perjantai 9. elokuuta 2013

maanantai 5. elokuuta 2013

July 31st 2013

Cape Zelaniya
76° 56,928' N, 68° 34,299' E

This day restored my faith in the future of Russian Arctic and in the
Novaya Zemlya National Park in particular. Today in Cape Zelaniya, we
visited an old polar base founded back in the 1930's and closed down in
the 1990's just as the rest of the polar stations. But the difference here
was that, unlike the bases we had visited in Franz Joseph Land, this was
exactly what I had imagined and hoped a so-called polar station to be,
people actively cleaning the surroundings, scientists of different fields
studying the environment, and the team working and living together almost
like a family.

We came to Cape Zelaniya to collect our paper charts which were never
delivered to Franz Joseph Land. But, surprise, surprise, the charts were
not here either. After a few satellite phone calls we found out that the
ship, Ivan Petrov, from Archangel which was supposed to bring them had
been to the polar station about two weeks ago but had not left our charts
here because their orders were to hand them over to us. And since we had
not been here at the time of their short visit, they had taken the charts
with them. Where our charts are now, no one seems to know. I'm sure you
can image what we think about all this!

Despite our disappointment because of the undelivered charts, we spent a
wonderful day exploring the station and its surroundings and in the
evening, after the crews had been to the sauna/banja, we were entertained
by its staff. The atmosphere was so warm and inviting that it almost made
me forget the depressing state of the polar stations we had seen in Franz
Joseph Land. Irina, Tamara, Ivan, Michael, Igor, Igor and last but not
least, Alex, our guide and interpreter – Spasiba!

Tomorrow, we'll weigh anchor and continue south towards Dikson and finally
to the Northern Sea Route aka the North East Passage. Leaving Novaya
Zemlya behind marks the end of both our Russian Arctic Sightseeing Tour
and this blog.

July 30th 2013

Finding Fuel
76° 13,535' N, 62° 41,588' E

On the 27th, when Lady Dana had arrived, we joined forces and went to look
for fuel in our home bay, but without luck. The next day, our intention
was to walk over the hill to the next bay which is also part of the
deserted polar station but because of the polar bear alert, we decided to
motor there instead. This would be our last chance to find fuel which is
more precious than gold in the Arctic.

We checked every barrel and tank on the beach but in vain, they were all
either empty, filled with dirty oil or full of water. Next, we climbed up
the hill where there used to be a radar station, and there behind some
storage buildings were six huge tanks partly buried in gravel, all empty
except for the last one that had at least fifty tons of fuel, clean and
pure as gold!

Both vessels motored there the following morning and anchored in the bay
at the back of the station which was closest to the fuel tank. And then
the work began. The tank was at least one hundred metres above sea level
on top of a steep slope. The slope was covered with loose gravel which
made climbing up extremely difficult but there was also a big patch of
snow which proved to be the best place to both climb up and to quickly
slide down, especially when a polar bear was seen on the site.

The equipment used for collecting fuel included about a hundred metres of
hose, also a hundred metres of rope, and 32 jerry cans. The fuel was
transferred from the tank through the hose into the jerry cans which where
then tied to one end of the rope and slid down onto the beach. There were
three men working at the edge of the slope filling the jerry cans, one man
was standing on the slope to shift the cans from the gravel onto the snow,
and two men on the beach to receive the cans and take them to the boats by

It was hard work but well worth our while. At the end of the day, Lady
Dana had filled their tanks with about 800 litres and Sarema with 1000
litres of fuel - every drop free of charge!

maanantai 29. heinäkuuta 2013

July 28th 2013

Latte the Polar Bear Watch Dog

Next morning we went ashore to explore the station and its surroundings.
It was an exact copy of the stations we had visited in Franz Joseph Land:
buildings in ruins, rusty vehicles, all types of building materials
rotting away, furniture, tools, dishes, shoes, mouldy clothes, film reels
etc. thrown all over the place as if in a rage.

The minuscule flora that grew amongst all this scrap was a wonderful
contrast to the otherwise depressing sight. I walked around taking photos
while Pekka wandered from one building into another collecting all kinds
of interesting things that we later tried to identify.

At some point I realized that Pekka was nowhere to be seen or heard. I
also realized that I didn't have anything to protect myself in case a
polar bear would come into sight. Pekka had both a flare gun and some flares
with him whereas I only had my camera to shoot with. 'Pekkaaa, where are
you!' I hollered, and after a while I saw him come out of a building at
the far end of the village. We now divided our anti-polar bear weapons and
with a flare in my pocket I happily continued taking photos. The following
night, a big, brownish polar bear was seen walking on the beach!

