Sunday, 21 February 2016

Arctic Planning


Thank you to all who have supported me by buying my small paintings. I have been overwhelmed by the speed at which they have been bought!

Thank you to:
Jayne Adkins, Katie Adkins, Clair Aldington, Kate Ashbrook, Geoffrey Bertram, Caroyln Black, Ed and Caroline Blockley, Jennifer Blockley, Kat Blockley, Lucy Blockley, Sam Blockley, Jackie Bradley, Fiona Campbell, Kate Cole, Amanda Constantinidi, Gillian Cooper, Kate Dooner, Michael Fairfax, Pete and Ann Fleming, Paul Garayo, Lesley Harry, Clive Hetherington, Winston Henry, Steve Henwood, Karen Holbrook, Ellie Jones, Chris Kendall, Simeon de La Torre, Wendy Lovegrove, Anne-Karin Magnussen, Don Mason, Tony and Leslie Mayell, Joanna Millett, Anne Morrison, Keith Nichols, Tim O'Grady, Christiana Payne, Julie Pearce, Alison Rees, Wendy Rhodes, Fiona Robinson, Dot Rowe, Lucy Sainsbury, Nicolette Simon, Jenny Slater, Julian Smith, Lesley Terry, Adrian Tinneswood, Karen Wallis, Deborah Westmancoat, Sarah Whittington, Angela Williams and Charlie Coombs. 
I hope that I haven't missed anyone.

Making progress with my plans 
My plans are developing – I’ve now booked my flights – Heathrow to Oslo and then on to Longyearbyen, Svalbard, where I will meet up with the other participant and then, having acclimatized, board the ice class Barkentine Tall Ship which will take us into the High Arctic for three weeks. 
I’ve been researching Arctic clothing – very important! And equipment I will need to take with me. As I want to consider the land and sea from the air: to visually map the space by taking aerial photographs/film to combine with drawings and paintings I need to decide how to do this. 

This is in part to pay homage to and reference Salomon August Andrée, a Swedish  engineer, physicist, aeronaut, and polar explorer, whose attempt in 1897 to reach the Geographic North Pole by hydrogen balloon ended in disaster.  
Andrée's polar balloon being made in Henri Lachambre's balloon workshop in Paris

Having made a previous attempt a few years earlier – which didn’t even get off the ground, SA Andrée and his two colleagues, photographer Nils Strindberg and engineer Knut Frænkel, finally embarked on this ‘brave and patriotic scheme’ on 11th July 1897. The expedition took off from Danskøya, an island in the west of the Svalbard Archipelago, in their silk balloon Örnen (The Eagle), packed with research equipment, a cartographic camera for aerial photography, food, clothing, homing pigeons, and even a boat. 

Taking off in the Örnen (The Eagle) - the beginning of the adventure

The Eagle moving northwards

They were never seen alive again.
What had have happened to the expedition was the subject of myth and rumour until, thirty-three years later in1930, the remains of the three men were found by a Norwegian expedition who were hunting seals and studying glaciers and seas in the Svalbard Arctic region. 

It seems that they had traveled in the balloon 475 kilometres (295 miles) before, tragically, the balloon was forced down by heavy winds and fog - rain turning to ice and forming on the surface of the balloon. 

Örnen (The Eagle) shortly after its descent onto pack ice. Photographed Nils Strindberg, the exposed plate was among those recovered in 1930.
They then survived for a few months, struggling across floating ice packs and reaching land, before finally perishing; an amazing achievement and also very sad that they then died. There are notes about the attempts to make land – the thought of the three pulling the sledges themselves, their progress slowed by ice drift and by the craggy surface the ‘dreadful terrain’ of the pack ice, is unbelievable. 

It must have been so hard. Despite reserves of food, and their shooting polar bears to supplement their diet, inevitably all this took its toll on them. The sheer effort of fighting to travel across moving and uneven ice that was as high as two story buildings in parts simply wore them out.

Killing a polar bear
Crossing a channel with the balloon-silk boat.

Strindberg on snowshoes with heavily-laden sled
It’s still not very clear what finally happened. Notebooks, diaries, photographic negatives, the boat and many utensils and other objects were recovered, and these tell parts of the story – there are even drawings of the hut they planned and even made to survive incoming the polar winter. Some of this documentation – even the printing of some of their photographic plates - is yet to be fully analysed. 
Plan of hut from Andrée's notebook
…the middle of the night… shadows on the glacier… the flaming outside…not of innocent white doves… carrion birds… bad weather, we fear… to escape… out to sea… crash… grating… driftwood…
(last entry in SA Andrée’s diary).

"Posterity has expressed surprise that they died on Kvitøya, surrounded by food," writes Kjellström. "The surprise is rather that they found the strength to live so long" ('Andrée-expeditionens män dog troligen av botulism', Läkartidningen, Vol 97, NR 12, 2000, p 54).

The bodies of the three explorers’ were taken back to Stockholm and were cremated in a funeral at which there was an oration by King Gustaf V, so in effect they were given a state funeral.

If you want to read more:

The Polar Centre at Grenna Museum, Sweden is mainly dedicated to Andrées polar expedition, and I would love to visit this sometime. The expedition is also featured in Spitsbergen Airship Museum in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, so I might get to see this.

The story of their amazing journey is told in the book The Ice balloon: S.A. Andree And The Heroic Age Of Arctic Exploration by Alec Wilkinson. Worth reading.

And I guess the lesson learned is - don’t attempt to fly to the North Pole in a balloon.

So I am trying to work out how to take aerial photographs and film – what to use – should it be a camera attached to a tethered balloon with helium… or a heli-kite - which also requires helium… or a small drone (which is less Romantic but probably more practical).

Any suggestions? Anyone had any experience of using any of the above?If anyone can put me in touch with people who have used any of the above and who might give me a few lessons, I'd be very grateful.

I’ve found a source of helium in Longyearbyen, but it’s pretty expensive. Svalbard is also a protected region, so I have to consider this in my planning – I don’t want to annoy the polar bears….