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RX II – News in english

RX II Has Arrived in Nome, Alaska

Monday, September 7, 2009

Finally and a after much back and forth we have finally gotten out of Russia.  We have had some hectic days  in Provideniya with interrogations, examinations and a court trial.  It has been totally crazy!

We will write more about it tomorrow, it is a story worth telling.

We are quite tired now after crossing the Bering Strait in a powerful gale.  We are anchored inside the breakwater and waiting for customs and immigration to come and check us in tomorrow.  Three tired, but happy and free sailors will now have a well deserved night's sleep.                

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North West Passage Plans Cancelled

Saturday, August 30 2009

Position: N65.43 W170.09, 25 nm south of Cape Uelen, Bering Strait.

RX II is still sailing south through the Bering Strait. We have come to grips with the fact that there is no way we will complete the Northwest Passage this season.

We are done crying over this realization, and are now looking forward. We are still cruising! And doing so in a fantastic, grand, nature rich area. The weather in the last few days has been good with the sun occasionally breaking through, good sight and noticeably warmer weather.

On land, jagged, steep rocks rise straight from the sea. There, countless species of birds - and millions of them - have their home. The flocks are so great that they block the sun when they leave the cliffs at dawn and return in the evening.

And you do not have to scout the horizon for long before you spot whale.  When they discharge the air from their lungs they can be seen from far away. There are large schools of several different species here. Awesome!

We have, after all, a formidable feat behind us. Situations and reflections over the Northeast Passage that we are only now starting to absorb. Whoever can avoid the post-iceblink flashback syndrome is lucky.

We do not know for sure where adventure and fate will take us after Proideniya. We have to try to find a suitable place where the boat can be laid up on land for the winter. Whether it will be Russia, Japan or perhaps somewhere in Alaska, we do not know yet. But granted we will have new adventures getting there!

We have heard that we are in the media, back home in Norway, in Europe and in Russia. We must emphasize that we are NOT under arrest! That is a totally wrong definition.

We are now being escorted to port so that we can settle the problems we have with our saling permit. The Russian coastguard stays close and see to it that we go to Provideniya, but they are also looking after us! Yesterday they transfered 200 liters of diesel. And we have received heaps of milk, juice, bread, corned beef, sardines and biscuits. It seems that sitting "guard" in our boat has become quite popular among the enlisted men.

Here is part of a letter we were given:
"Dear friend`s. It`s me NN. I don`t want to leave you, but i have order. I always think about you. I am sure that our government discuss this situation very fast and you will be free again. (.........) You very good men, that is why i want to give you small gift. It`s our military hat. On Russian language it`s called ´Pilotkaª (......) Please don`t forget me and write me a letter.
With respect your friend!!!"

Our friend must have spent quite some time with the dictionary, for he hardly speaks a word of English!

We have agreed with the coastguard that we will seek shelter in a bay we have spotted on the map, and stay there until an approaching storm has passed. We plan to continue our journey to Provideniya Tuesday 0600 UTC.

We have approximately 110nm to go.

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Thursday, August 27 2009

Position: N68.34, W177.31

We have now crossed the international date line! Unfortunately, we have not yet found an occasion to celebrate. Our course is still in the "right direction".

The mood on board has lightened up a little since we, after tireless investigations and countless hours on the sat phone, now think we have traced down the root of our problems. Turns out that some documents have come astray due to a third-party mishap, a company that was to help us with visa applications and sailing permission. These papers have never reached the appropriate Russian authorities, but they are being forwarded now.

We were certain that everything would be OK with the papers. The company had confirmed this several times. We have the originals on board, but that does not do much good when Russian authorities, as previously mentioned, have not received all the documents. That is probably the reason why we have to go down the Bering Strait to settle this with the proper authorities.

Apart from that, we now have a large apparatus ashore that try to expedite the process. Embassies and authorities, both Norwegian and Russian. The company that we paid a lot of money to help us with all the necessary permissions is also working hard to clean up this mess.

But there are not a lot of grains left in the timeglass. We are already on overtime with respect to the North West Passage. If we are to have a chance something must happen NOW, so that we can turn and head for Alaska without first having to go through Provideniya.

We are clinging to a very small hope. We want so much to get all the way around. This is also necessary due to practical considerations, such as getting the boat on land before winter and the ice sets in.

We are a mere day`s sail from the Alaskan border, it would be marvellous to have a proper ending to an adventurous and exciting sail through the great Russian North.

Finn

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Wednesday, August 26 2009

Position: N70.09, E177.22 Wout of Wrangel Island

The weather is absolutely marvellous.  The time is approximately 11:00 AM, local time.  Or 01:00 AM CET.  The sun is shining from couldless skies on a flat sea.  The temperature is actually very comfortable now. Don`t even need a jacket.  There is a fine breeze from the south, in other words perfect gennaker sailing to Barrow, Alaska.  It is only 500nm, or a mere 2-3 days of sailing, away.  There, a shower, clean clothes, diesel, spare parts and parcels from Norway await.  And not least a real, good party to celebrate that we have completed the North East Passage.  The absoulutely hardest and longest leg of our trip around the North Pole.

But that is not where we are going.

