Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Leaving Isfjorden and man over board

Saturday 15/10/2016  -3°C, 10m/s; Sunrise 10:29 – Sunset 16:55 
There’s quite a swell at the entrance of Isfjorden as we take our early morning leave and continue south. We help to raise the sails and it’s certainly quieter and smoother than last night. 
Dark until mid-morning and much colder, ice lies over the deck. The light changes fast. We travel in grey black sea, bruised pink clouds hang over snow-covered mountains, the usual mist drifting over peaks. We pass all those glaciers again, this time in reverse order. Sometimes it just doesn’t look real. 

Snow sweeps in covering the deck; we slip and slide across it and more sweeping ensues; an endless task. 
I retreat to a sheltered corner to draw in my small sketchbook - using snow to smudge the charcoal, chalk and graphite into the paper.

Afternoon. Chaos erupts; siren sounding, we stumble out into swirling snow.
‘Man overboard’ has been called; confusion. Then we’re told that Oscar’s machine to test for plastics in seawater that has been trailing behind the boat has come loose, disappearing into the sea, along with a life belt.
Oscar’s machine for collecting plastics - before it disappeared
The next few hours are spent with the Captain shouting angrily at us to look out to sea and find it, to treat this as a drill for a lost person (although given the sea conditions by then they would not have survived more than a few minutes). Tensions rise, it’s very cold, visibility is poor, there’s a general feeling that this is all pretty unnecessary, our captain has over-reacted, but captains rule their ships and demand obedience it seems. Our teams - starboard and port - take 20 minute turns to line the perimeters of the boat and peer into sea and mist and swirling snow, then retreat to the saloon to warm up. Miraculously, after two hours - it might be longer since by now I’ve lost sense of time - the life belt is finally recovered, but the machine has vanished to become part of the detritus in the Arctic sea and perhaps to wash up somewhere years later as with the discovery of Andrée’s discarded ballasts thrown into the air from his balloon long after he had disappeared into the void. By now it’s too dark to draw; I think we are all pretty fed up.
Increasing wind brings a greater sea swell - not good for the seasick sufferers. But it’s exciting and I sit out on deck and eat dinner while watching the boat pitching, waves rising and falling, sometimes breaching the side as the boat leans. Around me stand the suffering, hanging on, looking pale and wan, an occasional figure dashing for the side. With a slight change of direction and sails back up the pitching lessens and the sea and people calm. 

Later with a full moon shining over the sea there is music dancing on deck. I take to my bunk, falling asleep to the thump of revelers above my head, the moon bright through my porthole. We sail through the night.