not much to do here. For us, the town's most valued asset is the library and its friendly staff but the only service we are interested in, i.e. internet access, has continuously been in an ON - OFF mode, and regrettably mostly OFF.

The best way to pass the time in Dikson is to go fishing. But we can't do even that because every time we pass a local fisherman, he insists on giving us some or even all of his catch. Since coming to Dikson, we have had fish every single day, fried, grilled, smoked or raw-pickled. But I am not complaining by any means!

Our stay here has not been totally uneventful, however. The other day, a Russian ship anchored on the other side of the wharf, and we saw a group of people go ashore. Later the same day, we heard someone on the wharf call “Hyvää päivää!”. He was Pål from Norway, a (Finnish speaking!) member of a group of Norwegian and Russian scientists on a cruise commemorating the centenary of Nansen's expedition to the Kara Sea when he was investigating a trade route from Western Europe to the Siberian interior.

Despite all this waiting, there is one thing we won't have to wait for any longer and that is our paper charts! Three days ago, a Russian yacht named Apostol Andrey arrived from Archangel with the charts mailed from Finland at the beginning of July. Now, we finally have everything we'll need to traverse the Northern Sea Route, except for an open passage!

perjantai 9. elokuuta 2013

August 9th 2013

In Dikson, Russia's  Northernmost Town
73° 30,346' N, 80° 30,212' E

After a pleasant two day sailing from Novaya Zemlya, we anchored for lunch on the western side of the Arkticheskogo Island on the Kara Sea at 75° 08,347' N, 81° 53,482' E. On the way there, we had to zigzag through floe and drift ice that eventually blocked our way to the eastern side of the island where we had originally planned to anchor. In the afternoon, when the wind started picking up, we decided to continue to Dikson where we arrived the day after.

In Port Dikson, we were given a warm welcome by the Harbour Master, and to our great surprise in fluent English! He came to greet us and handed us a book on Dikson and a penant depicting the emblems of the town, a polar bear and the Big Dipper. The following morning, a car arrived to the wharf to take us on a sightseeing tour during which we went to the bank to exchange euros for rubles, to the grocery store to buy fresh produce, and to the Town Hall where Pekka and Pavel were interviewed by the local newspaper, after which we had tea with the Mayor.

After the tea, we went to see the school, the school museum, the brand new orthodox church built in 2012, the town art gallery, the library, several war monuments etc. It was a whole day excursion and a very interesting one at that!

During the Soviet Era, there had been more than 6,000 people living in Dikson, working both for the military/government and at a fish processing factory, a dairy farm, a trade and service centre etc. Today, the town has less than 650 inhabitants, almost all employed by the government.

The name Dikson (or Dixon or Dickson) was given to the town in 1894 after Oscar Dickson, a Swedish merchant who financed the Arctic expeditions of the Finnish explorer Baron Adolf Erik Nordenskjöld, the first to traverse the Northern Sea Route in 1878-9.

We have now been five days in Dikson and, officially, we are still not allowed to go ashore unattended. We also have to have our passport with us at all times. We asked the Mayor about this but all she could say was that this had nothing to do with the civil government. So it is the military that have the final say in restricting our movement. But why this is so, we do not understand.

In practice, we have interpreted this rule so that we can go to town to attend to any business that we deem necessary, for example, to use the library's computer to access the internet or to go to the grocery store to buy more ice cream. So far, this has worked fine!