Svalbard

(Not so) Great ways to start the day

By Ben // Sunday 30 Sep // 22:00:00 // 7 Comments

[Note to Mom: Don’t read this one.]

There are great ways to start the day (think: a hot cup of tea, the newspaper, a bicycle ride, SportsCenter, the face of a loved one) and then there’s standing harnessed to the bow of a lurching 100-year old schooner at 6am (which is more accurately about 3 or 4am since we’ve maintained the same “ship time” while crossing at least two time zones), peering through the pre-twilight dark and horizontally wind-driven ice, trying to distinguish potentially threatening icebergs (smaller than an oven: not dangerous; bigger than a refrigerator, definitely so; anything in between: your guess is as good as mine) from the white foamy churn of waves piling over themselves, and then seeing a massive gleaming mass roll over a swell at the limit of visibility, a glowing white chunk unmistakable for anything but a hulking solid state of H2O, and realizing with startling urgency—“shit, this is what I’m here for”—immediately turning with flailing arms and yelling at lungs’ top “BIG PIECE OF ICE” repeatedly so that Barbara (of the Noorderlicht crew, now helming the wheel through this tenuous stretch) will hear, apparently yelling loud enough to awaken a sleeping Vikram in his cabin below, and then watching with a certain helpless angst as the boat laboriously banks against its 8 knots of momentum and Force 6 tailwinds to port, and the broad, jagged white mass pushes closer, on a seemingly target-tracked course to the bow, before finally, after the slowest of seconds, the Noorderlicht pulls left, not sharply, but enough to let this iceberg—now obvious to be the size of a 15-passenger van, or maybe even a box truck—glide harmlessly off of starboard, an innocent chunk bobbing along, perhaps beautiful and awesomely intricate in another setting.

So, yes, on this Sunday, our opinion of ice has changed. Long gone are the warm, welcoming sentiments of yesterday. Ice is now our enemy, and we want desperately to be away from it. Which is getting trickier, as some odd developments and oceanographic anomalies have sort of pocketed us in a swooping arm of this ice flow, which we thought we’d soon be around, but which to the downtrodden spirits of many, curved east just about where we thought it’d end, so that we must now turn with it, backtracking in a very real sense. As I write late on Sunday evening, we’re traveling due north—which isn’t proving all that helpful to crew morale. The ice flow, it seems, has formed a large “reverse J-curve” at it’s southern terminus, and we’ve no choice but to follow it back east then north to wrap around and get back outside of it.

This is interesting for a number of reasons (if, meanwhile, totally confusing, causing more than a bit of anxiety, and plenty frustrating). To the best of the onboard oceanographers’ knowledge (and the very arctic-experienced ship’s crew), this sweeping tail of the East Greenland ice flow is totally unique. An anomaly.

So, as we backtrack, our sea-weary crew all figure out how personally to mentally accept one more (at least) day at sea. At the trip’s outset, when most folks had their minds (and hearts) set on a Friday arrival in Greenland, I put Sunday in my head as an arrival day, as I prefer to play the psychological game of preparing myself for the worst (well, not the best, at least) case scenario and enjoying a pleasant surprise rather than a disappointment. I didn’t shoot quite far enough.

Representative quotes of the day: “Well, you said we were heading to the ‘front lines of climate change.’ There’s the front line.” -Ben to David, on the odd appendage of ice flow.

“I wish ice were warm.” –Liam, on ice’s cruel tendency to cause discomfort while on watch.

Tags: Ben Jervey

7 Comments

  1. Angela and Dick Jervey Tuesday 2 Oct, 2007 // 13:39:11

    Ben,
    Of course you knew I would read it! This may be your most exciting adventure yet. I keep thinking I will get accustomed to your lifestye, but alas, this one is one for the memory books. So, the next time you are home I’m going to make you ravioli, meatballs, garlic bread, and top it off with a fine red wine…then I’m going to lock you in your room and never let you out again! You will get used to the quiet life here in Newburyport. Seriouly, you know that I love what you do and who you are. Hang in there, kiddo! P. S.We got the postcard yesterday. So did Gramma. LOve you.

  2. janet schroeder Tuesday 2 Oct, 2007 // 15:57:54

    Ben-(aka THE ATLAS)
    Well, obviously you have the coolest parents on earth! Now it all makes so much sense. And the ice (from here) looks truly inviting!
    You are the most adventurous soul I know…period.
    Patriots are undefeated at 4-0…but that will all change when they meet the Redskins on Oct 28! :-)
    Janet

  3. gail a. Wednesday 3 Oct, 2007 // 0:24:54

    Hi Ben!
    been following your adventures online and amazed what you’re going through — i expect some postcard-worthy pics and video clips… everything is well here with the team and hopefully will have some good news for you real soon!
    side note: Red Sox face the Angels starting Wed., and the Mets are out of the playoffs! oh well, i’m a Yankee fan anyway :)
    take care!

  4. Angela Boulart Wednesday 3 Oct, 2007 // 16:13:52

    W.O.W.

    You rock!

  5. Andrew D Wednesday 3 Oct, 2007 // 18:40:13

    jervey, your fascinating adventures are helping to break up the day-to-day here at the office. For a second there I was running the jib coasting along at 8 knots, spotting the ‘bergs and feeling the icy wind. Now I’m just back to answering phones. Keep the posts coming, and try to stay on your feet, can’t wait to see pics of Greenland! –Dombrow

  6. Amanda Fowle Thursday 4 Oct, 2007 // 20:26:11

    Sounds like you’re havin too much fun cuz 😉 can’t wait to hear more about it, and i hoping you’re thinking of your favorite cousin when you get to unclaimed portions up there :)

  7. Pedro Z Friday 5 Oct, 2007 // 19:41:57

    Ben, please let me know the date of your welcome home dinner. I still talk about the italian food (spagetti, meatballs, garlic bread) that your mom made us for us years ago at Middlebury. I am excited to keep reading your posts!

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