Lady Dana, the Polish boat that intends to sail both the Northern Sea Route
and the Northwest Passage this summer, had arrived in the same anchorage
and, in the morning of the 27th, we left together for a nearby bay, also
part of the polar station, in search of fuel which we had not managed to
find in our 'own' village. 

We returned in the afternoon (after a successful trip of which I will tell you later) 
and I was preparing dinner when I heard Latte barking. I went up to see what was 
happening as there shouldn't have been anything to bark at except for a polar bear, of
course. And there he was, a beautiful and deadly polar bear standing on
the waterfront staring at us and sniffing the air. When Latte started
barking even louder, the bear looked startled and backed off to the nearby
buildings. There he first rose to his hind legs and then dashed
off behind the buildings.

In less than an hour, the bear was back on the beach. Latte was barking
again but this time the bear didn't seem to be scared. He came to the
waterfront staring at us, stayed there for a few seconds as if wondering
what to do next, and then again disappeared behind the buildings. Seeing
the bear so close I understood what an idiot I had been walking around on
the beach without even as much as a flare to protect myself.

For the rest of the evening, Latte and I, with my camera ready, were on
continuous polar bear watch but we never saw the bear again. As we had
decided to go and get fuel from the other part of the polar station, the
following morning we weighed anchor and moved to another bay, this time 
hopefully polar bear-free!

July 25th 2013

Novaya Zemlya, Russkaya Gavan' Gulf
76° 11,452' N, 62° 36,001' E

On the 23rd, we said farewell to Franz Joseph Land, its beautiful islands,
icy passages, smelly walruses, and evasive polar bears. In the afternoon,
we crossed the latitude of 80 degrees north and were back on the map

Sailing totally without charts had been quite a tiring experience. The
paper charts mailed from Finland to St. Petersburg had not been delivered
to Franz Joseph Land as promised, and our electronic charts were totally
blank above 80 degrees. So we didn't know where we were, where we had come
from, or where we were going to and, especially for Pekka, this was
extremely frustrating. We have now promised ourselves that it was
absolutely the last time we would be so totally dependent on other people!

Franz Joseph Land disappeared in the mist as we continued our passage
towards the island of Novaya Zemlya. The mist eventually turned into a
thick fog that persisted for the following two days we spent at sea. When
we neared Novaya Zemlya, the skies finally cleared and we could see in
front of us rolling hills, bare, brown and desolate, except for the sad
remains of a polar station deserted back in the 90's. This was our
destination, a place where we would be staying for a while, to wait for the
ice situation on the Kara Sea to develop and to get fuel provided that we
can find barrels that have not yet rusted away.

keskiviikko 24. heinäkuuta 2013

July 23rd 2013

At Anchor
80° 32,042' N, 54° 16,902' E

The following morning, Pekka dinghied to Anne Margareta to take some
photos of their charts as our intention was to stay behind while the other
two boats would continue their journey. I had just undressed and was about to
wash my hair when I heard a BANG from outside: the ice had found us once
again. I really don't know what is wrong with our good boat Sarema but she
acts like a magnet drawing ice towards her whenever we are at anchor. So I
quickly dressed up again, thankful that I hadn't had time to shampoo my
hair yet, and hurried outside with a long pole to push the ice away.

While Pekka was still onboard Anne Margareta, the wind changed its
direction and started blowing straight into our bay pushing more and more
ice towards us. Thus, the only option left for us was to leave with the
other boats and continue about 70 miles further south-west where there was
supposed to be a safe anchorage.

Early next morning, we arrived in a huge bay which had a gigantic glacier
on one side and a magnificent bird cliff at its mouth. The problem here
was that the end of the bay was full of drift ice and growlers that
prevented us from anchoring. However, we found a decent anchorage near the
bird cliff and spent the night there. Next morning, Anne Margareta and
Lady Dana weighed their anchors and left but this time, we stayed behind.
Sailing in company had been an interesting experience but not quite our
thing. Although, I must stress that there was nothing wrong with the
company, on the contrary!

Now we are finally on our own and more than happy to be so. With the help of
the copied charts, we will be able to negotiate our way through the rest
of the archipelago and continue to our next destination, the island of
Novaya Zemlya.

July 20th 2013


From the Polar Station, it took us almost 24 hours before we reached our
next stop. We first motored through narrow sounds where occasionally floe and
drift ice made our passage difficult, and then continued along wider passages
where we could admire magnificent glaciers glowing white and turquoise in
the light of the midnight sun, forever present!

When we finally arrived in our destination, there were two polar bears on
the ice covering the end of the bay. Of course, this was exciting but
photographing-wise it was a real waste of digital space: they were much
too far away to be seen properly even through the binoculars.

Next morning we left for the north. Our intention was to sail to the
northernmost anchorage in Franz Joseph Land and also visit Cape Flora, the
place where Nansen had wintered in 1896. However, we never made it because
of the weather forecast. 

