24 juli 2013

rolling around

We just left the inspiring and magical Frans Jozef Islands behind us and are on our way to the normal world of Murmansk city. We said goodbye to the inaccessible shores of the impressive glaciers and the basalt mountains, to the polar bears that were mostly fast asleep, to the walruses that curiously swam around us, the many birds on the birdrocks and the narwhale that didn't show itself and to the ten people we met on the two stations that were still run (more on that in the next update). We are back on the wide open Barentz sea.

It's unbelievable what the ocean does to you body. The moment you enter the ocean and big rolling waves make the boat go up and down. Up front, where my own bed is, you feel your body being lifted from the bed every time the boat goes down again. It's as if your bed is put inside some rollercoaster. And it doesn't last for just a few minutes, it lasts for days...

Walking is difficult, dressing is almost impossible. The only comfortable position is actually either in your bed (despite being turned upside down all the time) or outside behind the steering wheel. But after half an hour the steering wheel position start to feel less comfortable as well because of the cold and wet wind blowing in your face and your feet slowly getting cold. And these are the phenomenon's which are actually quite comfortable, while I did not mention sea sickness yet. The stomach has no idea what's happening and why you have to be up in the air constantly and you can't just sit still. For some people on board the first few days are spend in bed.
I'm lucky I don't feel any sea sickness at the moment, and still, it feels like I ran a marathon the last few days. As soon as we hit the ocean waves, my body decided it was in big need of sleep and I could not keep my eyes open. The days consist of a four hour watch, then sleeping and eating. But then again; don't get all the up to the Arctic in a day!

Luckily it's only another four long days till we reach the shore again.

19 juli 2013

Up 80 degrees North

We've been standing outside in the cold and light snow for quite some time now. It's still 50 miles till we are there, but our anxiousness to see some land is unstoppable. But nothing can be seen. Thick clouds of fogs keep us from seeing any further than 250/300m. A tiny iceberg appears at the horizon and slowly drifts by. As we are going higher up the North we see more and more of them. Besides the temperature dropping from plus 25 degrees to around zero degrees, the icebergs are another sign of us getting closer to the Arctic and Frans Jozef Islands. We all read about the sailing vessels the '√čira' and 'Westward' and many others that sailed up here in the 1890's looking for new land and adventures, no idea if there was any and where to look for it. Now we find ourselves staring into nothingness not sure when to expect what (fortunately we do have a map which show us that there actually is land quite nearby thanks to these adventurous minds 120 years ago). We sit and wait excited and eager to see land after 7 long days and nights at sea. The midnight sun tries to sneak through the thick foggy clouds and gives a beautiful sight. And then there's land. The fog slowly opens up as if it was a curtain on a stage and shows us Frans jozef land. It seems that the closer we get, the more we get to see. It's a beautiful sight to have the bleak midnight sun and the foggy clouds around the impressive glaciers and black basalt cliffs rising up from the sea. What an impressive entrance to this faraway land where nature reigns. Beautiful sculptures of ice drift by while we drop our anchor and walruses curiously swim around us to see what's happening. Meanwhile the clouds break open and the glacier right in front of us reflects the bright light back to us. The sky is an constant changing mixture of blue skies, white and dark clouds and foggy horizons which makes an impressive show to watch. After half an hour we see a big carpet of ice coming towards our boat. Luckily the big growlers stay behind or go around and we can just enjoy the sight and the ticking sounds of the ice bumping against our steel ship. Combined with the sculptures that simply drift by while you look outside and the curious walruses makes that you feel how close nature is. It makes all of us immediately forget about the long 7 days at sea,. It's time to enjoy Frans Jozef Land. (Send by satellite connection, so no pics yet!)

7 juli 2013

The Adventure Race part two

The first stage of our "Adventure Race" has ended. From many boats the crews are changed and the boats are filled again with groceries, new guest, diesel and water. Daniil, the big organizer from the yacht Piotr I tries to organize everything for all the boats. There are some Russian students standing on the quay that are willing to give us a help translating or to go shopping with us and help us carry the 20 bags full of food we have to get. They are quite surprised when we take all the milk packages that are on the shelves and leave none for the other customers. No more milk, no more juice, no more toilet paper, it's all on the Anne Margaretha.

The water we get from the restaurant next to us. The yellow hose coming from the kitchen look promising, but when we turn on the tap, it comes out drop by drop. That's gonna take a long time before we have 2000 liters of water. I guess we'll just have to skip some showers...who needs a shower anyways when you're on your way to the Arctic?