We are now being escorted by the Russian Coast Guard to the town of Provideniya (N64.26, W173.32).  It is a distance of 700nm, or roughly a week`s saling against the wind and current through the Bering Strait.  We have enough fuel for three days of motoring.  We still have not received a clear answer as to why we have to go to this harbor, they only say that is where the situation can be solved.

One week down to Provideniya.  One week back up again.  Perhaps several days of paperwork.  We do not have time for this.  The North West Passage is freezing up.

We have fought so hard to get to where we are now.  We knew beforehand that there would be some tough times, but it has been harder than we expected.  We have fought tooth and nail through ice, cold and storm.  Conditions where it should not be possible to get through in a small fiberglass boat.  But we have managed to fight our way through both the elements and the odds.  But we can not fight this tooth and nail like we are used to.  That makes the situation perhaps even more frustrating.  Is this the way the dream ends?

We have been quite tough recently, at least we think so, but now we are crying.  There are too many feelings surfacing now.  Grown, tough guys with beards and the stench of sweat that have to turn away or hide in the head when the tears can no longer be contained.

The guys with the machine gun, who have become our friends, are sitting quietly in the cabin and feeling ill at ease.

There is a pretty bizarre atmosphere aboard RX II now.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

We do not know for sure what has come up in the last few days, but one thing is for certain; it is never boring in the North East Passage!

So,
Saturday we had a strong gale, gusting to storm over a sea that is a mere 15-20 meters deep.   That gave us very steep waves, 4-5 meters high.  Logged 15.9 knots on a surf!  But we had no problems handling the wind and waves.

We are now so far south that we have three hours of darkness at night.  In the darkest of the night, surfing downhill we suddenly see the ice edge only a mere three boatlengths ahead.  Thanks to a sharp and vigilant lookout, we practically do a handbrake skid and get alongside the ice with the wind abeam.  There was no way we could beat against the wind and waves, and with the ice bending away to the west we hade no other option but to enter the ice field as soon as we found a lead.  At least there were no waves there.  Sunday morning, we finally managed to sneak south east and out of the ice again.  The weather had then improved considerably.  We are incredibly relieved.  We tackled the ice.  Again.

But not long after we had exited the ice on Sunday morning, we were hailed by the Russian Coast Guard over the VHF.  And since then we have been stuck.  It actually seems that tackling storm and ice is easier than the Russian bureaucracy.

There has been so much to and from.  It seems that something is wrong with our papers, but we do not know what it is since are having a hard time understanding the translator.  And then in the next moment the papers are OK again, but something is amiss with the border crossing or something.  There is a lot of work going on in solving this, and both the Norwegian Department of Defense and the State Department is on the case.  The coast guard wants us to follow them to a harbor south of the Bering Strait.  That is in the Pacific!  There is no way we can do that!  That implies a possible loss of the boat, for there are no places within a thousand mile radious that the boat can be put ashore, and it is not long before the ice starts to form again.

We are not under arrest, but are not allowed to sail on, either.  Just barely managed to avoid being taken in tow.  Threatened to trigger the EPIRB.  The RX will not handle a tow in a seaway.  That implies the risk of either breaking the mast or ripping the bow off.  At last the coast guard skipper understood that this would be too dangerous for us.

But truth be told, we are dealing with some very nice lads.  The tone is  gem¸tlich and there is a mutual understanding.  They understand that we can not take the boat through the Bering Stratit, but they have orders from shore that they HAVE to follow. - And we have shown our understanding.

We constantly have one or more Russians on board to watch us.  The first day and night there was an NCO named Mars.  Great guy!  Didn`t speak much English, but body language, gestures and fantasy takes you a long way.  He also took a turn as lookout!

Earlier tonight, the situation escalated a little when we turned down a tow, and Mars was replaced by two other men.  One of them armed with a sub machine gun and both with the same, stiff faces.  But we managed to soften them, too.  We have discussed cars, motorcycles, girls and beer.  We have shown them pictures on our PC, and they have shown us pictures on their mobile phones.  Coffe and chocolate works wonders!  As of this writing we are all watching a movice on the PC.  The gun has slipped down the back of the seat somewhere.  It is a relaxed atmosphere and we are friends.  They are due to go on leave when they are finished with our `case`.  We want to get moving as soon as possible before the North West Passage freezes.  It is not up to any of us, it is up to whoever is in Moscow.  We have agreed that there is politics at play.

We are only a few hundred miles from the border.  So incredibly close to completing the North East Passage!  Hope this does not stop us.  We have made such a tremendous effort to reach our goal of completing both passages.  We are anxious about what tomorrow will bring.

Finn

Friday, August 21 2009


The last days have, again, seen a lot of hard work with ice barriers. So there has not been much opportunity to write. We are now south-southwest of the New Siberian Islands, 73N 152E. The weather is not on our side. Fresh to strong breeze, fog as thick as porridge and rain alternating with sleet. Once again we fell right into an ice barrier that according to the maps should have been north east of our position. Had to beat south and west against the wind to find an opening. It is good to finally feel the ocean swell when we find a place to press through. The RX gets a beating now and again. Then, down below to grab some food and a little rest before the cry "ice ahead!" is heard from the cockpit. A knot forms in your stomach every time. Grab your gear and get up and work. We feel the mental and physical toll. But we are quite adept at pulling ourselves together, that and cheering when we are finally through. And thus we pass the days.