There was a low pressure area approaching from the South-West with 20 to 30 knot 
winds which quite probably would push ice into our passage. So when we had 
reached 81° 33,847' N, 58° 23,815' E, we did a U-turn and headed back to the 
Polar Bear Bay which we thought would be safe in these weather conditions.

July 19th 2013

Saving the Sarema!

From the Walrus Bay, we sailed only for a few hours to another, much
bigger Polar Station, this one still in use for meteorological studies. In
the past, there had been more than two hundred people living at the
station all year round but, according to the Station Head, then came
Glasnost and Perestroika and the station's downfall began. 

And what a downfall it had been: the whole place was like a giant scrap yard with
thousands of rusting barrels everywhere, some empty, some still leaking
chemicals, rusty vehicles, a bust aeroplane, dozens of buildings decaying
around once a beautiful lake, now full of waste. What a sad, sad place!

We were told that this station too would be tidied up and stored as a
museum but where is all that money coming from? And how many years would
it take to clean up a place like that, several decades at least would be
my guess!

While still anchored in front of the station, Lady Dana's captain
contacted us by VHF because he was worried that our boats were too close
to each other. While standing in their cockpits and discussing the matter,
the captains came to the conclusion that there was nothing to worry about.

Obviously the captains had not bothered to look around them as, about five
minutes later, we heard someone shout SAREMA, SAREMA!!! and when we rushed
up on deck, we saw a big bergy bit leaning against our bow.

By then, there were already two dinghies trying to push the ice away from
us, and soon a third dinghy joined in. Together they managed to turn the
iceberg so that it no more threatened our anchor. As I was watching the
ice slowly sliding past us, it suddenly hit me: What if we had been alone?
Oh yes, sailing in company does have its benefits!

July 18th 2013

In the Walrus Bay

From the polar station, we continued further north. Our next anchorage was
a pleasantly shallow bay where we anchored in only eight metres of water.
This is quite rare in the Arctic where it is more than usual that you have
to anchor or at least try to anchor in 20 to 30 metre depths. Another
rarity, at least for us, were the walruses that called this bay their

When we were on our way ashore to see the walruses closer, there was a
group of them heading out to sea, and they were exactly between us and the
shore. As walruses with their long and sharp tusks can be dangerous when
threatened, we thought it wise to board Peter I which was nearby. When the
animals had proceeded further away, we continued ashore where we were once
again protected by our friendly park ranger who had come with us here from
the Polar Station.

We carefully neared the walruses, some of which were dozing on land and
some on fast ice, and managed to get so close without disturbing them that
taking decent photos was possible. This meant that one of the two goals I
had set for this part of our voyage had been achieved!

July 17th 2013

Shaking  All Over

After six days at sea accompanied by northern fulmars, kittiwakes,
dolphins, and a curious minke whale, we found ourselves amidst four
trawlers. About an hour later, Sarema started shaking violently. What was
wrong, was it the engine or the propeller shaft?? Since both seemed to be
all right, it had to be the propeller although we couldn't see anything
through the dark water. Since there was nothing we could do, we continued
sailing hoping that the shaky condition of our good boat Sarema would not
deteriorate any further.

Two days later in the evening, we dropped anchor at 80° 19,090' N, 52°
51,887' E with the wind howling in the rigging, and the summer's first
snowflakes flying in the air. The following morning, we woke up to a day
of brilliant sunshine and saw what a beautiful place we had come to. After
hurried breakfast, we motored to the other side of the bay where we
anchored near an old Polar Station that would eventually be turned into an
open air museum. Our guide was a Franz Joseph Land Nature Reserve Park Ranger
who showed us around the place at the same time guarding us with his 308
Winchester against any hungry polar bears that might be too tempted to
leave such a big bunch of fresh meat alone.

After the sightseeing tour, Pekka went to the sauna which the park ranger
had been kind enough to heat for us. And then it was time to solve the
problem with our propeller. The Polish boat Lady Dana had scuba diving
gear and a dry suit, and Daniel, the captain of Peter I, although having
very little diving experience, was courageous enough to volunteer for the
job. The dry suit was far too small for Daniel, and a team of several
hardy men was required to get the suit on him. When even the smallest of
the holes between Daniel and the dry suit had been blocked with ducting
tape, Daniel dived into the freezing water and freed our propeller from a
huge plastic bag that was wrapped tightly around it.

During the propeller project, the wind had picked up unnoticed. When the
three dinghy loads of Daniel's assistants were leaving, we heard someone
yell that we were dragging our anchor and were dangerously close to the
shore. Pekka quickly started the engine, I weighed the anchor, and we
motored happily to the other side of the bay for safety, no more shaking!