Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Day on an Icebreaker

June 28, 2017

A Day on an Icebreaker

Before retiring last night, I forgot to set my alarm clock. But not to worry because I was awakened this morning by the sound of ice hitting against our hull. Taking a brief look outside my window, I was greeted with a beautiful sunny morning, but the sea was full of loosely floating ice. As is my habit, I quickly shaved and jumped in the shower only to be jarred by a ship-wide alert to the effect that a polar bear had been spotted just to the left side of the ship, the side on which we have our room.

Obviously, there was no time for me to throw on more clothes and get to the deck to take any pictures, but it dawned on me that I could simply take pictures through our window. Thus, grabbing my camera, and running in my birthday suit to the front window, I rapidly started to take pictures as best I could through the glass which had now become encrusted with salt. Then I remembered that I could perhaps still open the window in Lisa’s bedroom, and as our ship had slowed to match the pace of the polar bear, perhaps I could catch some pictures from the side of the ship with the window open. I was standing there literally freezing, but getting good pictures. After shutting the window and turning with camera in hand, I was greeted by the site of our female room steward standing in the doorway! Let’s just say that she received the “full Monty,” and leave it at that. I doubt that we will see her back in our room anytime soon.

The ship lingered for a while with the polar bear in the hopes that it might climb up on an ice flow where good photographs could be had. However, it seemed quite content just to walk along with the ship; however, we needed to move on. According to our expedition leader, it is really unusual to encountered such large amounts of floating ice this far south, and even more unusual to see our first polar bear this early in our voyage. I hope that this is a harbinger of good things to come.

We do have a television in our room, and so while getting dressed I thought that I would turn it on to see what was available. I know that we are in a situation of digital detox since we have extremely limited communication with the outside world. There is no cell phone coverage, nor Internet coverage. The ship, of course, can use satellite phones, but they are not always particularly reliable. Nonetheless, I thought that at least the ship would have a channel which showed a map of our location and information on our speed and so on. In point of fact, there is absolutely nothing that we can do with the television except stare at a screen of static. So much for that amenity.

After breakfast, I was very excited to have an opportunity to visit the bridge which is but one level above our room. I was amazed at just how large the bridge on this ship really is. Even though the door to the bridge was locked, as promised a gentle knock brought someone who welcomed me inside. During the time that I was there, I was the only passenger, and I was given free rein to walk the entire bridge being careful, of course, not to touch anything. I will admit that they have a very impressive array of equipment. Of course, no one was actually driving the ship, since all that is done automatically.

When that was over Lisa and I had to attend our mandatory helicopter safety drill. The ship is equipped with a rather large helicopter that they will use to transport all passengers on short sightseeing trips around the ship and across the glaciers if that opportunity presents itself. Even though the helicopter is designed to carry a large number of people safely, they will only fly six passengers at a time on each flight, thus ensuring that each passenger has a large window view in front of them. They were explaining to us the simple logistics involved in ensuring that all 113 passengers receive time in the helicopter. While we may do several flights during our cruise each one should last for no more than six minutes. Even at that pace, it will take the ship and its crew roughly 4 ½ hours to complete helicopter operations for everyone once they begin. Nonetheless, when you see the photographs that can be taken of the ship as it breaks through the ice and the sun coming across the water, you’ll take any helicopter time that they are willing to offer. To say that I am beginning to get really excited would be a mild understatement!

This afternoon, believe it or not, our group will be the first scheduled for an engine room tour. In all of the time that I have been aboard ships, I have never once been allowed to visit an operating engine room, much less an engine room on a nuclear vessel. Our passengers have been divided into six groups, and Lisa and I are in group number five. Our group, however, will be the first one to have the opportunity to visit the engine room. They will then rotate this opportunity through the other groups during the remainder of the voyage. I know that I am going to have some significant difficulty climbing up and down, but even if I just get to stick my head in, it will be a really exciting moment that I cannot wait to share.

For your information, I did check the distance between our departure point at Murmansk and the North Pole which turned out to be 2,700 miles. I also checked to see how far we were from Kansas City, and a rough estimate is around 3,700 miles.

More to follow tomorrow, so stay tuned.


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