Our tactical plan of going between the islands looked very good for the first 6-7 hours, before we met with pretty dense ice on the east side. Had to push far north, then east and now we are working our way south towards land. Loosing a lot of time on this. And not least, we are using a lot of diesel threading our way through the ice. Have to ration the fuel a little until we reach Barrow, Alaska. Expecting to be there in 9-10 days. In approximately 500nm we will cross the date line.

But truth be told, even though we are sick and tired of ice and fog our spirit and morale are high. We are, perhaps, three slightly mad blokes. And that is a good thing, for going around the North Pole in a small glass fiber boat with an open cockpit is a pretty tall order.

We will get through, we will get around, and we will be first!!!

Finn Andreassen

 

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Wednesday, August 19 2009

The Competitive Instinct Seriously Awakens

We are now among the New Siberian Islands. Due to some ice we had to go further south than we had anticipated.

The weather has lightened up and the fine wind has stayed with us. In the last 24 hours our average speed has been just above 7 knots. The mainsail is sailing on two out of three reefs, and the gennaker is up when conditions allow. We are having a lot of discussions about tactics now:

Where is the best place to sail? Where is the ice? Has it dissolved?

We have managed to circumvent the last drift ice barriers we have encountered with relative ease and without loosing too much terrain nor time.

After all, Skinnarmo is breathing down our neck, he has a larger boat with significantly higher cruising speed, so the Bering Strait may get quite exciting!

We have decided on a tactical gambit, a shortcut between two islands where there still seems to be some ice left, but we are quite confident that ice has dissolved enough in the last few days to enable a fairly easy passage. If we can do it, we will save more than 15 hours.

If the ice, on the other hand, has not dissolved we must backtrack a fair distance. Against the wind. All three of us feel that this is a risk well worth taking, it remains to be seen whether we are any wiser on how this ice moves around.

Finn Andreassen

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Tuesday, August 18 2009

Routine and Polar History

It`s back to everyday routine on RX II as they cross the Laptev Sea after days of fighting their way through the ice.  Which gives us opportunity to refresh a little polar history.

The good daily rhythm and the usual routines once again characterize the days on board RX II while we sail over the Laptev Sea towards the New Siberian Islands at 6-7 knots.  The wind varies between a moderate and fresh breeze on a beam reach.

The weather has for the most part been fairly gray with some drizzle and sleet, but seems to be lifting now.  From time to time we have to change course to avoid large packs of ice that take quite a bit off course.  Apart from that, and a large wave filling the cockpit an hour ago, there is not much action right now, which gives us time for a quick refresher on polar history.

There is an incredible amount of Norwegian polar history in this area.  Most islands, bays, capes and rivers still bear the names from Nansen and Amundsen`s time.  I.e. Sverdrup Island, Nansen River, Oskar Peninsula, Sverdrup Mountain, Astrup Mountain etc.  And these names are still on the map today.

Not least, we passed Maud Harbor a few days ago.  It is just east of Cape Tjeluskin, The northernmost point of Asia and the Old World, which Ragnar Kvam describes in his book about the four great polar heroes.  This was where Amundsen was no longer able to make progress and had to spend the winter on board the polar ship MAUD in 1918.

Incidentally, the first to navigate the North East Passage was the Swede Adolf E. Nordenskiold on board the ship VEGA in 1879.

Our very own Fridtjof Nansen came to where we are now, the New Siberian Islands, on his first FRAM journey in 1893.  This was where he intentionally let FRAM be frozen into the ice to drift across the polar sea.  (Vega got stuck in the ice south east of our position.  They were not able to make it through in one season.)

It is amusing to read these old accounts and note that they all had great difficulties around Cape Tjeluskin.  The route they used through this troublesome ice is surprisingly similar to our own "sled track", that show the path we have taken, on the chart plotter aboard RX II.

Nordenskiold, Nansen and Amundsen also hugged the shore on the west side of Taimyr Peninsula, but met ice and had to retreat to open sea.  Just like us.  And Skinnarmo it would seem.

According to Kvam, Amundsen has the following to say about the ice which he hoped would loosen up some after a fierce storm: "That ice which lies motionless at this time of the year after a [24 hours] general storm, I have little hope will give in later."

He then laid up in Maud Harbor.  While we, very much thanks to modern aids such as satellite images etc, managed to get out and move on.

Skinnarmo also seems to have pretty much exited the ice.  So we are now pushing east at our best speed.  Apart from that, we are now on the same longitude as Japan and the middle of Australia.

We are a long way from home now.

Finn Andreassen

 

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Monday, August 17, 2009

RX II Not Quite Through the North East Passage Yet

To paraphrase a Norwegian proverb, they may well have sold the hide before the bear was even sighted, and they are still not through bottleneck number two," is ice forecaster Knut Espen Solberg of Det Norske Veritas` sobering comment to our panegyric news that RX II has made it through the North East Passage.

