Svalbard

Posts from Ben Jervey

(Not so) Great ways to start the day

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

[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.
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Chunk

By Ben // Saturday 29 Sep // 23:55:57 // View

The morning watch brought a welcome sight—ice. After five days of unbroken sea in all directions, a gleaming white horizon gave great joy, and yielded some early morning high fives. The spotting occurred squarely between the 6-8 and 8-10 watches, allowing for shared elation and many a slaphappy call of “chunk!” as actual bits of sea ice floated unassumingly aside the boat.

Here a touch of science is called for: the ice we’re seeing is “old,” probably formed two or three years ago up in the polar icecap. It’s then driven down the northeast coast of Greenland by northerly winds and the East Greenland Current, and generally (for the past few years at least) it breaks up somewhere in the neighborhood of Scoresby Sund. Which is where we’re heading. So the plan from here is to follow the ice south to Scoresby Sund, or wherever it’s loose enough (meaning about 10-percent ice cover) and make for the coast.

The blocks of floating ice are somehow captivating. It’s possible that this is because we’ve seen nothing but sea for five days, but I think there’s more to it. The history of this ice, formed years before up towards the pole, carries through it, and the pieces we see have broken from the main flow, weathered and shaped by warmer (it’s all relative) water, wearing their years of frigid floating. In these bits of ice we can feel the last gasp of the solid state.

[Note: I’d started and put on hold this post sometime midday Saturday. As I revisit it Sunday evening, and after spending more time with the ice all day Saturday, we’re feeling a bit different about ice. See subsequent post.]

Representative quote of the day: “It’s like someone has taken the most boring soup in the world, and added croutons.” –Marcus, on ice in the sea.

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Highlights from a Lost Day

By Ben // Friday 28 Sep // 21:40:42 // 4 Comments // View

These days at sea run together. Combined with the acute sense of seastupidity that now plagues the entire crew, we’re having a tough time collectively recalling one day from the next. It’s now Saturday night as I write, and even yesterday is hard to distinguish from today and the day that preceded it. A couple of highlights that do stand out:

— Waves rise as walls, aside the vessel, gathering and folding over themselves, flashing in a fleeting moment an iridescent tropical blue hue-the only touch of warmth in our cold, damp, dreary surroundings.

–A bunkbed discussion with Liam about what our friends back home in Brooklyn and Manchester respectively are up to, it being Friday night and all. We conclude, with some certainty, that they are likely having a better time than he and I, cooped up in our “zero gravity” cabin. We then figure that many of those Friday nights will be forgotten, but this one will likely be remembered for a lifetime. (We then agree that I’ll be visiting him in Manchester after the trip, and that we’ll be getting a proper drink on.on solid ground.)

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The White Horses of the North

By Ben // Thursday 27 Sep // 21:45:27 // View

Sickness arrives. It has been ushered into the Noorderlicht by white horses galloping across the sea.

She’s a salty sea and an unforgiving one. Every swell pitches the boat into a violent two-stroke rise and fall. A pattern emerges–heavy tilt to the starboard, snap back to vertical-but while your body attempts to learn this new gravity, the rhythm is disrupted, punctuated by an irregular swell or as the ship’s course slips from true (which happens aplenty with our amateur helmspeople). It’s a scene that’s part slapstick comedy and part poorly produced disaster flick. Glasses careen through the Noorderlicht’s upstairs salon, bodies flop, benches overturn. A bell hanging above the bar shows us hanging about 25-degrees from horizontal. At times (check that-most of the time) it feels like an amusement park ride that doesn’t end.

I’ve managed to avoid the fate of many of my companions. Despite the persistent low-grade threat of ill that sits in my gut (much worse when in the boat’s lower interior level), I haven’t succumbed to any real high-grade sickness. I don’t know whether to credit the copious consumption of raw ginger, my cabin’s fortunate position towards the middle of the boat (meaning a mere 10 foot vertical drop between swells rather than the 20 foot or so plummet felt by those in cabins towards the bow), or simply good fortune and lucky genetics.

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Bad sea

By Ben // Thursday 27 Sep // 08:25:47 // 3 Comments // View

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A salty sea this morning… bad, bad sea.
(Duration: 1.05)

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Rinse, Repeat

By Ben // Thursday 27 Sep // 02:24:57 // 2 Comments // View

More of the same, really.