At first the diesel would come at night. Why it would come by night nobody knew, and whether it would come by boat or by truck was also not known. We call it the Russian style; everything is possible, let's keep all options open. Around 10 o'clock a van arrived on the quay. The back of the van was a bit low to the ground and it seemed quite heavy loaded. The chauffeur got out and opened the back and indeed, it was the diesel truck! In the back of his truck there were two 1000-liter containers full of diesel. With the conditions of the roads in this country, I am happy I don't have to drive that car around filled with fuel.
Anyways, the Anne Margaretha took all the diesel and the other boats had to wait for the second round and share it between 8 boats. It's a matter of big diesel tanks versus small diesel tanks, and the big boats versus small boats.

According to the weather forecast there's no ice on our route for now, we are filled up with food, we are fueled up with diesel and we just have to be sparse on water.  Franz Josef, we are on our way! Up North to the polar bears, the walrus, the snow and ice.

More adventures to come in a few weeks time.

And I uploaded new pictures! check the link on the right.

5 juli 2013

a different world

We enter the lock from lake Onega. It's an impressive lock with high walls that rise 15m above us. It's actually a double lock, so as soon as the first lock has filled itself with water, and the doors open, we sail directly into another one to rise another 15m into the Russian Karelian landscape. Obviously reasons to gat out the camera and shoot some nice pictures.
While I look through my camera searching for a nice shot, I hear someone shout out from up above on the lock. There's a man standing in uniform with a kalasnikov on his back. He gestures to me to put my camera down.
Through this lock we enter the Belomorsk-Baltika Kanal, better known as the White Sea canal. It's a canal that connects the White sea up in the North of Western Russia with Lake Onega and that creates a direct route to the south of Russia and the Baltic Sea.
During the whole route of the Belomorsk canal, which is about 260 km long, we are not allowed to take pictures in the locks, we are not allowed to go off our boats in the lock, for example to help other boats mooring, and we are not allowed to go ashore unless we have special permission through Peter I to moor for the night. But don't wander off too far!
Stalin created it. He decided it was necessary to have this connection in order to have a route from north to south without having to go all the way around Norway to get to Europe and beyond. It took Stalin only one and a half years to have it built and in a country where the ground is frozen 8 months a year and where temperatures get below minus 30 degrees Celsius, it's quite a challenge to dig a canal within such a short time.
The story goes that about 200.000 people died while digging this canal. Others say it were at least 1 million. There came from the Gulag camps were they were put for unknown reasons. The canal is still there, and there celebrating it's 80's 'birthday'. But it's quite a thing to celebrate.
There are a lot of mysteries in this country. A lot of things are not being told and are not being shown. Us travelling through this area is apparently a special gesture for which, according to the gossip coming from different boats, Putin personally gave permission for.
I'm not sure what is true and what's not. I see the people in the villages smile and wave at us as we sail by with our parade of boats. There's not many foreigners coming through this area and it is nice to see the joy in the people's faces. But on the other side there are the crooked wooden houses along the river, the worn down villages where it looks as if there was livable society one day, the security along the canal and the history that lingers over this area.
While travelling through this area I get more and more questions. But questions are not to be asked too much in Russia. Did you know that you can't get a truly detailed map of Russia?
In Russia there's a tradition, a practice and a climate of secrecy that rule over the political and social life (Kapuscinski, Imperium, p. 202). And even though Kapuscinski wrote this twenty years ago, this doesn't change within a few years time; it still lingers on in people's habits and tradition. There's something about the Russian people. Maybe the language barrier doesn't help either, but 8 out of 10 times you get an ugly face to start with.
It intrigues me and it's one of the reasons why I find Russia so interesting. You can't grasp it, you don't know and you're not gonna find out. I see a challenge in trying to get the grumpy face to a smiling face.
"Dit is precies de situatie die veel mensen uit het westen radeloos maakt, aangezien zij geneigd zijn om elke werkelijkheid zo te behandelen als deze hun toeschijnt te zijn: doorzichtig, leesbaar en logisch. Met zo'n filosofie raakt de westerse mens die in de sovietwereld terecht komt elk ogenblik de vaste grond onder zijn voeten kwijt, tot iemand hem duidelijk maakt dat de werkelijkheid die hij ziet, beslist niet de enige is en zeer zeker evenmin de belangrijkste, dat hier een veelheid van sterk uiteenlopende werkelijkheden bestaat, die in een monsterlijke en ontontwarbare knoop met elkaar zijn verstrengeld, en dat de essentie van deze knoop is dat hij vele vormen van logica bezit: een zonderlinge versmelting van de tegenstrijdige logische systemen, die door hen die ervan uitgaan dat er maar een logica bestaat, ten onrechte vaak onlogisch of alogisch wordt genoemd."
(Kapuscinski, Imperium, p.237)