– "Before they reach Point Barrow, Alaska, they have at least 10 days of sailing ahead, in waters that are not exactly notorius for sunshine and fair weather. The North East Passage has one more bottleneck after the one they just passed through, and it is by the New Siberian Islands," Knut Espen Solberg of Det Norske Veritas points, who assists the RX II-sailors with ice forecasts and advise, points out.

"VEGA, with the Swede Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, got stuck in the pack ice at Cape Tjeljuskin on August 28, 1878 and had to spend the winter in the ice. This is due West of Cape Chelagskij just a few days` sailing from the Bering Strait," he warns.

"This year, though, there does not seem to be a lot of ice in the area, so it should be OK. But still... talk about selling the hide before the bear has even been sighted... Objectively, RX II is now half way through the North East Passage, but they have left the statistically greatest challenge behind them," says Knut Espen Solberg.

Rolf Erik Nordenskiöld was the very first to sail through the North East Passage. Roald Amundsen was number two when he sailed through with MAUD in 1918-20.

"Both these boats had sail and were Scandinavian, so to announce that RX II is the first Scandinavian sailboat through the North East Passage is not entirely correct, either," he continues.

But they will be number three of the Scandinavian boats if they make it - and definitely the smallest.

VEGA was 43 meters long and had three masts. The ship also had a 60hp steam engine.

MAUD was 36.5 meters long, had a beam of 12.3 meters and a 4.85 meters draft. It had a 240hp semi diesel engine.

RX II is a mere 10.97 meters, has a 3.08 meters beam and 1.7 meters draft. Below decks, they have a 30 hp engine.

 

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

First Scandinavinan Sail Boat Through the North East Passage

As the first Scandinavian sail boat ever, RX II has now passed through the North East Passage!  They exited the ice on Friday, August 14, and have now set course towards the North West Passage.  If they are able to traverse that passage, too, Trond Aasvoll, FInn Andreassen and Hans Fredrik Haukeland will have made their place in history.

RX II is probably also the smallest sailboat to ever sail the North East Passage.

They have now entered the large Laptev Sea, and will in approx. 10 days reach Point Barrow, Alaska and the entrance to the North West Passage.

- They now have a fantastic opportunity to make it all the way rond as the first ever, since the ice in the North West Passage is steadily dissolving, says Lars Ingeberg, the owner of RX II.

He can also inform that the boat`s original owner, the American Eric, is closely following RX II`s voyage.

Eric is sending mail to the "whole world", and is incredibly proud of the crew on board RX II and "his" boat, says Ingeberg.

Sailing through the North East Passage gave numerous unnerving challenges.  Here is the crew`s own account:

Hooray!  We made it!!

An incredible relief to exit the ice! After a long and hard battle against the elements.

We have been quite unfortunate with the ice conditions, so the last few days have been tough.  There has been more ice than expected, gale and dense fog and snow.  And all the time curious polar bears wandering about.  But they have been the least of our problems.  They were seldom closer than a few hundred meters, and when they came too close it was ususally sufficient to yell at them and they would withdraw.  The ice was our real problem.

In order to avoid beng screwed down by the ice, you need to be constantly moving.  When you see a large floe drifting your way, you must have an open patch of water to move to.  If not, the boat will be swiftly crushed.  The forces are unbelievable!

When fog and drifting snow reduces the sight to a mere 200 meters, you may quickly loose overview and find yourself locked in.  And that was what happened with us a few times.  All the nearby leads close up and you are caught in a "lagoon", surrounded by dense, moving packs of ice.  When the lagoon then starts to shrink, and one ice floe after another comes drifting with the wind and packs up inside, it is critical.  But by a combination of hard work, some luck and good cooperation we got out of there in one piece.

The ice was laying approximately up to the Bolsjevik Island, so we sailed as far north as 78 deg, 14 min N in order to pass it with a margin.

In addition to the large compass deviation, there are numerous strong, magnetic fields around this entire area, so both the magnetic compass and the gyro compass are constantly going crazy.  They may change by as much as 30 degrees in an instant!  Luckily, www.custom-toughbooks.com have lent us two water- and shockproof laptops with built in, powerful GPS receivers.  We can keep them in the cockpit no matter what the weather, so we have always been able to find the right direction.  Electronic maps with tracking gave us an indication of where we had previously tried to find openings, so that we avoided sailing into the same dead ends again.

We have heard that Ole Skinnarmo is waiting out the weather and ice conditions, and that is probably sensible.  We would not wish for him the same conditions we have had!

Thus, we say farewell to the Kara Sea as the Laptev Sea welcomes us with a nice little gale in the right direction.  We are happy to be saling again!

Finn Andreassen

 

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009


As of this writing, we are securely tied up to leewards of a big ice floe.  We have slept and eaten well after a hard bout last night and well into the day.  We worked for a long time trying to find a navigable path into open water, which is no further away than 20nm or so.  Tried countless leads, but every last one of them turned out to be a dead end after a few miles.

Winding our way among the ice floes is exciting, but tough and incredibly exhausting.  At least two people on watch at any time, one on the rudder and a lookout in the rig.  And the third man must constantly be summoned on deck to push away moving floes.  Lines of retreat must constantly be controlled in case the lead closes up.  There is not much rest to be had under these conditions, but it is a unique experience!