(Well, not really, but the mere thought of composing-thoughts and words-wrenches my gut.  In fact, one of the oddest effects of life on the sea is how dumb one feels.  The way I figure it-a good 95-percent of one’s mind, that is normally free for thought and consideration, is now occupied by the most basic of actions, body movements that typically require only the subconscious.  As a result, we all become blabbering fools.  Well, for much of the time.  I for one have been ridiculously slaphappy, laughing at the dumbest of jokes, at fruit falling from a bowl and casting across the room, or at any of the dozens of remarkable falls by just about every crew member.)

So we’ll see how we’ll fill the time the next couple of days.  I spend the hours between watch wishing I could read the many great books aboard the boat, or the half-dozen plays I brought along, or that I could write something more considered than these half-minded  blog posts.  But I plead seastupidity (and a bit of sea sickness prevention, as I certainly don’t want to test my boundaries by spending too much time in front of small text, or a monitor, or a notebook).

Repesentative quote of the day:  “It really is about patience, isn’t t?  –Vikram on enduring this trip.

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Random thoughts while pondering which “o” in Noorderlicht is silent

By Ben // Tuesday 25 Sep // 23:03:57 // 5 Comments // View

–Our “watch” (6-8, am and pm) has quickly become my favorite part of the day. The company is top notch, and I never feel better on the boat than when I’m on the bridge. Rather than feel every pitch and roll in the gut-as happens below deck-working above, steering the ship or pulling sails in the crisp air and occasional snow, is something invigorating. It feels more of a surf, or a dance, than a helpless jostle and tumble, which is the best way to describe life in the cabin. Like a pair of shoes in the dryer.

–That said-there’s comedy, there’s high comedy, and then there’s watching a bunch of landlubbers try to deal with shuffling about the cabin. Stumbles and near-calamities are frequent (we’re talking every couple of minutes) and we’re averaging no less than 3-4 good spills a day as a crew. There will be bruises.

–We’ve chartered a slightly different course, responding to ice patterns and weather concerns. We’re no longer taking the 78th parallel straight across, but rather taking the hypotenuse straight to Scoresby Sund. The upside to this (besides not sailing into sea ice) is that we’ll have more time in Scoresby, the largest fjord in the world, and by all accounts (including Ko’s) is a place of unspeakable beauty.

Now, I must check out to revive the tumbling tummy with a breathe of fresh midnight arctic air above, and to glimpse a touch of the northern lights through the cloudy cover.

(But not before watching Liam land on his arse.)

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The arctic awe, gone

By Ben // Monday 24 Sep // 23:08:20 // 1 Comment // View

Well the melodrama of yesterday has subsided.  The arctic awe has given way to the reality of the place, and of this trip.

So we’re sailing, after nightfall, and we’ve cleared site of land.  Stomachs are somewhat woozy (no proper tossing yet, but it does seem imminent with certain clammy-faced crew members).

My shift “on watch” (above deck, steering the boat, watching for ice, and setting sails when need be) is 6-8 am&pm, and I’m feeling somewhat guilty about such a choice timeslot.  My watch crew-Vicky, Brian and myself-is also top notch (although I’d likely feel that way about any grouping I’d find myself in).   And we’ve got morning and evening twilight (and sunrise and sunsets, I suppose, if the clouds break).

Interesting realizations of the trip today, that this is no little jaunt around the arctic, but rather a pretty serious endeavour.  This somewhat humbling recognition was prompted by Ko (real name, real badass) answering my question about why he came onboard for this voyage, as he’s sailed and travelled the arctic plenty in the past, but has somewhat “retired” from the life of adventure.  Now Ko is our “guide” on this trip; he’s insanely knowledgeable about the history and science of the region, and has been to Greenland four times in the past, has been all over the arctic.  He seems to have as good a take on the North Atlantic as anyone out there.  So I ask him why he comes out of “retirement” for a trip like this, and he starts talking about the “adventure” of it, and how he wants to see how a little boat like ours-which, apparently, doesn’t normally take such a trip-is going to make the trip all the way to Greenland.  It’s a trip that Ko-who has done it all-has never done, and he’s in it for the adventure.

So, yes, we’re on an adventure-not just an arctic “experience.”  750 miles at least (as the crows flies, and our route certainly won’t be so direct), which will take 5 or 6 days, depending on the wind.  Now the thought of being on this boat for 5-6 days without even a view of land has caused at least a few of us a bit of jittery nerves.  Claustrophobia, seasickness, and boredom seem to be the main concerns.  (The last seems unlikely to me, but it is really difficult to read or write in this rolling cabin, before the stomach starts to wince.  And, that said, even within a parentheses, I must close the computer.)

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