The wind is forecast to shift during the night.  In that case the ice will probably loosen up some.  For now, we are laying here and recharging.  Watches are as usual with 2 hours on and 4 hours off, but the "work" is only to look around for larger ice every 10 minutes and keep an eye out for bears.  Apart from that there is book reading and some light cabin duty.  We`ve even considered whether to wash ourselves soon!

Have had a fantastic and well deserved dinner.  "Rondane" game casserole with extra reindeer meat, onion, garlic and brown cheese.  Served with stewed cabbage and lingonberry jam.  For dessert, which we had to postpone for 45 minutes before we cold manage to eat more, Cloudberries with cream and sugar.  Sleep and a hearty meal works wonders on morale, and we are definitely motivated to have a go at the ice again as soon as the conditions change.

Apart from that, we are constantly updated over the sat phone.  Lars Ingebrigtsen is calling us several times a day, and Knut Espen Solberg is also an incredibly good man to have, to give us fresh updates on the movements of the ice.  He is a downright ice-guru!  We`re also downloading ice maps and GRIB-files/weather forecasts when we have good satellite reception.  In other words, we have no lack of information!

 

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BREAKING NEWS FROM RX II – STUCK IN THE ICE

Tuesday, August 11 2009


The latest news from RX II is that they are now stuck in the ice. The weather is good and the wind has decreased, but the open water they sailed in closed up and now they are laying still.  No open water to be spotted in the north, east or towards shore.  Have made fast to an ice floe by an island.  Expecting more news in a short while.  Morale is good but somewhat tense…

 

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Fantastic Position in Relation to the Ice


Knut Espen Solberg has analyzed the ice conditions for RX II and can report good conditions for the three polar venturers.
 
You are now in the position where the ice conditions are at its best.  You have about 60nm to go until you are done with the most heavy ice.  Judging from the ice maps, it seems like you will meet some dense areas the next 30nm, and then the ice will slacken off.  It seems like the open water near shore is best 4-6nm offshore, but you will be in a better position to judge that than we who are stuck at home in front of our PC.
 
The next few hours will be more or less dead calm.  There is a north-eastern gale approaching Wednesday night.  That gives you a fair margin to get out of the ice before the wind picks up.
 
The gale also represents a form of security, however strange that may seem.  The wind will be more or less parallel to shore.  Due to the Coriolis force, the ice will move to the right of the wind, which will help maintain that open stretch of water near the shore.
 
If the ice should thicken, I would not recommend that you venture too far out (west).  It is better to hug the shore, perhaps find an islet, bay or similar "safe haven" and wait it out.  The water will open up near the shore again - it is just a matter of time, while the drift ice may not necessarily open up again in the near future.
 
The best thing you can do is what you are doing just now - go for it!

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Monday, August 10 2009


Today was the first day in proper drift ice.  It is an incredible experience to glide through this winter scenery with the light from the sky, sea, ocean and ice reflecting every possible shade of blue and the most fantastic shapes.  We often have to zig-zag between great floes, and sometimes the passages are so tight that we are uncertain whether we can get through at all.  But the weather is fantastic.  Sun, moderate breeze and no waves thanks to the ice.  Everywhere, seals slide into the water when we get too close.  Then suddenly, on an ice floe a few hundred meters off to port we see what we most wished for, but barely dared to hope for; a polar bear!


A sow with a cub stands there looking at us for several minutes, before she turns and runs with the cub following her.  At the end of the floe they dive into the water and swim towards the next flow.  They are barely 20 meters from the boat now.  With hushed voices we discuss the possibility of the soe entering the boat.  The discussion is abruptly ended when we witness how the soe almost jumps out of the water and onto a new, fairly steep and high flow.  There is no doubt that she is able to board the boat!

The cub has a little more trouble getting onto the floe.  We`re thinking of approaching a little closer again.  But then the soe makes a loud growl, throws her head and stomps her forefeet so hard that the floe cracks.  We interpret this as a clear NO!  No closer! - and keep a distance of a few hundred meters, which all parties seem to accept.  After a one minute photo session we leave the little family to take up their daily chores.  A fantastic experience!

But travelling in the ice isn`t all fun.  In the afternoon we have frequent thickets of fog.  Then we have to be two people on watch.  One at the wheel and one in the rig to scout for possible openings.  And it is cold.  Our beards freeze up and the sheets become stiff and slick with ice.  But we have to press on, we must get out of the ice before the wind turns or increases.  We get an impression of the forces inherent in the when we see how great flows are stacked on end, virtually on top of each other.  When we are through the ice belts we will have negotiated the most challenging part of the North East Passage.  Even though it is cold, it warms us to think of the meeting with the polar bears.  Or those who wait for us back home.

 

Finn

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Sunday, August 9, 2009


After a long time at sea, we decided to take a full day`s rest in a sheltered bay that we had spotted on the map.  A stopover also fit in well with respect to the weather and the ice.  We are actually a little ahead of schedule regarding the ice conditions, we have to give the southern wind some time to clear away the ice before we can get through.  Besides, it gave us a chance to perform a little periodic maintenance on RX II.  Oil and diesel filters were changed and various equipment checked.  The water tanks were filled with water from a river that runs down from the Siberian Taiga.  And it was wonderful to stretch our legs!

We inflated the dinghy and made for shore, eager for adventure.  And we were not disappointed!  It turned out that there was an abandoned trapper station at the end of the bay.  And there were a lot to see.  Like an untouched museum!  We found nothing to suggest that anybody had been here after the station was abandoned, and that gave us an awesome impression of what life must have been like in such a tough and inhospitable place.  Don`t think the old trapper`s life should be romanticized too much.  The graveyard bore witness of a hard and brutal existence.

After having looked around, we found fresh reindeer tracks on the beach.  And right beside them, just as fresh, some bear tracks.  After that, we stayed close to Hans Fredrik who was carrying the rifle.  When hunger finally got the better of us, we returned to RX II for a delicious dinner.  Ham steak with brown gravy, sauerkraut and mashed swede.  It`s an unusual feeling to be able to sit around the cabin table and eat while not having to hold on to both plate, cup and yourself!

Hans Fredrik and I then went on a small dinghy-expedition up a river to try the fishing and at the same time fill the water cans with fresh water.  We were able to penetrate several kilometers into the Siberian Taiga.  A wonderful landscape!  Especially for someone from southern Norway, it was strange to see how the rocks rise up from the permanently frozen ground.  And it is the same way with coffins.  We happened upon yet another graveyard, and the coffin was on its way up.  Covered with moss and beautiful, small yellow, blue and white flowers, and the magnificent view over the river, it made a strong impression.

We eventually filled our water cans, but never saw any fish.  Anyways,+ Hans Fredrik may now boast that he has been fly-fishing in Siberia!

Tomorrow we`ll get started on the ice and the North East Passage proper!

Finn

 

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A Promising Forecast, But Keep Close to Shore



Knut Espen Solberg has issued his most recent ice forecast to the guys on board RX II.  It is promising and followed by a host of good advice and tricks for the ice.  You may read the entire forecast here:

Knut Espen Solberg - 07.08.09

I see you`re getting a bumpy ride, but that`s the way it`s supposed to be.  Further, it looks like the wind will die off over the weekend.  Actually, wind is a good thing because that`s what makes it possible to sail!

Will Meet Ice in 2-3 Days
Ice lives a life of its own, despite climate change and Siv Jensen`s [Norw. populist, right-wing politician] dream of becoming Prime Minister (In which case I`ll move to Sweden).  You are approching [the North East Passage] in leaps and bounds, and I believe you`ll meet the first ice in 2-3 days.

The ice is laying around the Artichesky Islands.  The area you`re going through is no more than 150nm, but a good weather forecast is essential. According to my prognosis, there should not be much wind in this area when you enter.  Be careful that you are not caught in ice pressing you against a lee shore.

Labyrinth

There are a few open passage systems between the ice floes that you may follow, out among the islands, but it is very risky since you may easily get lost in a maze with no way to escape.

Follow the Shore!
I would therefore recommend that you follow the mainland, and preferably in very shallow water (everything is probably shallow in this area!).  There is less old, heavy ice here since it tends to ground further out, and further the tidal current is often strong and fairly easy to predict.

This means that even on days with no wind, there will be some movement in the ice floes.  To use this movement to your own advantage is the key to success.  When you pass approx. E102 30 and see water sky (a dark sky) and can spot open water to the north, I would go straight north and into it, since there is an ice field around the northernmost headland that you may then be able to avoid.

Full Steam Ahead

When you have decided to enter the ice - give full steam ahead, so that you will spend as little time as possible in the area.  Less time = less of a chance to run into problems.

Should you find yourselves in a bind, it is of course better to get into a safe harbor.  Should this not be possible, seek towards islands or skerries and shelter to leewards of them, even if it is dead calm.  The current will always create a little clear water here.

It may be advisable to take a sheet of ice and put it on your pillow to help you keep your head cool!


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The Race for the North East Passage is On


On August 5th, EXPLORER OF SWEDEN left Murmansk.  Thus, the "race" around the North Pole has started.  RX II has a 4-5 day lead...

07.08.09

Swedish sailor Ola Skinnarmo and his crew aboard EXPLORER OF SWEDEN cast off from Murmansk on Wednesday, August 5th, and set course for the North East Passage.  RX II has a competitor approaching from behind.

Even though the Norwegians Trond Aasvoll, Finn Andreassen and Hans Fredrik Haukland have a good lead, there are no guarantees that they will be the first to reach the Passage.  Nor is it given that the North East Passage will be open and free of ice.

David vs. Goliath
This is a match of David against Goliath.

The underdog, David, is RX II.  A 10.97 meters, long keeled boat built in 1977.

EXPLORER OF SWEDEN is the Goliath, 18.50 meters long.  A mast that soars 10 meters higher and a total sail area of 425 square meters.  A modern boat that is specially equipped for sailing in Arctic waters.

RX II`s budget is around NOK 50 000, EXPLORER OF SWEDEN`s budget is counted in millons.

Fast enough?
This isn`t a question of whether EXPLORER OF SWEDEN is faster than RX II, but whether they`re fast enough to catch up with RX II before the first crux on the route around the North Pole:  The North East Passage.

The next question is whether the North East Passage is navigable or filled with ice, and eventually which boat will find the passage through it.  The ice forecasts are good and promise a quick passage.  Both RX II and EXPOLRER OF SWEDEN get their ice forecasts from the same source, Knut Espen Solberg of Det Norske Veritas.

Gale From the North
The last report from RX II reports that they are now sailing in a northern gale, and they are finally experiencing what arctic saling is all about.  It is freezing cold, but quality sailing clothes and a little heat in the cabin helps them keep warm.

And they`re not complaining, but look forward to the North East Passage, where not many vessels have sailed before them, with a mixture of excitement and awe.

North West Passage Next
When they`ve passed the North East Passage, RX II will set course for the North West Passage. If they can get through it before winter sets in, they weill be the first sailboat in the world to negotiate both passages in the course of one short season.

The is, if EXPLORER OF SWEDEN doesn`t overtake them...

The Swedes have not made any public statement that they will attempt the North West Passage, but the crew of RX II has a strong feeling that Ola Skinnarmo & Co will not let the opportunity pass, should they have a fair chance of making it through.

And according to Knut Espen Solberg, chances are very good this year.

And should any of them actually manage to circumnavigate the North Pole in only one season, it is but another piece of evidence that the conditions in the Arctic are indeed changing, and that global warming influences what happens in the polar regions - with the implications that may have for life on this planet.

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A Gale from the North


We`ve been given a real smack across the fingers for underestimating this sea.  Though we may have called the Kara sea bland, boring and marshy brown, we now wish to withdraw all our previous statements.  For our arrogance has been punished by a fully grown gale from the north, that has now beaten us around for 12 hours.
 
07.08.09
 
Half a day with an air temperature of barely three degrees, an increasing sea, and a depth of no more than 20 meters.  Life on board isn`t as comfortable as it used to be, but we manage.  Even though the most mundane tasks, such as making and eating a sandwich, becomes something of a challenge when you can`t put anything down without having it fly into the bulkhead straight across the galley.
 
Trond is a bit sorry that the handle broke on his thermo cup.  He can no longer hang it in the usual place, so it ends up rolling all over the cabin sole.
 
Regarding how much sail we carry, we put safety first.  A fully reefed main, and the genoa has been rolled in so only a small piece is showing.  If things should turn to the worse, we can always heave to with the working jib on the cutter stay.  But as of now, we`re doing 6 knots in the right direction.  Thankfully, the RX is a good old fashioned, heavily built long keeled cruiser.  We easily forgive her unwillingness to surf.
 
In weather like this, we are very grateful that Regatta.no equipped us all with their best sailing suits.  The jackets have an integrated PFD, lest anyone should be concerned that we seem to wander around on deck without one.  With wool and fleece under the suits, we have no problems staying warm during the watch.  There really IS a difference between good and bad sailing clothes.
 
We have respect for the Kara Sea now.

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06.08.09

A Dull, Marshy-brown Kara Sea


The Kara Sea is turning a little dull as the days pass by. The last two days have been characterized by stratus clouds and occasional showers.

Although the sailing is excellent, and we are wolfing down the miles, there is little to see here in the way of animal life or anything else, compared to the Barents Sea.  Not even the Northern Fulmar, that steadily followed us, is to be seen now.

The sea doesn`t seem to contain a lot of nutrients and has a dull, marshy-brown color.  Our observations the last three days have been a small flock of Terns, an Arctic Skua, a small tree and a small pallet.  We`re reckoning that there will be more life again as we push further North and East.  We`re hoping to see Walrus among the islands to the North in a few days.  The Walrus in this area is reported to be larger than the ones around Svalbard and Greenland.

What`s getting our attention right now is two large ships to starboard.  We first feared that they were navy ships, but they now appear to be clam ships of smoe kind.  We are now 13nm off shore, and the depth is a mere 20 meters.  In the position of the ships, it can be no more than 10 meters or so.  These are the first vessels we`ve spotted in the Kara Sea.  We`re reckoning we`ve given them something to talk about, too.  A sailboat is not an everyday sighting in these waters!

Satellite coverage is getting more and more sketchy.  This is especially noticeable on the satphone and tracking.  We`re just too far north (73 degrees N), and since we`re at least going as far north as 77 deg 44 min, we`re a little concerned about how much we will be able to transmit.

But we promise to try.

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05.08.09

Gennaker Sailing and Fashion Show

We had some great gennaker sailing yesterday afternoon and into the night! We`re making good speed and not using any diesel

But we`ve noticed that the watches are steadily getting chillier, down to 4 degrees C now. And to quote Nansen: "The cold is somehow colder here in the Arctic than back home in Christiania [Oslo]." It is quite cold when you`re exposed to the wind, even though the sun shines from a cloudless sky.

We`re adapting to the situation the best we can, and have now drawn a lee cloth around the cockpit to shelter us from the cold wind from the north. We`ve found our warmest clothes, and tried them on in different configurations. A downright fashion show in the cabin. Color combinations and style may not be the most important things up here, but then again we won`t ave any more fun than what we`re able to make ourselves.

Trond has been awarded the Bodybuilder Prize for his enormous down jacket.

This is the ninth day at sea. Morale is high. We`re getting enough sleep, enough food and the cabin is warm and cozy. The food merits a mention on its own. We`ve come to realize that we have really victualled for cold weather sailing: Dinners are practically overflowing with bacon and reindeer fat, while our level of exercise is rather modest. That`s the way to build an isolating layer of subcutaneous fat!

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03.08.09

Dream Conditions, North Pole to Port


The Kara Sea showed its best side today.  A light layer of clouds and the wind was just right.  Considering that the North Pole is quite close, there is a surprisingly modest sea.

We are now within a largish high pressure system that, according to the weather forecast, is quite stable. Some wind is expected from the south towards the weekend. That is just what is needed to clear the ice that is currently blocking the North East Passage. And as if that is not enough, the wind is forecast to turn westerly as we start on the passage proper around August 10-11. One couldn`t even hope for more!

Apart from that, there isn`t much to report from the daily life on board RX these last few days. The reindeer meat that got wet is now drying under the bimini. It`ll probably make some great polar bear bait when we`re in the ice!

Just saw the first piece of drift wood. Not a giant tree by any means, more like a shrub. But it is an indication that we are getting closer to the great rivers of Siberia.

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01.08.09

Great experiences in the Barents Sea!!!

The nights are like days here at 70∞ north. A fantastic light all over the horizon. The sun barely dips its toes into the sea before it rises again. Slow and blood red. None of us have ever seen a more beautiful light and sky than the one we saw last night. It is rare that the dog watch is the most popular watch on a boat

But the changes are swift.  Around noon the fog reappeared. And it didn`t come creeping in, more like falling down! It`s suddenly there, and thick as porridge. With the fog came also the wind, however. We`re coasting ahead at more than 6 knots over a quite calm sea. Thankfully, there are few other vessels in this area, so the watch may safely go down and make himself a cup of cocoa. Although Trond did think that he spotted a log in the sea this morning. He changed course towards it, but somehow he never seemed to close in on it. Eventually, the log turned out to be a huge Russian trawler! In clear weather, you can see so far that most of the trawler was actually below the horizon. Hans Fredrik spotted some whales last night. They didn`t show their flukes, however, so we don`t know which species they were. There were three of them, about the same size as our boat, and for a while they laid almost longside, on both sides! We`ve settled down to a routine of two hours on and four hours off watch. As long as the weather is this good we have plenty of time for reading, maintenance, some writing, or just watching the horizon, thinking. Or simply not think about anything at all. Wonderful! Finn

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31.07.09

Not a Cloud to be Seen

What a wonderful day!  The sun is shining from a cloudless sky!  The thermometer is approaching 16 degrees.  A fair wind is taking us straight towards the Proliv Karskiye-strait at just over 5 knots

Yesterday, we had a wonderful omelet for dinner. THe kind that contains everything that is good - and lots of it! Food is very important on a trip like this, and I believe even the polar chef Lindstrˆm would have approved our victuals. The freeze dried stuff is for emergencies, this is cooking time! To mention but a few of our options: A dried and smoked reindeer, ten kilos reindeer heart, a huge box of eggs, a load of half-baked loaves of bread, in addition to everything we need to bake fresh bread and buns. Loads of potato mash, onions, vegetables and oranges. Mounds of cocoa and chocolate. We will probably have plenty of food left when we get to Greenland, and in addition we have a fair share that we can give away and trade with. And plenty of diesel fuel. We transfered som diesel from the cans we keep on deck, to the tanks yesterday. It turned out our diesel consumption is lower than what we predicted. In fact 37.5% lower than our initial estimates! (Trond was playing with the calculator last night,) this implies that RX will be a bit overweight, but at least we won`t have to ration.

IN NINE DAYS...
We now have 950nm left to what we consider the entry to the Northwest Passage, at 77∞40` N. If everything goes as planned, we should cover the distance in 9 1/2 days. That means that we will enter the passage on August 12th, at present more than a day ahead of schedule. But there are a lot of unpredictables this far north... By the way, Trond marked the calendar for his tenth anniversary today, (after Siw called, I believe!)

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30.07.09

Everyday Routine is Established

Yesterday afternoon, the seas became calmer.  Unfortunately, at the same time the wind died as we entered a high pressure area.  We are now running before a moderate breeze, with a kind, rolling sea and fog.

The temperature tonight was 9 degrees, and is 11 degrees today. In the cabin, we`re maintaining a comfy 21 degrees, with the Reflex oven burning at almost minima. With smaller waves came the opportunity to do some propoer cooking. The menu was a reindeer casserole, with extra reindeer meat added, brown cheese and lingonberry jam, and served with delicious mashed potatoes. When the sun came out and dolphins started their bow wave acrobatics, morale reached new heights aboard Rx II. It seems like the Russians have accepted our presence, we have heard no more from them. We are a bit anxious about what the situation will be like further east.

We are constantly thinking about whether the Swedes will be able to get their paperwork sorted, believe they are still in Kirkenes.

Apart from that, our greatest concern is what the situation will be like with respect to the ice and navigation challenges that lie ahead of us. There are a lot of things to take into consideration. But for the time being, everything is looking good.

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